Growing high value plants from seed

Geoff Hodge explains how to be savvy and save even more money when growing from seed.


There are lots of ways gardens can thrill, excite and lift our spirits. One of the best feelings in gardening is planting out lots of exciting new plants and looking forward to how they will bring the garden to life. The second is seeing the first seedlings emerge after sowing seeds and the thrill of anticipation of how brilliantly these will grow, with that warm glow you get from knowing you’ve brought new life into the world. And, by sowing seeds, you get both of these feelings at the same time!

Sowing seeds and growing on the young plants is also much, much cheaper (and much more satisfying) than buying established plants.

Salvia and centranthus (red valerian)
Salvia and Red valerian. Image: Adobe Stock

Seed-sowing kit

There are numerous vegetables and hardy annual flowers that you can sow direct into the soil from March onwards. But lots of more “exotic” varieties need extra warmth for the seeds to germinate and for the young plants to grow on in. To ensure you get these plants off to the very best start in life and ensure they grow well and thrive, you’ll need somewhere inside to sow them – ideally a greenhouse or conservatory, but a well-lit windowsill in the house can easily be turned into a plant nursery. You’ll also need some seed sowing essentials, but you don’t have to spend a fortune. Your seed-sowing kit should include the following.

Compost Seed and cuttings composts are far better and give better results than using a multi-purpose compost.

Pots & trays. Small pots (from 7.5-10cm diameter) and cell trays (which are far better than seed trays) will be needed to sow the seeds in and to prick out the young seedlings into.

Propagator. In its simplest form, this is just a container with a close-fitting, transparent lid, which helps to keep in humidity and reduce compost drying out. As most seeds you sow indoors need a regular and constant temperature, a heated propagator will produce better results and one that is thermostatically controlled even better again.

Dibbers. These make pricking out and repotting young plants easier. But you could use a kitchen fork!

Labels & pencils. Don’t forget to label what you’ve sown. It’ll save lots of confusion later on!

Bedding plants

All the bedding plants we love, thanks to their brilliant flower power for months on end, can be grown from seed. They will all need growing indoors in a warm, well-lit spot. If you want bedding plants this season, save a fortune and grow from seed.


While most people buy their perennials, the keen seed sower can grow these from scratch too. While the varieties of each plant aren’t available in such a wide range as seeds, compared to buying plants, there’s still lots to choose from.

Hollyhocks. Image: Adobe Stock

Depending on the species, and at what time of year you sow them, some won’t flower in their first year, building up their strength and flowering from the second year onwards. But there are lots that will flower in their first year from sowing in spring. If you’re impatient for flowers, here’s my top 20 first-year flowering perennials that would cost several £££s each if you bought one plant:

Achillea (yarrow)
Agastache (anise hyssop)
Alcea (hollyhocks)
Calamintha (calamint)
Catananche (cupid’s dart)
Centranthus (red valerian)
Delphinium (larkspur)
Dianthus (pinks)
Digitalis (foxglove)
Echinacea (cone flower)
Gaillardia (blanket flowers)
Gaura (bee blossom)
Geum (avens)
Lupinus (lupin)
Monarda (bee balm)
Papaver (poppy)
Penstemon (beard tongue)
Salvia (sage)
Scabiosa (pin cushion)
Verbascum (mullein)

Growing perennials from seed also allows you to grow things that you can’t easily find as plants at your local garden centre or nursery. For instance, I can’t find locally one of my favourite perennials, Melianthus major (honey bush), at any garden centre, but growing it from seed gives me lots of plants for the garden at a fraction of the price.

helianthus major, giant honey bush
Melianthus major (honey bush ) can be difficult to buy from a garden centre, but you can grow from seed. Image: Adobe Stock


A lot of the veg that we regard as “exotic”, really aren’t any longer, as we’ve expanded our palettes so much in recent years. But they can still be regarded as exotic in their need for sowing indoors with warmth. These include tomatoes, peppers, including chillies, aubergines, cucumbers, squashes and courgettes.

Sowing just about every veg indoors in spring also ensures you have young plants to plant outside that will start cropping earlier in the year than when sowing the seed in the ground. And sowing these in trays at weekly or fortnightly intervals throughout spring and into summer means you have plants ready to pop into gaps produced when other crops are harvested. This will help to prevent periods of famine when there’s nothing available to harvest, since they’ll start cropping sooner than sowing seeds into these gaps. Compare the price of ready grown plants to seed grown and you will save a fortune.

Bell pepper seedlings
Pepper seedlings. Image: Adobe Stock


Several of our favourite herbs are annuals and have to be grown from seed each year. These include basil, coriander, dill, parsley and summer savory. But even the perennial herbs can be grown from seed. So, if you fancy some nice clumps of chives, or you want numerous fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, winter savory and thyme plants, then get those itchy, seed-sowing fingers going.

Admittedly, it’ll be a couple of years before these perennials are large enough to give you a regular supply of pickings throughout the year. But when they are, you’ll have a lovely warm, smug feeling that you’ve saved a fortune on buying those growing herbs from the supermarket and something with a much better flavour than those little jars of dried herbs.

Save more money

Here are a few tips to help save even more money.

Go open pollinated. Many bedding plant and vegetable varieties are F1 hybrids. These are intensively man-bred varieties, whose seeds cost a lot more than more standard, open-pollinated varieties. F1s do have advantages over open pollinated, such as more uniform growth, but that’s not to say that open pollinated are not worth growing. Give them a go, instead of forking out on F1s.

Chat with neighbours. If you have gardening-mad neighbours, you could share your excess seeds with them and vice versa, or order seeds together to avoid duplications. Some seed packets contain hundreds of seeds, far more than you would ever need.

Join the club. There’s a good chance that your local gardening club has a scheme with a national seed company. They get together the requirements of their members, send a large seed order to the company and get a discount on the prices as a result. Look out for seed swap events where you can share and find new things to grow.

Save, save, save. Many of your own plants will produce seeds in autumn or after they’ve finished flowering. Rather than deadheading, allow one or two seed heads to reach maturity and collect your own seeds from these.


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