Sowing seeds of colourful summer

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The smell of newly mown grass at the beginning of March is a sure sign that spring is early.

The garden centres are trying to tempt you to spend money. Whilst a bit of instant colour with some pansies and primulas is welcome at this time of year, I am trying to think further ahead to flowering plants that will give you colour all summer long with the minimum of attention and cost. So I suggest heading for the packets of seeds.

Look for the “hardy annuals”. Nasturtiums, nigella, pot marigolds and many other cottage garden favourites are there. These plants are equally at home in tubs and window boxes as in the open soil but they like to be in the sun.

It is a bit early to sow seeds directly in the soil as it will still be too cold. But you can start some off in pots of peat-free potting compost on a sunny windowsill. There’s no need to plant them all at once. If you save some to sow outside later in the season, the flowering period will extend even longer. A rule of thumb for planting is that small seeds just need a very fine covering of compost and bigger ones go deeper. I cover the pots with clear polythene or a cut-off plastic bottle at first to keep the moisture in but as soon as they have germinated they will need all the light they can get. When the weather is a bit warmer, the seedlings can go outside by day to get acclimatised before planting them out.

Climbing plants add an extra dimension. I wouldn’t want to be without sweet peas and it is not too late to sow some. Later on, plant them out in a sunny spot with some sticks for support and you will be rewarded with glorious scented bloom.

If you keep nipping off the dead heads, hardy annuals give pleasure for months all for the price of packet of seed.

Jenny Mollison is a member of the Scottish Allotments and Gardens SocietyShe also writes Allotment Tales in the Scotsman Magazine