gardening at home with sarah | favourite biennials for june

In this video Sarah shares her reasons for growing biennials and her favourite varieties for June colour.

I’m a huge fan of biennials, and some people say ‘I can’t be bothered with biennials because you have to sow them one year and they don’t flower till the next’, but it’s when they flower that makes them so invaluable, because they flower basically, most of them the middle of May until the middle of July, and that is just when in a garden you often lack oomph because all the tulips have gone, and the perennials like the sort of delphiniums and peonies and things and the roses have yet to get going, so I’m a massive devotee of this group of plants, and look, they just include such lovely things, and when they’re in flower is the moment to sow them, and I’ll come back to that.

But look at the range, so first of all you’ve got foxgloves, which you might think ‘but surely they’re perennial because they come up every year in my garden, but they’re not, in fact if you labelled one plant you would see that it was the babies of that plant that came up the next year, but they do self-sow a lot which is really nice, and of course you’ve got the purple wild one, and then this beautiful white one which is fantastic, and then one of my real favourites is the soft pink one called ‘Sutton’s Apricot’, and that is a true favourite, and it’s beautiful with peonies, you’ve got the spike and then the big bosomy flowers of peonies, and so you know, foxgloves, a garden is lost without those spires in May and June.

And then there’s sweet rocket which has lovely scent, and both those are perfectly happy in dappled shade, so they’re really really useful, and I love the seed heads of the sweet rocket Hesperis matronalis, and it has this lovely sweet scent, it’s sometimes called Dame’s rocket, or sweet rocket.

And then you can’t talk about biennials without discussing these two, this is the black-leaved cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, and I love its foliage in spring with tulips, and then it comes up to flower, just like cow parsley in the lanes, but with a lovely black stem which makes it so exotic. And then the Iceland poppy, the Papaver nudicaules, they are beautiful and I’ve seared the stem-ends in boiling water for fifteen/twenty seconds to make them last.

And then another real cracker, particularly for picking are the Sweet Williams and I just want to show you this particular variety, they’ve got a lovely clovey, slightly honey scent, quite a gentle scent, it’s not powerful but it’s really lovely, but I just want to show you, that is one stem, isn’t that amazing, it’s just a great you know, it’s a whole bunch in itself, it’s stonking. This is a variety called Dianthus barbatus (which means Sweet William) ‘Electron Mix’, and it’s so reliable, and it’s actually often triannual here so we’ll leave it to do a third year, and I’m fanatical about it for the vase, and one of the reasons is it honestly does last three to four weeks in water, incredible.

And finally, in this group you would have to mention the two early flowerers, the honesty which is this one which of course has gone to pod now, that’s the white flowered Lunaria ‘Alba’, and then the delicious sort of almost almondy scented wallflower, and this is one of the new ones in the Sugar Rush series and this has been flowering from November and it’s now June, isn’t that amazing.

In terms of sowing, I’ll just show you, there’s just one tip that you need to know, and it’s with the foxglove, so with all the rest of them, I literally put them into a seed tray, some people sow them into a seed bed and then transplant them. On our heavy soil here that’s not so successful, and also, the garden’s so full we don’t really have room for a seed bed so we do put them into seed trays, and with the foxglove which is the one I’m going to sow, it’s got literally dust-like seed, and so the only tip you need to know is sow very quickly. So pour them into your hand, and they are literally like dust you can’t even see them, and then very very quickly just scatter them widely over your whole surface area, and like that, you get good even distribution, and then just cover them with the lightest dusting of compost or vermiculite, and label, and that’s it. So biennials, the Queen group of plants for this time of year.

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