I know a lot of you guys are excited to try your hand at growing food and flowers over autumn and winter, so let’s talk about what I’m going to be doing. Mid-August to early September is a great time to get going, the soil is still warm, summer crops are coming to the end of their season and we are starting to see more rainfall. The temperatures also start to cool off making it much easier for some of those finicky plants that are notorious for bolting.
Your ears might just have pricked up at my mention of temperatures changing, and you might be thinking that means you can only grow a quick blast now and your season is over. Not true. There are plenty of fully hardy flowers we can be sowing and equally, plenty of lovely veg seeds too.
Obviously, I’m talking about my experience in my garden and your garden temperatures, frosts, and general autumn and winter weather might be different, but even if this is the case, knowing what I’m doing and why I chose them can still be useful information for you so you can make your own decisions. Even if that decision is, “nope, too cold here”.
If it helps you to know more about my garden and my growing conditions, well we are on the coast, literally a 10-minute walk from the beach and this affects the winter weather we get. Basically, we still get the standard central Scottish winter temperatures (our average coldest temperature tends to be around -6C but I’ve seen our garden go as low as -14C, that’s rare though), but we don’t get snow very often. Think of that coastal salty air. But we do get a lot of rain and some really severe frosts. When I say a lot of rain, let me clarify. I don’t mean torrential storm-like rain, I mean frequent, as in most days and often multiple times a day. Central Scotland is a very wet climate. A friend in Colorado explained to me why he was in his garden in just a sweatshirt when it was -20C there and I was wrapped up in my garden at -4C feeling like my hands might fall off, by saying, there are different types of cold. His garden gets a very dry cold, he’s in the mountains. Whereas the cold for us is a very wet cold with the wind. Making it feel much colder than it actually is. But he gets feet and feet of snowfall every year, so I’m not complaining.
Now I mentioned this to you guys last year and it’s a really useful bit of knowledge so I’ll mention it again. I’m choosing to grow plants that don’t need a heated greenhouse or heated propagators. Obviously, if you are heating your greenhouse over winter you will have a lot more options of what you can grow but I’m perfectly happy to restrict my choices to those that are able to either be sown directly outside into the soil, grown in my greenhouse for a little bit of protection or even grown in a cold frame if you have one. There is always an element of risk, this winter could be a colder one than usual for instance, but hopefully, the addition of some fleece or cloches will help manage things.
Flowers – hardy annuals and biennials
If you check out some of the seed supplier websites they’ll give you great lists of the seeds they sell that can be sown now and will survive the winter frost. These are referred to as hardy because they stand up to winter temperatures and frosts. It is always worth remembering to check for your garden though, even here in the UK there are assumptions that we are all the same and it’s just not true. There is a marked difference between the central belt in England versus the central belt in Scotland and we are much better to make the decision for ourselves by knowing our likely temperatures. Because in all honesty, most of the information from seed suppliers etc. often doesn’t work for us.
But that being said, there are a few flowers that I can choose to start off now in my unheated greenhouse, in order to get a jump start on spring. For me this year, those are cornflower and calendula (Pot Marigold). However, even those these are labeled as hardy, I know that young plants don’t always do so well over winter (although adult plants seem to), so I’ll be bringing these on over winter with a wee bit of protection. Now interestingly, I mentioned how different our garden climates can be… not everyone in Scotland will be able to grow these flowers outside over winter. We can, but just be aware of your average temperatures.
Another one I’ve just sown is foxglove. This is a biennial, meaning it will grow and put on growth in that first year, flowering in the second year. Hence getting them sown now and bringing them on over winter to get flowers next year. This is another one that I’ve discovered grows really well over winter in my garden with a little bit of protection. It can grow without, but I find that I just have more success with that little bit of help from me.
- Calendula https://amzn.to/3Bg64LY
- Cornflower https://amzn.to/3RzSc6h
- Foxgloves Alba https://amzn.to/3GMJxaE
Probably the most exciting discovery for me was that there were plenty of things I could be growing, and more importantly harvesting, over winter that didn’t need either heat or lots of space. I think space is the big one for me and that people don’t think of when they first jump into winter growing. There are lots of traditional winter veggies you can do. Think of the potato growing or brussel sprouts you can grow for Christmas dinner. Or the kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc, all the traditional plants you can be growing either to harvest during the winter months or in early spring. For me though, this isn’t really an option because I just don’t have the space. But there are loads of amazing veggies I can, and through this, I discovered exciting things I’d never tried before.
