Sowing seeds now for next summer

It seems, perhaps, a bit over keen to be sowing seeds for next summer before this one is hardly over, but bear with me because sowing hardy annual seeds in September has totally transformed the way I garden, and I’m more than a teeny bit excited about it!

I don’t have much in the way of spare time at the moment, so really I want maximum glamour and style in my garden for the least possible effort. I also want shed loads of flowers to cut for my home too.  Oh, and I don’t want to spend a fortune! Which all sounds ridiculously demanding but the good news is that an early autumn planting of hardy annual seeds scores on every count, and could hardly be easier.  What is more, many varieties come into flower earlier, grow far bigger and are often more floriferous if sown now. So if you fancy borders, raised beds or containers full of the sort of beautiful, airy flowers that bloom for weeks on end and give you armfuls of gorgeous blooms for a few quid and minimum work, here is how it has worked for me.

Come late august and September, I start clearing some patches in my flowerbeds, and in my cutting patch, where annual/bedding type plants have gone over and been yanked out for the compost heap, perennial plants have been cut back or moved and generally where late summer sprawl has been chopped back to leave areas for annuals to flower in the following late spring and early summer.

On a day when it is not windy, I clear the patches, making sure any weeds are removed, and rake/fork over just a bit to loosen any clods and create a nice fine, crumble-topping textured soil base. No need to add anything to make the soil richer, most annuals like a fairly poor soil, just make sure there is decent drainage and it is a nice, sunshiny spot – deep shade and annuals don’t mix unfortunately.

Then, I water the area, (so much better before you scatter the seed, rather than watching your seeds all swim away in a slooch from the watering can or hose!), and simply sow the seeds as per instruction on the packet. Then I stick a plant label in the ground so I remember what is where and don’t yank out the seedlings a few months later thinking they are weeds. Yes, gutting! If I’m feeling particularly cunning, I only plant half the seeds, and keep the rest to plant the following mid spring to get a second harvest of flowers in mid to late summer when the autumn sown lot have finished blooming. This way one packet of seed can provide months of summer flowers. They will look a bit like weeds over the winter and you may well need to pull a few out so the others have room to grow. Feels awful but just chuck them away and don’t worry about the little seedlings left being nuked by the frosts or snow – they really are hard as nails.

Here are some of my favourite annuals that love being direct sown in the ground in the autumn, come up bigger and bolder for it, and will add height, and colour and a delicious meadow-y glamour to your plot. They are my stalwarts, and the photos show the flowers in my garden, grown as described. They all make wonderful cut flowers.

Nigella. (Love-in-the-mist) Blue or white varieties romp away from an autumn sowing and will scatter their seed with such rampant promiscuity you will probably be pulling handfuls out as weeds every spring as I do. Loves growing in gravel I have discovered. The flowers are so pretty and even the seedpods are funky enough to add to bouquets.

Calendula. Brightest, clearest orange – zingy gorgeousness that looks swoony with blues, purples or nearly blacks. ‘Indian Prince’ is my favourite.

Cornflowers. Blue, almost black or pink – all flower for weeks on end if you deadhead regularly.

Ammi majus. Ahhh, airy, white clouds of meadow-y loveliness! Pretty in the garden and as a cut flower. It looks elegant on its own arranged in a simple glass bottle, but happy to waft graciously in a mixed bunch.

Orlaya grandiflora. A bit like a less hazy version of Ammi, tighter and more definite blooms with larger petals – another prolific self -seeder.

Poppies. Not long living as a cut flower but so much prettiness in such gorgeous colours, who can resist? The towering ”papaver somniferum” poppies have beautiful soft grey-green seed pods that look stunning in a mixed bunch of flowers.

Larkspur. A bit like delphiniums. I am relatively new to growing them, but love their cottage garden charm and considerable height.

Scabious. My favourite one, ‘Black Cat’ is deepest wine red, almost black, with the softest velvet-like texture, plus longs stems and great vase life.

I have had so much pleasure both in discovering how wonderful all these easy natured, prolific annuals have looked in the garden but also the way that the more you cut them, (snip above a bud, not to the ground), the more they bloom. I’m totally smitten, and hope you might be too. Happy planting!

Thanks for reading!

PS. I purchase most of my flower seeds from Sarah Raven – so what you see here is what you get – also, some of my photos can be seen on the SR website!

