Gardening: A walk on the wild purple side: It's time to get summer seeds into the ground, says Anna Pavord

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The Independent Online
THERE are still four packets of seed rattling around in my shoebox filing cabinet: foxglove, campanula, columbines and the fat double daisy, Bellis perennis, this one a variety called 'Goliath Mixed' (Thompson & Morgan, 99p). After the great push of spring seed sowing, summer seeds can get forgotten. There is so much else to be doing at this time of year. I am still fighting docks that have walked straight off a Frankenstein film set.

However, I have cleared and raked a patch of ground in the vegetable garden ready for the seeds, and they are going in this week. A wide range of biennial and perennial flowers can be raised this way - much cheaper than buying ready-grown plants, and not difficult to do.

The most important thing is the bed that the seeds will lie in. It should not be lumpy, or too dry, or too wet. In most parts of the country, conditions at the moment are ideal. There is still plenty of moisture in the ground and enough warmth to tickle the seeds into life. If the ground is still dry, as a gardener in Leicestershire was complaining to me this week, soak the drills well before you scatter seed along them.

Sowing seed outside is very much easier than fiddling around under cover. The seedlings do not get drawn and leggy, as so easily happens when you raise seed indoors. The root systems they develop in open ground are more extensive and sustaining than anything that happens in a seed tray.

There are hazards, of course. Mostly in the shape of slugs and snails which lumber round the garden as big as tortoises. Take precautions. I also cover newly-sown drills with lengths of chicken wire to protect them from scrabbling cats and birds.

When the seedlings are growing robustly and the weather is propitious - you need it cool and damp - lift each plant with a trowel and replant it in fresh soil with a decent space (6-9in) between it and its neighbours. Then in September, you can shift the plants to their permanent homes.

This regime suits flowers that we use as annuals - wallflowers, sweet williams, stocks - biennials such as the evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, and the ordinary foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, and some perennials such as hollyhock, coreopsis and the cup-and-saucer campanula which I shall be sowing this week.

Many of the biennials, the evening primrose and foxglove for instance, will self-seed profusely once they are established. I enjoy this. It changes the emphasis of the garden. This year there are no foxgloves among the hydrangeas in the north-facing border where I started them off. Instead, they are bouncing up among shuttlecock ferns and hostas much further up the bank. Some have seeded into an old mossy trunk and are flowering extraordinarily well, given a rather unbalanced diet of rotting wood and no soil.

If you allow selected strains of foxglove such as 'Apricot' and 'Excelsior' to self-seed, they gradually drift back towards the wild purple type. When the specials have disappeared completely, it is time to start again. People with white gardens do not smile upon purple foxgloves. They can easily be distinguished from the white, though, even at seedling stage. Plants that are going to bear white flowers show none of the purple staining on leaves or stems that the purple flowered ones have. As far as I am concerned, all are welcome.

Digitalis obscura, the one I am growing this year, is nowhere near as showy as the common foxglove. Indeed, it may turn out to be too obscure for its own good. It is barely 2ft tall and has spikes of brownish purple flowers, rather small. It will probably disappear entirely in the galumphing embrace of the brunnera and ligularia on the dampish bit of bank where I was thinking of putting it.

But when you are nuts about a particular family of plants, as I am nuts about foxgloves, it is difficult to resist the temptation to introduce yourself to all the members of the family that you don't know. It is the same with authors. Once you find a writer you like, you seek out all their books. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a good reason for this particular foxglove's obscurity.

Foxgloves are outstanding in shade, not the dry, starved kind but plump, damp shade where ferns are natural companions. They are tolerant, though, of a wide range of conditions. They are growing well this year in full sun in the fast-draining, sandy soil of the Lincolnshire garden that we look after. They are with thalictrum, Vatican sage and some monster peonies, 'Bowl of Beauty' and 'Globe of Light'.

The double daisies are to line the edge of a path on the bank. I made a mistake here and first used the wild ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). This is the daisy that is flowering now all along the roadside verges. I have always loved it and had a bunch as my wedding bouquet.

In a bouquet they were fine; on the bank they have been a disaster. They grew far too lush and tall and consequently flopped all over the path. When they have finished flowering, I shall cut them back, dig them up and plant them in a wild piece of grass which will curb their growth. By that time the double daisies should be ready to replace them. Note that I did not say 'will'.

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