Now, this is a good point to highlight why I’m telling you about this now, at the start of September. It’s an obvious one once I point it out, but easy to overlook. Once the temperatures start to drop and the light reduces (we are usually down to 6 hours of daylight by December), plant growth will slow down and eventually stop. Therefore, we sow our seeds now with the intention of getting healthy little plants before the real cold weather comes in. The hope is that this way we can have plants at multiple stages of growth, maximizing the plants we can be harvesting through the winter months. Hence we get started early.
So what am I growing then? Well, I have a few reliable ones that I’ve grown over the last 2 years and a couple of new things to try.
Lettuce and lettuce leaves
So you have two options here, there are plenty of winter varieties of full-sized lettuce you can grow and the three most successful I’ve found are Winter Density, Artic King, and Winter Gem. This year I’m trying a new variety that’s come highly recommended, called Marvel so I’ll let you know how that goes. But, I said two options and that’s because as well as the full lettuce heads you have the option to grow for leaves too, as in salad type leaves. Now there are two hardy plants recommended for this, Lambs Lettuce (Corn Salad) which we absolutely love, and Land Cress which is actually a new one for us. Both of these are hardy and cope well with frosts, although I’ll probably give them a little bit of extra protection out in the garden just to make sure.
Seeds to try:
- Winter Gem Lettuce https://amzn.to/3pIgNuA
- Artic King Lettuce: https://amzn.to/3Qg1QKm
- Winter Density Lettuce https://amzn.to/3RvGrOc
- Winter Marvel Lettuce https://www.realseeds.co.uk/lettuce.html
- Lambs Lettuce (Corn Salad) https://amzn.to/3qGgakl
- Land Cress: https://amzn.to/3ASZlIm
Another fantastic green to be growing at this time of year are mustard greens. This is one of the things we only learned about over the last couple of years and we are absolutely in love with them. The benefit of mustard greens is that you can harvest them as small leaves to add pepperiness to your salads or harvest the larger leaves for cooking. We do both. Now the most famous mustard leaves are probably from Mizuna, which are small, frilly leaves that we all see in our salad mixes. However, we’ve got a couple of way more exciting ones for you to try. Green Wave mustard which is dark green and slightly frilly edged and Dragon’s Tongue which has bolts of gorgeous red veining through the leaves. We pick both of these small for putting in salads but love them as large cooked greens in stir-fries, pasta etc.
Seeds to try:
- Mizuna Red Streaked https://amzn.to/3TDWGuy
- Dragon’s Tongue Mustard https://www.realseeds.co.uk/mustardgreens.html
- Green Wave Mustard https://www.realseeds.co.uk/mustardgreens.html
The next batch of greens (which aren’t all green) are oriental greens. This is your pak choi, bok choi, tat soi, wong bok and more. Basically, these will give you great leaves but also fantastic edible stems to offer you some crunch and they look great. The red stem pak choi in the greenhouse over the last couple of years was probably the most asked about plant I’ve grown. So yes I said greens then talked about a red stem variety, sorry. I’m meaning greens as a generic term. But yeah, I absolutely recommend the red stem pak choi as well as the green stem varieties, gives you some colour and variety, and not only are they great in stir fries, but you can cook the whole plant if you pick them when they are still small and they are great streamed with some spiced oils. We’re also adding a new one this year which we’re quite excited about and that’s Tatsoi Rosette Pak Choi, with slightly smaller leaves and apparently a mild buttery flavour. Looking forward to trying this one.
Seeds to try:
- Pak Choi green https://amzn.to/3zcJtix
- Pak Choi red stem https://amzn.to/3eDvlFl
- Tat Soi https://www.realseeds.co.uk/orientalgreens.html
I bet you already know of, or have seen, chard online, especially on Instagram. There are some incredibly photogenic plants out there with their bright stems in red and yellow. But it’s another great one to grow through winter to add to both the colour and texture of your meals on those cold nights, not to mention add some colour and fun to a bleak winter garden. I’m doing exactly that, I’m growing some of the brightly coloured mixed seeds just for the fun of it. As well as something called perpetual spinach which is actually a chard. We grew these this year and it gives us those spinach-type leaves but is a bit more reliable.
Seeds to try:
- Perpetual Spinach: https://amzn.to/3rUycl3
- Swiss Chard Rainbow Mix https://amzn.to/3KJr6au
So the last reminder from me is that you can be sowing winter hardy spring onions now to get a jump start on spring and get some lovely early cropping. I grew White Lisbon winter hardy last year and they were awesome. I had so much success with these last year that we ended up with far too many spring onions, I mean FAR TOO MANY. Much success.
- Spring Onion White Lisbon WINTER HARDY https://amzn.to/3EG8YK5
There are of course lots of others you could be growing, but that’s the seeds I currently have germinating in the greenhouse, if you are new to winter veg growing I highly recommend checking out my top tips for winter growing video below.