Maybe because of the long winter we've had I feel like the hedgerows are looking more abundant and intensely coloured than ever this year. There is nothing nicer than a West Cork 'botharín' these days with foxgloves poking out at odd angles through the lush green. There is a similar sense of abundance and colour in my flower plot although it's hard to find the time to just sit back and enjoy it!
Although I am growing a good few perennials, most of my flowers are annuals, which I grow from seed. This is labour intensive but you get an awful lot of flowers, a huge variety, and it's cost effective. I have been mollycoddling the seedlings since March so it's a big relief when they are finally all planted in the ground, in manured beds with support netting so they grow nice and straight and tall. There is always a push to get this work done by mid June so I'm glad to be at that point now. July and August will be mostly about picking, weeding and watering.
What's flowering now:
This is the time for biennials – they were sown a year ago when it feels like a big inconvenience to have to sow more seeds, but I am so happy to have them now! Sweet Williams are a stalwart and come in such a variety of shades of pink, red and white. I also have Canterbury Bells for the first time this year – it's nice to have some big dramatic flowers as well as the dainty ones and Canterbury Bells are pretty showy! My Icelandic Poppies have finished but the bright orange flowers were very popular with customers. Icelandic Poppies are the only type of tall poppy that don't drop their petals once picked.
In terms of foliage I'm very happy that Lady's Mantle is now tall enough for picking. It's such a useful plant – strong flexible stems and has frothy lime green 'flowers'. Warning though - it self seeds everywhere. I am also picking lots of Hypericum stems from a kind neighbours garden. I pick it now while the flowers are still just at the bud stage – I am not so keen on the yellow flowers.
I got a new polytunnel this spring and I have devoted one long row to sweet peas. They are always hugely popular and sell out very quickly at the market. They have grown amazingly well for me this year – I think that's partly due to being planted in fresh ground and also due to many wheelbarrow loads of farmyard manure being added to the soil. I grow the Spencer type of sweetpea – they are bigger and frillier than the old fashioned varieties and have a really good scent. I like Jilly, which is a lovely cream flower and my current favourite is Nimbus which I reckon is the closest thing you'll find to a trendy sweet pea(see picture).
My method for growing sweet peas is as follows
Sow seed in October into root trainers. Toilet roll inserts will also do the trick.
Pinch out the tips of each plant once there are 4 or 6 leaves and pot on into small pots.
Keep barely watered over winter.
In spring plant out into well manured soil at the base of a good strong support structure. Each year you will be amazed how big and heavy the plants get and they will want to fall over.
Once the plants are about a foot high mulch the ground well with straw to help retain moisture in the soil.
Keep plants well watered.
Tie the plants in to the support netting. When they really hit their stride I try to do this every 2 to 3 days as otherwise you end up with a big tangle of crooked stems to deal with.
Feed weekly with nettle tea.
The same steps apply to seed sown in spring
Of course when I re-read this method I realise that I am barely managing to keep on top of the tying in and feeding and my lovely row of sweet peas is getting decidedly jungly. Next year I will locate it differently so it's easier to access both sides, and my watering system will be in place so I'm not spending hours standing with a hose in my hand. You definitely never stop learning in this business and 'next year' always spurs you on to try new things.