For my plot I’m using a 5m by 2.5m patch of ground, with good sun and drainage, but the plan can be adapted easily if you have more space. The plot has a fence at the back of it and forms part of a larger garden, and the plants I have chosen are fairly well behaved. The planting is free-flowering and painterly.
VALUE FOR MONEY
When most people think of growing plants from seed, they think of annuals, but there is a large variety of perennial plants you can use. Perennials represent better value for money because you don’t need to re-sow them every year, and, if grown from seed, are less expensive than if bought as young plants from a garden centre. One of the main structural plants in this scheme is the perennial Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’. This produces immense flat plates of intense cherry red flowers over a very long period and has a strong winter skeleton. I have repeated the Achillea in clumps throughout the scheme to bring continuity and cohesion to the composition. Repetition is important in any scheme as you will see by my continued use of it here. Echinacea also has wonderful structural forms and produces large seed-heads that will give the border real strength and interest in the winter months.
I have also chosen a couple of climbers to provide height and structure at the back of the border. These are both annuals and ramble up home-made tepees constructed from bamboo or hazel (or other garden prunings). Lathyrus odoratus ‘Wiltshire Ripple’ is a richly scented sweet pea that blooms over the summer months and Nasturtium tropaeolum majus ‘Jewels of Africa’ is a variegated climbing nasturtium with attractive marbled foliage. Although included for its long season of colour, the leaves and flowers of the nasturtium are edible and can be used to add spice to salads.
Atriplex and fennel are favourites among garden designers. Both bulk up early in the year and work as excellent foliage fillers for juvenile plantings. The other plant I have included for its textural qualities, Panicum (switch grass), is slow to bulk up but is worth the wait. Its foliage will balance the brighter flowers in this scheme. For the first year or two, I would recommend sowing extra digitalis in a spare bed, or indoors, so that you can plant them out as bedding among the switch grass seedlings in May.
With the backbone of new planting in place, we can turn our attention to the show-stopping annuals and perennials that will fill out the border. These include the spring-flowering Viola cornuta nigra ‘Bowles Black’ and the long-lasting clouds of Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata White’. Also fighting for attention are tall velvety sunflowers, the sumptuous skirts of black poppies and colourful wallflowers. Many of the plants, including the long-flowering Verbena bonariensis and my star plant, Verbena hastate, will attract butterflies, which will only add to the display.
GROW YOUR OWN
For the best results, follow this step-by-step, month-by-month guide, and then sit back and enjoy
Sow in a windowsill Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’, Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Malva ‘Zebrina’, Panicum virgatum, Verbena bonariensis and Verbena hastate.Sow seeds on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in a propagator.
Cover seed with a light sprinkling of compost or vermiculite and keep the compost surface moist but not waterlogged.
The exceptions are Viola cornuta nigra, which likes dark conditions for germination, so make sure you exclude light, and Erigeron, Dianthus and Papaver orientale, which germinate best if the seed is not covered with soil.
If you do not have a propagator, try sealing your plant pot or tray inside a polythene bag until after germination. I use small heated windowsill propagators that have seven compartments but come in all shapes and sizes.
Prepare the soil by weeding thoroughly and digging through some leaf mould or mushroom compost before raking the bed to create a fairly level surface.
With a tool or stick, make a furrow to a depth of about 2cm, then sow your seeds, dropping them in 5-6cm apart.
After sowing, cover your seeds by pulling soil over your furrow. You want your seeds to be 5-6cm deep, so move just enough soil to fill in your trench without creating a mound over the seeds.
Use a watering can or hose with a diffuser attached to water the seeds. Sprinkling the water like a rain prevents it from washing away the soil.
Sow direct into the garden Atriplex hortensis cupreata, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata White’, Foeniculum vulgare, Helianthus annuus ‘Velvet Queen’, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Wiltshire Ripple’, Tropaeolum majus ‘Jewel of Africa’ and Papaver paeoniflorum.
Your seedlings should be large enough to handle so transplant them into 7.5cm pots or trays.
Gradually acclimatise your plants to the outdoors for 10-15 days by placing them in a cold frame or using a greenhouse. Once the risk of frost passes, plant them out.
If you don’t have a cold frame, you can make one out of a plastic storage box and a sheet of perspex. Rest the perspex on top of the box at night to keep in the warmth and during the day turn it 45 degrees for circulation.
The seeds sown straight into the ground outside should have germinated by now, so thin them to their correct spacing.
Erect tepees as climbing supports for the sweet peas and nasturtiums.
Plant out Digitalis seedlings into the garden.
The hard work’s over. Enjoy!