In ancient times we used wooden tomato boxes to germinate seeds. Cold frames contained more glass than the Crystal Palace and watering cans were gigantic affairs, best lifted with the aid of a block and tackle. I remember dragging one of these cast iron monstrosities around my grandmother’s garden while she watched fondly. I barked my five-year-old shins and flooded her feet but Gran’s smile never slipped and in me, the germ of fascination was fixed. You can still get heavyweight kit at a price but I’m happy to use modern plastic equivalents. I avert my eyes from the lurid dyes which manufacturers find so attractive, which glare in daylight and loom in the gloom. Subtle doesn’t appear in their lexicon.
Heck loads of Helleborus (Lenten rose)
This year I’m starting sowing early and I can see the emergence of a towering theme: Leonotis leonurus (staircase plant) because it is utterly spectacular, grows tall given a good run and needs that long season to ripen seeds for next year. Peucedanum verticillare (giant hog fennel) as it requires low temperature to break dormancy and moisture in active growth, which it won’t get from my sandy dirt by summer. Antirrhinum “White Giant” (snapdragon), since the packet says do it now. I was disappointed by the tiny vial containing thirty motes of dust. Some poor bugger had to count out those few specks. Better, surely, to jam a decent handful into an envelope. Cephalaria giganatea (giant scabious) and Stipa giganatea (golden oat grass) have been strewn about in an onanistic extravaganza. The first batch of biennial Daucus carota “Purple Kisses” (wild carrot) has caressed the soil because I was so smitten with the catalogue pictures, I seem to have bought loads.
Sorbaria sorbifolia (Ural false spirea) new foliage
Seed compost is easily available containing fewer nutrients and less organic matter, being a potential cause of rot, which may take vulnerable green babies off to the compost heap before their time. Despite giving every care, I find that I do better with cuttings. As a child, I would stuff any stick into a pot full of mud and it would strike. I’m not so successful any more; I think that I recognise a hopeless cause when I see it and therefore don’t ask. Beginner’s luck means that you don’t know what’s impossible, so give it a go and you might wipe the eye of the naysayers.
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (Mediterranean spurge)
Today the sun made a rare appearance and when I had been suckered into a false sense of security, the downpour dropped from a seemingly cloudless sky. The compost was frigid, the potting shed wintry and I listened to the water chuntering lyrically in the gutters and drains as I worked. I fiddled with fussy little packets, wondering if the chill would cost me a thumb. I dodged rain like Niagara, jousted with spiders the size of dinner plates and dug myself out of an avalanche of tumbling plant pots. There was no ambush by inhabitants wielding poison tipped spears but I had a nasty moment with some bamboo canes. I’ve survived the brush with death to plant four trays full of seeds and I feel empowered, optimistic and ridiculously excited. I’m resisting the urge to check whether anything has sprouted yet.