When deciding on which plants and flowers you want to see in your garden in the spring and summer most people focus on colour. However, all the details need to be considered. What’s important is that a plant is beautiful in one way or another, whether it’s the foliage, flowers, shape, colour, architecture or scent.
Seeds are a very cost-effective way of getting lots of floral colour into your garden. They help to create beautiful borders and pot-fulls of aesthetic interest. But remember that sowing times vary from one plant to another.
Therefore make sure that you choose seeds that produce flowers in different months so you have a seasonal splash of colour for seven to eight months rather than all in one hit.
The types of seeds available range from perennials, annuals and biennials to monocarpic:
Perennials are those that continue to grow year after year after remaining dormant throughout the winter months
Annuals are typically planted in the spring and summer months and bloom for a season, then die. Gardeners often supplement perennial gardens with lively, colourful annuals
Biennials live for two years, producing seeds and flowers in their second year
Monocarpic plants flower, set seed and then die
Seeds are great for adding longevity to your herbaceous borders or to create yearly splashes of colour in pots.
Gather the seed from the plants and reuse the following year or indeed allow them to set seed within the border for repeat flowering the following year and thereafter…
Buy seeds as fresh as you can or harvest from your garden and do seed swaps with like-minded friends. Most hardy perennials will germinate better sown fresh and left outside to get on with it.
A few ideas on how to get started with a variety of seeds
Ammi majus Bishop’s Flower: This easily grown, very sophisticated cow parsley style plant (above) has large, flat heads of lacy white flowers, which are ideal for cutting. I also like umbellifers, which are ever popular at Chelsea, and brilliant fillers for both the border and for cutting.
Ammi visnaga: This is also known as Green Mist Queen Anne’s Lace and has lovely feathery foliage and tightly packed, large flowers that start limey-green and gradually open to greenish-white. The heads become more domed as the flowers open. This beautiful variety is superb for cutting.
Anagallis arvensis: Also dubbed True Wild Form Scarlet Pimpernel and Poor Man’s Weather Glass, this variety boasts pretty, slender-stemmed, scarlet (or more rarely blue or lilac) flowers.
Verbena bonariensis: a very useful plant for the border, flowering from June until October (below). Sown early, it will flower the same year. Particularly effective if grown in a mass. It has tall, narrow, sparsely leafed stems on top of which flattened heads of bright lavender-purple flowers appear in late summer. It’s perfect for bringing height to an ornamental border and also works well in prairie-style planting schemes with ornamental grasses.
Achillea millefolium: also known as Cerise Queen Common Yarrow. This is a particularly colourful yarrow, bearing cerise pink flower heads with dark margins and paler colouring towards the centre. It’s perfect for growing towards the middle of an ornamental border or in an wildlife garden, and is also ideal for growing in gravel gardens.
Stipa tenuissima: or also called Pony Tails Silky Thread Grass or Angel Hair. This is a very graceful and beautiful ornamental grass. Forming dense clumps of arching, filament-thin, bright green leaves, it bears a profusion of long, narrow, softly feathery plumes – greenish-white to start with then changing to buff all summer long. ‘Pony Tails’ describes the whole perfectly, particularly when the whole plant billows in the slightest breeze. Flowers the first year from seed and is excellent for the border, pot or patio.
Digitalis purpurea annua: Sutton’s Apricot Foxglove. Beautiful, award-winning variety with a lovely soft pink-apricot colour. Excellent for cutting – indeed, this will stimulate further flowering. Foxglove is the towering giant in a flower bed, with some varieties growing up to five feet. They are a biennial plant, which means they bloom in their second year with beautiful, bell-shaped flowers, and then die. They reseed easily, so if you want flowering plants every year, plant foxgloves two years in a row. There are many types of foxglove to pick from, just chose your favourite colour.
Sweet Fennel Bronze: fine clouds of feathery, bronze-purple leaves are followed by flat-topped, sulphur-yellow flowerheads in mid to late summer and then by aromatic seeds. This giant fennel looks fantastic as a centrepiece for a sunny herb garden. The foliage acts as a delicate veil through which the flower heads of herbaceous plants and bulbs can be seen. Watch for self-seeding as can be prolific during a hot summer.
Cosmos: seeds of Cosmos (below) are one of the best and easiest to grow. I have chosen this variety as it is probably the best known and reminds me of summer as I see swathes planted in people’s gardens. Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sensation’ is a very fine and well known plant with fern-like foliage and large, colourful flowers which come in various shades of crimson, pink and white. Excellent for cutting, flowering from late June well into autumn. Every garden should have some cosmos bipinnatus – it is so easy to grow, colourful and with a very long flowering season.
Order seeds: use the wet winter weather to sit back at home with a few of your favourite catalogues and choose the seeds with the colours, textures and timings that will work best for your garden.
Do a clean sweep: clear any remaining leaves from lawns but leave some piles around the wilder parts of your garden as they make the perfect nests where animals can hide, rest and hibernate.
Feed the birds: if there’s a very cold and frosty spell ensure you put out plenty of fresh water and bird food.
Have a tidy up: clean pots and greenhouses ready for spring and dig over any vacant plots that have not been dug already. Tidy up perennials. Cut down the old stems of perennial plants like sedum, be careful of any new growth. Remove old hellebore leaves, this will make new blooms more visible as they emerge this spring.
Prune to perfection: now’s the time to cut back apple and pear trees and also rose bushes which are still dormant. Cut back to just above a bud and remove any crossing or dead branches. Cut back ornamental grasses by clipping the old foliage before new growth begins, within a few centimetres of the ground.