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Winter Sowing with Jayne Cowling

01 January 23 - by Will Varney

Our February blog features a Q&A with the fantastic Team Flowers lead, Jayne Cowling. There is no rest for a flower grower even during the Winter months, so to all of you who may be experiencing planting panic... don't fear, Jayne is here!

To those who are not such keen flower growers or are perhaps more confident in your planting methods this year, I can assure you that Jayne's growing journey and passion for flowers makes the January blog an equally insightful read.

Jayne is keen to express that she is not an expert by any means, only beginning this journey herself during the pandemic. However, she is very happy to share the knowledge gained from her own flower-growing story with others, something that forms the premise of the following blog regarding winter sowing.


1] Firstly, please explain the process of sowing seeds in the winter and when gardeners should start getting seeds ready…

Often people don't think about sowing flower seeds until we are well into spring thinking it is too cold for them to survive. Well in fact most of the flowers I grow for my flower bed are called "Hardy" Annuals-this means exactly that -they are "Hardy" and can cope with relatively low temperatures, and can even withstand a light freeze. So during the winter months, it is a good time to start looking at seed catalogues and sowing - and to start dreaming about those summer blooms!!

But no need to panic- if you start late they will just flower later in the season and may not be quite so abundant in flowering. I also sow "Half Hardy" Annuals but these are sown later in the spring once there is no chance of any frost, as they are not frost tender, e.g. Cosmos.

Basically, all you need to get started are seeds, some compost, preferably peat free, a container which can be a yoghurt pot or such like with holes in the bottom or use purpose-made seed trays and finally a windowsill where your seeds will germinate.

You start by filling your container/tray with compost -I also try and water the compost so it is moist first rather than after sowing, as it avoids seeds being displaced especially if they are quite tiny. Then you simply need to follow the instructions on the back of the packet of seeds which generally involves sprinkling over the compost with a covering of seeds and then covering with a light layer of compost and gently firming in so that the seeds have contact with the compost. Some seeds need very little covering and some none at all so be guided by the seed instructions. Generally speaking the larger the seed the deeper it needs to be planted and this is true of sweetpeas which have a large seed and are better sown individually rather than scattered across the compost.

Always label what you have sown, as believe me, you will forget if you are sowing more than one seed.

Place your container on a windowsill and ideally place a clear lid over your tray which helps to keep a warm environment for the seeds to germinate-if you don't have a lid use a clear plastic bag. The seeds can vary from several days to several weeks to germinate so patience is required when sowing-I can't resist checking mine daily for signs of growth!

Once they have germinated they will gradually need to be introduced to the outside temperatures a process known as hardening off. So initially place your container outside gradually increasing the hours each day as they get used to the cold, but do cover if there is rain in the forecast as this could wash away your tiny seedlings. To fully harden them they can gradually be left outside overnight to grow into young strong plants. Ideally, you want a cold frame, polytunnel or greenhouse for this otherwise just find a sheltered spot or use a plastic storage box with a removable lid. Water as required and your young plants can be planted out in early spring once the soil has warmed up.

2] Have you got any tips and tricks for protecting the seeds and giving them the best chance to turn into beautiful flowers?

As mentioned above, one of my best tips for those who don't have a lot of space for a greenhouse, is the use of plastic storage boxes they have worked very successfully for me as I don't have access to a greenhouse, cold frame or polytunnel. These are perfect for putting your young plants in their pots and they can also be easily covered with their lids at night and wrapped in fleece if necessary and is also a relatively cheap method. Since starting sowing myself I have now invested in what I call a "zippy grow house" which is basically a framed structure with shelving and a reinforced covering that fits into a small corner of my garden and has worked a treat. These are readily available at garden centres and are good value for money.

3] Which seeds do you most enjoy planting in Winter months and which do you most look forward to seeing flower?

My favourite seed to sow over the winter has to be the Sweetpea. There is such a variety being so colourful and scented and giving an abundance of flowers as long as you keep picking- which in itself is amazing - the more you pick the more flowers you get! Wow!

I am most looking forward to seeing my zinnias bloom -these won't be sown until later in the spring as they are half hardy - I am ever hopeful as have had no success with them so far, so hoping that 2023 will be my year of success!

4] How can people get involved with team flowers and what sort of work can they expect to get involved with?

Team flowers are a group of people who are Wivey growers and have a particular interest in learning about sowing and growing flowers. As a team, we aim to inspire and give confidence and encouragement to those who want to learn about growing flowers in a supportive environment and also to be able to grow flowers for their own gardens as well as on the Wivey Grows site. We are a friendly welcoming bunch and our sessions always include coffee and cake!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about our plans for 2023 and would like to get involved please contact jaynecowling@btinternet.com.

Aside from the Q&A, Jayne wanted to add that "My passion is not only with growing flowers myself, but also in inspiring and giving others the confidence to simply have a go! I enjoy showing people that when it comes to growing flowers, you can do it with very little ie no fancy greenhouse/polytunnel. I started out with a windowsill, compost, yogurt pots and a packet of seeds! This will hopefully encourage absolutely anyone to start planting."

Lastly, I must say a massive thank you to Jayne. After this Q&A it is clear to see why she is such a valuable Wivey Grower, presenting her own growing journey in the hope of inspiring others to embark on their own. Her responses epitomise key principles of the project at Langley House by emphasising the accessible and fulfilling qualities of growing.