It looks like many of you might find yourself under a blanket of snow this weekend, but don't be misled - the year is cracking on apace, we're into February already, and that means it is time to start sowing seeds, at least indoors.
Growing plants from seed can sound like it is something for the 'experts' only, the green-fingered ones. But no, no, and an even more emphatic no! Growing from seed is a miracle open to everyone. It's cheap, it can be surprisingly quick, and it's so rewarding.
In fact, my biggest tip with growing plants from seed is to go in with the attitude that, if a few fail, so what? Just celebrate all those that flourish thanks to your invitation to grow.
So here are seven plants that can be easily grown from seed, are readily available to buy, and are some of the best for luring in plenty of wildlife for you to enjoy.
In no particular order:
1. Verbena bonariensis. One of the best flowers for butterflies (and, below, with Silver-Y moth). Sow now indoors in pots or trays of peat-free compost, and keep on a windowsill in a sealed clear polythene bag until germination. Given them time - it might take three weeks for the miracle to happen.
Top tip: Once you have got it established in your borders, it is likely to then self-seed meaning you don't have to sow any more in future and can get on with growing something else, or just sit back and relax!
2. Dahlia. A briliant way to fill borders and large pots with radiant colour in summer. Sow now indoors.
Top tip: Choose single-flowered varieties (those with a single whorl of petals) because those are the ones that are the best for bees. Any that have 'Bishop' or 'Mignon' in the name are perfect.
3. Sunflower. Excellent flowers for pollinators, followed by free seed for birds in autumn, and with all the fun of growing something that should outgrow you in about four months. Start in small pots in April, one seed per pot.
Top tip: Sunflowers are prone to slug and snail damage when young, so keep your seedlings in pots until late spring, repotting them into larger pots as you go. By the time you plant them out, they should have tough stems no snail wants to chomp.
4. Nasturtium. Bold yellow and red flowers will create a riot of colour. Sow either in pots indoors in March or where they are to flower outside in April-May. Large White butterflies will lay their eggs on the leaves, allowing you to follow the butterfly's life cycle through.
Top tip: A really easy plant for hanging baskets. The seeds are pea-sized - just push them into the compost.
5. Borage. Beautiful blue blooms beloved by bumblebees. Sow where it is to flower, about a month before the last frosts. It is an annual but should self-seed well.
Top tip: Don't sow in pots - it has a long tap root so doesn't transplant well.
6. Bird's-foot Trefoil. A perennial native wildflower for lawns, the front of flower beds and even hanging baskets. It is often known as Eggs-and-Bacon and is a ground-hugging perennial that will gradually spread. It is great for the Common Carder Bee and is the foodplant of the caterpillars of Common Blue butterflies and Six-spot Burnet Moths. Sow in March.
Top tip: If you sow in small pots or module trays, you can plant them out as plugs into your lawn.
7. Teasel. A biennial, so won't flower until its second year, but when it does you'll get bees and butterflies to the rings of pink flowers, and then 'hedgehog' seedheads all winter for the Goldfinches and frost to decorate.
Top tip: This really can self-seed itself into any bit of bare soil, but the rosette of overwintering leaves is easy to grub up if you have too many.
Where to buy the seeds: All the big seed companies should sell most if not all of these seeds, although you may need to go to a wildflower seed supplier for the Bird's-foot Trefoil. I just checked out a couple of online companies and found a pack of Borage seeds for 99p, Dahlia Mignon for £2.40 for 50 seeds, or a gram of Bird's-foot Trefoil (about 500 seeds) for £2. Ok, you'll need to pay a bit of P&P, but what a bargain.
So, if you've never given seed-sowing a go, dive in! Watching those inert grains turn into a green shoot is all about the hope and promise of better days ahead. Happy sowing; happy growing!
Mexican fleabane and Honeywort are also relatively easy and great for pollinators.
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