Sowing the seeds for a romantic country wedding

Blue and white country flowers said the bride-to-be - and her mother is getting growing
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Blue and white country flowers said the bride-to-be - and her mother is getting growing

My daughter is getting married in February on a remote Banks Peninsula headland.

Being a country gal at heart, and a hunter, she wants the flowers to be wild and romantic. I offered to grow them for the wedding breakfast tables.

For years my husband and I grew cut flowers commercially so I figure I know a bit about it.

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Delicate spikes of larkspur add height to any arrangement.

Delicate spikes of larkspur add height to any arrangement.

July was spent most pleasantly, poring over annuals in books and seed catalogues, selecting flowers that my daughter likes (notably blue and white), that flower in late summer and are relatively easy to cultivate. 

Despite only a fraction of my 760m2 garden being available for the temporary flower beds, I decided to make three sowings of each flower, aimed at coming to bloom a week before the wedding, the week of the wedding, and a week after, to allow for any variations in the weather. 

Fortunately, most catalogues and books list the time it takes from seed sowing to picking. Unfortunately, they do not always agree.

Ammi majus (Bishop's flower) adds a floaty feel to the wedding bouquet.
SALLY TAGG

Ammi majus (Bishop's flower) adds a floaty feel to the wedding bouquet.


Thus my whiteboard is a colour-coded dog's breakfast as I try to unravel all possible sowing day combinations and embracing all eventualities.

First flower to make it to the list is love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena). It has the prettiest flowers in blue and white which peep through the lacy bracts and delicate fern-like foliage.

On the plus side, I know from experience that it is easy to grow and prefers to be sown direct. 

On the down side, it has a short flowering season but its seed heads are decorative, should I muck up my dates completely. Whereas Kings Seeds says it takes 90 days from whoah to go and flowers in late summer, the Yates Gardening Guide advises sowing the seeds in autumn! 

Another easy choice is larkspur. This annual delphinium (Delphinium consolida) is a more delicate, less hefty spire than the perennial version and in my garden grows like a weed.

A bouquet of wildflowers, including Ammi majus, pink silene, poppies, purple tansy and lady's mantle.
SALLY TAGG

A bouquet of wildflowers, including Ammi majus, pink silene, poppies, purple tansy and lady's mantle.

They take 110 or 140 days from whoah to go, depending on who you consult. It flowers naturally in early summer, but I'm pretty sure I have had at least some spikes growing almost all summer long. 

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As far as I can gather, none of my plants are day-length sensitive, which can be a trap for the unwary.

Chrysanthemums, for example, will not form blooms when they are exposed to more than 12 hours of light a day; on the other hand, asters, coneflowers and eschscholzia bloom only when there are at least 12 hours of light a day. 

Cornflowers come in a range of colours.

Cornflowers come in a range of colours.

I'd not grown (or heard of) purple wild carrot, a form of Daucus carota. If it grows as well as that winsome white version sold as Queen Anne's lace and its fellow airy-fairy umbellifer bishops flower (Ammi majus) which I am also growing, though, then the old hall will be as draped in the most delicate of laces. 

The flowers of these daucuses, at 120 days, take twice as long as the bishops flower. Neither seem particular as to the conditions of where they grow, although uncultivated they tend to bloom in late spring. Maybe sowing in semi-shade will prevent them from bolting.

Likewise, poppies (Papaver rhoeas) when naturalised here bloom in spring, but according to Yates, they will bloom in midsummer if sown in spring.

White cosmos grow reliably - and cheaply - from seed.

White cosmos grow reliably - and cheaply - from seed.

Kings Seeds has a stunning and appropriately named white cultivar, 'Bridal Silk', which they say "will bloom for several months". Perfect. It's meant to take 90 days.

Corncockle and cornflowers are no-brainers. Neither are strangers to my garden, and both are happy here.

Cosmos, too, is another willing and long-giving annual that makes it on the list. All three are 75-dayers so Christmas-shopping might take second place to gardening.

Bells of Ireland add a dash of green to the bridal bouquet and tables.

Bells of Ireland add a dash of green to the bridal bouquet and tables.

Success with Bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis) has eluded me in the past, but its stunning spikes of pale green flowers will look so fantastic on the bridal table that I am having a very serious go at growing it.

Its seeds have to be stratified (that is, chilled) for four to six weeks according to one book, while another instructs me it will take up to 35 days for them to germinate at 13oC. Watch this space.

August is spent preparing the soil,  digging over the yellow clay churned up by the bulldozers when the site was prepared for our post-quake rebuild.

Where the topsoil went who knows, but we faithfully break up the clods and lay cubic metres of bought and homemade compost on top. Then, seeing it is for a special occasion, we toss over a load of imported topsoil.

The seeds lie in packets awaiting their turn. And I lie awake at night wondering if I've got it right – enough flowers, enough variety, enough time.

My daughter meanwhile is devoting herself to growing sweet peas and scabious, and is sussing out friends' gardens for likely additional material: ivy, hops, nasturtiums, geraniums, roses.

Real wild flowers are always going to be part of the mix – more, not less, if things turn to custard on the home front. 

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) in white and pink, is prolific on the peninsula roadsides and wastelands, from Christmas through to May. 

The charming bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) with its sprawling habit and small, simple white flowers scrambles up the bank outside my house, intertwining with a briar rose.

It may have finished flowering come wedding day but the swollen sepal tubes that gives it its name will still be inflated by then and have turned a pretty golden brown. 

I may curse dill in my garden, and trying to eradicate it from domestic gardens is a thankless task. But as it grows freely over the hills around here, its delicate yellow umbels will be plentiful and ripe come February. 

As will the simple white marguerite daisies, which in low-frost regions flower all-year round.

If pruned they flush six months later, so, yes, it was me with shears in hand clipping back some hillside specimens recently. 

Maybe because she associates it with her childhood here, but my daughter has her heart set on another garden escapee, Centranthus ruber (false valerian), which flowers beautifully in these parts, often lingering long into summer.

The hills of the peninsula are a rich source of grasses; the golden seedheads of Yorkshire fog, cocksfoot, bush poa and blue tussock, among others, have a space reserved in the wedding breakfast vases.

I should have drawn a line, said enough is enough, but with responsibility weighing heavy, I can't resist heading back to the seed catalogues, and adding to my order anything annual, whitish and summer- to autumn-flowering – aster, cleome, linum, mignonette, nicotiana… just in case. 

 - NZ Gardener

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