Flower Gardening Tips for Growing Perennials and Annuals
Flower Gardening Tips
Provided you have the facilities and do not mind waiting for results, it is possible to raise a collection of herbaceous perennials entirely from seed.
A large number of popular species can be raised in this way, including, for example, delphiniums, kniphofias, Anemone hupehensis (japonica), Rudbeckia speciosa, lupins, Monarda didyma and Scabiosa caucasica. Varieties, though (with exceptions like Geum Mrs Bradshaw), are a different proposition and some of the characteristics which make them so desirable as garden plants are almost always lost when attempts are made to increase them from seed. Colour variations occur, flower size and formation is liable to change and the habit of growth may well be much inferior to that of the parent. With such plants vegetative propagation is essential.
But if most varieties are ‘out’ so far as increase from seed is concerned, strains give us other opportunities for this form of increase. A strain is a stock of a particular variety in which desirable characteristics like colour, habit or freedom of flowering are transmitted, through careful selection, to the progeny. These characteristics only vary from plant to plant within fairly narrow limits. A case in point is the Pacific Giant strain of delphinium.
Although the majority of herbaceous perennial plants can be raised in specially prepared beds in the open garden, it is a great advantage to have a garden frame or greenhouse available for seed raising. With such controlled conditions your scope for growing perennials is immediately widened.
Sowing Seeds Outdoors
When growing perennials, choose a sheltered site for the seed bed, dig the plot and work thedown to a fine tilth. With the variable weather conditions we experience in Britain it is most unwise to stick too rigidly to dates for gardening operations, and with seed sowing in particular it is worth waiting several weeks, if necessary, until conditions are just right, but some time in May or June will be found suitable.
If the soil is loose, firming will be an important part of the preparation and this can be done with the feet or a roller if the size of the plot warrants its use. Some gardeners like to use a wooden hay rake (a very useful tool) for the initial breaking down process, finishing the job off with an ordinary rake. If the seeds are small – as so many are – it is doubly important that the tilth should be really fine.
Seeds can be sown broadcast but I much prefer to sow in drills as this makes thinning, weeding and other jobs which may be necessary so much easier to carry out. A garden line is needed now to mark out the rows and a hoe to draw out the drills.
The depth of the drill depends on the seeds being sown but about half an inch is right for the general run of seeds with the appropriate adjustments being made for larger or smaller seeds. As with all seed sowing, sow thinly so that the resulting seedlings do not have excessive competition for light and air. It is also less wasteful, of course. If the soil is very dry, as it can become sometimes in spring, water along the drills before sowing the seeds. After sowing fill in the drills with the feet or with the back of a rake.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle transplant them into a reserve or nursery bed. By the autumn or following spring the young plants will be ready for planting in their flowering quarters.
Sowing Seeds Indoors
If a cold frame oris available it is, of course, possible to start sowing a full two months sooner than out of doors in late February or early March. Sow the seed in boxes or pans which have been carefully cleaned. The seed mixture used could be the John Innes Seed Compost and the boxes standard seed boxes, because these can be so much more easily arranged on benches and shelves and can be much more neatly stored. If the boxes are treated with copper naphthanate before use this will greatly prolong their active life.
Cover theholes in the pots (or drainage gap in the boxes) with broken crocks and place a layer of roughage over this before adding the compost, which should be pressed firm, particularly along the edges and in the corners. A home-made presser which consists of a shaped piece of wood fitted with a handle is very useful for this job, giving the compost just the right consistency – not too hard – after initial firming with the finger-tips. The final level of the soil should be such that it reaches to within 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the top of the box.
Sow the annual flower seeds thinly and sieve over them very fine soil to twice the depth of the seeds, but before doing this make the compost moist. To do this I fill a container with water and hold the box with its base in the water for just a few minutes. Alternatively, you can water from overhead with a watering can fitted with a fine rose, but I consider the first method most satisfactory. The containers are now ready to move to the frame or greenhouse and they must be covered with a sheet of glass and shaded with newspaper until germination takes place. The condensation which forms on the underside of the glass must be wiped away each day.
As soon as it is possible to handle the seedlings prick them out in boxes filled with John Innes No. 1 potting compost, using a dibber to make the holes and taking special care not to damage the fine roots. Aim to plant the seedlings so that their seed leaves are just above the surface of the compost. This potting compost has considerably more food value than the mixture in which the annuals seeds were started into growth and can be bought ready mixed or be made up at home.
Now follows the hardening off process with the plants gradually being acclimatised to life in the open air. This should be done progressively with the plants getting more time in the open air each day until, after several weeks – the timing depending on the weather conditions prevailing – they will be ready to move to nursery beds (reserve beds) or direct into the border where they will flower when mature.