How can we get flowers on time?
QHow do we get our red, white and blue flowers in bloom on July 1 next year for the First World War Centenary commemorations at our primary school? John Webley, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
AWith garden centres full of plants year-round, it’s easy to think producing flowering plants for a particular date is straightforward. Which it is – if you have the facilities. As a minimum, these include propagators, greenhouses and cold frames. Sowing in early March with some bottom heat will see many annuals in flower for early July in the garden. If you can’t call on these facilities the job is more difficult.
Your suggested flowers of forget-me-not, cornflower and poppies all have an obvious association, but might make the job a little more difficult.
Forget-me-nots are biennials, available in both white and blue. You could try sowing them direct now, but they might suffer in a cold winter. Alternatively, sow now in an unheated greenhouse for transplanting next spring. However, in good weather they can go over quickly and are often past their best by mid-summer. Lovein-a-mist ( Nigella damascena) may be an easier alternative. Available in both blue and white it can simply be sown direct in March. Cornflowers ( Centaurea cyanus) are also available in white and blue. While you could sow them under cover now, they can be sown directly next March. Poppies ( Papaver rhoeas) can also be sown direct in the spring.
If you need a few things in reserve, lobelia ( Lobelia erinus) can be sown under cover in February at 20C (68F) and alyssum ( Alyssum maritimum) a month later under cover. There is also a compact white gypsophila ‘Covent Garden’ that could be sown direct in March.
Sowing directly into the soil in March is very weather dependent. I’d prepare the beds now and then cover them with polythene sheet in early February. This allows the soil to warm up earlier. If raised slightly to form a low ‘tent’, the pocket of air beneath may also reduce hard frosts.
Prior to sowing or planting, apply a dressing of Growmore or chicken pellets and rake over the soil. If March is very cold you can delay sowing for a couple of weeks and if you then re-cover with clear polythene, this will act as a mini polytunnel to bring germination on. Keep weed-free and watered and thin overcrowded seedlings if you need to.
Cornflowers are an easy annual to grow from seed
Many annuals can be sown directly in the ground in spring