There’s something almost biblical about sowing seeds into bare earth. It’s a gentle, yet powerful act, silent yet significant. I feel as though it’s the moment in the gardening calendar when I connect with the earth the most. After a whole year of weeding, digging, raking, hoeing and pruning it’s one instance I give something back, and relinquish control for a bit.
It involves trust – that these little brown specks will grow – and intuition – picking the right time to sow. Every year I wonder – will anything come up at all? And every year I have the child-like joy of seeing faint green lines appear upon the soil, waxing stronger as the days lengthen until colourful crops and flowers burst forth where once there was nothing but brown soil.
Like the first cherry blossom, sowing is a marker of the season – a glorious affirmation that winter is over. It’s still early, however, so choose carefully. For a summer of glorious colour on a budget, hardy annuals are hard to beat. The can go in any time from now until the end of May. Hardy annuals include many of the ‘cottage garden’ favourites such as cornflowers, poppies, pot marigolds (Calendula) and love-in-a-mist.
Wait for a couple of dry days, and fork over the soil. Use a rake to level it and break it up further into a fine tilth – somewhere between crumble topping and muesli in texture. You can then use the back of the rake to make small trenches, half an inch deep, in which to sow your seed. Sowing like this is really handy for weeding – the seedlings all appear in neat little rows so are easy to distinguish from the weeds. If you make a patchwork of these small lines, conveniently the length of a rake’s head, the seedlings will be easy to spot, but the pattern of lines will disappear as they grow.
Don’t bother sowing anything too tender yet; this means cosmos, French marigolds, zinnias, etc (anything marked half-hardy annual in seed catalogues). These will all do very well sown as above, but they don’t like frost, so best to wait until mid-May.
Luckily there are dozens, if not hundreds of hardy annual flowers and vegetables to keep us gardeners busy till then. So why not have a go at this most rewarding, economical form of gardening?