The joy of growing from seed


Charlotte Tombs, an experienced Dorset flower farmer at Northcombe Flowers in Sturminster Marshall, shares her growing year and seasonal thoughts with us.

I use January as a month to plan and dream about my new year’s flowers and vegetables, says Charlotte Tombs, who explains why a garden diary is a great idea.


New beginnings, new start, new catalogues, new varieties, new compost, new trays, new gloves, new seed markers, new tools (it’s always their fault)… all the things I love about growing from seed. We get another chance to try again each year, we can wipe clean all those gardening mishaps and go in with a clean slate, a new approach, a determination to do things better or differently – like Groundhog Day but with us in control – almost!

My slow start in January

I don’t start seed sowing in earnest until February, when the natural light levels improve, but I will sow a few sweetpea seeds somewhere warm then put them in the greenhouse as soon as they germinate. Or I’ll soak
a few anemone or ranunculus corms and claws and get them to sprout, plant them and put them in my little zip-up greenhouse next to the back door so I can monitor the new life emerging.

Don’t throw old seeds!

I use January as a month to plan and dream – but mainly to procrastinate.
Did you know that seed, if stored correctly, only loses 10% of it’s viability per year? Do the maths: nine year old seed will have a 10% germination rate. So never give up on an interesting old packet of seeds found in your grandparents’ drawer – you may just get a successful outcome, even if only partial. If you sow 50 seeds, then you could get five healthy and attractive plants.
It’s also worth remembering that if you can save seed from your own plants, that seed may grow better for
you – it could have adapted to your soil type and growing conditions. That’s often why those self- seeded seedlings in your gravel path are so much healthier than the ones you mollycoddled last year.

So check what seeds you have left, pore over those seed catalogues, make a list of everything you want to grow, (and check with a fellow seed geek – you may be able to share or swap seed varieties, or your acquaintance may have grown it before and advise that it was a waste of space or time).

Then if you are anything like me, you’ll need to cut your list down considerably as you never have as much space for what you want.

Clever use of January

Use this ‘down-time’ time to finally tidy and organise your seed trays and pots: take an old brush to clean out all the old soil if they are lying around outside and have been buried under a pile of leaves like mine.

At the back end of Autumn we were all meant to clear up, wash the trays/pots in warm soapy water and put them away for the winter as there may be slugs and snails (or their eggs) hiding; the last thing you want is a slug chomping through your newly emerging germinating seeds. I love the theory, but the practise takes discipline, which frankly I don’t possess.
I don’t however buy new plastic pots – all gardeners have hundreds and they can be re-used time and again.

Make 2022 the year you begin keeping a garden diary
If you haven’t done so, think about keeping a gardening diary or making notes. It will be a very useful aid.

And if you have gardening geek tendencies like I do, you’ll find it fascinating that last New Year’s Eve the temperature was -3o C, and this new year +14o C and we had snow at the end of January 2021. Yes I know, crazy!

I simply keep a note of when I sowed a seed and when it flowered. Some gardeners go further; they will record dates of germination, potting on, planting out, flowering and then when they were ripped up and another flower grown in its place. The RHS have a great five year diary and you can start it at any time in the year.

Charlotte Tombs, an experienced Dorset flower farmer at Northcombe Flowers in Sturminster Marshall


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