I am growing up, horticulturally speaking at least. This year I am venturing into sowing biennials from seed for the first time. Growing flowers that start their growth in one year and bloom in the next involves foresight, planning and patience and consequently feels very mature.
So what prompted this foray into biennials?
I suspect it is partly natural progression. After my first season of growing vegetables, I realised I needed to include flowers for pest control purposes, like flame coloured calendula, eschscholzia and nasturtiums. Then I moved on to growing other annual flowers to attract pollinators and for bouquets. My success has been mixed. Cosmos, zinnia and cornflower seem quite content in my garden. Some of this year’s new sowings, like ammi visnaga and the perennial feverfew, are also holding their own but unfortunately, the love-in-a-mist and larkspur have not been happy in my back bed. With plenty of seeds left in the packet there is always next year though…
Having grasped the basics of growing annuals (and flowering herbs), I have now set my sights on biennials for two reasons.
Successful vegetable growing in tiny spaces involves starting seedlings off in pots and planting them out just as one crop is harvested or goes to seed in order to maximise yields from a tiny space. Biennials fit nicely into this approach. Just as I am eagerly encouraging the cosmos, cornflower and ammi to produce something that resembles a cottage garden display in the back garden, I have sown trays of biennials on the windowsill to plant out in early autumn (or even next spring) after this year’s flowers have had their day. Many of these will appear in bloom before next year’s annuals burst into colour.
As many of the flowers I love are biennials, I am also simply expanding my horticultural repertoire for aesthetic reasons.
I am sowing golden wallflowers and Iceland poppies for the front garden to complement the calendula, feverfew and fennel. Sweet William and foxglove Alba for the back garden should work with next year’s sowings of cosmos, love-in-a-mist and scabiosa. And a few modules of modesty should produce delicate moon disc seed heads that I can combine with dried love-in-a-mist, poppy and/or fennel seed heads for sculptural winter bunches.
As with annuals, my choice of biennials is hardly groundbreaking. Many of these are typical of a cottage garden but they are so for a reason: they look good and provide an abundant or lasting yield.
I know gardening is not immune to trends and in future seasons I may want to add a new discovery or unusual colour to my established pallet. However, I am discovering that my small garden has a lot in common with a modest wardrobe. In both cases, I like to start with classics that I know will meet my needs and wants. Including foxglove and sweet William in my garden is like keeping a black pencil skirt in my wardrobe and a classic red lipstick in my make-up bag. Although simple, all reliably produce an attractive look, whether as the main focus or in combination with annual flourishes!
I bought all my seeds online from Higgledy Garden, which provides more detailed (i.e. beginner-friendly) growing advice than is normally included on packets.