Sowing seeds is fussy work – so I hold off until after the equinox, next week
LIFE ST YLE
There comes a time in March when, for a few blissful days, it feels as though spring has arrived. Some people even dig out their shorts. And then the cold weather returns. We continue to live in hope, yes, but there’s a false dawn of spring every year. In the gardening Instagram world it has already been going on for weeks, according to all the seedsowing reels. If you have sown yours: fantastic, I’m happy for you. I have not, because I always do these things late and, in all honesty, until the vernal equinox has passed (20 March this year) it feels premature. There are very few flowers I even think about sowing before now. Cobaea scandens – the rampaging “cup and saucer vine” that flowers in my garden until December, three metres up a sycamore tree – benefits from being sown in January, and some people like to sow sweet peas on Boxing Day (though I prefer to do it in September, with the rest of my hardy annuals). Everything else can wait until proper spring, after the equinox. The longer, warmer days means seeds sown later will catch up with the leggy, struggling seedlings that were ambitiously started off in January, and you’ll spend less time accidentally knocking seed trays off windowsills. Perhaps I’m reluctant because I’m not an innate seed sower. I enjoy the winter ritual of flicking through catalogues and sorting packets, but I find the act itself fussy and particular. Lore suggests you have to be precise and particular to sow well, and consistent and careful with watering. I’m none of these things when I garden. Seedlings are the babies of the plant world and they demand a level of attention I often struggle to give. Some people love this devotion; I find it a bit of a chore. But it is undeniably satisfying to raise a flower bed from a handful of small nothings. Less whimsically, it’s cheaper and dozens of flowers are far easier to grow from seed than buy as plugs. Nasturtiums in soft pastels (Ladybird Rose, Milkmaid and Salmon Baby this year); white aquilegias saved from a friend’s mother’s house; calendula, always, because they tether me to unknown women who have done the same with marigolds for centuries (I like Sunset Buff, pictured). . These comprise the “capsule wardrobe” of seeds I’ve honed over the years and return to each spring. I sow into terracotta seedling pots, water well and leave on top of the shed away from bright sunlight. If it’s dry, I’ll water them every few days, but they generally look after themselves. Come mid-April, I sow direct into the beds and wait to be surprised by the signs of new life emerging. It’s a lo-fi approach, but it works for me. Sow as elaborately or otherwise as you like: you have all of spring ahead of you.