25 Mar 2016

A little chaos

March tulips

This year I'm being very relaxed about it all. Seed sowing, that is. Having successfully gambled on sowing sweet pea seeds into pots on my balcony in late November and a first flush of broad beans into trays in February, I've decided to mostly forego trays of seedlings on every windowsill in favour of sowing direct outdoors this year. Am I alone in becoming increasingly uncertain of when best to sow? One whiff of sunshine is enough to convince me that it would be okay to start a few seeds off, only to have my hopes dashed when that smidgeon of sun is replaced by days of bitingly cold winds - or worse, clear nights with frosty dawns.  For those who do succumb to a few trays of seeds on the windowsill, the jolly game of turn and turn again begins - unless you're fortunate in having light drenched living quarters or a greenhouse. (I don't.* see tip at end of post!)

It's hard to resist though, isn't it? All those seed catalogues seducing us with beautifully photographed packets of potential.  I restrain myself by knowing that there's never going to be enough space in the garden here for everything I want to grow so I'm making lists while biding my time before sowing. In previous years I've had windowsills stuffed with plants growing wildly etiolated weeks before the weather softened towards summer.  I've gone to the other extreme too and started my seed sowing as other bloggers wrote about how well their carefully nurtured plants were doing outside.  Undeniably, I have to acknowledge that spring is February to April; despite the appearance of daffodils and primroses, it's too cold at one end and possibly too wet and windy at the other - even with climate change.  A middle path is needed.

For me, that compromise has taken the form of sowing (yes, I succumbed) a few seeds indoors in early March to get slightly ahead of the game (tomatoes, chillies and a few grasses - all needing heat to get started) but for other spring sowings, I'm taking my cue from the tulips.  I know, bonkers. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory.  But while I've been raking, rebuilding and pruning, I've been keeping a close eye on what my bulbs and perennials are doing - and all the tulips have slowly produced buds with one or two ready to open. This is an early start for the tulips so I'm going to let nature lead the way. I've been in limbo since mid-March but once those bulbs are in bloom, that's my cue to start sowing, both outdoors and in.  The temperature could still drop but, I have to admit, this way holds more anticipation and excitement than checking the local weather forecast!

So, on this beautiful blue skies day (allegedly just the one for now), I'll be carrying on with a myriad of other garden jobs that need to be done - including transplanting self-sown seedlings and pondering how to prune the top of the pear trees which must be three times my height by now. There'll be time enough tomorrow (while it's raining) to go through my seed box and plan what to grow.

How's everyone else doing? Have you started off your annuals or will you, like me, wait a couple more weeks?

PS.  Frustrated gardeners might like to pay heed to the Higgledy Gardener in Cornwall who advises not to direct sow before mid-April, leaving a few mid-May sowings to extend the season even longer.  But even he will walk on the wild side occasionally - his commitment to provide borders in bloom at the Cornish Port Eliot festival at the end of July has necessitated an early sowing under cover (cloche, not greenhouse).

* In an attempt to even out the light source for my seedlings, I place a large sheet of white card between my windowsill seed trays and the darker room behind to reflect some of the window light back.  The lengths we go to, eh!


  1. Yes, that completely resonates with me Caro. I had a mad spell of sowing three weeks ago and now I have long seedlings and I'm starting to panic. I do the reflective thing with foil stuck to cereal packet cardboard, it certainly helps them not to lean as much. If it warms up a bit some can go out into the mini greenhouse. And then there'll be room to sow more... Wishing you a good Easter Caro. CJ xx

  2. I have tried to hold back on sowing the majority of my seeds but I'm afraid I did succumb this week although they are all undercover in the greenhouse. Sarah x

  3. Seed sowing seems to be every much a guessing game Caro and the rules change every year. I've sown a few seeds in the greenhouse including sweet peas, snapdragons, grasses, cornflowers but nothing directly as yet. I believe that one should not do the latter until it's warm enough for a certain part of the human anatomy to sit on the soil without the protection of clothes. I'll not be trying that theory out though. Your tulip theory is more to my liking.

  4. I'm itching to get going too but after a few disastrous attempts at sowing early I now only ever sow outside on the May Day bank holiday. It's a bit of a tradition now. Probably a little too late in some peoples books but works well for me in soggy old Devon! ( I will start tomatoes on my window sill a little earlier). Love the blog by the way!

  5. Too many people sow too early, indoors and out. Mr Higgledy is right about not sowing until mid April onwards, and I noticed during the week that Paulo of Seeds of Italy said that he'd not yet sown anything.
    I may sow some flower seeds in pots this weekend but won't be sowing any direct for at least a couple of weeks. Flighty xx

  6. I am juggling chard and spinach sown too early because now I have to rotate it on the only sunny windowsill almost daily. But waiting till last week in April to direct sow on the allotment inspired as much as anything by being away mid-April and away from temptation. Last year I fancied I'd buy seedlings and plugs in April but of course couldn't resist the challenge of dozens of plants for the price of a seed packet. And prudence quite rightly is part of the allotment culture and there's certainly bags of room.

  7. We never sow - even in the greenhouse until April. Things do seem to catch up whereas a check to growth when seeds are planted early sets them back considerably. Some years early sowing come good but often this isn't the case.

  8. Yes, as they say, seed sowing is "a real lottery". I have sowed several types of vegetable seed already (outdoors, I mean), but when it comes to flowers I like to make the plantsmen do most of the work for me and I usually buy just a few small but ready-to-plant specimens from a Garden Centre some time in May.

  9. Hi Caro, I love your tulip tip. I have leggy tomato seedlings, having over estimated the amount of light they would get in my greenhouse, and will be buying plug plants again :-( I have a few broad beans and some early peas ready to harden off, and the potatoes are in and well mulched, but everything else is going to wait another couple of weeks. I always tend to get anxious at this time of year because everybody else seems to be sowing and planting, but I am trying to be more relaxed about it, work commitments mean I have to be, and I learnt last year that direct sowing is rather successful and way less work than always sowing in to modules. After all, it works for Flighty! The exception will be sowing sweetcorn and courgettes, and most of my annuals and all my perennials. But I haven't even started these yet, just the Cerinthe!

    Look forward to hearing about tulip-watch...


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