t’s impossible not to have favourites, says flower farmer Charlotte Tombs as she shares her year-after-year reliable winners
As we hit the quietly productive lull where I’m just sowing seeds and watching them germinate, my thoughts turned to those I grow every year – and what it is that makes me come back and choose my favourites time and again. I even got as far as making a list, which I thought would be fun to share …
Cosmos – simple to grow and will give you armfuls of flowers for weeks and weeks. Sow in late March. The seeds do look a bit like nail clippings (sorry – once seen, never unseen) but are easy to germinate, just plant them in a 15 cell seed tray.
- Cosmos is a half-hardy annual, which means it can’t be planted out until all danger of frost has passed, so keep them in for now.
My favourite varieties are Purity, Cupcakes, Double Click and Apricotta.
- Sweet peas – I sow these from October to mid-March, three seeds to a 9cm pot, and I then plant all three together. There is no need to pinch autumn-sown sweet peas as they branch naturally. These are hardy annuals, and they can be planted out from the end of February (but they may need some protection if it’s very cold).
Varieties I grow again and again are Charlie’s Angels, Earl Grey, Mollie Rilstone, Jilly and White Frills.
- Scabious – such an ugly name for such a pretty flower. The Americans call it the pincushion flower which is much nicer! The seeds look like little shuttlecocks. They are hardy, and you should sow them in March and April. Varieties to try are Oxford Blue, Fata Morgana, Salmon Queen and Stellata for its amazing seed heads.
- Ammi Majus – it looks like cow parsley, it’s a light airy flower and so pretty. It’s hardy, and if you are lucky it will self-seed everywhere which is always a bonus! Sow in the autumn (note this one down for your end-of-season plans!) and overwinter it in the greenhouse; it will grow to six feet tall.
- Nigella or Love in a Mist – so easy to grow and it will self-seed everywhere, so be warned! I love it! Its seed pods are almost as pretty, and will dry really well for an indoor winter display. It’s very hardy. Look out for African Bride, Miss Jekyll and Delft Blue.
- Orlaya – a flat white flower, not as airy as Ammi and with a shorter stem, but from the same family of umbellifers. It will self-seed but can be tricky to germinate – keep the seeds in the fridge, which will help. It can also be autumn sown and overwintered in a greenhouse if you have one. The variety I have is Orlaya grandiflora.
- Calendula – such a cheery flower! Easy to grow and usually with a wonderful, almost neon orange. There are some less intense colour varieties – look for Sunset Buff and Snow Princess, Indian prince is a gorgeous orange variety.
The seeds do once again look like toenail cuttings, but they are easy to germinate and are very hardy.
- Zinnia – one of the last seeds I sow. They like it hot and dry and I don’t sow these half-hardy flowers until May. Such a pop of colour, a bunch of these on your kitchen table is guaranteed to make you smile! Varieties to try are the Benary’s Giants, cactus and the Queen series.
- Panicum Frosted Explosion – not actually a flower at all, this one’s a bit of a cheat. It’s an annual grass and it looks like little fireworks. So so pretty. It’s easy to grow and brings movement to a bunch of flowers – it’s beautiful!
- Limonium or statice – easy to grow and dries well (it’s one of those flowers that actually grows dried; its flowers feel dry as they grow). I grew one called limonium suworowii or rats tails which I’ll definitely grow again. My top tip – when you first grow them, look out for a seed pack with mixed colours. Then you can decide the colours you like, and grow them next year! It’s technically half-hardy but actually I find it quite hardy.
There you have it, my top ten flowers I grow from seed every year! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about cut flowers so please do ask.