Monday, 28 March 2011

Spring flowers, seed sowing and multiple birth

So much to do, so little time
There has been a slightly bigger than usual gap between this blog and the last because there is just too much to do - but there is plenty to look at and it would be a shame not to share it with you. Last week's planting is doing well, the Pulsatillas' fluffy buds have opened and the other plants are settling in nicely.

N. pseudonarcissus in a Buxus pot (644)
I have been a bit disappointed with the crocus and narcissi that I planted in pots this year - I experimented with using compost from the compost heap in the bottom of some of the pots and I think that this combined with the heavy snow and temperatures around minus 12 or 15 for days at a time contributed to some rotting. Well, you live and learn. I won't use garden compost next year but I don't think there's much I can do about the weather.

Old but tough
My vintage narcissus collection seems to be OK though, Narcissus pseudonarcissus was the first in full flower this week, Jim has drifts of this British native in his garden and they look stunning, but in a pot attention is focused on them and you notice more about the details of their pale, slightly twisted petals.

A cheerful heart
The most striking flower in the courtyard garden at the moment is Tulipa 'Heart's Delight', this belongs to the Kaufmanniana group of tulips, valued for their short-stemmed early flowers which open wide in the sunshine, and their leaves which are striped and spotted with maroon. This is the first time I have tried this variety and I am pleased with the soft red on the outside of the petals and the starry cheerfulness of the flowers in sun.
T. 'Heart's Delight' with Carex 'Curly Whirly' and Corydalis cheilanthifolia
 Seed sowing is in full swing in the greenhouse, so I thought I might share my basic seed sowing technique:

1. Use a compost which does not have large lumps in it, or sieve it with a garden sieve. I use a peat-based multi-purpose compost but add a generous dollop of Perlite (the white granules you can see in the picture) so that the drainage is good. Seeds and seedlings like to be moist but not soggy.

2. Over-fill the seed tray, then sweep the excess off the top, level with the edge of the tray, using the flat of your hand (without pressing).

3. Pick the tray up and tap its base on the bench a couple of times to settle the compost in. Then take a block of wood or similar and gently press the compost down by about half a centimetre. This makes a firm, level surface to sow the seeds on so that you will get even germination and there won't be large air gaps for baby roots to get stranded in.

4. Sow the seeds thinly. Don't be tempted to use the whole packet if it means the seeds are in clumps. If they are cheek by jowl the seedlings are more likely to damp off (rot), they will grow straggly and weak and it will be hard to prick them out without damaging them. Large seeds (these are Tagetes 'Disco Mix') are easy to space out.

Small seeds can be sown thinly if you crease the foil packet to make a narrow channel then tap it gently as you move it across the surface of the compost so that a few seeds fall out at a time.

5. Cover the seeds in accordance with the instructions on the packet (or if there are no instructions the rule of thumb is cover by approximately the same depth as the diameter of the seeds). I just use a plastic pot as a sieve and work back and forth, tapping lightly and making sure the covering is even. Do read the packet carefully because some seeds need light to germinate and so shouldn't be covered at all.

6. Label with the name and date and keep the packet to one side in case you need to look at it again or in case the plants are a roaring success and you want the same thing next year. Then place the tray in a box or tray of water so that the water comes half-way up the sides. Leave only until the surface appears moist then remove promptly.

8. Place the tray in a propagator (ours is cobbled together out of scraps of wood and plastic sheeting, with a thermostatically controlled heating cable under grit). I find the vast majority of seeds are willing to hatch at about 15 or 16C but again you need to consult the seed packet for any special instructions. You shouldn't need to water them again while they are in here, but make sure the base of the propagator (gravel, sand or capillary matting) remains moist. Seedlings don't like to be soggy but they will not tolerate drying out, even for half an hour, so check them frequently. Many seeds, especially hardy annuals, are fine on a windowsill sealed inside a clear plastic bag.

9. As soon as you think all the seedlings have germinated and are fully expanded (not still folded up or with seed leaves stuck in seed coats) you can remove them from the propagator or bag. At this stage they may need another drink, so you can give them another dunk in some water but don't get the compost absolutely sodden. Make sure they are not in bright, hot sunshine or a draught and leave them for a few days (still inside the greenhouse or on the windowsill) to toughen up a bit.

Then prick them out as soon as possible - I'll give more details on this another time- I think that's enough for now, so here endeth the lesson.

Talking of propagation
And finally - do you remember the sheep I pictured the week before last looking so uncomfortable? Well this last Thursday she produced FOUR lambs! No wonder she couldn't lie straight.

Everyone up and about in a matter of minutes. I really, really don't want to be reincarnated as a ewe!

1 comment:

  1. The weather of spring open the mind of the people as they open the beauty of the rooms.