• Maureen Little


Updated: Mar 28, 2020

I admit it. I’ve been stockpiling. Not loo paper, or pasta or anything else that certain selfish members of general public have been loading their trolleys with. No. I’ve been stockpiling seed and plant catalogues. I do it every year. Until it reaches the crucial tipping point (literally) that if I don’t do something about the teetering pile, my long-suffering hubby threatens to put the whole lot in the recycling bin. So yesterday I did the first round of weeding out the ones I know I definitely won’t be ordering from. Ok, that’s two down.

My plant-aholic desires have taken many a flight of fancy whilst poring over these seed and plant lists: I am seduced by rich, dark ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips and ‘Midnight Blue’ agapanthus; enticed by confectionery colours of candy-pink morning glory, chocolate cosmos and lemon sherbet dahlias; covetous of jewel hues of ruby-red astrantia, sapphire-blue cornflower and opalescent iris. The list goes on.

And veggies? Who can resist the intriguing Fibonacci spiral of Romanesco cauliflower, or the vivid stems of the aptly named Rainbow Chard, or the lustrous purple sheen of an aubergine no bigger than a hen’s egg ….

But I am soon brought forcefully down to earth again when I tot up how many seeds, bulbs and plants I have earmarked and, more to the point, how much they will cost. My aforementioned hubby invariably points out, too, that our garden would have to be the size of a minor principality to accommodate all the plants that I have in mind.

So I really have to restrict myself.

The one packet of seeds that I know for certain I shall be ordering is an annual flower, Echium ‘Blue Bedder’. The main reason I grow it is because it’s a magnet for bees: its panicles of funnel-shaped magenta-pink flushed blue flowers, which open successively, provide nectar for my buzzy friends for a good eight weeks to twelve weeks during the summer. Sow the seeds direct in late March/early April and thin out the seedlings to leave one plant per 30cm or so. Alternatively, you can sow them in modules – one or two seeds per module, removing the weakest seedling as they begin to grow - and plant them out when they are big enough.

Echium 'Blue Bedder'

The plants will grow to about 45cm, so not too big, not too small. An added bonus is that at this size they make excellent cut flowers – as long as you leave enough for the bees!

The other annual I can’t resist are sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). I know many of my gardening friends sow their sweet peas in autumn, but I’ve never had much success. Instead I sow them in spring in toilet roll tubes which are much cheaper and more eco-friendly alternative to root-trainers.

When they’re big enough they go out in the garden, planted at the base of a rather splendid metal ‘wigwam’ that I was given many years ago and, despite having rusted, is still going strong. When the plants have four pairs of leaves I pinch out the tops and let the side shoots grow, tying them to the frame as they get bigger. I try to remove as many tendrils as I can because they can coil themselves around unsuspecting flower stalks which results in very oddly shaped stems, quite useless for cutting.

But which varieties to grow? I always opt for the highly scented old-fashioned Grandiflora group. By modern standards the flowers aren’t grand at all, but what they lack in size and stem length, they make up for in scent. My current favourite is ‘Painted Lady’, a dainty pink bi-colour with breath-taking fragrance.

Whatever varieties you grow, however, make sure you keep picking the flowers to keep up the supply: if the plant is allowed to set seed it will think it’s done its job of securing the next generation and won’t produce any more flowers.