Sowing the seeds for a great garden display

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It’s lovely to read your letters and this week I had three queries about what seeds to sow at this time of year.

I am suggesting carnations because they only need a temperature of 45F (7.2C) and they don’t damp off like a lot of other seedlings when the weather is cold.

Just in case you are new to gardening, damping off disease kills seedlings remarkably quickly. The seedlings fall over and when the fragile stems are examined, it looks as if someone has squeezed them.

This disease can be prevented by using clean seed trays, fresh sterilised compost and tap water. Water from a water butt is not a good idea as the Pythium fungus may be present.

In winter, heating the whole greenhouse is expensive, so investing in a plant propagator is a good idea.

Annual carnations are not good in flower beds. But they do have their place in a border and are one of the plants which are always admired in a cottage garden because of the long flowering season – from June until late October in the south.

There are lovely varieties such as Giant Chabaud, which is one of the best of all the mixed colours, extremely reliable to flower well and absolutely brilliant if the soil is very chalky.

Sprite Mixed has slightly smaller flowers in pastel shades with a red or pink frilly edge, not often seen in the annual carnations.

If you would like perpetual carnations, which are grown in the greenhouse all the time, they are expensive to buy as plants.

There is a perpetual mixture too but it will take over a year to get them into bloom in a cold greenhouse.

If you can’t find these varieties at the garden centre, send off for a seed catalogue.

Carnation seeds are best sown in John Innes seed compost. Sow them evenly. Soak the seed tray in a bowl of tap water until the surface of the compost glistens and put the tray inside the plant propagator. The seeds will germinate in about three weeks.

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out each one into insert cells, so they make an individual strong root, and plant them into the garden at the end of April after hardening the plants off.

The best way to do this is to leave the plants outdoors for three or four days, bringing them back into the greenhouse at night, and then leave them outdoors for three or four days before planting in a sunny border.

In June you will be picking you first fragrant annual carnations from a very pretty border.