Get sowing!

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Sow hardy annuals like cornflowers and calendula now for robust, early blooms, says farmer Charlotte Tombs – but protect them from winter frost

Amazing Grey poppy
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Charlotte Tombs

If you sow hardy annuals such as cornflowers (centaurea), Bishop’s flower (Queen Anne’s lace or ammi majus) or pot marigold (calendula) from mid August to early September the plants will be big enough to plant out in mid to late October. The soil will still be warm enough then for the roots to establish themselves – be warned the plants will sit and sulk over the winter months and you will no doubt think ‘what was Charlotte on about’!

Calendula with a small guest

Stick with me – as soon as the temperatures start to improve those sulky little plants will rocket into life and you will have bigger, stronger, earlier-flowering plants.
Be aware that if we have some of those hideous cold snaps like we did in December last year, these babies will need a little bit of frost protection. I lost a few shrubs myself last winter as we’d had such a mild autumn then bang; they got frost burned and never came back.
Actually I’ve yet to meet a gardener who didn’t lose something over last winter, climate change is visibly happening around us. For this reason I will be growing more perennials from seed this year – they seem to be able to cope better with our changing climate.

Bishop’s flower – also known as Ammi majus or Queen Anne’s lace


Then when October comes you can sow your autumn sweet peas. Don’t be tempted now – it’s still too warm and they will get over-excited and try and flower and set seedOther annuals you may want to try are honeywort (cerinthe) and love-in-a-mist (nigella). Poppies (papaver) are also wonderful – look out for one called Amazing Grey, it’s incredible, it looks like crushed silk to tissue paper and as the name hints it comes in an array of grey (not quite 50 shades though!!). Others to try are florist’s dill (anethum graveolens) and if you’re keen on wild carrot (daucus), look out for Purple Kisses. You can see it far more clearly on the white variety but the red spot in the middle of the flower is allegedly the blood from where Queen Anne pricked her finger while making lace.

Charlotte’s cornflowers in some rare 2023 sunshine


Also don’t dismiss the lovely little snapdragons (antirrhinum) and give them a go. I do a second sowing of these in February.
Not all of these can be planted out in the autumn unless you are in a very sheltered spot, but all of them can be overwintered in a cold green house.
If you are interested in getting ahead with your annual flowers, I found the book Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler invaluable.
As always, please do feel free to ask me any questions and I will try my best to help!

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