Although invariably a favourite of every other gardener, Cerinthe has only more recently become a plant I enjoy growing. It takes quite a while to get going and only really fills it’s allotted space by early Autumn, but once it has, the long drooping stems pay back their return in abundance – and make an ideal filler in a cut flower mix. I saved a handful of the last stems before composting the now enormous bulk of Medusa-like clumps. The foliage is very similar to that of the Sedums, the small flowers like comfrey or Pulmonaria.
It’s quickly becoming a week of ‘finding other things to do’. While the sky drops buckets at very short intervals I’ve had to resort to residing either within the shed or the greenhouse. Now, as Autumn is set firmly in motion with the first flutters of leaf-drop and the draining of colour all around, the bulk of my heavy seasonal work is also just getting going. I’m one of those gardeners who likes to cram the big jobs in during the end of the year, rather than in the early part of the following year. I prefer to put the garden, as much as is possible, well and truly to bed in Autumn, allowing for a slower and more enjoyable lead up to Spring. This means chopping the borders down, getting the bulbs in, mulching etc. I think it’s a technique or ‘style’ that has hung on in my practices since my days of dreaded garden maintenance employment; swapping the mower for heavy bags of rotted horse-manure for the last push up to Christmas. A couple of years ago this meant mulching in the snow. And so this unprecedented week of downpour hasn’t really come at the best of moments. But then it never does, and there are always jobs waiting to be tackled in these particular periods.
One such ‘shelved’ task is the collecting and sowing of honesty seed – Lunaria annua. I’ve had one eye on my honesty plants for the last couple of months, watching the seed heads dry out and silver to their most recognised form. The seeds inside, in fact, have been clearly ripe for some time, showing through their thin, papery containers. As the rain began to put an end to my morning of cutting back the borders, I decided to finally get round to sowing next year’s honesty in the greenhouse.
I find that nature usually lets you know when the right time to sow has come. From the first Spring flurry of germinated ‘weed seeds’ to the new beginnings of biennial foxgloves in the early Autumn, you’re generally shown when plants are happiest sown. An even more basic rule of thumb states that early flowers (primroses, digitalis, cornflowers, wallflowers) are sown late the previous year, and the later Summer flowers (cosmos, cleome, dahlia, poppy) are sown early in the Spring. Lunaria is in the first category; it’s bright and vibrant pinks and whites forming a welcome display by mid April. So by now (September) the pods are opening up and dropping seed intended to germinate before the cold kicks in, over-Wintering in the beds, ready to flower the following year.
I would say, however, that due to the significant lack in seed pod-cracking sunlight this year, the natural process is a little delayed in getting going. Late-July to August is usually the time to be sowing on your collected Lunaria seeds, at which point they are dry and tough. This explains also the less shimmering, silver appearance to my honesty seed heads this year; the excessive wet making them unlikely to fulfil their annual role in the Christmas dried flower display. Never mind.
Taking the cut stems inside, with radio 4 on the go, I went abut separating the seeds and sowing them into damp compost in nodules.
If the seeds are ripe they will come away from their thin sheeting really easily. They’re held tightly between two layers which can be peeled apart. Each moon-like disk (where the name, ‘Lunaria’ is derived from) will contain somewhere between 3 and 6 seeds. Once sown, they can be covered with a thin layer of compost and placed in a warmish environment (unheated greenhouse or conservatory window is fine) to germinate. Depending on how Autumn develops from here on I will either then plant my seedlings out prior to the deep freeze, or they’ll go out into a cold frame to be planted early next year.