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How to Grow the Flowers: An excerpt on seed sowing

Ahead of their book launch on 27 September, organic flower growers Wolves Lane Flower Company share an exclusive extract from How to Grow the Flowers: A sustainable approach to enjoying flowers through the seasons.

Here are Marianne and Camila’s seed sowing tips to set yourself up for growing successful cut flowers:

A brown speck burgeoning into a fully fledged plant in one short season is miraculous, and the rush of success addictive. Once you’ve mastered a few easy varieties and been able to cut armfuls of sweet peas or calendula, it’s easy to be totally seduced by the seed catalogues and order everything like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. Growing from seed is a thrifty way of filling your plot but not if you buy more seeds than you have room for or time to nurture. Be selective and remember, there will be future seasons to try new, alluring varieties.

Throw something down on bare earth in autumn or spring and you’re in with a chance of some flowers next spring, but for more accurate results we prefer to sow into modules and trays. Regardless of your
sowing method, it’s important to remember to stay flexible and alert to the conditions of your plot at any given time of year. Each seed will have specific likes and dislikes – how much light or heat it needs to germinate, how deeply you cover it in compost, the medium you’re sowing into and how much time, attention and water you remember to give the seeds once sown. No matter how exacting you are, a cold snap or heat wave can also arrive to slow everything down or frazzle your fragile new babies. Or tiny snails can stealthily swarm in the dead of night and decimate your baby seedlings. We can never fully control this process of new life, but there are things we can do systematically to help.


1. Choose your moment

There can often be an itchy enthusiasm to begin and wipe away all of the previous year’s mistakes by getting ahead with seed sowing. Despite zeal for the task in hand brought about by the arrival of new seed packets, don’t rush this process. The last week of summer or first of autumn tends to be when we start our hardy annuals in earnest. If it’s particularly warm we might hold off a little to prevent everything drying out too quickly and making growing conditions rather inhospitable. In a mild autumn we sow right through the middle of the season, then stop until after Valentine’s Day when the UK has 10 full hours of sunlight.

2. Choose your medium

Seeds have all they need to germinate wrapped up in that little hard shell but they do need a free draining, light, fine-textured medium to spark into life. We have experimented with making our own
seed compost using roughly half coir, a quarter homemade compost and an eighth of each sand and vermiculite, but it’s not precise. Like cooking, you develop an instinct for this and can add ingredients until it feels loose, fluffy and free draining. This season we’ve been more pinched for time and decided to keep things consistent by buying a specific seed compost. Whatever you do, always buy peat-free compost – gardening is no excuse for the destruction of a thousand-year old fragile, planet-saving ecosystem.

3. Select your containers and modules

We like to have clear control over how many seedlings we’re starting so we use a 40-module tray where each plug is 5cm/2in diameter by means we’ll prick out whatever does appear a week or so later.

4. Sieve

Your seeds want to wake up into an even, fine compost. If sieving all the compost feels time consuming,
you can break up your compost with your hands and first half-fill the seed trays with this before sieving the top layer more finely.

5. Check moisture levels

Your compost should be consistently moist but not sopping wet – you shouldn’t be able to squeeze the water out of a handful!

Marianne Mogendorff and Camila Romain will be in conversation with Claire Ratinon and Aloha Bonser-Shaw on Tuesday 27 September: book tickets

Extracted from How to Grow the Flowers: A sustainable approach to enjoying flowers through the seasons by Marianne Mogendorff & Camila Romain (Pavilion Books). Images by Aloha Shaw.