Garden // Your Spring Growing Questions Answered

March 03, 2018

Before this thick blanket of snow and week of freezing weather arrived I had started to get back into the garden and preparing for this year's growing season. It seems like lots of you on Instagram are keen to get going too but had a few questions. So I decided to enlist the help of an expert grower to help me answer some of them.

As you'll know from previous posts, I love growing everything from pumpkins to hydrangeas to dahlias in our garden and allotment - and you can see all of my past garden blogs here. But the lovely Zoe from Swan Cottage Flowers {if you don't follow her already, you can find her on Instagram here and her website here} owns a whole flower farm and grows flowers for weddings. What a dream! In the grounds of her 15th Century thatched cottage, she has a garden, a vegetable garden and a whole field dedicated to growing flowers. She's been in that particular spot for over 10 years but has been a fan of growing for much longer and now enjoys sharing some of her knowledge both in courses at her farm as well as very generously on Instagram for us all to learn from. I can't wait to go and visit her later this year to see where the magic happens, and hopefully attend one of her courses. I've asked her your most burning questions below and have given some of my top tips too. 

And as a quick sidenote, here's what I've been doing recently in the garden {before the big Beast from the East arrived!} - 
I made a start on clearing some of the beds, getting rid of any woody/old stems and tidying up. We applied a mulch over the beds to add nutrients and starve off weeds. You can see some of the perennials starting to peek through.

I've planted some sweet pea seedlings and larkspur and left them out in the greenhouse. We've started a tray of tomatoes and aubergine seeds off inside. I've cut back our roses {now is the time to do this} and you want to prune them fairly harshly taking it back to a fresh bud, creating an open shape and removing any weak growth or crossing branches. In the next few weeks when the weather warms up we'll start off some other seeds - kale, cosmos, beetroot etc.

Lots more like this in last year's post online here.

{SCF = Swan Cottage flowers}

// Best slug repellent?

SCF - Best is keeping an eye out and snipping them in half! We also tried beer traps – Boddingtons was brilliant! Nematodes are great but for us they would be too expensive so we use also organic slug pellets and put them out sparingly ages before you even think you need them to stop breeding in its tracks – we also found a chicken was brilliant although she did need a careful eye or she was off digging up our seedlings!!!!! If you do a combination of all these then you can keep the problem under control.

RVK - We've tried copper but tend to find organic slug pellets best like these.

// Any pretty climber ideas for both sunny and shady spots?

SCF - Clematis is a fabulous plant and there is a variety for every aspect and flowing month, it’s pretty soil tolerant. Honeysuckle is also brilliant especially if you pick an evergreen variety

RVK - A climbing hydrangea? Or a rose.

// What is the secret to growing Lavender successfully?
SCF - Lavender is a hot weather plant, so not much in the way of pampering, you have heard the phrase ‘kill with kindness?’ Its needs a baking hot position with free draining almost dusty soil, recreate this in terracotta pots if required and never cut back into dead wood

RVK - Try English varieties rather than French which are harder to grow.

// Top flowers to grow for a cutting garden
SCF - Time of year makes a huge difference. Bulbs are a brilliant starter flower, everything you need is already in the that bulb, its a little flower bulb primed and ready to go! They are for Spring

For early Summer Ammi Majus and Dacus Carorta or Queen Anne Lace or Chocolate Lace flower are great for Later Spring and last 10 days in a vase, Early Summer is the Sweetpea but it hates a heatwave! Past that it has to be the Queen of the late summer garden, Dahlias……..a plant variety I am obsessed with! 

RVK - Definitely sweet peas and dahlias for me.

// Any tips for growing larkspur from seed?
SCF - It’s a cool weather plant like Ammi and Sweetpeas so expect great flowers from Late Spring and Early to late Autumn, it hates the heat of summer, its also very tricky to germinate.

It needs violent temperature variations to germinate well. You can put seed into the freezer for 2 weeks before sowing to help, better is to sow in an unheated greenhouse in the Autumn and let nature do the rest, the best method is to buy fresh seed from a proper seed supplier such as Chiltern Seeds. They will store the seed properly for you and sow it straight away. Don’t buy it from a garden centre where it could have been sitting more months at a balmy 22 degrees! Don’t keep it from one year to a next either. 

They don't like root disturbance so only plant one per cell.

RVK - I'm going to be following Zoe's tips as I've found Larkspur difficult in the past. I've got mine in the greenhouse at the moment but will also sow some direct into the ground in a few weeks time and see which perform better.

// Sweet pea tips
SCF - So many that we even have a workshop dedicated to these amazing flowers, they are totally worth all the effort! Buy Spencer Varieties for super large blooms on long stems. They are hardy so sow in the autumn for the best flowers of your life! January blooms are almost but not quite as good.
Harvest at least every 5 days and tie in every few days.

