Sowing Success

When to plant seeds for a season full of flowers

Paula, Mill Pond Flower Farm

A Year of Planting.jpg

The key to a season full of flowers, is a well planned planting strategy. The diagram above shows a planting plan across 12 months that aims to have flowers and foliage available for sale from the beginning of March to the end of October in a UK climate. If you are growing in a different part of the world, your growing seasons may be different.

Any book, seed packet or expert will tell you to plant flower seeds in the Spring, starting around March, or waiting until the soil is nicely warm. They might add that some can be attempted in September, but very few will advise planting in October, November or December. 

While growing flowers for sale for a number of years, I've been watching and noting how nature does it. There is an unwritten law in flower farming that states the strongest plants are the ones that are self seeded, the ones that pop up in late spring and do so much better than the ones we carefully plant, cosset and nurture, protecting from winds and hailstones. The 'volunteers' just appear, grow away and flower beautifully. I usually find them in sheltered spots in late March, already with a few months growth behind them and unbothered by the cold and wet of a British winter, so think about working on imitating nature, to grow the earliest and strongest hardy flowers possible.

For us, there are different things that volunteer themselves on each of our plots

For Carol

Top 5 volunteers: Nigella, Poppies, Borage, Honesty, Cynoglossum

For Paula

Top 5 Volunteers: Nicandra, Cornflower, Poppies, Borage, Feverfew

For Claire

Top 5 volunteers: Feverfew, Corncockle, Cynoglossum, Clary Sage, Phacelia

Question : Which things are volunteers on your plot?

Achieving strong Autumn sown plants for cut flowers

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There are two ways to achieve good strong autumn sown plants for cut flowers:

  1. Collect self sown seedlings

    Learn to recognise the early stages of cut flower plants. They will self seed in your plot (if you haven’t cut and sold every single stem!) and a keen eye for seedlings will ensure you can make the most of your naturally growing seedlings, moving them to a safe place where you can grow them on and harvest them efficiently.

  2. Sow seeds in autumn

The most important issue in autumn sowing is to choose the right plant. The criteria for the choice of seeds is: 

  • those that will happily self seed outside - very hardy annuals such as Godetia, Cornflower, Nigella, Calendula, Linaria, Icelandic poppies, Corncockle, Nicandra, Sweet peas

  • tricky germinators that often take a long time to appear - Orlaya, Bells of Ireland, Larkspur

  • hardy perennials needing a period of cold - Astrantia, Delphinium, Helenium

Most hardy annual seeds do need to be germinated in warmth, so a period of time in a heated propagator might be needed to get them growing. However, the key is to make sure they stay cool once germinated so there is no chance for leggy or weak growth. Slowly does it, with plenty of opportunity to develop strong roots and the plants are ready to shoot off at the first sign of spring. Get them going nicely and you can feel that Spring is already on its way, even before the weather warms up!

On this advanced course, we're assuming that you've sown seeds before, but if you want a reminder of the key points, here are a couple of Claire’s How To videos.

The key thing with all seedlings is not to "check them". This means stopping growth by letting them dry out, get too wet, get too cold or too hot, or get root bound. This last one means that seedlings need to be pricked out either into warm ground, or into larger module trays and pots for keeping under cover over the winter.  Key points are covered in this video

Each year we all discover new and different hardy annuals that we find are great for sowing early, but here below is a list made between the 3 of us of suggested varieties suitable for Autumn sowing

Seedling Identification

We've said that learning what seedlings look like is important for getting strong volunteer plants. It helps when you've been going for a few years and you've got plans of what's been in those beds before, but for now, we're going to give you some visuals of some of the plants that are most likely to pop up on your field if you've grown any of them before.

Cornflowers, Larkspur, Gypsophila, Poppies

The most productive hardy annuals

We've given you a whole list of hardy annuals that can be sown now, and with the right conditions will make it through the winter, and will be ahead of anything that gets sown in early spring, with larger root systems, and so the ability to produce taller and stronger stems. 

But which ones win in terms of stem numbers to sell in that all important late spring window, when customers are interested in our flowers, but the season is only just started?

These are the ones that Claire thinks are the most productive.

Orlaya grandiflora - Laceflower

florists orlaya.jpg

The first year I grew Orlaya I sowed a whole packet of seeds, but only managed to grow 3 plants. These were planted in my polytunnel and cosseted. From 3 plants, I sold 57 stems to florists, and I have pictures of them in bouquets that I made in late June, so I guess at least 20-25 stems a plant were produced. Now I sow one batch in September which get planted outside and covered in environmesh over winter, and I interplant my polytunnel ranunculus with Orlaya plants sown in October, grown in 7cm modules over winter, and planted into the beds between the ranunculus plants in March. I’ve tried growing them as Spring sown plants, but never manage to get as tall stems as those that have overwintered, so I’ll stick to Ammi for later in the year.

