Early each year, I like to look back at the flowers that I grew last growing season. The winter months are an ideal time to reflect as there's not a lot to do out there in the bleak, muddy, occasionally snowy, cold, wintery weather - can you tell that I am not a fan of winter?
It's mid-February and I am itching to get sowing and growing, but regrettably, it's not quite time to start sowing this year's batch of spring-sown annuals. If you wait until early March, when the days are drawing out, the seedlings won't have to strain to find the light. This will stop them getting all leggy and ungainly.
I have taken the time to look back at all the flowers I picked from the cutting garden and allotment last year - from January (snowdrops and cyclamen) all the way through to December (chrysanthemums).
This serves primarily as a way to cheer me up and show me that in a few weeks time I will be picking tulips and early-flowering perennials and then the flowers will just keep on coming. I can also remind myself which flowers I particularly liked, which flowers looked good and lasted well in the vase and which ones were best suited to pressing and drying.
Here is my photo record of the flowers that I grew in 2020 - which is your favourite?
Time to say goodbye to January. I always find this month to drag on just a little too long. Last year, we did 'Dry January' which made it seem even longer! This year, we've learned our lesson and are going to do a dry February, it's no coincidence that it is the shortest month.. This January we've experienced some proper winter weather in Norfolk, with beautifully crisp, frosty mornings.
January for me is a time to reflect and plan. I've been poring over flower seed catalogues, making lists and planning what will go where. This year, I've particularly enjoyed the Chiltern Seeds catalogue which has lovely descriptions and lots of useful advice. If you visit their website, you'll be able to view pictures of each flower variety and search by colour, height and other useful factors. Just be warned that you may be tempted to buy far more seed than you have space for.
Bulbs and early flowers
I always pot up some spring bulbs during the Autumn in the potting shed to bring inside for floral displays throughout the winter. So far I've had Amaryllis, Iris reticulata, Paperwhite Narcissi and miniature daffodils in flower but I'm looking forward (somewhat impatiently I might add) for the Hellebores and Snowdrops in the garden borders to open out into flower. I think Hellebores are my favourite winter flower as they are so elegant. They make great cut flowers although they can be a bit temperamental. If you find yours wilt once cut, they can often be revived by re-cutting the stem and searing the end in boiling water for 20 seconds before placing in cold water up to their necks.
Jobs to do this month
Jobs for February will include washing the black plastic pots I use for seed sowing, ready for the new season. I bring them all in, shove them in the bath, and scrub them with washing up liquid and hot water. Seems simpler than doing it out in the cold with a bucket.
I'll sow sweet pea and Antirrhinum (snapdragons) seeds under cover this month (I place my pots on a sunny windowsill). You can sow sweet peas in November and December too, but I always seem to forget this in the run up to Christmas. Snapdragons need a long period between sowing seed and producing flowers (18 weeks) so, while I leave off sowing the seed of other half-hardy annuals until early April, I make a head-start with these. Follow my tips for seed-sowing here or why not enrol on one of my workshops and learn everything you need to know about growing your own flowers for cutting. Everything from planning, through to sowing, harvesting and arranging flowers.
I love September. It has an air of new starts and possibilities, more so, I feel, than in the New Year when the weather is a bit bleak and I feel like hibernating under the duvet rather than embarking on new projects. I really enjoy tidying up spent plants, collecting seed, leafing through the seed and bulb catalogues and planting out biennials and bulbs in anticipation of spring flowers. Or could it just be that I'm relieved that my children have returned to school, after the long summer holidays?..
Its not all about planning and planting for next year though - there are still lots of flowers for picking in bloom in the cutting garden. Cosmos, Zinnias, Dahlias, Scabious, Heleniums, Echinacea, Rudbekia, Asters, Chrysanthemums, Panicum grass, Roses and Verbena bonariensis are all looking good.
Earlier flowering annuals such as Cornflowers & Sweet peas have done their thing and can be removed to the compost heap, freeing up ground for planting either biennials, bulbs or for direct sowing hardy annuals.
Before clearing annuals, collect any seeds from your plants for either sowing in spring or for sowing now. Sowing hardy annuals in September will give you a head-start in the spring and you should get flowers up to a month earlier than if you sow them in early spring. I sow a few hardy annuals directly into any spaces in my cutting beds and also sow a few in pots in the potting shed. I'll then also sow a lot of seeds in the early spring as I like to hedge my bets. Autumn-sown plants do have to withstand slugs and the vagaries of winter weather so you do have to keep an eye on them. Last winter was so mild that the slugs were still out munching for most of it so you can easily find that all your lovely seedlings have been nibbled to the ground. More on seed-sowing here.
September is also the time to start planting spring flowering bulbs (all except tulips which benefit from going in the ground later on in November). I love nothing more than poring over the bulbs catalogues looking for new and interesting Tulip varieties for my cutting beds. I always plant up some small pots of Iris reticulata at this time of year which can be brought into the house for flowers during the winter.
During this month, ensure that you keep on top of watering and feeding plants and don't skimp on dead-heading. With dead-heading your Dahlias, Cosmos etc will go on flowering right up to the first frosts which hopefully are a few months away as yet.
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