Gardening with Diarmuid Gavin: seeds of change
Indulge in some armchair gardening and order my pick of the seeds that will transform your plot this year
Now that it's cold, wet and wild outside, it's the perfect time for some armchair gardening. Put on the kettle and browse through a few seed catalogues (whether it be online or on paper). Winter is the time for garden planning and nothing beats the promise of life contained in packets of seeds.
I love making plans and imagining planting possibilities. The seed companies make sure to entice us with new ideas and varieties and I'm often in awe of the ingenuity and skill of their experts who inevitably improve on old favourites and come up with new varieties.
Seeds are inexpensive, fun and a hugely rewarding way to grow plants so get ready to sow some magic this year. After ordering my catalogues early, here's my pick of the bunch for 2016:
Seedaholic is an Irish seed website based in Westport, Co Mayo. Every seed in the site is lovingly described and there are over 2,500 to choose from. Catching my eye was the rarely seen and very beautiful False Anemone (Anemonopsis macrophyllapi, pictured A) for €3.30. It bears nodding, opalescent white flowers on slender elegant spikes from July to September and will look best in a woodland-style setting in humus-rich, semi-shaded conditions. I also like Sporobolus heterolepis (€2.70) an unusual fountain type of grass with finely textured, emerald-green leaves which produce a great cloudy haze of tiny flower heads in the summer followed by rich shades of reddish-gold or deep orange in the autumn.
Contact: seedaholic.com; (098) 50666
2 Green vegetable seeds
Klaus Leitenberger is the guru of all things green and organic in the Irish vegetable world and he and his wife run a website based in Leitrim. When you buy seeds from him, you get the benefit of his vast experience of growing vegetables in our unique climate and he only sells seeds which through extensive trialling have passed his five conditions: ease of growing, disease resistance, crop productivity, performance in all climate conditions and, crucially, taste. For spinach growers, Klaus recommends Spinach Chevelle (€1.80, pictured B) for summer cropping. It is high-yielding, has excellent taste, slow to bolt, very attractive and mildew-resistant.
Contact: green vegetable seeds.com; (071) 9131855
3 Irish Seed Savers Association
Based in Scarriff, Co Clare, the Association does great work conserving and protecting our seed heritage, such as our native apple varieties. You can support its work by buying some heritage seeds - how about Balbriggan Brussel Sprouts for next Christmas?
Contact: irishseedsavers.ie; (061) 921866
4 Plant World Seeds
Based in Devon, this company has some very interesting items. Echium 'Red Rocket' is the result of cross breeding to produce a dramatic spike of strawberry-red flowers which will reach up to 2m in height. I already have lots of Echium Pininana with its towering blue flowered spikes that reach about 4m high but I think I'll find room for this new variety! Bees feast on this plant so great for the wildlife-friendly gardener. Also catching my eye is a yellow Penstemon - P. confertus - and they have managed to obtain seeds of the Chocolate Cosmos (pictured C) a plant that is usually only reproduced through cloning of a single plant as it is extinct in the wild. Due to its rarity, they apologise for the cost of the seed - approximately €11 for a packet of four seeds! - but are restricting customers to one packet, expecting strong demand for this exceptional item.
Contact: plant-world-seeds.com; (0044) 1803 872939
5 Thompson & Morgan
Still on the subject of Cosmos - and it is such a great plant - Thompson and Morgan has a new variety which is uniquely yellow. Cosmos 'Xanthos' is a compact variety producing soft-yellow blooms on dwarf plants so perfect for container or window box gardening. It's also early flowering - starting in May and, with dedicated deadheading, could keep going 'til October. I also like the look of Nigella papillosa 'Midnight' (pictured D)which has rich blue flowers on top of lacy foliage and great value at approximately €1.30 for a packet of 350 seeds. Tomato connoisseurs may be interested in their new variety 'Black Opal'. This unique cross combines the dark skin of Black Cherry with the high sugar content of the red cherry-type tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'. It's a cordon tomato that can be grown indoors or outdoors.
Contact: tandmworldwide.com; (0044) 1473 806145
6 Chiltern Seeds
This company has a massive catalogue and I like the disclaimer at the beginning: "It is a wise father that knows his own child". This refers to the fact that openly pollinated seeds may result in some natural hybridisation and occasionally seeds do not come true to type, so be prepared for some nice surprises now and again.
Pick of the crop here is Chrysanthemum carinatum 'Cockade' (pictured E); an easy to grow annual, it has eye-catching white flowers with concentric red and yellow rings. Geum coccineum 'Queen of Orange' is also worth a punt - geums have one of the longest flowering seasons so really earn their position in the borders. Veggie growers may be interested in their new broccoli offering Broccoli Raab (Cima di Rapa). Though little known here, apparently it's a popular variety in Italy. Eaten young it resembles sprouting broccoli with a hint of spinach but with a mustardy tang and Chiltern describes it as quick and easy to grow, perfect for pots.
Contact: chilternseeds.co.uk; (0044) 1491 824675