 Centaurea cyanus - Cornflowers

Cornflowers germinate fast, and get good root systems quickly. For that reason they are ideal for Autumn sowing, and need pricking out within 5 days of germination. This usually means 8 to 10 days after sowing them.

Cornflowers field.jpg

I get the best and strongest plants when I space them well, - just 3 plants across each of my 90 cm beds.

These Autumn sown plants get excellent root systems and grow tall, meaning that by mid-May I have plenty of flower buds coming.

By late May, they are strong and tall plants with up to 20 flower stems per week per plant, Usually I give up picking late June, not because they aren’t still producing hundreds of blooms each week, but because I can’t keep up with the picking/ dead heading.

Daucus carota - Flowering Carrot

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Daucus carota which is probably correctly named as a biennial rather than a hardy annual is a great umbellifer that follows on from where Orlaya finished flowering in Mid June. This Carrot family flower is another that needs winter protection from rabbits, but if you can prevent them nibbling then this is another plant that you are likely to give up picking because you can’t keep up with it, rather than because it runs out of steam. It’s one that you think has only got a few stems ready, and then before you know it you’ve got 65 gorgeous flowers in your hand.

Ammi majus - Queen Anne's Lace

Ammi majus is another umbellifer that really benefits from Autumn sowing. The difference in height and so stem length from Autumn to spring sown plants is terrific. With the strong bold Autumn sown plants producing a lot more stems per plant, and plants putting down lots of growth over the winter. 

Ammi Major.jpg

Lathyrus odoratus - Sweet Peas

The last one on my list which is an absolute must for piles and piles of Spring flowers are Autumn sown sweet peas. Now admittedly these are best grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel for early blooms, but late September or October sown sweet peas can be flowering outside in sheltered areas by June. They can be kept in pots until late February or early March, and then are hardy enough to be planted even if we get late frost. The last couple of years I’ve been selling a good proportion of my blooms as sweet pea trails, which keeps the blooming even longer.

bucket of sweet peas.jpg

Course Introduction and Preparation

Introduction to the course and terms & conditions


Welcome to The Business of Growing Flowers. This course has been created by Claire Brown, Carol Siddorn and Paula Baxter and draws on our combined total of 19 years growing and selling cut flowers in the UK. We run our own independent cut flower businesses, grow in very different areas, on different soils and have a range of customers between us. We have also spent many years teaching adults in a variety of settings, from informal workshops to colleges and universities. We all enjoy what we do and have found working together brings huge benefits for our students, and also for ourselves. 

About Us

A little bit more about each of us - although you will learn more as the course goes on. One of the real benefits of having access to all of us is the combination of experience - of different conditions, customers, growing and just plain old likes and dislikes,

Claire Brown

Claire Brown of Plantpassion in Surrey, SE England

Claire Brown of Plantpassion in Surrey, SE England

So who are the growers behind “The business of growing flowers” course? Well i’m Claire from Plantpassion in Surrey. My background is all in horticulture, starting as a trainee garden centre manager in 1992. I’m a Hadlow College allumni, and I worked as a Garden/plant centre manager for 12 years, including 5 years at RHS Wisley . When my son was young I started working for myself, and now have 14 years of self-employment under my belt. I grow on 4 acres of rented Surrey hillside, with a chalky infertile soil, and an exposed site (but good views). I love teaching and spreading my love of all things sustainable, and British flowers in particular. I’ve been working with Carol and Paula for 3 years now and together we coach each other and move all our businesses on as life changes around us. We hope that our course will invigorate, inspire and enlighten you as this growing season winds down, and we plan for the next flower farming year

Paula Baxter

Paula Baxter of Mill Pond Flower Farm in SE Scotland

Paula Baxter of Mill Pond Flower Farm in SE Scotland

The Business of Growing Flowers course began as a request from Flowers From The Farm members for a course that helped to scale up and build a sustainable flower farm, one that moved from being a start-up or a hobby into making a living. Claire, Carol and myself were already coaching and supporting each other so we agreed to put a course together. I’m Paula and I run Mill Pond Flower Farm in the Scottish borders. I started my working life as a roller skating promotions girl in the 1980s and moved through nursing, academia, teaching adults, running an awarding body, and business development for charities. I’ve always grown, mostly veg on allotments, and a quest for land and space brought us to a derelict smallholding in the Scottish borders.Flower Farming started as an idea to sell a few flowers on a stand outside the house. I quickly realised it was my ideal job. Outside work, practical, needing good organisation, people skills, problemsolving & experience gained across a wide range of roles. I love it & also love to support, teach & inspire others to grow & develop. I run Introduction to Flower Farming workshops at the farm and was Flowers from the Farm co-ordinator for Scotland for 5 years, helping to build a supportive and vibrant network of over 60 Scottish flower farmers. I haven’t quite managed to fit the roller skating into the job yet, but I’m working on it