RVK - The first year I ever grew sweet peas they were amazing, but since then {I think down to the hot summers} they haven't done as well. I've just started mine in the greenhouse now but in future will definitely start them off earlier. They're also fairly heavy feeders and thirsty so make sure you plant in a well fertilised {with manure} soil and don't let them dry out. This year I've also bought root trainer pots to start them off in as they like to create long roots and have soaked the seeds in water for a day before sowing.

// Successional sowing
SCF - Successional sowing is a bit confusing, some flowers are so much better at different times of the year so yes we successional sow but not the same plants, as temperature changes we sow different seeds for flowers all season.

// How to make flowers last longer when cut
SCF - Only cut flowers when you can’t feel the sun on your neck, Spring is easy but in Summer I get up at 6am for my brides or we snip until almost dark – Neil goes out for takeaway!

Cut flower straight into water, I don’t think flowers ever really recover from travelling in dry boxes as freight, we’ve tried that with peonies, yes, you can pick and lay flat in the fridge for weeks before finally waking them up but the colour and vibrancy is a world away from what it was!!

RVK - With some flowers like roses if you cut them whilst they're in bud, they'll then open up in a vase. Always recut dahlia stems underwater or they'll close up.

// What flowers grow well in places that don’t get loads of sun?
SCF - I’m totally in love with Nicandra physalodes. It grows anywhere, foxgloves are also brilliant and really any biennial – You need to be a bit organised and sow them in late summer when your mind is on other things….but wow they will grow and give you the best flowers in spots you thought where all was lost, we always grow extra for gifting to our workshop guests.

RVK - Hydrangeas like shadey spots. Or foxgloves like Zoe mentioned.

// What kind of plants can I grow in pots?
SCF - Hands down Scented Pelargoniums, there are plants that are vegatively propagated = cuttings. Also some Dahlia’s and bulbs! Between them you have a year in colour!

RVK - Hydrangeas are easy in pots and come back year after year. {see this guide}. And bulbs too {blog post here}

// ‘I have no idea what I should be sowing/planting in the garden for a beautiful bloom filled garden in summer. It can still be so cold so I don’t want to plant out too soon’
SCF - There is no end or beginning, there is a plant for Winter and hot high summer. We tend to replant twice, every six months with a glorious selection!

RVK - Sweet peas are perfect to sow now and any hardy annuals like Larkspur too. I'd wait until the middle of March to start planting cosmos and half hardy annuals. The back of the seed packets should give you a good guide too. You can start potting up your dahlias {see this guide}.

// What should you do if you don’t have a greenhouse & want to sow things like tomatoes and cosmos before planting out?
SCF - Tomatoes and Cosmos are just the best plants for beginners! Tomatoes seeds germinate forever! I’ve literally seeds 10 years old! Up they come! You don’t need a greenhouse – I started with a shelf near a spare bedroom window….and guess what you don’t have to worry about frost or damping off the scourge of greenhouse growing!

RVK - Before we had a greenhouse we used a section of a spare room to start everything off {see here}. Even with our greenhouse now too we start the things that need extra warmth off inside like tomatoes. You can buy heated propagators from any garden centre or Wilko's.

// How do you avoid leggy seedlings if you keep them indoors?
SCF - Seeds grow to the light meaning that you keep turning and the seeds get even more leggy!
The best way to avoid this outside a greenhouse is to have a grow light, but I didn’t have one for most of my gardening life and you can get round this but making a tinfoil reflector {see Swan Cottage Flower's instagram stories}

But even if you get really leggy, just pot on your seed and bury it up to its neck in compost, Tomatoes will ACTUALLY root from the stem meaning you can fix any early issues.

// Do you repot all your seedlings into bigger pots or plant them out when big enough from the seed trays?
SCF - I re-pot if the weather is too poor to plant out, but mostly if you plant 1 seed to a cell and that keeps them happy for months! I find it really hard to discard seedlings if more than one germinates so I’ll have a spare tray for transplants – if they take they all take!

We plant our into their final planting place as soon as we can but be careful as its so tempting when they are sooo tiny to plant too close which = poor flowers. 22cm is ideal for most seeds

We use a cloche to plant our earlier and get them settled with a bit of protection. 

RVK - We repot cosmos and courgettes/pumpkins that grow fast but can't be planted out until the frosts have finished.

// Easiest things for a beginner to manage?
SCF - Bulbs and Dahlia’s are brilliant to get your confidence.

A huge thank - you to Zoe for all of her growing knowledge. You can find her on Instagram here.

Are you excited to get growing again? Roll on Springtime and all the pretty flowers.

R <3 xx 

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