Grow­ing an­nu­als from seed is sim­ple and, with warmer months here, now is the time to sow

Condé Nast House & Garden - - CONTENTS -

a guide to grow­ing beau­ti­ful sum­mer-flow­er­ing an­nu­als

Raised from seed to flower in a sin­gle sea­son, an­nu­als are one of the most sat­is­fy­ing plant groups to grow. ‘You could al­most de­vote an en­tire cut­ting patch to hardy and half-hardy an­nu­als,’ says rachel siegfried of green and gor­geous, who grows cut flow­ers on her farm in eng­land. ‘They are the most pro­duc­tive of plants be­cause the more you cut them, the more they flower. They’re also very easy and, be­cause they grow quickly from seed into a large plant, they are less sus­cep­ti­ble to pests and dis­eases. so there’s al­ways a good suc­cess rate with them.’

In oc­to­ber and novem­ber, it is the hardy an­nu­als that take cen­tre stage. rachel ad­vo­cates do­ing a first sow­ing in late sum­mer, no later than the first or sec­ond week of Fe­bru­ary. she sows most seeds into mod­u­lar trays to be started off in a green house or pro­tected area, but for tiny seeds she sprin­kles them on the sur­face of seed com­post in trays. Th­ese are then grown on and will be big enough to plant out in the gar­den in March. ‘If you get them into the ground in March they put down their roots and re­ally get go­ing,’ ex­plains rachel. ‘They may not look like they’re do­ing much above ground over win­ter, but as soon as it warms up in spring, they will shoot away and pro­duce plants that flower ear­lier and are of­ten al­most twice the size of oth­ers sown in spring.’

rachel will then make fur­ther sow­ings in March or april, so that she has a suc­ces­sion of blooms. ‘The one draw­back with hardy an­nu­als is that they don’t flower for a very long pe­riod – maybe only two to four weeks,’ she ex­plains. ‘suc­ces­sional sow­ing is im­por­tant, so you can stretch out the flow­er­ing pe­riod.’

If you do not have a green­house or a pro­tected space, some an­nu­als such as poppies and corn­flow­ers can be sown di­rectly into the ground, ei­ther in late sum­mer or as soon as the soil has warmed up in spring. ‘Wait un­til you see the first flush of an­nual weeds green­ing up the soil in spring, be­cause then you know that it’s warm enough for seeds to start ger­mi­nat­ing,’ ad­vises rachel. sow­ing seeds out­side is more of a lot­tery, as they have to com­pete with slugs, snails and the weather, but if it works, it can save time. sow the seeds in drills and thin out the seedlings as they grow, with fi­nal spac­ings of 30 to 50cm. Most an­nu­als need an open, sunny spot in well-drained soil to thrive, as well as some sort of shel­ter. Taller plants such as corn­flow­ers and ammi will need sup­port­ing in some way. rachel uses pea net­ting strung be­tween posts, which she puts in when the plants are still young so they can grow up and through the net­ting.


sweet peas are part of the hardy an­nual group and are rachel’s best-sell­ing flower. she grows both the spencer hy­brids and the more highly scented gran­di­flora types, such as ‘Juliet’ and ‘erewhon’.

rachel sows her sweet peas in the first week of March. ‘sweet peas are early­sum­mer flow­er­ers, and start­ing them off in the au­tumn, as they would in na­ture, means that you get big­ger, stronger plants.’ she sows the seed into root train­ers. They give the length that the roots need and are de­signed to open out­wards when you are ready to plant, so the plug plants can be ex­tracted eas­ily. ‘I don’t soak or chit the seed first: I just put them straight into seed com­post and wa­ter them in well.’

Ide­ally they need a bit of heat to get them ger­mi­nat­ing, oth­er­wise they will sit there and rot in cold, wet com­post. so bring them in­side and put them on a warm win­dowsill be­fore tak­ing them out­side to a shel­tered and cov­ered area as soon as the shoots ap­pear. ‘It is im­por­tant to do this oth­er­wise the plant will get too leggy,’ she says. ‘don’t mol­ly­cod­dle your plants.’ The other way to pro­duce good, sturdy plants is to pinch out the grow­ing tips at three to four leaves, which en­cour­ages side shoots and re­sults in a strong, mul­ti­stemmed plant.

rachel keeps her plants in the root train­ers all win­ter in a green­house and then be­gins to harden them off in au­gust by bring­ing them out­side. They will even­tu­ally be planted out at the end of septem­ber, be­gin­ning of oc­to­ber, at the base of a pea net­ting sup­port. ‘sweet peas like cool, moist roots with their heads in the sun, so we tend to mulch around the base of the plant to keep the mois­ture in,’ says rachel. Keep the seedlings well wa­tered and watch them shoot up. Be­fore you know it, you will be har­vest­ing heav­enly sweet peas – but re­mem­ber to keep pick­ing ev­ery day or at least to dead­head, oth­er­wise the plant will fade pre­ma­turely. Seeds and seedlings n are avail­able from 8 seeds­forafrica. and 8 ball­, as well as nurs­eries coun­try­wide

The Ox­ford­shire cut­ting gar­den at flower farm green and gor­geous

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