If you are looking to grow lots of plants it can be an expensive proposition. For the price of a few plants you can get dozens from a few packets of seed. May and June are ideal months to start.
A packet of seeds will produce twenty to thirty healthy plants and cost somewhere in the region of £1,50. A very pleasurable way to save a bit of hard earned money.
Seasoned professionals and amateur gardeners alike get immense satisfaction from raising new plants. Your collection may start with a few bought plants in planters but sooner or later you will probably want to grow your own from seed or by rooting live parts of a plant. Some plants can be started in more than one way while others need a particular technique ; whichever method is used , remember always to start with healthy material or seeds from a reputable source to avoid disappointment.
Growing from seed
Most herb species can be raised from seed, although this method takes the longest to produce a mature plant and is not recommended for named cultivars , especially variegated kinds, as seedlings do not always resemble the parent plant. Seed sowing is the quickest way to grow a particular plant in large quantities, and the usual method of raising annual and biennial herbs, wild flowers, salad and
vegetable herbs, species from other countries and easily germinated perennials such as chives, fennel, feverfew, lovage, rue, salad burnet, European and American sweet cicely and winter savory.
Although a seed is a potential plant just waiting to grow, it will only germinate when conditions are right. For most, a combination of adequate warmth, moisture and air is enough to trigger them into life , but others have special requirements which depend on the kind of surroundings they normally meet in the wild.
The seeds of juniper, woodruff. European sweet cicely and violets, for example, are protected by a hard, resistant coat against early germination when temperatures are too cold, and they depend on frost to break this down - a process called stratification.
Sown in autumn, they may be left out-doors exposed to winter weather, or you can artificially break down their dormancy by mixing the seeds with damp sand in plastic bags, and leaving this in a refrigerator for about two months before sowing in warm conditions.
Hard-coated leguminous need penetration by moisture before they will grow. This can be speeded up by scarification, a method that involves carefully nicking the coat with a sharp knife gently thinning part of it with a sandpaper; soaking overnight in warm water is an alternative way. Some ordinary seeds need light, others darkness, so trigger germination, so always follow the sowing instructions on seed packets carefully to make sure you have provided the right conditions.
The normal sowing time for the majority of plants is early to mid spring just as soon as the soil is warm enough to support active growth. Wait until new weed seedlings appear or the first hedge row buds break as an indication of the best time.
Vegetables and herbs needed in quantity are sown in drills in the kitchen garden, others in shorter rows in a nursery bed; flowering herbs may be sown where they grow, either in short rows or in circular furrows made by pressing the rim of a planter or pot into the soil surface. Whenever you are sowing , always fork, need and rake the soil into a crumbly level seedbed first, and in cold weather warm the ground for a week or two beforehand by covering with cloches.
Use a rake handle or garden stake to mark out a shallow depression in the soil for short drills, or draw the corner of the rake along a tight garden line for longer rows. Sow the seeds in the bottom of the drill, and then cover with a thin layer of soil and gently tamp with the back of the rake head to ensure good contact between soil and seeds. In very dry weather flood the open drill with water, allow to drain before sowing, and then cover with dry soil.
Keep the sown area moist until seedlings appear. Large enough to handle these should be thinned to leave plants 5-10 cm apart. Most annual plants can be left to grown at this spacing , but biennials and perennials may need thinning again or transplanting to another patch of ground until large enough to be moved to their permanent positions.