Seedy Thoughts

Reading time 7 minutes

There’s not much that January is good for, apart from cosying-up by the fire, drinking the Christmas drinks cabinet dry and browsing seed catalogues. The minute New Year is over, hot off the press, brochures start to arrive at The Watch House by the sack-load. And since we’ve acquired an allotment, the fruit and vegetable sections no longer find themselves in the recycling bin. Instead they join a growing pile by the side of the sofa, covered in inky ticks, spiky stars and wobbly question marks.

Unusually for us, we are showing restraint (or rather The Beau is). We are taking our time over the vegetables and not making purchasing decisions quite yet. However I am both a shopaholic and a sucker for a discount, hence I decided to buy a few packets of flower seeds whilst Sarah Raven was offering 15% off. Whilst neither the cheapest nor the most comprehensive source of seed, Ms Raven’s catalogue does have a certain allure. For anyone lacking confidence in how to combine flowers, the colour-by-colour layout and Jonathan Buckley’s sumptuous photography is a godsend. Plus I am happily persuaded by the effusive descriptions she gives when pointing out her favourites: If one is going to sell things, one may as well do it with enthusiasm.

The prospect of growing traditional, sun-loving annuals brings me full circle back to my youth. My parents’ garden was always awash with the petunias, antirrhinums, cosmos, nicotianas, poppies and dahlias that I had grown from seed in greedy numbers. Annuals are full of vigour and youthful joy. Whatever anyone says, I adore them because they are the plants that got me hooked on gardening.

Since leaving home I have gardened in part or full shade. Less than ideal lighting conditions, combined with a lack of space, have meant that the cultivation of my beloved annuals has been restricted to the odd window box or planter. Now that we have an allotment I can’t help feeling that the world is again my oyster. Although we are only permitted to grow non-edible plants on 25% of the plot, I have already devised cunning ways to get around this. By going upwards we can squeeze more in, and I’ll be growing flowers that can be eaten – there are a surprising number when you start to search for them – or those that produce edible seed.

You will not be surprised that I have opted for my favourite palette of orange, ruby, plum and purple, with the odd dash of magenta and peach here and there. It’s predictable, but the colours will work well with ripening fruit and vegetables, especially as we approach late summer when the corn is ripe and tomatoes hang from the vine like grapes. Here’s The Damage:

  • Dolichos lablab ‘Ruby Moon’ – I’ve wanted to grow hyacinth beans for yonks. This beautiful climber will be trained up a large pole, perhaps mingling with Mina lobata (Spanish flag) to create a sizzling spire of flowers and foliage.
  • Persicaria orientalis – also known as kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, or prince’s feathers. This is a majestic annual which will be more than welcome to strut its stuff between the rows of veg.
  • Papaver somniferum ‘Black Single’ – a poignant reminder of home. When we first cultivated our family garden near Bath, mauve opium poppies sprang up everywhere. This is a dark, sultry version of that same poppy.
  • Squash ‘Tromboncino’ – is it vegetable or an ornamental? Who cares? Tromboncini can be eaten young like a courgette or matured to form phallic marrows. Guaranteed to get folk on the allotment talking.
  • Tropaeolum minus ‘Ladybird Rose’ – not the best reviews as far as germination is concerned, but I love the ‘Belle Epoque’, dusky-peach tones of the flowers.
  • Tropaeolum minus ‘Black Velvet’ – Ms Raven suggests using the flowers in salads and the leaves in smoked haddock fish cakes. Yes please!
  • Helianthus annuus ‘Magic Roundabout F1‘ – The Beau and I had arguments about which sunflowers to buy. This one made the list because it’s tall and floriferous.
  • Helianthus annuus ‘Double Dandy’ – not so double that it will deter bees, with petals the colour of blackberries and demerara sugar. Delicious.
  • Helianthus annuus ‘Claret F1’ – dark, wine-red flowers to compliment ‘Double Dandy’. A classic sunflower minus the yellow.
  • Calendula officinalis ‘Sunset Buff’ – one cannot have a kitchen garden without calendulas, so these are, frankly, compulsory.
  • Amaranthus tricolor ‘Red Army’ – according to Jekka McVicar, the young leaves can be used in salads or steamed when mature and the seeds can be used to make flat breads. Both use and ornament.
  • Antirrhinum ‘Bizarre Hybrids’ – Edible, yes, but not delicious. I’ll be enjoying these oddly striped and splashed blooms for their quirkiness, not their culinary qualities.

Wishing you all a most excellent weekend. I’m off to quaff the last of the Cinzano. TFG.

Categories: Annuals, Climbers, Flowers, Foliage, Fruit and Veg, Our Allotment, Plants, Seeds and Sowing

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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24 comments On "Seedy Thoughts"

  1. Ooooh you’ve sent me into an absolute spin! Living for the next 2.5 years in Manhattan, seeing those seed packets made me long for my old garden. God how I used to treasure it. And the best part, the best times were with the annuals. Thanks for a wonderful reminder and something to really look forward to for when we return. Katie

    1. Ahh, yes, not much room for growing veg in Manhattan. Worse than London. The years will fly by and hopefully you can have a garden again, filled with cheery flowers.

      City life is not for me long term, but a short spell can be fun. Dan

  2. Oh Dan, I am so excited for you. Those annusls are going to look amazing mixed in with the veggies. Nothing makes me happier than picking a vase of mixed flowers other than a trug of mixed veg!!!And I’m loving the colour palette. I put some black puppies in this year and although they didn’t last very long They just looked amazing. I Remember that beautiful garden of Sarah’s that we saw at Chelsea a couple of years ago. The planting was just divine. I kept the guide for inspiration! Am some looking forward to your posts to see the results! 🥒🥦💚🥗💐

    1. Black puppies eh? Must be an Australian thing 😂

      I see on the news that you’ve had some serious rain. Did it reach you? Hope so as it will turn the grass green and save on your water bills.

