In ‘Ho ho sow’, Jane Scorer shares some great ideas for Christmas gifts.
Are you in the midst of your Christmas shopping? If you are, then I bet you can feel an oppressive weight on your shoulders, that burden of what to buy for people this year. What do you buy for the ones who have everything they need? You’ve done pants and novelty socks to death, you’ve racked your brains for inspiration and you still haven’t got a clue.
Take my advice… buy them all seeds!
Buying seeds as Christmas gifts takes the stress out of Christmas shopping
Wisdom has it that you should choose presents which you, yourself would enjoy. Well, I can’t think of anything I would rather have than seeds – they are pure hope in a packet. The promise of colour, scent and… the return of the sun. All that optimism in a tiny, wrinkled seed!
Many of us have children to buy for, and even if they only have a tiny growing space, like a windowsill, it’s still worth choosing seeds as part of their gift. They won’t want to wait for months to see a result, and you hope to get them hooked on growing, so choose something with a quick return. You might just give them a gift which will last a lifetime – a passion for gardening and growing things. The obvious choices are mustard and cress as the results can be eaten very quickly, and they will grow happily in a tiny space. If they enjoy trying new vegetable tastes and textures, you could buy them alfalfa or mung beans so that they can be eating the germinating sprouts in days.
If the children you buy for have access to a patch of garden, then there are so many more seed options to explore. Sunflowers are an obvious choice, and there are lovely varieties to try like Thompson & Morgan’s dark reds, ‘Claret F1 Hybrid’ and ‘Velvet Queen’. The seeds themselves are very tactile, and large enough for small fingers to plant easily. Although there will inevitably be a wait for germination, that will be richly repaid after the seedling appears, as growth will be rapid – and measurable!
Sunflower seeds – the perfect Christmas gift for children
Children also enjoy novelty, so it might be worth trying Thompson & Morgan’s ‘Snake Gourds’, which produce snake like fruits that can be painted when dried. There is also an easy-to-grow ornamental cucumber, ‘Hedgehog’, which produces a fascinating variety of striped and prickly fruits.
Any seeds chosen for children to grow should germinate easily and reasonably quickly, so that success is only a seed tray away. A negative experience is hardly going to encourage a small, potential gardener. The plants themselves should be tough, vigorous and hard to kill off!
Adolescents are notoriously difficult to buy for, and unless a present hits the spot precisely, it will remain untouched and unused. Seeds are only a couple of pounds a packet though, so if your teenager’s imagination does not ignite, then you haven’t broken the bank. What might appeal? Maybe something exotic, dark and unusual, like sweet pepper ‘Black Knight’ or tomato ‘Black cherry’. Teenagers usually love to eat! Unless your teenager is an experienced gardener, then any seeds chosen would have to be easy to germinate and grow.
For adults, it is more about matching the seeds to an individual’s interests and character. A traditional vegetable grower, who sticks religiously to the same varieties every year, might relish the challenge of unusual varieties like dwarf bean ‘Purple Teepee‘, zingy ‘Rainbow Beet’ or courgette ‘Zephyr’, (which is yellow with a green tip). The same is true of the traditional annual grower, who may, without question, grow the same lobelia and marigolds every year. Encourage them to widen their horizons with new annuals such as yellow and white nemesia cheiranthus ‘Shooting Stars’, whose name describes it perfectly… and it smells of coconut!
Give unusual seeds as gifts to tempt gardeners into trying something different
Passionate gardeners love to try new things and to grow plants they have never grown before. Even someone with a tiny garden could find room for an unusual annual climber, and a good one to try is cobea scandens, with large purple or white flowers. It germinates very easily and grows on well, flowering from late summer onwards. The ‘cup and saucer’ blooms are truly spectacular. Another unusual annual climber is mina lobata or ‘Spanish Flag’, so named because it displays all the colours of the Spanish flag. It is quite vigorous and will ramble over walls and fences.
Ageing or less mobile gardeners can be a problem to buy for, but seeds solve the present predicament yet again! For example, cacti seeds are easy to grow and a mixed packet is full of surprises. It is fascinating to watch the young plants develop and grow into different shapes and sizes. They germinate more easily and quickly than you might think and within a couple of years, they will be reasonably substantial plants, requiring minimum care. Succulents and ‘living pebble’ plants (lithops) are also interesting options.
There are some seeds which you should never buy for a gardener, and I speak from personal experience here! Never buy seeds which will turn an interest into an obsession. That means no auriculas, dahlias, giant veg seeds or alpines. Buying any of those could mean that you see very little of the person you bought them for, as they will be in the greenhouse constantly, or whizzing round the country to show and exhibitions.
