Saturday, 3 October 2015

Time to Sow Seeds

Spring weather has really arrived - it's time to plant summer vegetable seed: tomatoes, pumpkins, and maybe zucchini. (Plants that cannot tolerate cold.) But I live at an elevation of 170m so...we are noticeably cooler than Melbourne in winter, and the soil takes a while to warm up in early spring. Luckily I have a little glasshouse to pop in pots of seeds and potted-on tomatoes; yes, I was at a nursery last weekend and - despite the chill winds - like a child at Christmas, simply couldn't resist a punnet of tomatoes: `Heirloom Mixed' with its picture of fruit: red, yellow, striped, black and even green. Irresistible! (And overheard at the nursery between 2 elderly shoppers - `If you've lost the will to garden, then you've lost the will to live'. I should add that the sun was shining, mitigating that Antarctic blast.)

I love my little glasshouse that J made for me out of polyflute about 25 years ago, when I'd been seriously gardening for about a year. (Both of us look a lot older now, both glasshouse and me.) I think of it as 4 foot by 6 (so 1.2m by 1.8m); seriously small; but I can shove a lot in. Cuttings go in here;  seeds and seedlings at this time of year; and J's propagating indigenous plants too, although it's too hot in summer for most plants.

I'll be sowing a lot of home-collected seed this spring. It's very satisfying to collect seed; it's free; I collect from the tastiest veg; and there's the theory that the subsequent plants will be ones that are best suited to your patch, your microclimate; that natural selection has, to some extent, occurred.

One of my best collections each autumn has been broad bean seeds and it's going to be difficult, I think, to resist doing it this year; but I'll try on one proviso: that I can obtain seeds of broad beans with pink-crimson (not white) flowers.  They make for attractive plants - or so I think. Planting them near ruby chard - the pinks, not the reds - could look rather nice.

My mother grew a bean that had orange flowers, and it climbed a rough arch each year; perhaps it was what she called her 7-year bean. It gave her satisfaction; but I won't replicate it; I just don't like orange very much. (And I pull out any yellow or orange chard.) Yes, even the edible patch has to look nice, and follow my colour rules!

The orchard might be extended soon and there's a chance we'll have room for another garden bed. J's idea is to plant pumpkins here, where the sprawling bushes will clamber over grass, not other vegetables; it's a good idea. But I long for a strawberry patch; maybe the new bed can be half and half? 

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (


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