Growing Summer Flowers from Seed
Annuals and Biennials
The simplest method of doing something is usually the best, and a garden provides plenty of evidence proving the truth of this assertion.
What could be simpler than strewing a few seeds on a patch of bare soil in springtime and being rewarded a few weeks later with a mass of colourful bloom that will last until the frosts of autumn? It is a quick and satisfactory way offrom scratch and seeing it mature in its first summer.
The gardener growing for amenity purposes — flowers and foliage for pleasure as distinct from vegetables and edible fruits — has two main fields of operation: shrubs, distinguished by their, and herbaceous subjects, which have softer and mainly green stems. The are in turn broken down into three sub-sections.
Annuals are grown from seed; they flower, set seed, and die within a few months. Generally, as the name implies, this is within a year, but in practice some can be started in mid- or late summer one year to flourish longer and more strongly the next.
Biennials, also grown from seed, differ fromin that they take two years to complete their life cycle. The roots remain alive at the end of their first season, to give bloom the following year, and then they die.
The third group,, have mostly started from seed like the others and die down at the end of the season. But their roots survive more or less permanently and the flowers grow again every year. They form a very large part of the herbaceous scene. Many are also grown as , and some even as annuals, for a quick start. All very confusing, but what it means is that there are no really hard and fast divisions, so the gardener gets the benefit of whatever the plant can offer.
There is a further large and important section of plants qualifying as herbaceous in the sense that they are non-woody: and these are. It is possible to start from seed, but this is a very long process and for practical purposes is ignored by the amateur, except that he can plant dahlia corms that he had started as seed barely twelve months earlier. Bulbs, nevertheless, do claim a large following because of their year-round application.
Here we are concentrating on the quick-growing army of plants that transform bare patches of soil in early spring into a kaleidoscope of colour by summer: the annuals and the biennials, or plants grown as such. They can be sown as seed in the , or even indoors, and hardened off in a cool but protected area before being planted out, or they can be sown a little later where they are intended to bloom. If you are late in starting, or do not want the bother of raising from seed, you can buy , which have been germinated under heat in a nursery. The drawback with this last method is that you have to take what the nursery has in stock, which will very often be limited to a small number of profitable lines. There are a few dedicated specialists who offer unusual plants, but generally if you want something a little out of the ordinary you will have to buy the seed and raise it yourself.
Never buythat are limp and long-legged – they have not been properly looked after. Either they have been given too much light, or not enough, or they have been put out into the open too soon and not hardened off properly. You sometimes see boxes of plants outside greengrocers’ shops and supermarkets, subjected to a bitterly cold wind; most of them will be lucky to survive, let alone prosper. Pick strong, sturdy-legged plants with stiff, healthy leaves. When handling very young seedlings always hold them by a leaf, never by the tender stem.
One point we tend to overlook about flower seed is that annuals give a better show per plant than the biennials and perennials. This is not necessarily because they are better plants, but is a clue to the struggle for existence. As we have seen, an annual plant will flower and die within a single year. It has no reserves of life; the roots have no means of storing energy when the stem dies down. For the breed to continue, therefore, there must be an adequate reservoir of seed. This is achieved by a burst of flower far greater in proportion than with any other of the herbaceous types.
So annuals are not being obligingly prolific for our interest and enjoyment. It is an attempt to make sure there is enough potential to withstand the hazards of winter: cold soil resulting in poor germination, and the depredations of seed-hungry birds and mice foraging for food.
It has been estimated that the seed accounts for half the weight of an annual plant at the end of the season, and when you reflect that each seed, light as it is, is really a complete though dormant new plant, you realize that the annuals do give themselves a fair chance of survival!