GAME OF PATIENCE
Nurture these biennials and then sit back for a super show of colour when they flower next year
Spring is the time for sowing seeds, especially annuals – those plants which germinate, flower and die all in the same year. However there is another category of plant – biennials – which can be sown in early to mid-summer.
These plants take two years to complete their life cycle – sow now and they will germinate and form a rosette of leaves this year, followed by a spike of flowers next spring. The plant will then set seed and die in the autumn.
Many of our most-loved flowers fall into this category, such as foxgloves, forget-me-nots, Queen Anne’s Lace, Sweet Williams and wallflowers.
So if you’d like to see these in your garden next year, harvest or buy some seed now and get propagating.
You won’t get the quick gratification that annuals provide, but with a little patience and dedication you will be rewarded with colourful and often fragrant flowers that both you, the bees and butterflies will enjoy. Here are my pick of the crop:
Oenothera biennis, or evening primrose
is a tall biennial that grows up to 1.5 metres with yellow flowers.
These only open at night to release their fragrance – this is done to attract night-time pollinators such as moths. It’s a good choice for poor soil so long as it’s well drained and in the sunshine, and once you have it, it will self-seed happily, making it a great choice if you like an informal look in your garden.
It’s hugely popular as a herbal remedy – the oil in the seeds contain fatty acids that are used to help with hormonal and other health issues.
Digitalis because who doesn’t like a foxglove! Elegant spires covered in bell-shaped blossoms and if you look closely, you will often see the hairy behind of a bumble bee buried within nuzzling away for nectar.
The flowers form capsules – open these and you will see the plant’s tiny brown seeds inside. You can scatter these straight into the soil but you’ll need to be eagle-eyed when weeding to avoid removing the subsequent seedlings.
You can also propagate in seed modules or pots. Scatter on the surface of pre-wetted seed compost and don’t cover as they need the light to germinate.
Lunaria annua, or Honesty
is grown as much for its attractive purple flowers in spring as for its beautiful disc-shaped translucent silver pods – a florist’s favourite in their dried form.
There’s also a lovely white variety ‘albiflora’. Sow well spaced in seed trays where they will take about a fortnight to germinate.
You want to get them planted into their final flowering positions outside in September/october so they have time to establish roots.
Dianthus barbatus, or Sweet William
are like all members of the Dianthus family – it’s all about that delicious sweet clove scent.
The Duchess of Cambridge included a white version in her wedding bouquet, which was a delightful romantic gesture to her new husband.
Otherwise they come in bright pinks and reds and there’s a lovely dark variety called ‘Sooty’ with very dark ruby blossoms and chocolatecoloured foliage. Sow seeds in early summer and plant out to final positions either in autumn or next spring into fertile soil, adding some slow-release fertiliser to the planting hole.
Sunshine is best for flower production and they make excellent cut flowers.
Echium pininana, or Giant Viper’s Bugloss
is one of my favourite plants. It’s great for adding drama and excitement because it grows several metres tall.
I have them growing at the front of the house where they happily self-seed.
I’ve noticed they sometimes take an additional year to complete their life cycle – the middle year they gather their strength to send up these enormous spikes covered in violet blue flowers.
I can think of no other plant that attracts the same amount of bees – the hum of the bees buzzing is the sound of summer for me!
Harvest or buy some seed now and get propagating
OENOTHERA BIENNIS EVENING PRIMROSE
echium pininana giant viper’s bugloss
Dianthus barbatus sweet william