So, what would I like Santa to bring me, in his sack? Now, I grew ‘Bishop’s Children’ this year and was amazed by how large and floriferous the plants were in the first season. I vowed I would grow dahlias from seed every year from now on. So, I would be delighted to find dahlia variabilis ‘Redskin’ in my stocking on Christmas morning. It is a mix of dark foliaged dahlias with flowers of varying colours, all compact and free flowering.
Last summer, I visited Sissinghurst garden and fell in love with ‘love in a mist’, such a traditional annual, which is often overlooked. In my own garden I have grown an unnamed variety, saving the seed every year, and scattering it the following spring. The blue of the flowers has become more and more washed out over the years. Sissinghurst grows the most spectacular sapphire blue with a darker blue eye, and the nearest match I can find to it is nigella damascena ‘Oxford Blue’. Go on Santa, get me some!
So, there you are, all your Christmas presents sorted now, and you get a good excuse to spend hours trawling through the seed catalogues too.
You can read more of Jane’s blog posts at Hoe hoe grow
Sue Sanderson and Colin Randel, two of Thompson & Morgan’s experts give their top 5 flower and vegetable seeds for the new season…
Sue Sanderson is Thompson & Morgan’s Horticulturist and has 11 years of gardening experience.
Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’
When this was first seen in the T&M breeding trials we were all excited as this was the first time a red rudbeckia had ever been bred from seed. Not only is the colour stunning, but so is the plant – it’s bushy and robust with many burgundy red blooms adding height to annual displays and blooming all summer into autumn, whatever the weather.
Marigold ‘Durango Tangerine’
When we first trialled this variety ‘Durango Tangerine’ stood out against all others – its habit, colour and flower power were, and still are, truly outstanding. This is the only French Marigold I grow in my own garden because the colour is so vibrant, the plants are bushy and free-flowering all summer, making the perfect edging plant to my borders.
Busy Lizzie ‘Divine’
A breeding breakthrough and the answer to many gardeners’ prayers. A Busy Lizzie that does not get mildew unlike traditional varieties. ‘Divine’ is versatile – it grows well in borders, containers, flower pouches™ or window boxes. Flowers all summer until the first frost of autumn.
Cosmos ‘Sweet Sixteen’
Every garden should find a place for a few cosmos, and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is one of the best. Easy to grow, tall plants with attractive bicoloured blooms add height to bedding displays or look attractive when interplanted amongst shrubs and perennials in the border.
Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’
A breeding breakthrough from Keith Hammert, the world’s leading sweet pea breeder. An attractive and unusual reverse bicolour that’s full of fragrance and adds beauty to the garden or the home when used as a cut flower. ‘Erewhon’ was introduced to our range in 2013 and has become a customer favourite.
Colin Randel is Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable new product manager and what he doesn’t know about vegetables simply isn’t worth knowing!
Dwarf bean Laguna
I assessed Laguna in commercial breeder trials in 2010 and 11 and it stood out for its performance through a wide range of weather conditions and having a strong root system for vigour in a range of soil types. The pod quality, yield and taste remained consistent throughout the harvesting seasons. My notes included ‘ideal variety for all gardeners’ and it is.
Beetroot Rainbow Beet
Modern beet breeding and selections provide gardeners with virtually ‘eat all’ varieties, just cut off the taproot. Just wash young roots, stems and leaves and eat raw in salads. Leaves and stems can also be steamed, roots boiled and don’t waste the water as beet juice is good for you. Adding some peeled apple when boiling will reduce the ‘earthy’ taste of the juice if preferred. Our 5 variety mix is visually stunning. Successional sowings throughout spring to midsummer will give bountiful crops, and some roots can be left to full maturity and lifted and stored in your shed or garage overwinter. Twist tops off the roots instead of cutting to prevent ‘bleeding’ with the red beet and Bull’s Blood beet. The golden Boldor, Albina vereduna and Chioggia do not ‘bleed’. Our picture was taken from roots lifted at the end of October.
Courgette Goldmine F1
I assess a huge number of courgette varieties every year in the breeders trials, and British breeding in recent years has provided us with outstanding introductions for compact and ‘open’ plant habit, vastly reduced spines on stems and leaf petioles which allow easier picking, and good yields over a long harvesting season. You need to pick 3 times a week during peak season. Breeding for parthenocarpic habit (setting fruit without pollination from insects) has now resulted in our exclusive launch of Goldmine. The stunning gold skinned with narrow white stripes certainly catch the eye.
