Tag Archives: planting seeds

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

For the second year running I’ve just purchased the “Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar”. The calendar, which comes in the form of a slim book, gives the optimum sowing, pruning and harvesting times for different types of plants according to biodynamic planting principles.

The idea is that as the moon orbits the earth it transmits forces which affect the four elements, Earth, Light (Air), Water and Warmth (Fire).  These in turn affect the four parts of plants – roots, flowers, leaves and fruit/seeds.  As a consequence, the health and growth of a plant can supposedly be enhanced by sowing, cultivating and harvesting according to these lunar cycles.

Now, as someone with a scientific background, my initial reaction to this is one of disbelief; it sounds like a great deal of hocus pocus.  And yet.

Maria Thun, who sadly died in 2012, spent a lifetime investigating the phenomena of different plant growth characters when sown on different days.  She undertook increasingly detailed trials at three different sites in Germany and she linked the observed phenomena to the zodiac calendar, ultimately creating the biodynamic calendar.

The biodynamic calendar books relate not only some of her experiences, but also those of others following these principles.  Notably this year they tell the story of the beneficial effect of biodynamic planting on vineyards, and share the fascinating tidbit that both Tesco and Marks and Spencer will only hold tastings for wine critics on days when, according to this calendar, the wines will be at their best.

I grow many plants from seed every year and in the past have sometimes felt almost paralysed into inactivity by how many seeds need planting, or planting on or planting out. Last year, I found following the planting calendar really helped me focus on getting things done.  It gave an urgency to individual planting tasks and as a consequence I intend to follow it again this year.

I still find ‘planting by the moon’ faintly ridiculous, but, if it helps get the planting done in the first place, that has to be positive.  Whatever the moon’s doing, seeds don’t grow well in the packet.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this practice.

Singing the blues


The garden here is quite pink.  Not because I’m a huge fan, although it has definitely grown on me, but because I’ve inherited a lot of good pink plants, particularly roses, and I’ve gone with it as I find a limited palette easier on the eye.

However, today we’re celebrating ‘the blues’ (including purple plants as well as glaucous leaves), partly because of the endless wet weather, but also because it’s time to prune the wisteria.  The picture above shows my wisteria flowering in May last year.  It’s grown significantly in the years we’ve been here and is now happily colonising next door.  I’d like to think my dutiful following of the RHS’s pruning tips has been part of that success, but it probably has a lot more to do with the climate!

The RHS makes it clear wisterias should be pruned twice a year – firstly in July or August after flowering to cut back the ‘whippy green shoots’ and then again in January/February.  At this time of year the idea is to cut the growth back further and to tidy the plant up when it’s leafless and easier to see the structure of the plant.  You cut back to two or three buds so that all the growth is quite close to the main stems and this should help both stimulate flowering, but also ensure the flowers aren’t obscured by the leaves.  Please see skeletal ‘after’ shot below:

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I’ve made life slightly more complicated for myself this year as I planted a Cobaea scandens to grow amongst the wisteria and to provide some flower and leaf once the wisteria had finished flowering.  What’s been interesting is the fact that because it’s been so mild here this winter, the Cobaea is still going strong, and so I’ve had to tip toe around it whilst chopping away at the wisteria.  Anyway, job done, and we’ll see later in the spring  how effective it’s been.

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The second activity this week was prompted by my volunteering visit to Ventnor Botanic Gardens.  Following the Volunteer Fair a week ago I turned up on Wednesday to be given my task.  And although I didn’t work on clearing the dead agapanthus heads (one of the tasks), it reminded me of some seed I’d saved from a new agapanthus (A. Peter Pan) I’d bought at the Palm Centre last year and hadn’t yet planted.  I decided to plant some today (to replicate the conditions of the ones which had seeded themselves at Ventnor) and some later in the spring (as suggested on the RHS website) and see which fares better.

The plants shown below (in 9cm pots) are agapanthus seedlings grown from seed saved from another agapanthus species (not sure which one) over two years ago.  I know growing agapanthus from seed requires patience, but I really don’t see these flowering any time soon….

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Next a few more blues flowering or in leaf now.  The Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis prostratus) is a favourite which cascades over a wall near the front gate and, as you can see, is flowering away now.  The second one is a Teucrium (Teucrium fructicans) also flowering now, which seems brave for something Mediterranean.  And below these, three lovely Euphorbia.  The first, E Wulfenii characias has self seeded in a large pot containing an olive tree, the second, E Myrsinites, I grew from seed a couple of years ago, and the last, E ‘Grey Hedgehog’ is a new one on me – a diminutive, prickly looking thing, bought from Sarah Raven last year and still awaiting a permanent home.

Lastly, my lovely Melianthus major.  I had to take a photo and share it as every year so far it’s got to about January and then the frost has wiped it out to a sludgy mess.  It’s looking magnificent now, well over a metre high, and yet I hear the cold weather’s coming.  Fingers crossed.

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