Reap What You Sow; Growing Plants from Seeds Will Give You Armfuls of Wonderful Flowers throughout the Summer,

Article excerpt

Byline: PATTIE BARRON

DESPITE the ever-increasing selection of ready-to-grow bedding plants, you cannot beat the vast and thrilling choice of flowers available as seed. Where else but in the pages of the glossy catalogues, the gardener's equivalent to Vogue and Glamour, can you find chartreuse zinnia, orange Mexican sunflower, cerise spider flower Cleome and a cup-and-saucer vine with flowers like purple velvet?

There are other compelling reasons for sowing from seed, notably borders, buckets and armloads of flowers, right through summer, all for a little effort and even less cash. If you have never tried it, the thrill of creating vibrant life by the square metre awaits. The smug factor, come July, as you survey the colourful scene on the patio and beyond? Right off the scale.

No glasshouse is no excuse. Never mind the conservatory, check out your window space and clear all windowsills. If I can grow a mixed border within the confines of a well-lit dining room on the Finchley Road, so can you. And if you have an airing cupboard - the poor man's propagator - there is cause for rejoicing, provided you move aside the bed linen; multipurpose compost is not what you want on the Pratesi pillowcases.

Provide seeds with a little warmth, keep the compost moist and they will do the rest. Just sow seeds in a plastic seed tray and prick them out into separate pots when they are babies or, if you prefer, sow a pinch of seed into individual cells, which you can then transplant directly into pots, or even into their final resting place.

Sweet peas, with their long root run, prefer to grow from scratch in long-line plastic Rootrainers, which allow you to grow them on, undisturbed; you then split open the Rootrainer and plant the young charge direct into the ground.

If even this sounds too complicated, shape up a patch of bare earth - the result must be no heavy clods, but practically sievable soil - and, when the weather warms a little in spring, scatter the seeds lightly onto the ground, before raking a thin layer of soil over them.

The seeds that will germinate without further fuss are the hardy annuals such as love-inamist, cornflowers blue and black, Californian poppy Eschscholzia, corn poppy Papaver rhoeas, nasturtium, sunflower and the piercing blue Salvia viridis, to name a few gorgeous stalwarts. Be brutal and thin out the scores of seedlings so the flowers have space to stretch.

All of the major seed catalogues have reliable stock and great selections, but leaf through Thompson & Morgan's fat brochure for new sensations. The company was the first to bring in the sultry Cerinthe major purpurascens, now as common as chickweed but, three cheers, as easy to grow and as fast to multiply.

It has hooded deep-purple flowers, blue-green mottled foliage and a truly exotic air. It looks at its finest pushing up through grit or gravel. …