Early to bed

From snap­drag­ons to hon­ey­wort, some seeds thrive when sown early in the year – here’s where to get them

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - YOUR WEEKEND - Con­stance Craig Smith

At this time of year I al­ways get a rush of blood to the head and de­cide it’s time to start buy­ing seeds. With the days get­ting longer, snow­drops pop­ping up ev­ery­where and the odd sunny day, it’s all too easy to con­vince your­self that spring is on the way.

It’s not com­pletely mad, be­cause most seeds will do much bet­ter if sown in March or April when there’s more day­light and warmer tem­per­a­tures – and some plants re­ally do need to be started off early in the year if they are to be in flower by sum­mer. Sow a few seeds to a pot and give them as much light as you can – whether on a sunny win­dowsill or in a heated prop­a­ga­tor – and they will thrive.

Now is the time to buy those seeds which need a long grow­ing pe­riod be­fore flow­er­ing, and you can sow them any time in the next few weeks. Sev­eral of my favourite ex­otic-look­ing flow­ers fall into this cat­e­gory. The cup and saucer vine, Cobaea scan­dens (from £1.95, chilternseeds. co.uk), is a de­light­ful climber that looks a bit like a Can­ter­bury bell. The flow­ers come in pur­ple or white, and it will race up to 4.5m (15ft) in a sea­son. It starts flow­er­ing in later sum­mer and in shel­tered ar­eas will keep go­ing well into win­ter.

Cerinthe ma­jor ‘Pur­puras­cens’, also known as hon­ey­wort (£ 2.89, mr- fothergills. co. uk), has smoky grey leaves and nod­ding pur­ple flow- ers. If sown in­doors with some gen­tle heat, it will be in flower by mid­sum­mer and will go on for many weeks. An­other un­usual an­nual is the spi­der flower, cleome, with its clus­ters of airy blooms and un­ex­pect­edly thorny stems. Choose from white Cleome spinosa ‘He­len Camp­bell’ or pur­ple ‘Vi­o­let Queen’ ( both £1.95, hig­gledy­gar­den.com).

Two dra­matic orange beau­ties both need an early start to coax them into flower by sum­mer. Titho­nia ro­tun­di­fo­lia ‘Torch’ (£1.95, hig­gledy­gar­den. com) has strik­ing vel­vety flow­ers that look like a cross be­tween a marigold and a dahlia. Start titho­nias off now in gen­tle heat and they’ll be in f lower by July. Leono­tis leonorus (£ 2.65, chilternseeds. co.uk), also known as lion’s ear or the stair­case plant, is a strik­ing plant which will grow up to 1.8m (6ft) in a sea­son. Once there’s no more risk of frost, this South African na­tive needs to be planted out in a very sunny spot.

A few cot­tage gar­den favourites also need an early start if grown from seeds. Snap­drag­ons, or an­tir­rhinums, are widely avail­able as young plants in sum­mer, but if you want a spe­cific colour or va­ri­ety it’s worth grow­ing your own. Two choice va­ri­eties are white ‘Royal Bride’ (£2.99, thomp­son-mor­gan.com) and ‘Night & Day’, which is vel­vety crim­son tipped with white (£1.55, chilternseeds.co.uk).

Lark­spur (from £1.95, hig­gledy gar­den. com) is an an­nual ver­sion of delph in­ium that’s smaller but less prone to slug at­tacks. The seeds wi l l germi nate best if they’re kept in the fridge for a cou­ple of weeks be­fore you sow them. Start them off in Fe­bru­ary or March in seed trays. Plant them out­side once they’re a few inches high, and they’ll be in flower around 15 weeks later.

Main image: Titho­nia ro­tun­di­fo­lia ‘Torch’. Above: Cobaea scan­dens. Right: cleome ‘He­len Camp­bell’

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