Jobs For April In Your Wild Spaces

The Secret Gardener

April is the time to sow seeds indoors if you haven’t already. I first sow seeds in trays of peat-free seed compost that I keep on warm windowsills near radiators to keep the soil warm. One of the risks early in the year is if the compost remains cold the seeds are slow to germinate and can rot.

As I don’t have a greenhouse, I am limited in space so I have to be choosy about what I grow. While the seed trays might only take up a bit of space, by the time I am ready to move the plants on to bigger pots before going outside they can take over the whole house! I like to grow annual plants which can be put almost anywhere in a Wild Space – whether it is a balcony, patio or garden.

This year I am growing:

  • Cosmos: a dwarf variety that will flower more quickly, as the summers here are short. The flowers will be pink, white or red, and butterflies really love them!
  • Sunflowers: I grow all sorts of mixed sunflowers, from small varieties to tall ones with red or yellow flowers. Late-summer butterflies like Red Admiral and Peacock really appreciate the constant nectar supplies, and birds will feast on the seeds in winter.
  • Nasturtium: good old nasturtium! Caterpillars of Large and Small White butterflies will feed upon the leaves and flowers, while bumblebees will gain nectar and pollen from them.
  • Nicotiana: this plant is advertised as being ‘deliciously scented’, which is true, but it’s also a big draw for some of the larger moths with long tongues that can get the nectar from the deep flowers.

To help speed germination up, I have some tips. My first is to soak larger seeds in water overnight the day before you sow them. I do this for sunflowers, nasturtiums and cosmos and you can sometimes see the sunflower seeds splitting open as they’re growing after just one night of water! I then sow all seeds into warm compost that I have already watered, as watering compost after you’ve sown them can move them about a lot.

After this I make sure to keep the compost warm (or at least not cold) by putting the trays over radiators or on sunny windowsills. I cover them with clear plastic propagators to keep the warmth and humidity up, but it’s important to let air flow in too, otherwise fungal diseases can take hold. Once the seeds are up, I remove the propagator cover to allow more sunlight in and keep the air moving about them.

After a few weeks of growth, I will pot these on into larger pots with peat-free potting compost so they can grow stronger before I put them outside in a cold-frame.

Plants like these will provide nectar for insects to keep them well-fuelled. I also grow wildflowers like Lady’s Bedstraw which is eaten by caterpillars of a lot of moths including Common Carpet, Purple-bar and the beautiful Flame Shoulder.

So, if you haven’t sown anything yet, there’s still time! If you don’t get anything sown, you can always try leaving parts of your space a bit wilder to see what plants come up naturally. A lot of the plants often considered ‘weeds’ are great for butterflies and moths, and you get them for free!