Looking back to move forward

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Reflecting on your last growing year should mean a better new season, says flower farmer Charlotte Tombs. Also … excitement as we start all over again!

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New beginnings, new starts, new catalogues, new varieties, new compost, new trays, new gloves, new seed markers, new tools (it’s always their fault) … they’re all signs of one the things I love most about growing from seed. It’s another chance to try again each year. You 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. A bit like Groundhog Day, but with you in control (ish).
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 this month, and then put them in the greenhouse as soon as they germinate. I might also soak a few anemone or ranunculus corms and claws and get them to sprout, then plant them up and put them in my little zip-up greenhouse next to the back door so I can monitor the new life emerging.

Try those old seeds
I use January as a month to plan and dream … but, yes, mainly to procrastinate.
Did you know that seed, if stored correctly, only loses 10 per cent of its viability per year? You can do the maths – nine year old seed will have a 10 per cent 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 can save seed from your own plants, that seed may well grow better for you than purchased seed, as it could have adapted to your soil type and growing conditions. This is why those self-seeded young plants in your gravel path are often 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, (also check with a fellow seed geek – you may be able to share or swap seed varieties, or they may have grown it before and 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 as you need for your entire wishlist.

Some gardenkeeping
Use this quiet time to tidy up and organise your seed trays and pots. Use 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). Obviously we were meant to clear up, wash the trays and pots in warm soapy water and put them away for the winter – there may be slugs and snails (or their eggs) hiding, and the last thing you want is a slug chomping through your newly emerging germinating seeds.
I do love the theory, but the practice takes discipline I simply don’t possess. In my defence I don’t, however, buy new plastic pots; all gardeners have hundreds and they can be re-used time and again.

Start journalling
If you haven’t done so, think about keeping a gardening diary, or at least make notes. It really does become 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 +14ºC and this new year matched it, but two years ago on New Year’s Eve the temperatures dropped to -3ºC…
I keep a note of when I sowed a seed and when it flowered, but some gardeners go further, recording dates of germination, potting on, planting out, flowering and then when they were ripped up and another flower grown in its place.
The RHS has a great 5 year diary and you can start it at any time in the year.

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