One of the myriad benefits of RHS membership is the annual opportunity to select seeds harvested from the four main RHS gardens, which I took advantage of last year for the first time.
I made my choice of twenty varieties, along with a short list of alternatives in case of unavailability, and in the spring I eagerly unwrapped the package that was sent out, to find that I had received all but one of my first choices, and one substitution.
I don’t seem to have made any notes on where I sowed Allium hollandicum, so I suspect that I may simply have scattered these where I wished them to grow, as I did with Crocus tommasinianus and Narcissus bulbocodium (hoop petticoat daffodil), Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore) and Helleborus x hybridus (hybrid Lenten rose). This was partly
laziness due to lack of time and space, and partly as I felt they had the best chance germinating in their natural conditions where they tend to spread happily, left to their own devices.
The remainder of the seeds I sowed individually into pots and modules in the greenhouse. Several of my selection were ornamental grasses. The annual Briza maxima (greater quaking grass) germinated easily, swathes of swordlike green foliage from which delicate wands sent out wonderful dangling panicles.
Pennisetum thunbergii grew strongly, and produced strappy leaves and a few slender flower heads in their first year – I look forward to watching them clump up.
I also added to our existing clumps of Stipa tenuissima, which is another grass that is easy to raise from seed. The new plants were small in their first year, but should have more impact as they mature. I love the way this delicate grass dances in the breeze; still looking good in the depths of winter.
Anemanthele lessoniana (Stipa arundinacea) was also a strong germinator. These quickly formed robust plants, although (along with some other ornamental grasses sown at the same time) many of those I planted out have been well ‘grazed’ by the cats, clumps of razed stubble standing in place of the elegant dancing grasses they aspire to be. Hopefully they will put up more of a fight next year!
Aquilegia chrysantha (golden columbine), Heuchera micrantha, Verbascum phoeniceum and the scarlet flowered Penstemon eatonii formed small neat plants, which are out in the garden where they should have a headstart for next year’s displays.
I ended up with two similar scabious varieties, a result of the substitution: Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious) and Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca. Both germinated easily, and were planted out into the garden, where the latter has flowered non-stop since the summer – even now its pale flowers continue to bob in the border. The giant scabious has disappeared into the border somewhere – my recording of details has been abominable! – hopefully next year they too should send their tall flower stems up towards the sky.
I suspect that the Lythrum virgatum, which was harvested at Harlow Carr, along with Lythrum salicaria x Robert which I bought elsewhere and also sowed in the spring, has repeatedly fallen victim to my weeding after being planted around the garden. We get a lot of willowherbs in the garden, which I try and remove before flowering as they spread like wildfire, but the strong family similarity of the cultivated plants to these weeds makes them rather prone to being pulled out again. Later in the season, I tried to overcome this by putting labels beside each Lythrum that I planted out, and one or two did survive long enough to flower. I shall sow both again, and be more careful about marking and recording what I plant where.
Calamintha nepeta formed small plants with deliciously scented foliage and small delicate flowers. I found it hard to photograph well, but enjoyed this modest plant at the front of the border through the year. Another success was Salvia napifolia, so named due to its turnip-shaped leaves, a fact that made me smile each time I admired its tidy form and modest flowers.
Of the sown, rather than scattered seeds, only Eryngium bourgatii and Euphorbia palustris have yet to show signs of life. I did throw a few fistfuls of seed of the latter direct into the borders as well as sowing into pots, as Euphorbia dislike disturbance, but any that germinate in the ground will face a similar problem to the Lythrum above, as several weedy spurges proliferate through our garden that I try to weed out on sight to limit their spread.
Even while the results of some of my sowings have yet to become evident, I am pleased with their success rate and the number of new varieties in the garden because of this scheme – it’s rather lovely to think that our garden has little pieces of the illustrious gardens at Wisley, Harlow Carr, Rosemoor and Hyde Hall running through it. In the next few weeks, I shall be poring over this year’s catalogue again and contemplating whether I can squeeze twenty new varieties into our not-so-empty garden this spring…