Long ago we had a cat and an attic in Peckham. Seed trays were lined up to bask in the light beaming down through the sky lights. The cat got up there and thought we had left her a litter tray. It put me off seed sowing for years.
But there is no better way of gardening and here are my tips for direct sowing annuals for summer into autumn flower displays.
1. Trust the season and hold back on sowing until weeds have started to germinate - ie the soil is warm enough and with high enough moisture content. (Get on with it now to catch a September display).
2. Ground preparation is critical - hoe off the weeds, lightly fork over, tread the whole area gently and then rake and rake until the surface is a fine crumbly texture. This is called a tilth and should run through your fingers.
3. Get all your kit assembled and tune in with no distractions. Banish your mobile and cut seed packets and inner pouches open with knife or scissors - this gives a sharp sowing edge. It is easier to do this at the kitchen table before you go outside.
4. Mark out your sowing patterns on the ground in sand. One patch per type - the packets should give an idea of the square metres to be covered.*
5. Sow slowly and carefully and avoid a windy day as fine seeds might just take off.
6. Rake over with the lightest touch and gently tamp the seeds down with the back of the hoe or rake.
7. Water in well with a very fine rose on can or hose. The watering regime will need to be regular.
8. Make a note of date of sowing and plant types. Labels are the best way.
9. When your seeds germinate, lightly scatter the ground with pelleted chicken manure to feed them.
10. Be aware that it will be 12 weeks until flowering time. But when they get there, deadhead with daily zeal. This will prolong the plant’s life until the first frosts.
* This is not about broadcast sowing which involves a motley cover of the ground. The patterned approach looks really fabulous once the flowers are up. Go for big patches of each type.