MY COTTAGE KINDERGARTEN | It's seed(l)ing time!
It's time to get sowing!
I know, I know – it's only the end of February and there are many who would call me a hopeless optimist and remind me that it can still snow at Easter... buuuuut just look outside:
The days are getting that little bit longer.
I'm waking up to happily chirping birds.
Snowdrops and winter aconites are poking their little heads out of the ground.
Not that it’s a good thing but I’ve encountered the odd person (those suffering from hayfever) sneezing.
It’s seed(l)ing time!
But before I tell you all about how to plant seeds in the spring, I thought it was about high time for a Weekend Competition. Hooray!
It’s not tricksy, I promise! All you have to do is sign up to my newsletter (if you haven't already) and then send me an eMail by Sunday, 28th Feb 2021, 8pm GMT (12pm PST or 3pm EST) and tell me what your biggest challenges are when it comes to creating your very own (cottage) garden.
The winner will get a beautiful surprise package with some of my favorite seeds. And they’re a select bunch, not quite your 'average' garden center varieties.
And, of course, a bespoke My Cottage Garden trowel to get you started.
Right – back to all things planting seeds and seedlings:
My finger-twitching has become too hot to handle and it’s time to open my ‘Cottage Kindergarten’. Hooray! So let it begin: the rummaging through my seed supplies, the filling of pots, seed trays and mini greenhouses with soil, the imagining of where in the garden to plant which beauty once they’re ready to go and live outside.
I have to do one last bit of housekeeping first: when I talk about months and seasons, I naturally talk about what I know: Southern Germany. And that's the snag because February here isn't exactly the same as, say, Australia, California or South Africa. So please bear that in mind when you read my recommendations and adapt them according to your location.
Let's get seeding! Egg cartons, tins, small planter pots – there's virtually no end to containers you can use to get started. It's best to use compost or potting soil (what it's called may depend on your part of the world). Place them in a bright location (or locations!) and water them daily. Move them into bigger pots as soon as the little plants have grown too big for their current homes.
For me, cosmos are a huuuugely important feature in any cottage garden.
They’re the perfect flowers for beginners in terms of both, growing and care. They flower relentlessly from May through to October, make wonderful cut flowers and simply bring all the joy to your garden.
If you've got a few gaps to fill, cosmos are fantastically eye-catching. But, watch out – snails love them. Keep a close eye on them and make sure they've reached a good size before you release them into the wild.
They come in a wide range of colors, including white, yellow, blush, pink, burgundy and purple. And if you can’t make up your mind, there are even two-toned varieties.
Depending on the variant, cosmos can grow to between 30cm (12") and over 2m (6'5) tall. They'll delight you all summer long with their perpetual flowering. And that goes for all of them: whether single, semi-double or double petaled.
It's just as easy to grow cosmos as it is to care for them. You can either start them off inside (for about a month) before moving the seedlings outside or sow them directly in the flowerbed – but make sure the last frost has been and gone.
Cosmos are pretty good germinators, which means that if you're growing them in small pots, you'll really only need to plant one seed per pot. I try to avoid pricking out (gardening speak for separating seedlings) whenever I can. I just can’t bear the thought of having to dispose of any little seedlings.
I can’t stress this enough: make sure you place them somewhere bright, otherwise their stems will grow long and crooked. If this happens, don't despair though: you can remedy it by placing the seedling, roots’ n all, deep in a new pot and completely filling the pot with soil (so there's only a bit of stem and the leaves peeking out the top).
Once the seeds are in their pots, their little green heads will start to poke their way through the soil after about a week. And after no more than three months, you'll have lots of gorgeous flowers.
Now, what else do we need? Sweet peas! I let these climb up fences and obelisks in bunches or I plant a few on a shrub rose and let the two intertwine.
These annual, lusciously flowering climbers add a touch of romance and a kind of effortlessness to your garden and, wherever you place them, they'll show off all the colors of summer. They're available in bright white, beautiful blush, pretty pink, red, dark red and brash blue (along with a delicate pastel shade).
There's also a dramatic purple and a variant that's almost black (it's literally called ‘Almost Black’). Look to your left.
FIRST OFF, A NOTE ABOUT GROWING:
The following statement appears on the National Sweet Pea Society website:
"Hints on Growing – It was originally intended that this Section should be headed 'How to Grow' but since there are so many opinions from different people, many of them contradictory, it is considered that there is no ‘right’ way and so what follows is more properly considered to be hints."
Don’t you just love the British dead-pan-y-ness?
They do know their craft though so that's the approach we're taking here:
If you choose to grow your sweet peas inside, you can start nice and early in the year.
Make sure to use tall pots right from the start. Sweet peas quickly develop very deep roots and they'll appreciate being able to stretch their long legs.
It's really important to soak the seeds overnight before you plant them. It will soften the seed pods and the sweet peas will germinate more quickly (and reliably).
Push your seeds into your prepared soil or pot (you can use seedling pots and plant them in the flowerbed at a later date) so that they're about 1.5cm (0.6") below the surface, then water thoroughly. After five to ten days, you'll usually start to see your first plants.
They need light (best case scenario, a grow light) and a few words of encouragement every now and then. There, I’ve said it: I *do* talk to my plants.
Nevernevernever let your seeds dry out. They’ll find it extremely hard to forgive you.
It's time to move your young seedlings into the flowerbeds when they're somewhere between 5 to 10cm and you don't expect there to be any more heavy-duty frosts. They'll gradually get used to the cooler outdoor temperatures. Last year, I planted my sweet peas outside at the beginning of April (it was really mild). And if you really do get caught out by a sudden frost and are worried, simply cover your plants with fleece.
Of course, you can also grow sweet peas straight outside and it’s pretty easy. The perfect time to sow your seeds is Mid-March to April. Again, this may differ depending on the climate you live in.
And, same procedure, it's really important to make sure you soak your seeds in water over night before you begin.
But it’s not just cosmos and sweet peas I love. I also adore zinnias, mallow, gypsophila elegans, yarrow and lupines. Can you picture what the windowsills in my house look like? Full to the brim!
If you are a bit of a ‘plant geek’, I recommend investing in grow lights. The light in early spring (especially when it's filtered by a window pane) usually isn't strong enough to grow sturdy, healthy seedlings. I’ve noticed a remarkable difference in mine since I started using them.
And just like that, a new gardening year begins. How exciting is it to be right at the start, with no idea what’s to come! Will it be a sunny spring? A rainy summer? A golden autumn (or Indian summer)? Whatever happens, it’ll be colorful, that's for sure.
Love from the Cottage Garden,
P.S. All photographs (except for the first one) were taken by the fantastically talented Janina Laszlo.