Showing posts with label cerinthe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cerinthe. Show all posts

10 May 2013

How to grow Honeywort - one of the best bee-friendly self-seeders for your garden

In my last post, the photo of Honeywort (botanical name Cerinthe major 'Purpurescens') flowering ridiculously early certainly generated a lot of comments. It turns out that this plant is a favourite with many folks and deservedly so.

A comment left on that last post asked for advice on growing Cerinthe from seed saved last year.  I have to say that it couldn't be easier.

At this time of year (late spring), you can sow them outside, direct into finely raked soil. Water the soil first and cover the seeds with a bare quarter inch of soil.   You can also do this in autumn (late September) to get them off to an early spring start.

On the other hand, if you only have a few precious seeds, start them in small pots or modules indoors: soak seeds overnight to break down outer casing, sow at same depth of seed (about 2 - 3 mm deep) into free draining soil, wait 7 - 14 days for germination, let the seedling grow a bit before potting on; at about 3 inches tall, with 3 to 4 leaves, harden off and plant outside, leaving about 40cm between plants.

They're a Mediterranean plant and their waxy blue-green leaves are a big clue as to where to site them - a nice warm spot with plenty of sunshine will suit them best and see them thrive.  The soil doesn't have to be anything special, but must be well drained.  Mine grow on top soil over London clay and usually reach about 50cm high.

The stems can get a bit straggly in time and, as the drooping flowers are the whole point, it's quite nice to just support the stems a bit by staking, if you can be bothered. If you plant them closer together, they'll  prop each other up but won't look as nice.

They flower over a long period.  If you're lucky, as they develop you'll get blue-green leaves with deep blue bracts surrounding a purple flower.  This isn't always the case though;  I've had Cerinthe with grey-green leaves and pink flowers in previous seasons.

Remember these plants are really good self-seeders; seedlings will pop up every year once you've had one plant in your garden.  Every purple flower has two fat seeds inside; not all will germinate but it's a good precaution to collect the seed before it drops.

Like Marigolds, etc, Cerinthe seeds can also be sown in the Autumn for earlier spring flowering. They are hardy plants and, once established, will pretty much cope with anything.  Slugs don't like them.  This is the first time that mine have come through the winter.  The warm extended autumn of 2011 meant that I pulled the ropey looking plants much later than usual, giving the seeds time to drop.  The cold and rain of 2012 meant that the conditions weren't right for germination until late summer so my plants were still relatively young by the time winter arrived and were left in situ.

A few gangly sorry looking specimens were put out of their misery earlier this year but the healthier ones were left - and I have early spring flowers as a result. It's lovely to see as other self seeded flowers (nasturtiums, sunflowers, marigolds, orach) are only just beginning to get going.

They're not edible but are a real magnet for bees as the purple flowers are a good source of nectar. They also make an interesting cut flower and will last better if you sear the ends of the stems in hot water for 30 seconds.  Grow them with Escholzia (Californian Poppies), Atriplex rubra (Orach), Verbena bonariensis, Bupleurum rotundiflorum and Linaria (toadflax) for a colourful display.

I hope this post has been useful and will inspire more people to grow these lovely plants.  Seeds are available all over the internet, although they're unlikely (but not impossible) to be found in garden centre or supermarket seed racks.  I started my Cerinthe stock with one small plant bought from Sarah Raven's nursery at Perch Hill and saved the seed each year thereafter.

25 Sept 2011

Seed saving

As well as noticing more bugs and slugs in the veg garden as the season revolves round into autumn, I'm also watching out for seeds.  Some will be saved for sowing next year, others have food uses.

Cerinthe, orache, sunflower and nasturtium plants are the ones in my garden to look out for as they are all prolific self seeders.  If the seeds are not collected, they'll scatter into the soil and pop up goodness knows where. (As I found with my nasturtiums and sunflowers this year.) Earlier this year I had to relocate dozens of tiny red orache plants that had self-sown from one underdeveloped plant plonked into the soil last summer.  I also bought one cerinthe seedling from Perch Hill Farm in Easter 2010 and collected the seed at the end of the summer; this provided enough seed for another 2 dozen plants this year.

Cerinthe seeds are very easy to collect as they're so obvious. Two large black seeds sit in the leaf bracts where the flowers were.  Here's the flower:

Cerinthe purple

and here's the seeds:

Cerinthe seedhead

When they're ready, you can just pick them off. That will be a job for this week. I won't be able to collect them all, scars in some of the bracts show that a few have already been shaken off by recent windy weather!

I've also grown fennel in my herb bed for the last two years - the leaves are lovely in salads and sauces if you like the taste of aniseed but are best cut before the plant flowers. A couple of weeks ago, I needed fennel seeds for a sauce and there they were, practically on my doorstep. They worked perfectly so I'm now going to cut the rest of the seeds for use in the kitchen; the main plant can be propagated from side roots separated from the main tap root.  The way to collect fennel seed is to cut the whole head then suspend it upside down in a paper bag although if the seeds are already fairly dry, make a paper funnel and brush them into this.

Fennel seedhead

I've read that fennel can be quite invasive - a bit like bamboo - but apparently makes a poor companion plant for other herbs so perhaps I've been spared the invasion by growing it in the middle of my herb bed! It's also worth knowing that whilst aphids find fennel thoroughly unpleasant, ladybirds, hoverflies and other beneficial bugs love it.

Sunflower seedheads drying

The other seed that I'll be saving, although not for myself, is the sunflower seed.  Last year I left the heads for the birds but as that encouraged a bit of random propagation, I'm cutting the smaller flowers when they've gone brown and removing the heads for seed and drying the stems because I'm hoping these will make good pea sticks next year.  The bigger heads will be cut and suspended as a sunflower perch, as illustrated in Dave Hamilton's book 'Grow your food for free (well, almost)'.

Other seeds I may be able to collect are nigella (love in a mist), calendula (marigold), poppy, hollyhock, wallflowers and nicotiana.  I've passed a magnificent nicotiana plant on my walk over to the heath, I may have to find the courage to ask the owners for seedhead in due course!

I wonder what seeds other people are saving?

24 Sept 2011

Saturday Snap: Just a Perfect Day

Actually, yesterday was the perfect day especially since it was also my day off! I was at liberty to go and drift through the veg patch making lists of what needed to be done.  I'd walked past earlier on my way to the recycling corner and been completely bowled over by how beautiful the garden looked in the morning sunshine.  So pencil, notepad and camera in hand I strolled, paused, sat, pondered, touched, ate, plucked (the odd weed) and planned.  Being Friday, with all the kids at school, it was so quiet in the garden that as I approached the Cerinthe planted next to the purple beans, I could clearly hear several bees busy collecting nectar.  The usual determination to gather every last drop of nectar was evident as they buzzed between the flowers.  And there I sat, on the ground, crouching low, camera in hand in the warm sunshine.  I have no idea how long I sat there because it was just ... perfect.

And this is what I came home with:

Aaaand on to the next one!

Finally! A clear and detailed photo of a bee in action!(Click on the photo and you'll be taken through to Flickr where you can see the photo in BIG full screen size.) Can't begin to tell you how pleased I am with this photo but it was a hard choice as I also snapped a ladybird dozing on a drying sunflower head, which is sort of cute and summed up the moment nicely.

Summer's end

Hope the weather stays good for us all, happy weekend everyone! (Our street party takes place today so I'm hoping to fit that in as well as gardening.)
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