Carol Siddorn

Carol Siddorn of Carol’s Garden in Cheshire, NW England

Carol Siddorn of Carol’s Garden in Cheshire, NW England

The thing about working with other people is how much you can achieve and how much fun it can be. Paula, Claire and I all have different backgrounds, sites, customers and aims in life. But what we have in common is a clear idea of what we want to achieve, respect for each other’s experience and knowledge and a real love of the work we do and sharing what we have learned with other growers. This is me, Carol Siddorn. My background is a mix of farming, working in industry and finally settling in horticulture- through gardening, design and teaching. And a very long-held conviction that I could make a living off 2 acres of land. So here we are, on a rented site with cottage and just under 2 acres of light, sandy, acidic ex-arable land. Why do I do this? Well, flower growing enables us to live in a place and live a life that we couldn’t otherwise afford. Being outdoors, working with plants and flowers, seeing how much happiness my flowers can give, meeting so many energetic and inspiring people, taking on new challenges and skills, making a living. Everyone who comes here comments on the fantastic lifestyle we have now. It’s very hard work, but it’s the right mix for me, is it right for you too? If you think it might be, our course will help you find your way.

The Course

The Business of Growing Flowers is an online distance learning course with lessons and information supported by focused tasks, podcasts with the three of us and a dedicated closed Facebook group to share experiences and answer your questions.

The whole course runs over seven months from September to March. It is broken down into 10 modules.

Each module is released at the beginning of a week, spaced out at approximately fortnightly intervals. You can complete it all on that day, or one lesson a day, or any time you like. This will give you plenty of time to work through the worksheets (and not be tempted to rush ahead too quickly). You can start any module at any time after the release date, but part of the support will be from other people doing the same modules at the same time as you. If you have questions (and you will have lots) use the closed Facebook group - we will monitor and contribute to this regularly through the period of the course. We hope that you will all feel free and confident to join the discussions there. The group will be active from when the course starts on September 16th 2019

Getting the most from your course

As with most learning, the more you put in, the more you’ll get from it. You can just do the basics, read the information and complete the tasks. That should take between 20 minutes and an hour for each lesson. 

Or you can take it a step further, follow up with your own research, print off the lessons, develop your own workbook and build from the lessons to create your own plans for your business. 

The lessons will remain accessible for you so if you’re too busy to complete it immediately, or want to add to your lessons with more information, you can come back to it later. 

A note on Latin

We’ll be using mostly Latin plant names throughout the course. Although we all use common names when talking to customers, Latin names transcend different languages, regional and local understanding and also help to avoid confusion between different types of plant. Paula took two seasons to figure out why the Clary Sage she was growing was different to the Clary Sage in other people’s pictures. Hers was Salvia sclarea and the one mostly grown is Salvia viridis or Painted Sage. Both are called Clary Sage but are very different, so we’re hoping to avoid this sort of confusion.

A note on growing seasons and timing

We are all growing and farming in the UK. We are in different regions and grow in different conditions, so our timings can vary by about 2-3 weeks. Our experience is limited to the regions in which we live and grow. If you are in a different part of the world, your climate and growing conditions will be different and you may need to seek out more local advice on this.

On a serious note

We’re very happy for you to use, reuse and annotate the learning materials produced for this course for your own individual use. However, please respect the time, energy and experience that has gone into creating this course and don’t copy any of the content or materials for other people or for use in your own workshops. The course and all its materials are protected by copyright and remain the intellectual property of Claire Brown, Carol Siddorn and Paula Baxter. You must not, under any circumstances reproduce any part of this course without our prior written permission.  Please note that due to the nature of digital products we are unable to offer refunds once purchased. Thank you!

Pre-workshop preparation

Just to focus your mind, get you thinking about where you are up to, where you want to be heading. You don't need to share this with anyone, but we may ask you to go back to it at points in the course. Please take time to complete this thoughtfully - reflection and review are important skills in preparing to learn.