32 responses to “Sowing seeds now for next summer

  1. Hi Belinda,

    Perfect post, Just what I needed to know as I am just establishing my cut flowers on the allotment, this should provide my local church with all they require for gorgeous floral displays. It’s a shame that I don’t have many this year to take along to the harvest festival. Wish me luck for next year! Thank-you for sharing your experiences.

    Regards Lisa

    • ooh, best of luck , Lisa, hope next summer you have armfuls to decorate your home and your local church! Nigella grows like a weed, make sure you get that one in! Loves poor soil, even gravel, so put in that kind of nook! It will self seed like mad, as will Orlaya, so two good bets! Bulbs of course too, they are so reliable, especially narcissi and alliums in my garden. Bx

    • Thank you, have lots of fun creating your cutting patch – Sarah’s books on the subject are fantastic. I also have a series of posts on my blog about creating a patch in your garden from scratch – just click on label ‘cuttingpatch series’ – might be a help?

  2. We’re just at the stage where we might be able to start planting things – I am so grateful for the inspiration and advice. Excuse me while I copy you exactly!

  3. This is a timely posting. I was thinking this summer (especially whilst viewing the disaster which was meant to be my vegetable plot!) how lovely it would be to have lots of flowers for cutting. I would NEVER have thought of sowing now for next year though, so you have given me lots of ideas. Thank you.

  4. My autumn sown annuals were so much better in the weird Spring we had than the ones I planted in Spring, so I have very good intentions about getting out in the garden and doing the same again. Thanks for the prod and good to see you here!

  5. Hi Belinda,

    I’d never have believed that Scabious was an annual at first glance. It looks far too real and chunky, if oyu know what I mean.

    Brilliant tips, as always….I can’t wait to read more!


  6. great article Belinda, and such gorgeous photos. will the autumn sowing plan really work in the north? we are so far behind that most of my annuals are just flowering now, my sweet peas are gorgeous and so are my cornflowers.

  7. I am with you! I just took many nigella dried pods to sow down by my husband’s wood pile. I didn’t take much care but they would be a pretty site along the piles of cut wood.

  8. Really good question by Driftwood, which I want to answer in the light of something a Scottish gardener said to me today. If you live in the far north of the Uk, or in a particularly fierce frost pocket, you may find that you lose a few seedlings if there is a long spell of intensely cold weather, even though all the seeds I discussed are mean’t to be fully hardy. If you feel you are in this gardening bracket then either wait for spring, or use horticultural fleece to protect from the worst of prolonged freezes, and try using the type of flowers that you might see growing wild in fields – poppies, cornflowers, ammi (cowparsley) etc – they tend to be the toughest. As with every aspect of gardening, you really have to give things a go in your particular conditions and see what works best. Luckily a packet of seeds lost is not a financial disaster! I garden in the south of England, so am writing from my experience, I will keep in mind harsher conditions further north in future posts. x

  9. Beautiful flowers here Belinda. Not much opportunity to plant in autumn here as mine is my garden is mostly planters and pots. How many of these delights would cope with my kind of gardening?

  10. Just sowed my annuals today – ammi magus, ragged robin, cornflowers and scabious. Also tried an autumn sowing of Sweet William so will be interested to see if that comes to anything. Delighted to come across your post to get more ideas about what else I can chuck in now – don’t tend to sow Nigella as they pop up in self-seeding fashion all over – fabulous and welcome wherever they may appear!

    I’m definitely going to get hold of some larkspur to put in – so pretty and cottages and will be lovely for bunches next year.

    What do you reckon for autumn sown sweet peas – direct into the soil or in pots in the greenhouse?

  11. Just lovely, Belinda. I have taken lots of your cutting patch tips on board previously, even though we come from vastly different climates. I had some success this year, but have had to travel for work a lot and not been able to nurture some of those seedlings or water as much as i would have liked, but hope to really make some inroads when I return next month (and still have lots of seeds left for next year!)

  12. Hi, this my first year of sowing hardy annual seeds in the autumn. I have seen that lots of people advise direct sowing but i have a crazy dog who runs over anything and everything so my poor seedlings would not stand a chance. I am growing flowers for my wedding next june so need early flowers and have not seen and not sure if pot grown hardy annuals do well from september sowing. Any advice would be wonderful. Terry

  13. Pingback: A shout out for Alliums « Garlic & Sapphire·

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