Many herb seeds are available to buy, specialists such as Chiltern seeds, Poyntzfield Herb Nursery and Suffolk Herbs offer a wide variety with herbs for cookery and medicine. Once your herb garden is established it is a good idea, while leaving some seed-heads for the birds to feast and inevitably also distribute a few seeds in your garden, to gather some yourself. Carefully dried and stored in small brown envelopes in a dry place, these will give you a steady source for re-sowing annuals such as borage, dill and sunflowers, as well as for re-placing shorter lived perennials and biennials such as clove pinks and greater mullein.
Keeping a garden diary is to be recommended, noting weather conditions and how your plants are coping with the changing climate. When to Sow – My observations over the past few years, suggest it is easy to be encouraged to sow seeds too early for their own good. It may be that sowing early indoors results in plants ready to be planted out when after a hot, dry spell the weather turns and there is a very late frost. However left indoors, especially if there is not good light from above, which a conservatory or greenhouse can offer, seedlings are quick to become leggy and poor. Some seeds will need frost to germinate and need to be sown outside – Sweet Cicely, angelica, cowslips and Baptisia are some.
Sowing by the phase of the moon is something I have tried over many years and a few days before new moon has been a good time, two days before the full moon gave the strongest plants in experiments in the last century. If you wish to take the moon phases and also possible influence of conjunctions in the heavens into account books on growing plants by the moon are available to help judge the best times for sowing, maintenance and harvesting of all parts of plants.
Ensure you think about the necessary depth below soil level when sowing seeds. This relates to the size of seed. If sowing more than one type in a seed-tray also remember the varying size of the germinated seedlings, giving them sufficient space. It is good to be able to choose those likely to germinate at the same time as partners. Keeping a diary record can be helpful as some will germinate in 3-4 days, while others may take up to 3 weeks. Basil, dill, milk thistle, borage, Calendula and salad rocket have all germinated within 7 days in some years.
Seeds are the most precious offspring of the plant wonderfully equipped with just enough nutrition to enable germination although some seedlings have a better supply than others. The germinating tip of the root is aware of gravity, bacteria, fungi with which it can make a beneficial partnership exchanging nutrients, salt gradients, obstacles and whether roots of nearby plants are to be treated as friend from the same species, or competition.
While the growing tip of seedlings above ground respond to light intensity, direction duration and colour. Plant photoreceptors are made up of a protein connected to a chemical dye that absorbs the light. They respond to blue light which is active in setting their daily internal clock and encouraging germination. They also perceive the red light of dawn encouraging growth, and the far-red light which signals the evening and coming night. The extent of awareness of plants to their surroundings is a subject I will be following in a workshop later this year. The Living Garden. One to look out for at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in July.