      It’s going to be a chilly but sunny weekend here so we may do half a day at the allotment prepping the ground for spring planting. Seed potatoes already purchased! 🥔

      1. Ha ha … meant poppy! Bloody AutoCorrect. Yes we had some fantastic rain, combined with incredible hail today 😱Fortunately no damage to my car this time. so far we’ve had 35 ml in the last week, So so happy… Watering just doesn’t have the same affect as proper rain.

        I’m so looking forward to the next instalment of Adventures in the allotment, from TFG And the Beau! Xx

  3. I wish you all the best with the seed sowing. Are you starting some at home and then taking the seedlings to your allotment? You have a nice selection of seeds. I love the Hyacinth Bean Vine. It looks pretty even while growing up. I am looking forward to seeing how it all grows.

    1. Hi Lisa. Yes, I shall start most of them off at home if I can find the space. I need to clear the greenhouse a little over winter.

      I often find seeds planted outside a bit later catch up pretty fast. Big learning curve for me to understand how to juggle everything.

  4. The other thing about Ms Ravens seeds are that they come in delicious coloured packets with yummy images of promised bounty. Your allotment is going to be glorious. Chin chin!

      1. Of course it will be fab with you two. Lots of opportunities, lots of failures and lots of yummy produce. And all that space to play with. An exciting time and lots of learning about new sorts of growing. Can’t wait to see how you transform it.

  5. Dear F.G., I apologize for not having read enough of your blog to remember your name, but I wanted to tell you that I found The Frustrated Gardener after looking up “Chelsea Flower Show” and enjoyed your posts. I live in San Francisco, so was delighted to see another gardener struggling with a coastal climate. I have just given up my vegetable beds to plant a cutting garden, however, I know something about growing tomatoes and thought I’d tell you about Tomato Growers Supply in Florida (you can google them), since you now have an allotment space. They have the most extensive selection of tomato and pepper seeds I have found in the 20 years I have gardened. Since we reside in similar zones, I suggest that you try cherry and other small tomatoes for success and especially “Sweet Chelsea” (gotta love the name), a golf ball sized, red tomato that is sweet, acid balanced, and a prolific grower. I actually pulled it in late November one year. Good luck on the “veg”.

    1. Ooooh, great tips Donna, thank you. I shall look Tomato Growers Supply up on the Internet. I’m also exploring whether I can get a Baker Creek catalogue sent over to the UK. We’ve got plenty of good seed merchants here but it’s always interesting to see what gardeners grow Stateside.

      The name’s Dan, but I am more than happy to be called FG or anything polite!!

      1. Hi Dan, If you need a go-between, I’d be happy to help out by mailing you a Baker Creek catalog. I just checked their website and see that they only mail to the U.S., so I took the liberty of ordering one. Can you see my email address? If so, email me your address in a week or so. They really have exceptional offerings. I tried Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato last year, but planted too late for them to ripen fully, still, they had a unique taste. Isis Candy in their catalog is also sweet and good. If you want any seeds, and you think they’ll pass British Customs, I can mail those to you as well. The limited number of seeds come in a small packet inside the formal, printed seed packet, so they should be no problem to send in envelopes.

        Since your allotment requires 75% veg, you might consider growing basil plants (Holy Basil has a heady allspice fragrance: African Blue has wonderful seed heads and grows tall, while the purple leaved varieties make great and fragrant fillers for the annual flowers that I hope you are planning on cutting for your home. Purple Osaka mustard’s broad leaves also work, and you can place them in a sandwich in lieu of mustard! Bronze fennel also makes a delightful filler for floral arrangements and parsley going to seed works too. I use grape leaves on a regular basis in the Fall to fill out arrangements.

        Looking forward to your allotment photos,


      2. Hi Donna. You are very very kind, thank you! I’ve not been able to locate your e-mail, so here’s mine –

        Basil is a bit of a funny one here – it’s not quite hot enough for the lush Italian kind, but I have grown African Blue basil with great success and love it. It dies in the winter so I will start with fresh plants on the allotment in early summer. Unlike Basil, fennel is almost a weed in these parts. It adores our dry and relatively warm climate here in the south east and spreads like wildfire, especially along roadsides. It’s too pretty to be called a weed. I have the bronze-leaved variety in my Gin & Tonic garden and enjoy its airy qualities.

        One other herb I grown is Vietnamese coriander which fits in very well with my Jungle Garden and just about survives the winter.

        Appreciate all your tips, please keep them coming! Dan

  6. It made me laugh, I think I have grown every packet of those seeds ! I have yet to make any seed decisions this year, but I do have a stack of catalogues on my desk. ,Have you heard of Higgeldy seeds ? I used them for the first time last year, there was a great range. x

      1. I grew those last year, I just had to buy them, and they were fabulous ! I am this very evening starting my research for this years must have seeds to make my garden.

  7. There’s not much that January is good for?! Oh my! I could use another. Your winters might be longer, with plenty of time to get winer chores done. For us, spring comes too soon. I still have a few fruit trees to prune, and the last of the sycamores.

      1. I intend to someday experience one of these ‘real’ winters. I though I would when I went to Oklahoma, but winter did not start until immediately after we left.

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