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Salute the kernel; Every year there's a new crop of seeds to inspire us... and they make fabulous stocking fillers.

Byline: YOUR GARDEN With Diarmuid Gavin

n the midst of our chilly season - when we dress up in winter woollies and our breath turns to fog as we step outdoors - it's a time for hope.

IHope is encapsulated in remarkable little items called seeds. They are one of nature's main ways of ensuring that plants survive through propagation and, in the case of many fruit and vegetables, help to keep us alive.

From the earliest times, humans have worked with seeds - collecting, storing and sowing them.

It's a very basic symbiotic way of working with nature.

The gardening industry has always embraced seeds, crossbreeding plants and looking for new and better varieties - stronger, taller, greener or more colourful. So every year there's a new crop of goodies for us to be inspired by, and while the outside is cold now, once the seasons change, the soil will warm up and welcome the seeds which in turn will germinate and change into beautiful plants.

Here's my pick of the bunch - and bear in mind they will also make excellent stockingfiller presents for Christmas. Plant World Seeds (plant-worldseeds.com, 01803 872939) in Devon is always a good source for rare and unusual seeds.

Emilia Scarlet Magic is a half-hardy annual which produces a great profusion of sprays of fluffy, scarlet tassels, blooming on the tops of tall thin stems which sway in the breeze all summer, from June to September.

Colloquially known as Irish Poet (the blooms said to resemble red hair), they would look super in a naturalistic scheme with grasses.

Poppy lovers will like Roemeria hybrida, which has papery violet flowers opening to anthers delicately dusted in sky-blue pollen and deeply divided foliage reminiscent of the Californian poppy.

Another favourite place to shop is Chiltern Seeds (chilternseeds.co.uk, 01491 824675).

New for 2018 is a beautiful poppy called 'Black Swan' with dark purple, frizzy-petalled double flowers with green-grey foliage.

There's a lovely variety of tobacco plant, Nicotiana 'Starlight Dancer' with pretty white flowers which will dance in the breeze, borne on tall slender stems.

Zinnia fans will like its 'Cupid Mixture', a collection of small pompom flowers in a vivid array of colours.

Over at sarahraven.com (0345 092 0283), I spotted Cardiospermum halicacabum, also known as love-in-a-puff. This is a half-hardy annual climber - flowers are followed by green balloon seedpods, each one holding a black seed inside marked with a perfect white heart. Also new is Dolichos lablab 'Ruby Moon', another tender climber with purple spires of bean-like flowers followed by glossy, purple black pods.

Nigella, love-in-a-mist, is one of the easiest annuals, and 'Mulberry Rose' is a beautiful mix of rich deep mulberry pink flowers.

Unwins' (unwins.co.uk, 0844 573 8400) new range includes bouquet collections, a blend of flowers which are good for cutting as well as drying.

Papaver 'Raspberry Ripple Collection' is a mix of shades of white and pink - Ammi Majus Graceland, Cosmos Razzmatazz, Cosmos Cosmonaut and Cleome Sparkler, while 'Lime Sapphire Spectacular Collection' is a sophisticated combination of Sweet Pea Cream Eggs, Cerinthe Blue Kiwi, Eryngium Alpine Sea Holly and Nicotiana Lime Green.

Next year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and in recognition of this, Dobies (dobies.co.uk, 0844 967 0303) has put together this patriotic mix of beautiful red, white and blue sweet peas.

They're largeflowered, easy-togrow and will bloom late June-September. Enjoy their bright flowers and sweet scent - and never forget.

Begonia growers will like BIG DELUXXE Rose, which will produce large flowers and a vigorous growth habit. In a warm summer, plants can reach a height of 85cm and a spread of 60cm.

somniferum The giant, bushy plants will be smothered in rosecoloured flowers, set off to perfection against the dramatic bronze foliage, all summer long.

ASK DIARMUID Q Could you please tell me how to grow hydrangeas? Do I take cuttings now or later in the year? Is it better to take cuttings at the bottom of the existing plant or at the top? And is it better to take a cutting below the leaf or above? Also, could you please tell me which compost I should use.

Finally, do I water them in a pot or the ground? Frank Johnson A Hi Frank. Hydrangeas grow very well from cuttings. Do this in summer with softwood or semi-ripe cuttings, or now with hardwood cuttings (juvenile stems are soft but harden with age over the summer).

In all cases, you need to cut a robust-looking, nonflowering shoot about six inches in length for hardwood.

You cut just below a leaf node, which is where you find the greatest concentration of growth hormones. A gritty compost is best - ground or pot is fine for hardwood - and yes, keep them watered.

PLANT OF THE WEEK MALUS 'RED SENTINEL' Looking for a small tree for your front garden which has long seasonal interest? This crab apple will only reach six metres at maturity, so will make a good specimen tree for smaller plots.

Lots of fragrant flowers in May are followed by cherry-like scarlet fruits which persist on the tree through midwinter.

Harvest them to make jelly, or leave for the birds to feast on.

An easy-to-grow tree, Red Sentinel is self-pollinating and will also pollinate your apple trees.

CAPTION(S):

Nigella mulberry rose

Emilia Scarlet Magic

Roemeria hybrida

Cardiospermum halicacabum

Nicotiana 'Starlight Dancer' Credit: chiltern seeds.co.uk

Zinnia 'cupid mixture'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2017
Words:907
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Next Article:Collect seeds for sowing in spring; JOBS FOR THE WEEK.
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