Seeds of discovery: Grow your own and you will be richly rewarded this summer 

Seeds of discovery: Grow your own and you will be richly rewarded this summer

  • Nigel Colborn advises people starting seed growing to begin with easy plants
  • The gardening expert suggests plants including calendulas or Shirley poppies
  • They can be sowed in mid-March in pots and be ready for planting out in May 

Nothing is more exciting than watching your seeds burst into life. You prepare, sow, water and wait. 

Each day you check, but nothing yet. Then one morning, the soil or compost is peppered with tiny leaves on frail stalks. 

I still jump for joy when that happens. But it’s an addiction. I even sowed three lychee pips last month. Now we have baby lychee trees in the propagator. 

Growing from seed is not difficult. But if you’re new to it, start with easy plants. Those forgive mistakes more readily. Tagetes, nicotianas and salvias are great for beginners. 

Nigel Colborn insists that growing plants from seed is not difficult, with  Tagetes patula such as the Marigold ‘Colossus’ (above) providing a flash of colour if kept frost-free

Hardy annuals such as calendulas or Shirley poppies are even easier. Rugged plants like those germinate rapidly from seed sown outside. 

You can sow them from late this month, where you want them to flower. Half-hardy annuals are a little more demanding but offer a wider choice. 

Sow those from mid-March in pots or seed trays in a greenhouse or conservatory. They will be ready for planting out in May. 

Beds sown with cornflowers, larkspurs, nigellas, calendulas and annual poppies will create a lovely cottage-­garden effect. Hardy annuals will flower freely from June. 

If you allow the plants to seed naturally, new generations will appear for 2022. 


Half-hardy plants need more effort. But they will give more varied, longer-lasting displays from May into October. With careful planning, you can create beautiful colour combinations, perhaps with foliage plants as companions.

Tender and half-hardy annuals must be frost-free. They can’t be planted outside before mid-May — or later in cold regions. 

So if you have neither greenhouse nor conservatory, it is better to buy young plants later. 

Though treated as annuals, many half-hardy plants are technically perennial. Bedding lobelias, pelargoniums, gazanias and begonias can all be grown year after year. Some will split, but the easiest way is to root cuttings in early autumn. 

Those must be kept frost-free in a greenhouse or conservatory for Riot of colour: Tagetes patula such as the Marigold ‘Colossus’ are a real bright spot planting out the following year. 

With a greenhouse — the wisest investment a gardener can make — you can create a mini-­nursery. Cuttings taken in September and protected all winter will come up as next year’s plants. 


Choices among tender plants run from beautiful to bizarre. Colours are widely varied, often with different hues on single flowers, so try to have a colour scheme in mind before buying plants or packets of seeds. 

Leafing through suppliers’ catalogues will help you find the colours you need. The next step is to compose plant combinations that will deliver your scheme. 

As an example, Calibrachoa Can Can Sunrise has coppery, red-veined flowers. Those would team with anything dark-leaved. In contrast, petunias in pastel blues or pinks harmonise with silver foliage. 

For informal borders, tallgrowing Tagetes patula looks better than stunted dwarf tagetes. 

I grow T. Pots of Gold for its summer-long orange, mahogany and humbug-striped flowers. One packet goes far. Pelargoniums will last a lifetime if you want them to. 

Autumn cuttings, kept frost-free, will provide next summer’s plants. They make attractive and aromatic windowsill plants, too.


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