First and foremost, ensure that the plant on your lust list is suitable and will grow in your soil. You don’t want to bust your buns germinating toad lilies only to watch them die horribly on your sun baked sand. Buy your seeds or scrounge them from another gardener. Read the packet with care or spend some time noodling online. Your best chance of success is to follow instructions slavishly; this is no time to innovate. Don’t sow too many at one time. Ten trays of seeds may multiply exponentially and you could find you have no time for eating, sleeping or sex, due to having to spend the rest of your life pricking out and not in a good way.
If you have a plot devoid of stones, weeds or established plants, you may get some seeds to sprout outdoors. It helps if you can recognise the seedlings; some are easy, like columbine (aquilegia). Some have seed leaves which are utterly dissimilar to the adult plant, like lupin (lupinus). Some will not germinate readily, seeming impervious to pampering. Sea holly (eryngium) and Lenten roses (hellebore) will get down to the business of growing if left to the hurly burly of a garden bed. Waiting for them to fill a carefully prepared seed tray is an exercise in futility. Murphy’s Law says that if you really don’t want a plant in a particular place, that is the spot where it will self seed and no other.
Purchased sterile seedling compost minimises the likelihood of nurturing bugs and chickweed plants. Seed trays, plastic pots, supermarket food containers, any receptacle will do, provided that it is clean and has drainage holes. Level the soil but don’t pack it down hard. Dorothy Parker called her budgie Onan, because he spilled his seed upon the ground. Don’t let this apply to you; if what you are sowing is small, keep pets and children out of the area of operations. If the seeds are minute, refrain from sneezing and if they are miniscule, stop breathing. Add a label, in case something actually grows. Water the soil before sowing if you remember, or by placing it in another tray containing water, if you forget. If you use a hose, you will wash away your hard work in a flash flood. The same applies after germination; go at the job gently, try to bathe tiny specks of green like the babies they are.
High maintenance seeds require overwintering to break dormancy. This can be replicated by stratifying in a fridge. Wrap your tray of soil and hope in polythene and place it at the back of the fridge. Warn teenagers that it is not to be sandwiched under any circumstances and make them to keep away, with gory physical threats if necessary. Show them the implements; even the most obtuse or obstreperous thirteen year old will understand that a pair of pliers applied to their person, is going to hurt. Keep the faith; your box of earth now rests in the fickle lap of the Gods of gardening.
Be aware that any cat worth their salt will have, at best, the intention of sleeping on your nice warm seed tray. At worst, they will want to assist with irrigation and fertiliser application. Your infant plants’ lives depend upon your vigilance. When the first true leaves appear, it means that the roots have started to grow. Holding the leaves, not the stems and supporting the root ball as you lift with care, tease out your prizes into larger containers and thence to individual pots. Thereafter, introduce them to the real world by slow degrees. Cold night air, especially in the north of England, must be undertaken with caution.
Once they are hardened off, plant your sturdy specimens in appropriate garden conditions and water them until established. If they survive long enough to flower, then gloat. Boast to your friends, relatives, neighbours, cold callers and passing strangers. You’ve earned it.