Seeds of Discovery

In a month or two’s time or so, the seed-sowing season begins. Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we wait until the sun’s rays provide a decent heat in the greenhouse, which usually means getting going mid-March to early April.

This year’s seed-order comprises a mixture of the instant (hardy annuals, flowering this year) and the longer-term – hardy perennials. We try to grow all our perennials from seed, if we can. This year, some of the things we’re going to have a shot at include:

Aquilegia x hybrida ‘Firecracker’: we grew Aquilegias a couple of years ago from seed and they provided a long-lasting and very colourful show. A real cottage-garden favourite, I wouldn’t be without them. Even their early spring foliage emerging from the ground cheers me up!  This one should inject some oomph into the borders!

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Mixed’: the marvellous little autumn flowering Cyclamen File:Cyclamen hederifolium Flowers BotGardBln0906a.jpgwhich you can naturalise. We might try some of these at the foot of our free-standing apple trees.

File:Dierama pulcherrimum 1.JPGDierama pulcherrima ‘Slieve Donard Hybrids’, the “Angel’s Fishing Rods”, this variety originating from the marvellous Irish Garden of the same name. I’m not sure how easy these will be to grow, but even if we can germinate a few, that will be well worth it.

Echinops ritro subsp. RuthenicusEchinops_t&m use only : you might have worked out that we’re quite a fan of thistles here! This is the blue, spikey thistle, a herbaceous classic which I grew up with but which we don’t have here, yet!

File:Meconopsis grandis1.jpgMeconopsis grandis: the iconic Himalayan Blue Poppy which does very well in the wetter, milder west of Scotland. We’re going to see if we can grow this in our shade border but Meconopsis does have a reputation for being temperamental and short-lived! But it’s a real topper and we’re going to have a go!

We’re also going to try Astilbe arendsii ‘Showstar’with its wonderful ferny spring foliage, and more Candelabra primulasFile:Fairhaven Water Gardens 2 - geograph.org.uk - 251605.jpg in the shade border too. We tried to grow the latter last year but it had a poor germination rate, so I’m going to start them off sooner to see if this helps.

Phormium ‘Rainbow Striped Hybrids’: no, I didn’t know you could get seed for them either, but you can (Thompson and Morgan are our suppliers). I really like the tall strappy leaves which grow to 5 to 8 feet. They have a real jungley feel, augmented by the exotic-looking flowers come out on long poles in the spring.

I used to think that Agapanthus only grew in the warmer south of England but, perhaps helped by a combination of global warming and plant breeding, they can now be grown up here in Scotland, so we’re having a shot at ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ from seed. Fond memories of these growing in the Walled Garden at Alnwick, Northumberland, one of my favourite gardens, and by the side of the roads growing wild on the island of Madeira.

Talking of Madeira, and this is being a bit ambitious, we thought we’d have a go at the “Pride of Madeira”, Echium fastuosum.File:Close-up of a "Pride of Madeira".jpg This will be a challenge as the south east of Scotland has a slightly different climate from the garden island in the Atlantic! Echium is a half-hardy biennial so we will need to plant it in a warm, south-facing alcove and give it some frost protection in the winter. If we succeed, our prize will be towers of purple-blue flowers reaching 12 feet! Dust of dreams indeed…

(Special thanks to Thompson & Morgan Ltd. for their permission to use certain images in this post)

Seasonal notes…

HonestyHaving finished all the winter work on the fruit trees and bushes, this last couple of weekends we’ve been pushing on with tidying the herbaceous borders in the Walled Garden.

I’ve been removing the fallen leaves that have wedged themselves in under shrubs, and been cutting back the stems of old perennials that have been pushed down by the wind and rain. The aim has been to try to keep some interest in the seedheads and stems that remain, rather than ‘clear-fell’ the borders. I’ve left seedheads from things like Phlomiswpid-20121118_122125.jpg, foxgloves, lupin and astilbe. They look quite good now that we’ve removed the rather ‘sad’ material.

