I am not afraid to admit it. There are some plants that I have a troubled relationship with. While nerines and amaryllis are some of my very favourite garden flowers, for their ability to erupt like pastel pink fireworks from beneath the earth in September, their arrival is also unequivocal confirmation that the dark days of winter are just around the corner. Like that last quick dip in the ocean before catching your flight home from a summer holiday, for me it’s an emotional trigger that the months of sunshine and fun are over and only school and seriousness await.
Fortunately, for us fair-weather gardeners, there are some plants you can spark into life right now, just as almost everything else slips into a slumber, providing you with a constant reminder of new things to come. Here are some of my favourite flower and veg seeds that you can sow in the autumn.
California poppies Eschscholzia californica are some of the easiest annuals to sow, providing a blaze of orange and yellow right through to very end of the summer. I love them for their ability to establish colourful colonies on the flanks of gravel paths, where little else will grow. Despite being annuals (plants which grow, mature and die in just one growing season) they will happily self-seed, providing you with generation after generation of show-stopping colour.
If it’s more traditional poppies you are after, now is also the perfect time to sow both field poppies and opium poppies, by simply scattering them over any bare patches of well-drained soil that basks in full sun, and watering-in well. Cornflowers, calendula and nigella will make perfect bedfellows for any of the above, too, offering up a range of contrasting colours and textures, from a mix of plants that will be perfectly content living cheek-by-jowl in the same environmental conditions.
If, however, you are gardening on a more moist, shady site, primroses would be an excellent option. Their seeds will only germinate when exposed to a period of cold, so late summer and early autumn is the best time to do this, with seedlings popping up the following spring. The most important thing to remember when sowing these tiny seeds, though, is not to cover them, but sprinkle them directly on to the surface of compost in seed trays or over well-raked soil in sheltered, shady places outdoors.
There are even a few edibles you can try your hand at before the soil cools, including fast-growing crops such as radishes and spring onions, as well as winter hardy veg like perpetual spinach and broad beans. So if you, like me, have always found the first flush of autumn flowers a bittersweet experience, just think about them as your green light to start off a new cycle of colour and flavour for the months to come.