My 6 favourite flowering plants to grow from seed!

I’ll be honest. I only started growing plants from seed under duress. 

At the beginning of my gardening adventure I found it so easy and honestly, surprisingly affordable to pick up punnets of seedlings from garden centres and hardware stores. They had incredibly good strike rates once planted out and I could often pick them up really cheaply during promotions. 
But, the success of these happy purchases added fuel to my flowery fire!
I was wanting MORE flowers and with this, MORE interesting ones like the those I was reading about in my new books (another “MORE” issue altogether). 
It was when I discovered that I couldn’t source my new obsession: ‘Verbena Bonariensis’ from any garden centres, that I realised I was going to have to actually extend myself and get growing from scratch. 

This also marked the beginning of my love of trawling for the scarce and gorgeous on Trade Me. 
I managed to source VB seeds from a seller in Hawkes Bay and they arrived with some little hand written instructions which I gratefully tucked into my notebook. 

VB has become not only my favourite plant so far (more on her later!), but also her generous and greedy germination and growth has encouraged me to hit up the offerings of regional gardeners on Trade Me with more confidence. 

Below you’ll find 6 short profiles of my PERSONAL favourite plants to grow from seed.

To make my list they are one OR all of the following: 

  • Generous bloomers 
  • Cut and come again (Eg. cutting the flowers off once they have finished encourages new flowers to keep forming) 
  • Beautiful, romantic, structural, frothy, wild to look at! 
  • Offer needed colour and structure for my garden beds
  • Blooms with a great vase life
  • Make an effort at self seeding for me to edit back the next season and easy collection of seed heads or are perennial plants that will establish themselves. 
  • Smell particularly good

COSMOS

Cupcake Cosmos

My first season I picked up punnets of white and pink “Sonata” cosmos seedlings from Oderings. They were SO lovely and grew incredibly tall and strong (accept the dwarf variety I bought by accident). 
Last season I got click happy and purchased packets of seeds for “Cupcake” cosmos which gave me mostly white plants, some soft pink and the most dazzling and incredibly tall model with deep pink detail that I think was a welcome imposter from somewhere! 

Nonetheless …. you should definitely grow cosmos. 

They exude happiness, are fantastic cut flowers, continue to flower wayyyy into late summer if you keep deadheading spent flowers and will fill any patch with their lovely lacey foliage. 

Sonata Cosmos in pink and white during my first summer in the garden. Combined with glowing white petunias, annual gypsophlia and snapdragons.
Cupcake Cosmos with Sweet Pea weaving through and Fennel in the background.
Gorgeous pink rimmed cupcake cosmos with mystery white Lupin, Verbena Bonariensis, Gomphrena, the odd Sweet Pea and frothy Snapdragon.

Fennel

Initially I thought I needed an excuse to plant straight ol’ Fennel in the middle of my flower garden. 
I blamed the occurrence on not leaving enough room in my vege patch and that T really wanted it to cook with it…… but truth is, through all my reading and lusting over English garden accounts, I was finding it REALLY hard to source “Umbellifer” type plants and Fennel seemed easiest. 
And in my opinion, the result was awesome! 

I just used regular Fennel seeds from the vegie section at Mitre 10 and started them in wee seedling trays. Once planted out in the garden they were such enthusiastic growers and again, they just went and went and went! I loved their wispy foliage and acidic chartreuse, starburst heads bobbing about in the midst of the other plants. While beautiful in my own eye, they also provided great structure for their less sturdy neighbours (we’re looking at you Sweet Peas!). 

Their cut flowers lasted for weeks, to the point I would rescue them from one dead posie and pop them in with a fresh bunch in a new vase. 
I have some self seeded plants happening now and will be interested to see if more emerge as the weather warms up.

 

Humble fennel with strange friends - Leek flower, white lupin and cosmos.
Fennel and friends seen here with my neice.
Fennel entangled with Lupin, Sweet Peas and Cosmos.

Sweet Peas

Of anything I will ever grow, Sweet Peas will have a special, delicious spot in my gardening life line. 

It was these friendly, uncomplicated creatures that became my “first” flowers. 
First flowers to greet me driving in my gate, first flowers to pose for me in soft morning light, first blooms I could cut for my home AND experience the joy of taking frothy bunches to give to others. They were my first plant to teach me about “cut and come again”, about the alarming results of not keeping up on watering in the heat of summer, about powdery mildew AND that mother nature, despite all our best efforts, is boss. Something that was confirmed when my wall of SP’s gave up the ghost 2 weeks before my “at home” wedding!

So, if you grow no other flowers at all, find a spot in the sun (important) and ideally a structure for SP’s to climb and get a taste for the bounty and sweet smelling simplicity of growing flowers for both your garden and your home.
In terms of structures anything goes! Trellis, tee pees made from bamboo or branches, long spindly sticks stuck into the earth, or as I do, sections of steel foundation mesh bought and cut down from Mitre 10. I lean or staple these to the fence.

So easy to grow from seed OR pop past your garden centres for fun bright varieties and nice strong seedlings to plant out. Last year, nearing the end of their flowering I left them to go to seed and let the pods dry on the plants. I collected a whole bunch to save and also scattered direct in the narrow bed below them. I’ve found that the self seeded plants in position are so much stronger following their winter in the ground and I am excited to see which varieties will have succeeded. 

