Growing Biennials from Seed

Now is the time to sow Biennial Seeds. But what exactly are they and why do we need to sow them in summer?

What are Biennials?

Biennials are hardy plants which are grown from seeds sown this summer. They produce roots and foliage this year then burst into life next spring with masses more foliage, long stems and lots of flowers in late spring and early summer. Sown this summer they have eight to ten months to grow into super strong, healthy plants.

Why Grow Biennials?

Biennials are brilliant for early blooms next year. Most of them flower from May until July so they fill that annoying gap between spring bulbs and summer flowering perennials. Some biennials go on flowering for much longer. In our garden Wallflowers  Erysimum cheiri begin flowering in March, Sweet Rocket Hesperis matronalis very often starts flowering in April and goes on until August and Honesty Lunaria annua produces beautiful decorative seed pods which we like to leave on the plants as long as possible.

When’s the best time to Sow Biennials?

June, July and August are the best months to sow biennial flower seeds. The aim is to produce healthy, vigorous young plants that can be planted into their flowering position in September or October at the latest here in the UK before the cold weather hits.

How to Sow Biennial Seeds.

I usually follow the traditional method for sowing biennials by sowing them directly into a well prepared seedbed. It’s easy to let them grow and develop over summer then transplant the young plants to their flowering position in autumn. I also sow seed indoors in modules to keep them away from the wild creatures rampaging through our garden. We have visiting ducks and squirrels, mice and voles, slugs and snails. I love most of our wild visitors but it really annoys me if they eat my freshly sown seeds or my squeaky fresh young seedlings! Also, I’ve found that tiny seeds like Foxgloves Digitalis purpurea benefit from a little more care indoors. Once the plants are nicely established they are more able to resist attack and can be planted outdoors.

For a more detailed growing guide including how to prepare a seedbed please see How to Grow Foxgloves

Which Biennials are Best for Cut Flowers? 

Many Biennials produce long strong stems which are great for cutting. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus
  • Foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea
  • Sweet Rocket Hesperis matronalis
  • Honesty, Lunaria annua
  • Iceland Poppies, Papaver nudicaule
  • Wallflowers  Erysimum cheiri

You’ll find that each plant group mentioned above has many named varieties. There are lots to choose from! Some of them are dwarf varieties bred especially for bedding plants and to look good in a pack at the garden centre. They are not ideal for cut flower production but they are brilliant for a splash of colour in your garden and for your pots and containers. In the photo below you can see that the dwarf Forget-me-Not is a perfect partner for Tulips in large containers. It makes a lovely little bedside posie too but won’t really make the grade if you’re growing cut flowers to sell in bunches. It pays to choose carefully!

There are other much taller varieties which are much better for cut flowers and those are the plants I like to grow in my own garden. To make it easy for you here are some of my NEW Biennial Seed Collections with long stemmed flowers which I know grow particularly well together. I’d appreciate your thoughts on them if you have time to have a look and send me a comment.

     

     

Of course there are many combinations of Biennials that work really well together and the earliest biennial flowers (Wallflowers & Forget-me-Not) grow beautifully with Tulips too.

I know we’re only just getting started with summer 2017 and 2018 seems like a long way off right now… but I’m taking a little time to plan ahead and sow some Biennials now,  so by spring next year my garden will be full of beautiful flowers. For the cost of a few packets of seed you can grow lots of plants too. You’ll be so appreciative of your own foresight, there will be masses of blooms for cutting and plenty left for bees and butterflies to enjoy!

Are you planning to grow biennials for next spring?
Which are your favourites?

Happy Gardening Gillian 🙂

 

 

 

 

Plants for Butterflies

One of my plans this year was to attract more Butterflies to our garden. We are very lucky and already have a very wildlife friendly garden with wild creatures spilling in from neighbouring hedgerows, fields and woodlands. For the past 13 years we have planted hedges, gardened organically (zero chemicals) and provided food, fresh water and shelter for insects, birds and mammals. Despite all our efforts we have noticed that the number of visiting Butterflies has been falling each year. Declining numbers of Butterflies seems to be a UK wide problem for a variety of reasons ranging from adverse weather conditions to loss of habitat and food plants for adults and caterpillars.

We can’t do much about the weather I know but we can provide food and shelter. So this year we are growing some plants specifically to provide vegetation for egg laying and food for caterpillars such as Honesty (Lunaria annua), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Nasturtium (Tropaeolum). We already have lots of hedges with shrubs such as Blackthorn and Holly with Ivy and Honeysuckle scrambling through them. These are suitable food plants and good egg laying places for certain butterfly species. In addition we are leaving strips of grass to grow long and flower in strategic places such as around the pond and along a sunny hedge. Apparently long grass is essential for many species of moths, crickets and butterflies. I’ve persuaded my lovely husband to be a bit more restrained with his mower and strimmer this year. To the despair of my Dad (who is a very tidy gardener!) we are also leaving patches of fresh young nettles in sunny places too. Juicy young nettle leaves are delicious caterpillar food… apparently!

The number one plant for adult Butterflies is Buddleja. We have several Buddleja bushes and it doesn’t seem to matter which variety or colour you choose. Butterflies love them all. Each conical bloom is made up of hundreds of tiny tubular flowers filled with nectar that the butterflies love. Buddleja shrubs are widely available, inexpensive and easy to grow. What’s more it’s easy to take Buddleja Cuttings and grow more plants if you want to.

Buddleja is an amazing shrub… but we haven’t stopped there. Many smaller, easy to grow garden plants and wildflowers also provide food for adult Butterflies. We’re growing them in the borders and in large containers too. Here are some of my favourites in flower this month.

Plants for Butterflies in June

 

Top row: Achillea millefolium, Lychnis coronaria, Lathyrus latifolius, Silene dioica
Bottom row: Lonicera periclymenum, Cosmos bipinnatus, Geranium pratense, Knautia arvensis

In our garden Verbena bonariensis (below) will be in flower by the end of June and go on flowering until September/October. Like Buddleja, Verbena flowers have many tiny tubular blooms filled with nectar that butterflies find irresistible. What’s not to love about these plants? They are beautiful, good for cut flowers and great for wildlife!

All of these nectar rich wildlife friendly flowers will attract more butterflies into our garden this year. I’ve already spotted quite a few flitting about on warm, still days. It’s the Big Butterfly Count next month. It runs from 14th July until 6th August… so I’ll soon see if these plants are having the effect we hoped for. Are you joining in with the butterfly count in your garden this year?

Which is your favourite plant for Butterflies? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment.

Thanks for visiting and Happy Gardening. Gillian 🙂