Garden Editor Clare Foster’s new book The Flower Garden: How to grow Flowers from Seed is published on March 25. Here she describes how the book project began.
For five years now, I have been obsessed with growing flowers from seed. It all started when photographer Sabina Rüber and I finished our last book (Painterly Plants, 2012) and decided we could do with a new project. Sabina was growing and photographing flowers for Chiltern Seeds, so had access to lots of different types of flower seeds, and I wanted to grow cut flowers on my allotment. Growing from seed seemed the cheapest and most satisfying way to grow our flowers, so we set out to raise as many different flowers as we could from seed, with the thought that one day we might make a book out of the idea.
That first growing season was a wash-out. It was the wettest spring for decades, and on the allotment, my seedlings were literally washed away, then re-sown, only to be deluged once again. We started learning about the trials and disappointments of sowing by seed – but also the immense satisfaction when things went right. By the end of the season we had persevered, and boasted to each other about armfuls of cosmos and snap dragons and even dahlias that we had managed to coax into flower from tiny seeds.
In 2013 I inherited a greenhouse. Suddenly I was able to grow so much more, including the half-hardy and more exotic flowers that needed extra protection in spring. That same year I made a new cutting patch, which I filled almost entirely with plants I had raised from seed. Rather than buying expensive perennials or trays of bedding plants, I had bought packets of seed that would produce many plants almost for free. I was hooked. There is nothing more satisfying than planting a tiny seed in spring and watching it emerge and grow, and as you become more experienced you’ll find that it isn’t as daunting as you might have once thought. Yes, the weather and other challenges such as slugs, snails and mice will make you despair at times, but when it boils down to it, most seeds want to grow for you – that is what they are programmed to do. Sabina and I have found that there is usually no exact science for growing from seed and that trial and error is the best way of learning. Once you have accepted this, you can have a huge amount of fun experimenting.
A year ago I moved to a village in the Berkshire Downs, and the first thing I did was to apply for planning permission for a greenhouse. It’s now up, and even though our book is about to be published, the obsession with growing from seed continues. Even in the winter months the greenhouse is my haven. I take a cup of coffee in there and tend to the seedlings of hardy annuals I planted in autumn, surrounding myself with greenery and life when the sky is grey outside. There is something very therapeutic about sowing and growing year-round, and I have come to realise that observing the annual cycle of life is incredibly important to my sense of wellbeing.
Even if you don’t have a greenhouse, you can grow flowers from seed by starting them off on a windowsill. Start with something easy like sweet peas, which you can still sow now. They will germinate swiftly, their green shoots emerging within a week or two of planting, and before you know it, you’ll be picking your first bunch of scented blooms to bring into the kitchen, thinking, ‘I did that. I grew those from seed.’
The Flower Garden is published by Laurence King on March 25. Available at amazon.co.uk.
Original article appeared on House & Garden UK | Author Clare Foster