In terms of “when” to plant?
Sweet Peas, in a good sunny position, well watered and “fed” (seaweed fert, sheep/chicken pellets etc) and regularly dead headed seem to have a set flowering period before powdery mildew or heat captures them… this means, that they can be sewn through out Spring and Summer at  any time! In fact its a fun idea to plant them in waves a month apart to ensure you have them flowering for every moment of the warm months!
On tidying up my middle raised bed in June, I still had SP’s flowering amid the dry seedheads of other plants that had well and truly finished. They had been planted “late” and were still going about their business. 

Sweet Peas are simply love in floral form. 

DID you know that one of the worlds TOP Sweet Pea breeders is a New Zealander? 
Look out for seeds and seedlings from Dr Keith Hammet.  

The great SP Wall of 2017/2018. We planted it in mid Spring and despite mass deadheading 3 times a week to prevent it going to seed, it became ragged and lost colour 2 weeks before our at home wedding and we ripped them out! With no deadline to gun for, now I regularly dead head but with less ferocity, letting pods dry on the plants once they are looking tired and encouraging self seeding to take me into an early showing in late Spring.
When you grow LOTS of Sweet Peas you can "afford" to lop off big long vines of them for whimsical arrangements inside. I love the colour of their foliage and those wee tendrils.
Now is about the time for "smellstagram"...

Echinacea

Last year was my first go at Echinacea.
Even the discovery that it was a garden personality and not just my go-to pill for fending off winter bugs was a biggy! 

Although I did manage to find a lovely white variety on the perennial table of my local Oderings a little later in the season, initially, I purchased seeds from Trade Me and cultivated my own. And they were easy, if not slightly slower to poke their heads through the soil compared to others that I was growing at the time.
But they DID come! 
These are summer flowering and drift into Autumn. I just LOVE them for cutting and enjoying their nodding heads amongst others in the garden. They are kooky and cartoonish and extra satisfying as they are a perennial!  I’m so excited to see the little clumps coming to life again now in early Spring as I have divided and spread them everywhere I could find a sunny spot! 

 

My treasured white model which I am hoping for double the action in its second season! Pictured here planted amongst flowering chives and oregano.

Annual Lupin

This is a slightly obscure profile, as I don’t actually KNOW the name of my favourite Lupin to grow from seed….but this is what she looks like. 
I was given 4 mature seedlings to pop in the garden by a friend of Mum’s. As they reached maturity, my previous Lupin opinions flew out the window. Unlike the rough and tough riverbed variety or even the waves of purple, pink and peach ones that take over the Mackenzie Basin each year (I believe these are perennial Russell Lupins), theeeeese Lupes grew extremely tall and offered reallllly pretty, delicate white blooms with a painted yellow dot, paling to dusk pink as the flower matured.
And they flowered for MONTHS and MONTHS, not to mention their awesome performance in a vase. 

This annual variety are well worth the seed raising effort each year. They also opened me up to the world of beautiful perennial Lupins which I have purchased on occasion from Oderings and am excited to see them preparing their leaves already for this season. 

So my advice would be to cruise Trade Me and see what interesting models you might be able to find to pep up your garden this summer! 

Verbena Bonariensis

And… I’ve saved my favourite for last.
Verbena Bonariensis… yes, I use its full name around here. Not simply Verbena, as that is another plant (or three) but VB. I sound like a dork when I dribble that out to interested people but I’d hate for there to be confusion when seeking it out! Dorky or not! 

As mentioned earlier, the only way I was going to get to enjoy this plant in person was by growing it from seed. And lucky for me, it is a rampant grower! With this in mind, its many bobbing seed heads spawned mannnny new VB children through out the garden, so be prepared to “edit” when needed! It is also a plant that I think could “get away” in our landscape, so best to keep any eye on it in and outside your boundaries and check for escapees in surrounding paddocks/roadside if you have them! 

BUT bees and butterflies are drunk in love with VB. And gardens benefit from its tall, wirey structure that can weave through borders or make an amazing stand planted on mass or in a tub. 
And they flower and flower and flower and flower. I pretty much had flowers from Nov to June. 
It is a super interesting and long lived cut flower as well.


If all else fails I’ll just start the national VB appreciation club….

 

You wil definitely get flowers in your first season if you plant your seeds earlier enough. This is my main stand of VB in its second season - it really thickened out and grew SO tall. Early Winter-ish I prune it down to about 30-40 cms and it will come back strong as soon as it warms up.
A member of the VB fanclub and example how the flowers sort of "multiply" on top of themselves as the season progresses. The bright purple on top is the new growth, the brown layer are spent flowers that have seeded.
My favourite for picking for height in a vase. Picked it will last for at least 3 weeks!

Going into THIS season 19/20 ....

...I have direct sewn multiple varieties of Papaver and Opium Poppies purchased on Trade Me and am more than prepared to give Zinnias a GOOD go! To add to my masses of self seeded Nigella (Love in the Mist) I plan to grow the "African Bride" variety ...can't wait to see that in action! Watch this space!

All photo’s were taken by me in my own garden in Christchurch, New Zealand. 
Copyright of Studio Home Enterprises Ltd 2019. 

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