Part One – My story of starting my flower garden from seed grew just as big as my vigorous purple hyacinth bean did last year. I have decided to break it up into two parts so that I can share my personal story, insights of my experience, as well as share some garden tips & links that may help you along your journey of growing flowers from seed. I hope you will enjoy this two part series.
This will be my second full year of gardening in the Pemberton Meadows. Beyond the additional planting of lavender last year for the farm, I ventured into new territory. I dedicated a small triangle garden bed as a cut flower garden for my own personal enjoyment. My intention was to start all the flowers from seed inside, but only got as far as my sweet peas (thus the name of my blog). My lack of experience and organization was the primary reason I changed gears, but I hope that with a bit more experience under my gardening belt, I will have better execution and results this year.
What took you so long?
You are also probably wondering why I was not growing plants from seed all along? It’s partly because I was spoiled for many years as a Garden Centre Manager and had access to incredible plant material. Not to mention the limited garden space on our small urban plot (I dedicated most of my garden in Toronto to perennials and shrubs), as well as limited space in our home to set up any seed starting system. Frankly, why set up a seed garden when I could just buy the healthy plants grown by someone else! I became accustomed to this habit, and it was only when I started my Master Gardener training that the idea started to percolate as part of my spring garden routine.
Since moving to BC and into the country, there was really no excuse for me not to explore this method. I had available land, a greenhouse, and a bit of knowledge (which really goes only so far – experience goes much further). As they say, you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s never too late to start. First step was to do my research. It did not take me long to get excited when one of the first books I picked up was Erin Benzakein’s book, Cut Flower Garden from Floret Flower Farm. Her story and those beautiful images of flowers had me digging for more.
Note to self – Just like it’s good practice to make a list before you go grocery shopping, let me recommend you do the same for seed shopping. I should know better, as I have been designing for years, and I’ve always made a plan before I went shopping. But my enthusiasm for this new form of gardening got the best of me. I went a bit overboard considering I was starting with approx. 200 sq ft of garden. I ended up with way too many plant options for the space. Thankfully I have friends who are willing to take seeds off my hands.
Starting seeds indoors – why start them inside rather than direct sow?
Is time on your side? Your decision has much to do with the plant’s germination rate and date of maturity. Many of the seeds I chose required long maturity dates so getting a head start indoors would give me more enjoyment out of each plant. I had to forgo some of my plant seeds because of their long maturity dates – I would barely get to see the full cycle of the plant before Jack Frost had his way with them in the fall.
Where you live matters. Our farm is situated in zone 5/6, which means that we have a shorter growing season than those in zones 7 – 9. While my gardening friends in the Lower Mainland, parts of Vancouver and the Gulf Islands are direct sowing a variety of seeds in late winter and early spring, we are still under a fair bit of snow and not clear of frost until the end of May. Many of the flower seeds I purchased were hardy in zone 8-9 and true annuals, which meant I had to start them indoors early or outdoors after the risk of a spring frost.
Are you doing this for business or pleasure? If you are in it for the latter then you have more flexibility. However, if you are in it for business, the early bird gets the worm. Flower lovers are itching to have fresh cut summer flowers as soon as the robins are chirping in early spring. While I was getting my first blooms in late June and July, many flower growers were already selling them in late May and June.
Seed collection – Later blooms also mean the production of seed is also coming much later. We had a much cooler and wetter September, so many of my seeds rotted out from the cold wet conditions and I ended up with a much smaller yield.
Climate control – Starting seeds indoors will give you the most control over your seedlings growing conditions while direct sowing can be more unpredictable. Outdoors, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and as I found out, some of my seeds fell prey to a variety of critters that ate my strawflower seeds and a couple of the seedlings of the hyacinth beans.
It all starts with a plan
My first ever order of seeds arrived in mid January and I spent the following weeks researching more about each of the plants and planning out my bed. I had measured out the space the previous fall, and created a scaled drawing of the garden. My finished garden plan took into consideration the overall plant size, flower and foliage colour, and amount of sun exposure each plant required.
Unlike flower farmers, my spacing and arrangement of the plants was done quite differently. Growers generally plan in straight rows with closer spacing to maximize output. My plants were arranged for aesthetics, which allowed them to grow in their natural habit.
Once I had come up with my garden plan (which is always good to do first before you buy the seeds), I organized the seed packets based on maturity dates and set up the start dates working back from May 24 (generally the last day here for risk of frost). Sweet peas required the most time out of my collection so they got planted in March while the majority of the seeds needed to be started mid April. April came around and my gears switched to Market Season mode and, unfortunately, my indoor seed-starting plan took a back seat. Since I had missed the boat, I resolved to plant them directly in the garden once the last day of frost had passed.
Just as things were going my way
Despite missing my indoor seed starting plan, I took pleasure in that I had at least got my sweet peas started. I was feeling pretty good about their progress, until I discovered a few weeks after I had pinched them back that they were getting papery and losing their leaves.
Devastated to see that after six weeks of success they were starting to fail, I dove into the rabbit hole of resources that revealed the enormous issues that can affect sweet peas (wow – who knew!). Feeling overwhelmed by the all this new knowledge, I shared my concerns with other experienced gardeners, and we came to the conclusion that the sun was scorching them.
I removed the trays of seeds from the window and a couple weeks later planted them into the garden where they could start to expand their roots and shoots. Most recovered really well, with some really taking off once they got into the soil.
With the Sweet Peas in the ground, I was ready to move ahead with sowing the rest of my seeds. But first, lets talk a little about soil.
Good soil preparation is the foundation and key for the success for any plants, and that goes for seeds too. In preparation for this garden, I had amended the soil the previous year with a combination of compost and a garden soil mix (which had a bit of bark mulch and sand). For anyone looking to amend garden soil with compost, I recommend doing it in the fall, not in the spring. Some may disagree with me, but I have heard many stories at my garden clinics from frustrated gardeners losing their young veggies or flowers after applying compost in the spring.
It’s sometimes hard to determine if your compost has matured, so to be safe, apply 1/2” of compost to your garden bed, covered with a good leaf mulch in the fall so that by spring the organisms will have worked the compost into the soil.
Just as we are getting our hands dirty, I am going to ask that you join me next month to read more about my decorative direct sow garden. I will share my flower seed choices, the progress of flowers, some of the pests and challenges I faced as they matured, some beautiful images of the flowers and bouquets, and my action plan for this year.
I hope that you enjoyed my story. I would love to hear your comments and feedback, as well as your tips about starting your garden from seed. Please leave a comment below or send me a note at email@example.com.
Until next month – happy seeding!
The Impatient Gardener | How to Grow Hundreds of Plants From Seed
Erin shares her incredible knowledge and personal gardening experience. – you will love her blog and her stories.
Empress of Dirt | Seed Starting for Beginners
I just purchased Melissa’s digital book on seed starting. Step by step instructions and full of wonderful information. Both Canadian and US hardiness maps are shared. An inexpensive and fantastic resource.
Floret | How to Start Flowers from Seed
Erin is responsible for my seed fetish… her story, images and her knowledgeable posts are a joy to read and a fantastic resource.