Louise Curley, author of The Cut Flower Patch, shares this month’s planting diary.
'There are bountiful harvests of blooms at the moment and my home is chocked full of vases but it’s hard to ignore the sense that autumn is not far away. As this year’s cut flower patch slowly fades it’s time to start thinking of next year. There’s a short window of opportunity to have bigger, stronger plants which will be more floriferous next year. By sowing certain hardy annuals now they will germinate and form small plants which are able to withstand the winter weather. Then, when the ground warms up next spring, they will romp away. Don’t sow too early as they may be encouraged into flowering prematurely if we get a mild autumn but likewise don’t sow too late as they won’t form large enough plants to cope with winter. The optimum time is mid-August to mid September.
'You could sow direct into a dedicated patch of ground, moving plants in spring to their final planting place or you could sow into pots and overwinter in a greenhouse or cold frame. The best plants for autumn sowing include cornflowers, larkspur, calendula, nigella, ammi and euphorbia oblongata. Autumn sown cornflowers and larkspur on my own flower patch can be a third taller than spring sown plants and produce flowers 3 to 4 weeks earlier.
'There are a few things to bear in mind if you fancy a spot of autumn sowing. If you grow them under protection you’ll need to keep an eye out for fungal problems such as botrytis, a grey fluffy mould that thrives in moist conditions and low light levels. Keep plants slightly on the dry side and ventilate your greenhouse or cold frames on milder autumn and winter days, but remember not to leave them open at night. If you’re growing them directly in the ground and winter turns out to be very cold your little plants will benefit from the protection of fleece or cloches. And, just because it’s winter it doesn’t mean you can forget about those pesky slugs. Check over your plants regularly and use organic slug pellets if necessary. It might seem like a bit of effort but when you’re picking your flowers next may it will all be worth it.'