Blooming Times – Biennial Beauties
by Flo Whitaker
Easy to grow and cheaper than chips – sow now for deliciously divine borders next spring.
There is nothing more satisfying than raising your own plants from seed. If you’ve been tempted to have a go, but feel unconfident and befuddled by the technical ‘jargon’, then I urge you to sow some biennials. They make easy, forgiving plants that require no specialist equipment or care and are generally unfussy about soil type. Best of all, the seed is as cheap as chips, (possibly cheaper – have you seen the price of chips these days?)
As their botanical classification suggests, biennials require two, (‘bi’) years or growing seasons to reach flowering size. Many cottage garden favourites are biennials, including Foxglove (Digitalis), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Honesty (Lunaria), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis) and Wallflowers (Erysimum). With barely any difference between day and night time temperatures to interrupt their growth, July is the perfect time to sow them.
These naturally tough individuals do not require the cosseting of a greenhouse. Fill seed trays with sowing compost, sow the seeds thinly, cover with a dusting of compost, water in gently and stand the trays outdoors in a well-lit spot but not in direct sun – boiling summer temperatures will scorch delicate seedlings. Cover the trays with loose wire mesh to prevent marauding wildlife excavating the contents, keep the soil moist and within 10-14 days seedlings will start to appear.
Rotate the trays by 180° every other day, this prevents the seedlings becoming ‘leggy’ and leaning towards the strongest light source. When they’ve reached 3-4 cms high and have well-developed leaves, prick the seedlings out into cell trays. After a month or so they can be individually potted into 10 cm pots. Come September/October, plant them out into their final positions. They’ll continue to grow until the first frosts, making strong root systems that will quickly propel them to flowering size next spring.
Another attractive feature of biennials is that they often ‘self-seed’ – a phrase guaranteed to have tidy gardeners reaching for the nerve pills. If you are of a controlling nature and stamp your authority over every inch of your garden, then you can skip this paragraph entirely. Self-seeders get a bad press, but they’re only doing what comes naturally – generously giving you new plants for free. It’s up to you to curb their enthusiasm by removing unwanted plants at an early stage. Five minutes spent weeding will easily eradicate 100’s of seedlings. However, stand back and carefully observe the scene before you wield the Hoe of Doom. Self-seeders are curious and creative interlopers. They have the ability to put themselves into unusual places; creating interesting planting schemes that you’ve probably never thought of. Its nature’s way of gently reminding you that, although you may think you’re in charge…you’re not.