The autumnal colours this year have been superb: a fiery display to cheer us up throughout November. Another happy activity is thinking about spring and summer colour for next year – and one of the best ways to do this is to browse the seed catalogues, see what’s new and make your selection. There’s so much promise and excitement contained within these little packets and they can make delightful Christmas gifts for your green-fingered friends.
Every year, Fleuroselect – the international organisation for ornamental plants – singles out a plant for special mention and it has decided that 2019 is the year of the nasturtium (pictured below). A good choice: nasturtium seeds give so much colour for so little trouble. Some gardeners use them as companion planting in vegetable patches to repel pests and attract beneficial insects too. And if all that wasn’t enough, they’re edible and make lovely colourful additions to salads, with a slightly peppery taste.
At home, Seedaholic of Galway has a catalogue containing nearly 2,500 varieties and a homegrown website (seedaholic.com) crammed with great information: helping us decide what we want to grow, and telling us where we can grow it and how to go about it. I’ve picked out a few beauties for the bee-friendly garden I’m planning to plant next spring. The radiant Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Berries’ F2 are a certainty.
Achilleas are traditional border flowers valued for their feathery foliage and striking, flat, circular heads of flowers. ‘Summer Berries’ F2 is a compact variety growing to only 60cm tall at maturity. This beautiful improved mixture includes the richer tones of red, cerise and pink in addition to many pastel shades.
Echinaceas are a definite favourite for those who love summer colour, and Echinacea purpurea (pictured above right) is one of the most versatile perennials for the garden. Flowering from early July right through to September, it is sturdy and self-supporting, hardy and easy to grow, undemanding and suitable for both the formal border and the meadow. And what would be better and more economical than to grow it from seed? Seedaholic is to be found at Cloghbrack, Clonbur, Co Galway (094 954 8756).
Irish Seedsavers have set an objective to conserve this island’s special and threatened-plant genetic resources. Their work focuses on the preservation of heirloom and heritage food-crop varieties that are suitable for the country’s growing conditions. To achieve this, they have established a seed bank with more than 600 non-commercially available varieties of seed. Alongside this, they conserve and grow heritage apple trees and other fruit-tree varieties.
They have an excellent website (irishseedsavers.ie) where you can find these rare varieties but also discover the workshops they run throughout the year, which help inform and teach passionate gardeners how to save seeds, grow their own food and be self-sustainable. Some of their workshops – which include Herbal Medicine Making and Winter Pruning in the Orchard – would make for wonderful Christmas gifts.
Thompson & Morgan’s breeding programme has come up with ‘Orchid Flame’, a nasturtium that changes colour as it matures – developing from red with yellow splashes to fully yellow. This exclusive annual nasturtium mounds up to a foot high and then cascades down a couple of feet, so it is perfect for hanging baskets or trellises. ‘Ladybird’ is a dwarf bushy variety with golden yellow flowers that have five bright red spots. Sow from March to May in situ (thompson-morgan.com).
Other interesting selections that have caught my eye include Viola cornuta ‘Back to Black’ from Johnsons (johnsons-seeds.com). The jet-black blooms of this viola are very long-flowering and will make a dramatic addition to pots and containers. Sow indoors in February and March or outdoors from April.
Over at Mr Fothergill’s, there’s a sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Terry Wogan’, which has warm, salmon-pink blush blooms with a beautiful scent. What a lovely way to remember the much-loved broadcaster (mr-fothergills.co.uk).
Sarah Raven’s new collection includes Scabiosa stellata ‘Sternkugel’, which she recommends growing for its paper-globe seed heads. These are beautifully delicate and suitable for drying. Her top tip here is a dash of hairspray around their heads to keep them robust after cutting! Also looking tempting is the Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly White’ F1, a prolific and long-flowering pure-white snapdragon with a delicious scent (sarahraven.com).
Finally, for something quite different, I loved Suttons’ new nemesia, called ‘Masquerade’. Very unusual flowers with yellow bases and quirky, spiky heads will bring excitement to your cottage garden, along with that delicious coconut fragrance (suttons.co.uk).
I often recommend nasturtiums as a way to get children interested in gardening – the seed is large and easy to handle, germination is reliable and the circular leaves are very identifiable when they push up through the soil.
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