A soft, light-filled, bird chirping beckons through curtains, before my alarm has even contemplated jarring my dreams with its woeful lament. Despite the faltering march toward springs symphony (yes we know Siberian snow) there remains optimism. At Wisley the *** willows from Seven Acres to the Aboretum are adorned with silvery bunny tail buds. Now that's a sure sign for the bees. Also it's the angle of the sun, it lingers a little longer, shines a little stronger, day by day rising higher, until the skies of summer (I hope) it shall conquer.
It is for this hope that we gardeners brave the cold and prepare. At the moment we are caught up in the excitement of sowing and growing for the summer bedding on the Top Terrace at Wisley Garden. Annually, trainees are given a brief from which to design a scheme for this area, this years theme being centred on the centenary of the Chelsea Flower Show at its current location. It is a very involved process from start to finish, especially for the team of the chosen design, which this year was myself and fellow trainee Tina Garland. In our design we wanted to create a journey through time, showing bedding plants with significance to different periods of gardening in the last 100 years. To reflect this timely journey our design begins with a traditional bedding scheme consisting of edging plant, dot plant and filler plant/s. As you move through the design this conventional layout is deconstructed by spacing the filler plants in decreasingly smaller blocks.
Whats softer than a magnolia flower bud? A Salix catkin of course.
Rather than spoil the surprise and tell you exactly what we are growing I will just give you some hints as I give the details on the processes involved... so onto the seed sowing...
Preparation is an important step in sowing large quantities of seed. Pre-sterilised trays loaded with jiffys for filling with compost are prepped by Matthew (left). Emily and Nadine are filling pots for seed sowing (right).
A fortnight ago all the second year trainees got together and sowed all of the seeds for the Top Terrace summer bedding. I love seed sowing, from a design perspective for the uniqueness of nature’s marvellous packaging, but also for the impossibility of what lies within. All our seed we sowed into a peat free medium containing more or less a 1:1 ratio of coir and perlite. It's a good idea to fluff up your compost as you fill your pots; pots should be over filled and given a good tap against the potting bench (1,2,3) before scoring off the excess with a flat-edged tool. Compost can then be tamped down to the sowing level required using a wide, flat tool which matches the conatiner they are being sown into (if no such tool is available the bottom of a clean pot of the same size can be used). This creates an even surface onto which to sow the seeds, encouraging even germination and healthy onward growth of your precious seedlings.
Pretty (poisonous) beetle-like Ricinus
Seed sowing depth often corresponds to seed size. We sowed our relatively large Ricinus seeds straight into individual pots called jiffys. We used biodegradable pots so when we onward pot them (into 2-3 litre volume pots) they will have a minimum root disturbance. After sowing, trays were watered with a biological product we use called Serenade which contains a non-pathogenic (to plants) type of bacteria and which reduces disease outbreaks during the vulnerable germination stage.
Labelling is important, especially when you have three cultivars of the same plant...
Smaller seeds need to be sown carefully. Really tiny seed can be mixed with sand to aid evenness of distribution. These seeds are sown onto already moistened compost to avoid redistribution by watering (again Serenade is used). We found that Lagurus ovatus (hare's tail grass) seeds were, despite their pointy shape, incredibly soft to the touch and bigger than you would expect (when it takes1,500 seeds to produce a 1 gram in weight). We need around 1,100 pots of this grass for our bedding scheme and around 3 plants per pot, so we needed to sow something like 4,400 seeds minimium! First we divided our 10g packet into five equal portions and then sowed these onto five trays and covered very thinly with vermiculite. Trays of Ricinus and Lagurus were put under a heated tunnel bench (around 18-20 oC) to germinate.
Evenly distributed Lagurus seeds (left). Nadine concentrating on sowing seeds, first the outside edge is done then the inside filled in (right).
And so now we wait......