Take a pot shot: Have a go at growing from seed and give yourself a flying start for the Olympics
Sunday 12 February 2012
In a deluge of paper and plastic, the spring catalogues arrive. With loud boasting, too: 40 kinds of tomato, posh ranges of six French salad potatoes, more vegetables than anyone else. This is gardening, 2012 style, its face all freshly scrubbed and ready to go.
There are plenty of ways to acquire plants in this world, as those of us who glumly studied our 2011 bank statements while preparing tax returns can attest. But growing plants from seed has a special kind of magic to it – and requires a bit of expertise.
Not at the start, mind. It doesn't require skill, most of the time, to get seeds to germinate. You usually just plonk them into moist soil and they do it themselves. It's the next bit that's complicated: getting those perfect little two-leaved seedlings to be proper plants, without them getting chewed, eaten, unwatered, mouldy or just tipped over by small children or dogs.
Seedlings don't always need absolutely direct sunlight, so a safe west-facing window sill in your spare room may be loads better than a south-facing one with lots of passing (child and dog) traffic. Porches are good – they feel cold, and the seedlings will grow slowly, but in the end this gives them a better chance of surviving in the great outdoors.
There are a few other techniques to help. Begin not with seed trays but with individual pots, putting just one or two seeds in each, so seedlings can grow to quite a size before being moved. If you don't mind a slightly hippie protest-camp vibe you can make your own pots with old newspaper and a Paper Potter – these are rather beautiful objects made of oak round which you shape into a little pot, (£9.95 from harrodhorticultural.com).
You can also sow some seeds straight into the ground. Nasturtiums, Love-in-a-Mist, sunflowers and poppies are all beauties which germinate well even with rough handling, though you may wait longer than a greenhouse owner. Nasturtiums in particular are excellent – practically foolproof, I want to say, but that could be overstating it: distinctive lily-pad leaves and bright edible flowers that can lift a summer salad to almost uneatable prettiness. Thompson & Morgan has more than 30 kinds of nasturtium on offer, and I'm going to recommend brand-new "Cobra", a spectacular deep red (£1.99 for 30 seeds, thompson-morgan.com).
And that deep red brings me to the most important task of 2012: those red, white and blue window boxes. Last year when I planted some of these in time for the Royal Wedding, my horrified French neighbour croaked, "I thought you were a republican!". Well, there we go. I'm not crazy for the Olympics either, but it's any excuse round here for matching window boxes and bunting. I will, of course, be ignoring the official Orwellian window-box directive requesting a "vibrant colour palette" showing "London 2012 shapes and patterns". That weird fidgetty logo, in pink petunias? Ugh. Red, white and BLUE, and a whole extra Bank Holiday to enjoy them. Cheers!
As you'd expect from the doyenne of good taste, Sarah Raven's "Celebrate Britain" selection is a cut above: red poppies, blue cornflowers and white cosmos. £3.50, sarahraven.com
Too lazy to sow seed? Celebrate 2012 with plugs: little plants that come in the post ready to be planted into containers. Suttons is offering Cobalt Lobelia, Calibrachoa Red Devil and white Verbena for a storming hanging basket. 12 plants, £13.99, suttons.co.uk
Statesmanlike sweet peas
Grow red, white and blue Spencer Series sweet peas for patriotic granny bouquets or train over front-garden bamboo pyramids. 50 mixed plants, £17.90, mr-fothergills.co.uk
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