Episode 74 - Show Notes & Advice

Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast 74
Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast - 74

episode 74 | show notes & advice

Sarah and Arthur both love biennials, such as Icelandic poppies, foxgloves and wallflowers. Biennials are fantastic for filling your garden with rivers of colour – Arthur says the honesty at Perch Hill reminds him of frothy purple bubble bath – and they are so easy to grow. Now is the perfect time to start sowing biennials, Sarah is starting this weekend, and this week’s podcast is all about this underestimated group of plants, with Sarah and Arthur sharing their favourite biennials, planting ideas and tips. 


In this episode discover

  • Why biennials are so brilliant for early spring flowers and to fill the May gap in the garden
  • Arthur’s planting experiments with honesty
  • Sarah and Arthur’s favourite foxgloves and sweet Williams
  • The best biennials for shade, such as sweet rocket and ‘Ravenswing’
  • Sarah’s top tips for sowing and growing biennials 


Lunaria annua 'Chedglow'
Lunaria annua 'Chedglow'
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Digitalis parviflora
Digitalis parviflora
Matthiola incana 'Pillow Talk'
Matthiola incana 'Pillow Talk'
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Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'
Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'

Episode 74 advice sheet

Brilliant biennials

Biennials really became important to Sarah when she began growing cut flowers as a business. They are perfect for filling the May gap in the garden when the tulips have finished but the roses, sweet peas and other summer plants are yet to get going. They are excellent value if sown from seed and add so much scale and drama to the garden.

Biennials include honesty, foxgloves, Icelandic poppies, wallflowers, sweet Williams, sweet rocket and stocks. Here are some of Sarah and Arthur’s favourite varieties and planting ideas.



Arthur wants lots of honesty and is doing an experiment, scattering honesty seeds in with his cosmos to see if this will work. He was very happy with the results when he planted plugs of honesty through our Farmhouse Tulip Collection in his granny Sheila’s garden. The beautiful mauve froth from the honesty complementing the William Morris pastel pinks and greens from the tulips.


Caper spurge

Euphorbia lathyris, which Sarah calls the dinosaur plant as the foliage reminds her of brontosaurus heads. A very easy going biennial that needs almost zero organic matter to get going and will grow in between the cracks of paving stones.



·       Pam’s Choice – both Sarah and Arthur love this white foxglove, splotched with crimson.



·       Sutton’s Apricot – a lovely soft pink foxglove, adored by bees.



·       Digitalis x mertonensis – a crushed strawberry pink, first year flowering, perennial foxglove.


Sweet Williams

Sarah loves sweet Williams such as Dianthus ‘Electron Mix’  for their cottage simplicity. Long-lasting in the vase especially if you add a splosh of vinegar and don’t make the water too deep.

Arthur likes ‘Sooty’ – a beautiful dark crimson. He recommends growing sweet Williams as they do at Perch Hill, in drifts for fantastic colour and perfume. They are better in the ground and he doesn’t recommend them as part of a bulb lasagne or container collection. They’ll do better on their own in a pot.



‘Pillow Talk’ – one of the most scented flowers in Sarah’s garden, wonderful to pick for the house to fill a room with its incredible fragrance.

Brompton stocks need winter protection and are best grown in a greenhouse.



Many poppies are biennial and Arthur loves the Icelandic poppies Sarah grows in her unheated greenhouse. So fashionable in beautiful shades of ivory, coral, yellow and orange, and if you don’t grow yourself, they are incredibly very expensive. Easy to grow, as long as you sow them now and keep them protected, so in a greenhouse or cold frame.



When Sarah moved to Perch Hill there was a sea of blue forget-me-nots in the garden. Terribly romantic and beautiful but they are such prolific self-seeders, a lot of time was subsequently spent weeding them out. A recent arrangement Arthur put together, in honour of Debo, the late Duchess of Devonshire, was a carpet of forget-me-nots scattered through beautiful parrot tulips – pink and green ‘Green Wave’ and orange ‘Amazing Parrot’. This has inspired Sarah to revisit forget-me-nots, which come in blue, white and pink varieties.


Hesperis matronalis– Sarah loves gutsy, full on mauve sweet rocket which looks fabulous at Perch Hill and is great to pick, with a sweet honey fragrance. Grows well in sun or dappled shade.

Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ – also great to grow in sun or part shade. Crimson-black leaved cow parsley, lovely for your spring garden, for growing under tulips and cutting for arrangements.

Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ – with the common name of Viper’s-bugloss, this is Arthur’s final recommend. A wonderful electric blue that will look fantastic in a paved garden. Bees love it and it is a main food plant for the increasingly rare burnet moth.


Tips for biennials

Sow them now and don’t let them get pot bound. Ideally plant them out in August, you can always transplant them at a later date. Or make sure to keep potting on. It’s worth it for brilliance they will bring to the garden next spring.

Feed from the top and bottom with liquid seaweed. This is Anita’s method (Sarah’s vegetable gardener at Perch Hill). She adds the seaweed feed to both the tray at the base, so feeding the roots, as well as feeding in the usual way from above.