The drawbacks of following instructions

Although I’ve been successfully growing vegetables from seed for a good few years now, I’ve never had much luck with flowers. In fact, I’ve pretty much given up trying altogether.

Vegetables are bred for fast growth and vigour, while flowers, being bred for appearance, might well be fussier. With this in mind, I’ve tended to follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet quite closely. This generally involves sowing them in a seed tray of good-quality compost, covering lightly with a bit more compost, and sealing the whole thing in a clear plastic bag (‘Do not exclude light as this may inhibit germination’). Then I put it in whichever room of the house seems most likely to keep a steady temperature (‘Maintain a constant temperature of 20–25°C’), wait a week or three, and eventually find a few sad, thin, pale little seedlings stretching up from the surface (‘Germination may be slow and sporadic’) in amongst a cover of white mould and tall delicate gauzy mushrooms. When I remove the plastic bag, the seedlings quickly dry out and wither away.

In anticipation of our new kitchen, I sowed some lemongrass earlier this year according to such instructions on the back of the pack. OK, so it’s not really a flower, but it’s not quite in the same category as, say, broad beans, which get shoved into some compost and turn up a week or so later. And since it is very much a non-native plant, I thought I’d play it safe.

Nothing happened but little mushrooms for several weeks. I left it a couple of weeks more, and then thought I saw a seedling or two inside. So I unwrapped it. There were three live seedlings, one in the process of wilting, and a number of other corpses. The three living seedlings collapsed within hours.

So I decided, to hell with the instructions. I took a few more seeds and sowed them in much the same way I would sow something like broccoli: drop into a pot of compost, sprinkle a little more compost on top, water, and leave in greenhouse.

Within a week there were several very healthy green spears poking up. They’re coming along very nicely. And it was a lot less hassle to do!

I think I’m going to try growing flowers from seed next year. And I’m going to ignore the instructions, and I’m certainly not going to bother with the plastic bag.