Seedy Thoughts

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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.