Although it’s been quite cold here at Wisley over the last few weeks, there are definite signs that spring has arrived, with crocuses and daffodils aplenty.
I don’t know about you but I am itching to get seed sowing and have been poring over the seed catalogues planning what new and exciting plants to grow in my garden this year.
As Team Leader of the Members' Seed Scheme, I like to make sure that the seed we’re sending out is viable - so for the last couple of years we’ve been running germination tests. We’ve found that some of it is certainly more challenging to germinate than others!
Growing hot and cold
We use several methods to germinate seeds, and a permanent feature at this time of the year is the small electric propagator in our workroom, which is currently crammed with small pots of seed from this year’s seed list. Sometimes we use the heated mist bench in our Nursery & Propagation unit, to see which method works best. For seeds needing cold stratification (a period of cold) we either place pots of seed outside in our cold frame, which is by our back door, or we place them in one of our fridges for several weeks.
We have found the most successful method of germinating seed requiring a period of cold seems to be leaving them outside over winter in a sheltered spot (our cold frame is north facing) and letting nature take its course. Our cold frame has a lid to protect our pots from the worst weather, which we open on milder days to allow a circulation of air.
Last spring, among other things, we sowed hellebores and astrantias and placed the pots in our cold frame. Nothing happened until February this year when up popped the seedlings in both pots.
Thankfully, not all seed takes as long to germinate. Our sowings of cosmos, agastaches, verbascums, gauras and campanulas showed results much quicker than this – in a matter of days and weeks rather than months.
I think the key to growing from seed is to be patient, but I do believe the reward is worth the wait. About four years ago I sowed crocus seed at home which I then placed outside in my cold frame. Last year was the first year they flowered, but I felt such a sense of achievement when the delicate purple flowers opened. I placed them by my kitchen window so I could admire them every time I looked out the window!
If you’re a member of the RHS it’s not too late to order seed from our Seed Scheme. We sell seed from a range of annuals, herbaceous perennials, bulbs, alpines and shrubs, all at a discounted rate (£8.50 for 12 packets). To order your seed go to www.rhs.org.uk/seedlist. The scheme closes at the end of March.