It's late summer, - The morning air is more chilly, - it's dark as I write this, and it's not even my son's bedtime (the trouble with them growing up!), i've got lots of paper bags sitting on my desk, because for the last few weeks, i've been busy snipping seedheads off lots of plants at the farm (and allotment and my garden, and, if you'll let me, your garden too..)
So as i'm often asked about seed collecting I thought i'd give you my guide to 3 of the best cut flowers to grow from seeds you've collected yourselves.
I was lucky when I moved into my current house, there was Nigella in the back garden, - it self seeded itself every year, in among my Strawberries, and all I had to do was clear away the weeds so it could fall on bare earth. However the only problem with that is that it is really prolific, and the seeds are too good at germinating. This means that the plants are really tightly packed, and you grow very few flowers that have long enough stems to cut.
now I make sure I take a seed pods and sprinkle the seed very thinly on bare earth, - I just want 3 or 4 big plants to grow in the back garden, so I can cut them for the kitchen vase. - At the farm, I grow them in long rows, but because they go over very quickly, even cutting them every day, I plant lots of succession, and 5 different varieties - 4 different rows this year, - there would have been a 5th, but something is partial to germinating Nigella plants
So planting the seeds further apart and in succession gets you good flowers, but how do you then collect seed for next year?
The key to all home seed collecting, is knowing when the seeds are ripe.
For Nigella, - this is when the seed heads have turned papery, and the black seeds can be easily peeled out of the 4 quarters of the pod. These pictures show the progression from flowers, to seed heads, through colour changes to dried pods and the seeds.
this takes about 6 weeks from when the flowers have been at their peak, - so my first row of blue nigella are ready to be harvested, and the white ones, are just turning papery, whereas my late July flowering Nigella, are still at firm coloured pods stage. I'll sow some seeds direct in rows over the next couple of weeks, for early spring flower (late May). - if I left the pods to drop seed naturally, like I did with one of last year's rows, then they will have dropped too late to germinate this Autumn, but will come up in Spring for a mid to end of June flowering season. - Obviously if you keep your harvested seed dry and cool in envelopes at home, you can plant as many or few as you'd like all through next season.
Poppy seed heads are my next suggested Home collection target. - These poppies are purple in flower, but although I love the colour I don't use the blooms, I'm interested in selling the lovely fresh green seed heads in late June and July. - They've been very popular with florists, so much so, that last year I bought and sowed about 6 packets of poppy seeds, - all different varieties. - Hardly any came up, - whereas the seeds that I shook from the heads that missed my cutting scissors last year, came up in great numbers and gave me lovely pods. This seems back to front to me, as ploughed fields have poppies by the hundreds from seeds that have been sitting in the soil for years, yet fresh seed seems to work just as well. Again, you need to wait until the seed is ripe, which is when the seed pod has "popped" some ventilation holes beneath the cap.
My 3rd suggestion is Cerinthe Major Purpurescens
This has been part of my Allotment/ Garden / School Gardening club / Farm set up for the last 6 years, all from home collected seeds.
Seeds are very expensive for this, probably because when the plants get to the stage where you can harvest seeds (the foliage goes a glaucus blue and becomes floppy) then only a small percentage of the seeds are ready at a time. First, inside the blue flower heads, the seeds form and are white and shiny. - Then they turn black and shiny. When they are ready to drop, the shiny surface turns dull. - As you can see by the middle picture, if you don't bag them up at this stage, you get LOTS of seedlings, and as these plants need a 30cm spacing that's not so good. If you sow these now, then you can get a wonderful crop of flowers in April, and if you sow fresh seed from those plants, you can get flowers at the end of July (although I find those flowers never last so well as cut blooms) - I even had flowers at the allotment in December last year from a summer June sowing.
When I was putting together this post, I was spoiled for choice as i've picked so many seeds this year, - i'm also reusing Larkspur, Scabious Black Cat, Bulplurum, Ammi (Major and Visnaga), Fennel, Calendula, and Oralya Grandiflora seeds that i've collected. - I'll keep you updated as to how the seed sowing goes.
So I hope i've given you some inspiration to try some collecting seeds, and if you come along to my next open day on September 21st, i'll have some seeds to give away for you to try.