I’ll start with a few lines on how to start off your gardening experience for those new to the pastime. I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert, just a keen enthusiast who may be able to help those taking up this hobby for the first time. I am a bit of a traditionalist - for example I start onion seeds on Boxing Day - because my grandfather did!
The first thing to take note of is the weather!
It dominates all our efforts and there is no point in fighting it. I therefore always try to start after the equinox - the weather should theoretically be better and it is far more pleasant to work in, with more daylight. I am banned from the kitchen windowsill - but that doesn’t mean YOU can’t use yours!
Don't be tempted to start too early. I hope the photo shows how the onions(white pot) sown 6 weeks after the first Christmas sowing look a lot better than those sown earlier.
Whilst on the subject of weather, I can look back on records I have been taking over the years. For example in both 2019 and 2020 we sat in a high pressure zone and had long dry sunny periods from the 3rd week in March to the end of April, albeit with an easterly wind.
So, last week I started with some seeds. I am fortunate to have a greenhouse so can work happily inside; I have no power so no heated propagator, and have to be aware that it can be 30 degrees in the sunshine, dropping at the moment to 2 or 3 overnight. I am always amazed how little seedlings can survive such a range!
I always try to grow the flower seeds I put in summer containers. I see it as a challenge and it’s very satisfying. Beware buying bedding plants too early. Bad weather lies ahead and they have probably been grown and mollycoddled in warm glasshouses. They do not do well with the shock of temperature variation.
The tomatoes were the first vegetable seeds I planted. I know several of my friends started weeks ago but I should be able to pick my first one in mid-July. I tend to grow the smaller varieties (Sungold and Apero) but do also add a few different ones each year (I’m an impulse buyer!)
Sowing seeds is pretty straight forward. I find any compost will do. However over the years I have been experimenting with various mixes. I now tend to add either vermiculite or perlite to lighten it up with a base mix of Jacks Magic which has consistently for me been successful.
One other main point I would like to make is to sow thinly! Larger seeds I set out individually (e.g. marigolds, sweet peas, cosmos) so I get the numbers I require. I find it discouraging to find I have 100 germinations and have to put most in the compost if I’ve used the whole packet and can't find anyone who wants any. This is one of the drawbacks! I have ended up with a lot of used packets of seed which I have difficulty in throwing away and so when I try to use them years later they don't germinate which gives me a problem when I have to start off much later with newly bought replacements.
I also believe that it helps if you do not disturb the rootball overmuch, so you can transplant the initial sowing straight into its final position without going through the process of "pricking out" into further trays in order for the plant to develop, I believe this sets the plants back by at least 2 weeks.
Seeds such as Cosmos, osteospermum, argyranthemum, lychnis all make good patio plants for the patio or even putting the pots around a border where the soil may not be conducive to good growing.
I have also got into the habit of writing down on a pad I keep in the greenhouse the date, seed company and then eventually the germination date and with the larger seeds which are readily counted the number of seeds as well. I can then see the % germination - it helps with next year's seed purchase.
Follow the instructions on the packet!
Because I sow thinly and only need a few plants I have now started to sow into small pots and not trays. I can then easily fit the pots into clear plastic bags and wait for germination when I take the pots out of the bags. (Saves space as well ). Don't forget to label them! If you would like a real challenge I find sowing the small seeded varieties very difficult. Plants such as Schizanthus (great when potted up for either indoor or outdoor display), antirhinhums, nicotiana, calceolaria(again great indoor pots)and even lobelia have tiny seeds. Vegetable seeds I will sow directly into the open ground but probably not until early May - you've guessed it - weather!!!
Remember - this is me. Others will have totally different views.