This variety which proved outstanding, with its red leaved counterpart Mazurosso, in our 2010 and ’11 trials. Both varieties were weatherproof, not bothered by incessant rain or periods of heatwave, and each plant made a voluminous heart of crunchy leaves which remained crunchy and bitter-free when washed under the tap and added to the salad bowl. Leaves do not go ‘limp’ like some picking varieties. The hearts just remained in perfect condition for 3 months and then rotted away without bolting (running to seed). A heart could be cut and washed and excess water shaken off and will store in the fridge for over a fortnight.
The eye appeal will win you over. The ‘cherry sized’, 15g fruits have a rich rose-pink colour with smoky overtones especially around the crowns of the fruit. The flesh is also a deep red, and the taste gives an instant hit of balanced acid/sweetness which lingers in the mouth and the thin skin melts away. Absolute joy. Best grown in the greenhouse as an indeterminate (needs support and sideshooting) but can be grown in a sunny, sheltered spot outdoors as a cordon (supported and ‘stopped’ after 4 or 5 trusses). British breeding at its best.
Grow your own – it’s not too late!
Sow petunias under glass now
Spring may be late this year, but there is still plenty of time to grow your own. In fact, waiting and sowing later when the soil and weather conditions are better means that your seeds will germinate more successfully than in cold wet soil.
With many gardeners wondering how they’re going to get the best from their gardens with such a late start to the season, we asked Sue Sanderson for her expert advice. Here’s what she said:
If the soil is warm enough and the weather conditions are favourable, you can sow hardy annuals direct outside from April, right through to the 1st week of June. If you’re really desperate to get germination underway, you could sow seeds into cell trays under cover and plant them out once the conditions outside improve. There is plenty of time, so don’t panic!
Petunias, ipomoea, nicotiana, dahlia, ageratum, lobelia and sunflowers can be sown up to mid April under glass.
Sow tomato seeds now
Marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and tagetes are the last half-hardy annuals you would sow – these can be sown under glass from April through to early May.
Sow tomatoes and aubergines up to the 3rd week of April.
It’s getting a little late to sow peppers – you’ve only really got until the end of the 2nd week of April to get them going.
Summer brassicas should be sown by now for early harvests, but late summer early autumn harvesting varieties can be sown up to early May.
Wait until the soil has warmed up to sow other vegetable seeds – you’re more likely to get a better crop.
Plant potatoes until mid May
Potatoes, especially maincrops, can be planted up until mid May.
You can give your soil a helping hand in warming with cloches and polytunnels. These will also protect your crops while they’re growing.
So don’t despair, you’ve still got time to create a fabulous display of flowers and grow a decent crop of vegetables to see you through the year.
In my second ‘make a change to your plant choices’ article I’ll be showing you some superb varieties that have the edge of other plants and vegetables in our range.
Runner Bean Moonlight – self-fertile beans
Grow Runner Bean Moonlight, not Lady Di
Bad weather and unpredictable summers can mean runner bean flowers often don’t set, giving disappointing (or absent) crops and perhaps discouraging you from growing your own beans again.
When it’s wet there are fewer insects, so the beans don’t get pollinated, and when it’s too hot the flowers can fall before setting.
The French bean blood in Moonlight means the blooms are self-fertile, so will set and produce beans whatever the weather! Why grow any other runner bean?
Dianthus ‘Endless Love’ – extremely hardy plants
Grow Dianthus ‘Endless Love’, not other dianthus varieties
Many of the newer pinks and carnations are very pretty, but not necessarily as hardy as their ancestors.
‘Endless Love’ is a new strain from Germany, which combines 100s of sweetly spiced blooms with bone hardiness, up and down the country.
Sunflower ‘Inca Gold’ – perfect for baskets
Grow Sunflower ‘Inca Gold’ in baskets, not petunias and begonias
Hanging baskets can become a chore during the height of the summer and will often need watering at least once a day.
Sunflower ‘Inca Gold’ is a brand new specimen, which is makes a resilient basket plant, needing less water than most. And the reward for this apparent neglect is an absolute flurry of sunny blooms from June to October!
Nasturtium ‘Orange Troika’ – vibrant blooms on marbled foliage
Nasturtium ‘Orange Troika’, not ‘Climbing Mixed’
Nasturtiums are a mainstay of gardens, but until now haven’t really been suitable for use in hanging baskets.
Nasturtiums usually tend to become giant and cabbage-like, trailing half-way down the garden the minute you turn your back! ‘Orange Troika’ is a new, more manageable type, which keeps itself in check, so works well in hanging baskets.