One of my best value purchases a couple of years ago was a packet of Honesty (Lunaria) seeds. I grew up with this cottage garden biennial with its mass of cheery early spring purple and white flowers but we’ve never had it here. Flowering in its second year, we had an excellent show last summer but it’s at this time of the year, mid-winter, that it really comes into its own. The Good Lady took a picture of  its tranlucent, penny-shaped seed heads a couple of weeks ago and it positively glows on sunny days. When I was clearing the fallen leaves round the old Honesty plants last week, I was pleased to note a rash of new seedlings under each one, perpetuating their existance here in the garden.

At the end of February or March, I’ll revisit the borders and cut back the remainder of the old stems, so that they don’t detract from the flush of new herbaceous green that we’ll start to see then. It’s quite a while, though, until the spring and it’s nice to have some form and structureimage to look at when wandering round. This really comes into its own if we get some really hard frosts, where each stem and seedhead becomes ‘sugar-coated’ with hoar-frost, bringing a whole new dimension to the garden in winter.

As you’ll have gathered now from my fellow UK bloggers, last weekend saw a real touch of spring in the garden, with temperatures in the double figures Celsius – most unusual for early January. With high overnight temperatures too, there’s been quite a lot of growth with polyanthus, primulas and tree paeonies showing early buds, and a flush of fresh green on the grass. While I was working outside last Saturday, I noticed the first Winter Aconite (Eranthis) flowering – a real harbinger of spring, and then during the course of 3 hours or so, a whole host of these cheerful yellow flowers started pinging up – one moment, there’s nothing; the next an instant flower! Are these the fastest growing flowers in the world, I wonder?

wpid-20121201_103753-1.jpgThis week, the temperatures have returned to normal (low degrees Celsius) and, in the cold light of dawn, I see white frost on the lawn and the greenhouse roof. Some snow is forecast for the early part of next week, and the sky looks threatening…

Dust of dreams

Just placed my next year’s seed order with Thompson and Morgan (http://www.thompson-morgan.com/). Seed catalogues are the gardener’s equivalent of the holiday brochures – they seem to radiate the warmth of a summer day and help to transport us through the cold and darkness of winter.

Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we try to grow as much as we can from seed (annuals, perennials, veg and herbs), and T&M have an excellent selection of perennials to choose from. They also have some wonderful discount offers from time to time too if you order online. Worth joining their email list just for this!

imageSeeds are always a leap of faith and it can be hard to reconcile the seductively colourful pictures on the outside of the packet with the little pinch of brown dust within, but most times the latter does indeed transform into the former! This past spring was rather cooimagel, damp and dark in Scotland with the result that while our seed germinated quite well, some succumbed to damping off disease. Our greenhouse is not heated so we are reliant on solar power, which wasn’t much in evidence during 2012!

Despite this, though, we now have a nice little brood of Hostas, Acanthus (Bears’ Breeches), Kniphofia (red hot pokers), Morina, Thalictrum, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and Candelabra Primulas ready to plant out next year, with a batch of Joe- Pye Weed (Eupatorium) and Pennisetum ‘Tall Feathers’ grasses already planted in situ.

I think more patience is needed with perennial seedlings than annuals (don’t throw out the trays for at least a year they say, and in some cases two, in case they are slow germinators!) and I think you just have to accept that germination may be variable, or in a couple of cases with us last year, non-existent! (I rather ambitiously thought I’d have a go at growing acers from seed; as per instructions, they’ve been in the greenhouse, in the fridge (to simulate winter) and are now back in the greenhouse again.   Now we’re going into proper winter, so if that doesn’t leave them totally confused, I don’t know what will! That said, I’m still kind of hopeful they may appear next spring!) Perennials don’t have the same rate of growth as annuals but it’s image

hugely more satisfying to grow your own than buying a ready-grown plant from a garden centre. If you’ve got a bit of space to fill, growing from seed protects the bank account too (that’s the Scot in me), allowing you to plant drifts of the same species to eye-catching effect!

So what have I ordered for next year? Ah, well, we’ll leave that for a future post!