Seedlings and snowdrops romping ahead

It may be snowing today, but the previous mild weather has made the garden romp ahead. The show of snowdrops is weeks ahead of last year. Although I don’t know much about the varieties I grow – a mix of singles and doubles, tall ones and short ones – they thrive here and each year I have many more of them.  Last year I divided the clumps and redistributed them and it has really paid off.  It is looking so pretty, I must indulge in a snowdrop montage:

Or maybe two snowdrop montages!

snowdrop montageAll these shots were taken today (18th Feb) – the alternating heavy snow and brilliant sun was more mad March than February!

Until today – isn’t always winter at the weekend? – it has been beautiful gardening weather. Shame I’ve been deskbound and not able to partake.

I’ve gone seed sowing crazy!

The one indoor job that is easy to fit round the day job is seed sowing.  Lulled by the mild weather, every window sill is already a propagation production line. Space is going to be tight be late April!

The usual over-ordering of seed is complete.  For the first time I have bought a lot of my seed from Nickys Nursery.  I haven;t used them before, but I was particularly keen to grow Stevia and they were on of the few suppliers.  As it turned out they have a really interesting range of stuff and I bought a lot of herbs and pretty things.  The seed and instructions are nice and clear and I’ve been impressed so far.

I’m probably unlikely to succeed with Stevia – even Basil finds my windowsills too chilly – but a sugar substitute herb with no calories….  You have to try, right?  I shall indulge it with heat like a rare orchid!

I have refined quite an efficient little system of seed germination. The hot progator gets things started.  Then they move to the cool propagator, which helps them onwards gently so they don’t die of shock in my freezing house.  Then they move onto the windowsills.

I find that on the hot propagator, plastic bags (especially sandwich bags) – rather than the tray lids that came with the propagator – are ideal for keeping the humidity and temperature right.  The seed tray lids seem to result in the germinated seeds cooking to a crisp, whereas there is rarely a loss with in the sandwich bags!

No doubt I have over ordered the seed and have probably started sowing too early (the first batches started last week in January) but it makes me happy!  And right now the all seedlings are looking pretty happy too.   Growing nicely so far:

  • Sweet peas (loads of varieties, especially scented ones)
  • Chillies
  • Diasca
  • Training pansy
  • Stevia
  • Geranium
  • Salvia
  • Basil  (goodness knows why, it never thrives & I end up buying plants from the supermarket)
  • Perennial cornflowers

And as soon as one lot move off the hot propagator, that makes space for something else!  My challenge is never at the seedling stage, it is in the finding space where they get enough light during the hardening off process.  Any tips?

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Rays of hope in the winter garden

Through the gloom of the miserly 6 hours of gardening daylight (not to mention the never ending rain) there shines hope!  Just enough, I think, to propel me damply into February.  first snowdropFor the first snowdrop is here, spotted on the 6th January – a full month ahead of last year.

This is always a major moment in my gardening year – like the first Swift returning.  It signals to me that whatever the extent of my incompetence or neglect, or however much it feels the elements have all unfairly conspired against me, it is going to be OK.  Things are still growing.  My mistakes are of minuscule significance on the scale of things. And, heck, it takes more than a few feet of rain to deter these tough little Galanthus guys.  The flowers aren’t open yet, most are still just pushing their way through – but who cares?  It means life goes on!

There are actually abundant signs of life all over the garden, so it is probably silly to burden the little snowdrop with so much sentimental symbolism.  cyclamenThe cyclamen hederifolium, for example, has been glowing in its slowly expanding clump for many weeks.  As hardy as anything, I would have more by now, had I not managed to plant all my expensive new coums upside down a few years back.  Fortunately, this particular specimen was bought already in flower, so it was somewhat easier to figure out which way was up!

I’ve been far too ashamed to buy any more coums since my debacle. Happily plenty of the seed I have collected over the last few years has germinated, so there are lots of baby cyclamen bulking up in pots.  But I’ll only plant them out once they look big enough to stand up to the thuggish blackbirds and vine weevil they will have to contend with.

Another plant putting on a heroic show is the Christmas box, Sarcococca Confusa. Sarcococca ConfusaI have propagated loads of little plants from this parent shrub and it just takes it all in its stride, smelling heavenly and glowing away.  It is perhaps a little too glowing (a touch of yellow compared to previous years?), which makes me think it will need a good feed come Spring.  I may even plant it into the garden (it lives in a pot at present) and create a little area of shady hedging.

So with spirits soaring after a relatively not-that-wet-or-cold-compared-to-usual Sunday in the garden, I felt justified, nay, compelled to drink wine and order seeds.  Unfortunately in that order.  I now have a LOT of seeds en route to Inverness – but that is another post entirely!

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Flame flower germination success

Tropaeolum speciosum (the Flame Flower) is a plant I only discovered when I moved to Scotland. Though I often read it described as half hardy (really?!?) it is a faithful stalwart of the garden, returning year after year to creep through shrubs on the shady side of the back garden.  And so far this “half hardy annual” has returned year after year and sustained temperatures of minus 20.

Come September, it looks incredible as it winds its way through Yew and next door’s evil Leylandii.  For the last two years the 3 plants I have (all garden centre bought) have also been covered in hundreds of bright steely blue seeds.

I wasn’t sure how to germinate them, so I tried different methods – indoor and out, cold and warm, shady and sunny, pots and trays.  In the first year I had a single germination (outside and shady) and it didn’t survive.  The rest didn’t appear to germinate and so I eventually recycled the seed compost and planted other stuff.

This year, it seemed my strike rate had doubled – I got two. I’ve fussed and nurtured them and they’re doing well in the cold greenhouse tent.  The rest seemed dead and so again, I reused the seed compost.

Well, this week I was away for 8 days on a work trip.  I neglected everything outside.  We had gales, sun and monsoons apparently.

And completely bizarrely, dozens and dozens of flame flowers have germinated in my absence.  Whether it is this years or last year’s seed I am not sure – they have popped up in pots and seed trays that have other things in.  They are in with the seed lillies, in with the cuttings – even in my Pitcher Plants that catches bugs in my greenhouse tent.  (I have no idea at all how a seed got there, I definitely didn’t plant it.)

So, clearly, a shady, unheated greenhouse is all they require – plus one, or maybe two years wait.  And possibly help from the local mice or birds.  I’m looking forward to getting these beauties planted round the garden – and given they sell at £5 to £7.50 per little plant, I feel I’ve made a little fortune from thin air!