Sow seeds now for a riotous summer bouquet | Alys Fowler


Like everyone else, I have missed peering into other people’s lives. I’m so ready to see back gardens again, to peep through the back door at interior worlds. The thought of being able to fill the house with flowers and give away big bouquets and tiny posies to those who might need a little cheer has brought about a calmness in me. And I’ve got a plan.

There are hundreds of seeds you could sow for cut flowers: calendulas, scabiosa, cerinthes, sunflowers, malopes, ammi, sweet peas, cosmos, centaurea – the list goes on. You can sow most of these now, directly into the ground, in large containers, or in modules and seed trays to plant out in April. Go for neat, orderly lines or cast broad drifts over bare ground, but don’t scatter over existing beds of plants. It might look as if there is plenty of bare ground, but as perennials bulk out they will cast shade over your emerging seedlings, and most of your efforts will be lost.

Hot riot of sparaxis.

However, if you want a little more certainty, there is still time to plant out summer-flowering bulbs: gladioli; those gorgeously old-fashioned double ranunculus that look like roses; or, if you’re on a tight budget, the hot riot that are sparaxis and ixia from South Africa. Try or garden centres, where 50 bulbs will set you back about GBP6.

This is bombproof gardening. All you need is good sun, good soil (anything that isn’t boggy or bone dry) and a trowel. If you’ve got well-rotted compost, add it to the planting hole; and mulching on top will keep weeds at bay until the new growth appears.

Ranunculus asiaticus.

Farmer Gracy has a good selection of ranunculus in tangerine, burnt orange and hot pinks. Ranunculus are not refined, tasteful things and thus should be celebrated in joyous, riotous colours.

Gladioli come in equally terrifying colour palettes: every shade of pink, peach, purple and lime green you can think of, with all the ruffles and frills to spill over, too. I’m with Morrissey on glads, though, and love the pure white of Gladiolus ‘The Bride’ or the Abyssinian G.murielae with its white flowers and dark-purple markings; both are available from and

The bulbs will come with spacing guides, and if you want nice tall stems for cuttings, space them out properly. Water well after planting – and wait.

Dahlia 'Gallery Art Deco'.

Wherever you find bulbs for spring planting for sale, you’ll find dahlia tubers, too. Their flamboyant flowers need little introduction. They make a huge impact, but are deliciously easy to grow and will give you flowers to pick from late summer until the first frosts – the more you pick, the more you’ll get.

Dahlias hail from South America and are half-hardy, which means they need to be kept frost-free till the end of spring. For best results, temporarily pot up tubers into compost (one per 5l pot) and keep somewhere sheltered, a cold frame or greenhouse, till the end of April. On warm days, you can bring them outside.

If you don’t have a suitable frost-free spot, wait to plant the tubers out directly in May. Store them somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight till then.

The tubers need to be planted so that the stump of last year’s growth is facing upwards. They should be fully covered, with the stump just poking out from the soil surface. Water in well and continue to water throughout the growing season. A handful of chicken manure pellets when the flowerbuds first appear won’t go amiss, either.


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