With the days finally getting longer I’m starting to get the spring itch already! Unlike much of the country, here in Washington we’re experiencing one of the most mild winters I can remember. Seeds have arrived and we’re already starting to fill the greenhouse with tray after tray filled with soil and seeds.
If you have access to a greenhouse or an indoor space where you can rig-up some simple grow lights, there are a number of flowers that you can start indoors and then plant out as soon as the ground can be worked, which will give you a jump start on harvesting bountiful blooms in spring. Starting seeds indoors, versus direct seeding, can reduce pressure from weeds and pests, plus enables you to transplant strong, healthy plants exactly where you want them in your garden.
For many flower varieties, you won’t want to start seeds until 6-8 weeks prior to your frost-free date, which for my hardiness zone of 6B the last frost is usually around April 30. There are a number of flowers, however, that you can start indoors even earlier than that, which is great for gardeners itching to get their hands back in the dirt this time of year. Most of the flowers I’m listing below are cold hardy varieties which means the young plants will usually tolerate a light frost and temperatures down to about 25 degrees F.
Whether you are ready to start seeding today, or simply looking for inspiration to round out your seed order, be sure to add a few of these favorites into your fields and cutting gardens. After the dark gray days of winter, your spring harvest of beautiful, bountiful blooms will be that much sweeter!
Papaver nudicale/Iceland Poppies: Iceland poppies are fast becoming one of my favorite flowers. Their brilliant silk-like petals and citrusy scent are absolutely intoxicating and they add a romantic element to any bouquet. There are lots of poppies to choose from, but some of my favorites include Temptress mix, the San Remo mix and Champagne Bubbles and my NEW Sherbet mix.
Bells of Ireland: One of the best fillers you can grow, each Bells of Ireland plant churns out masses of beautiful, fragrant stems that make bouquets look lush and vibrant.
Snapdragons: Every year we grow thousands of snapdragons and sell every useable stem in the patch! Chantilly snapdragons and Madame Butterfly mix are some of my latest favorites. This gorgeous group of ruffled butterfly type blooms is one of our most requested and best loved crops of the summer! Our buyers actually jump up and down clapping when the first bunches are delivered. I have grown all of the available colors and our best sellers are pink (it’s actually coral), light pink, bronze and light salmon. To stagger blooms throughout the season, I also grow snapdragons in the Overture, Opus and Animation series.
Sweet Peas: These sweet little blooms hold a huge space in my heart and an even bigger space in our hoophouse. I’ve finally perfected my growing techniques to consistently produce high quality blooms with long stems. A few of my all time favorites are ‘Nimbus,’ ‘Mollie Rilstone’ and ‘Erewhon.’
Cynoglossum: Chinese forget-me-nots are a unique crop worth considering both because of their delicate flowers and the fact that they can be successfully grown as annuals. Be sure to get new seed every year since freshness is vital to good germination with this crop. Also, sow twice as many as you’ll need because germination can be quite irregular. In the past I’ve had great luck with ‘Blue Showers’ and ‘Mystic Pink.’
Dianthus: This workhorse of the garden is such an import crop for us that while it isn’t a personal favorite (too bright!) I still plant and pick row after row all season long. The Dianthus ‘Amazon’ and the ‘Sweet’ series are both consistent performers with great stem length and nice sized blooms. Unlike biennial Dianthus, neither require cold temps to set flowers so they can be grown as annuals.
Larkspur: One of the easiest early varieties to start from seed. I particularly love ‘Earl Gray’ and our new Summer Skies Mix, a custom blend I created. I generally direct seed it into the field in the fall and then follow with two rounds of plugs, one in late winter and then one in early spring.
Bachelor buttons: I have a love hate relationship with these guys. I love their pretty wildflower blooms in early summer bouquets but I confess that I really hate picking them. I love them. I hate them. Then I love them again because they bloom when the field is still bare.
Cerinthe: Also known as Honeywort, cerinthe is another one of my favorite early season fillers. It is easy to grow and each plant produces a decent number of stems. I love the way the stems arch and nod; just a few stems of cerinthe can add a lot of volume and dimension to a bouquet.
Nigella: Also known as Love in a Mist, Nigella is a great flower and is even better when used for its pod. Designers drool over the the black pods variety while I adore the green in mixed bouquets and arrangements. If all pods are not used, they can be dried and look lovely in fall bouquets. Nigella can be direct seeded or started early indoors and transplanted into your garden. Two of my favorites are ‘midnight’ and ‘African bride’ and be sure to check out my Starry Night custom blend which combines the two along with ‘Delft blue.’
I planned to keep this list to 10 but it’s so dang hard to pick just 10….so I’ll put in a quick footnote about a few other spring flowers to start from seed that I adore: Stock: One stem in a bouquet provides a delicious spicy scent that will stop hurried customers dead in their tracks. Some of my favorite cultivars are those in the Miracle group, Japanese High Doubles, Katz and Columnar series. Digitalis /Foxglove: ‘Camelot’ is a first year flowering variety and unlike the biennial varieties, it will bloom without any cold so can be grown as an annual. Matricaria/ Feverfew: After trailing a dozen types of matricaria, I really came to love to the ‘Magic’ series. Seed is available in the Floret Shop and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Have you already started some of your early seeds? What are you sowing now? Do you have any early favorites not on this list? I’d love to hear what you have growing in your part of the world!