You have to time it right, sowing. Start too early and your seedlings will become leggy and soft as they wait to be planted out. Sow seeds outdoors in cold sodden soil, and you might as well throw them in the bin. There are ways to trick the weather: start your seeds in a propagator; grow them on in the warmest lightest place you can find; cover the soil where you are going to plant them with polythene to warm it up; use cloches to create a micro climate that will protect your plants as they grow. But don’t start earlier than it says on the seed packet – an early spell of fine weather can trick you into going too early and there’s always the chance of snow in April.
The funny thing is that when you let the plants decide when, where and how they want to grow, they pop up in all the best places, and grow strongly where you wouldn’t have thought to plant them. Today, I found native primroses that had seeded themselves in a shady bark path, behind my greenhouse. A rosemary had layered itself in the border, making me a new plant for free. Self seeded coriander and rocket are busy defying the weather in my raised allotment beds. I repositioned foxglove seedlings to make sure that they have space to grow, and I dug up strawberry runners to make more fruit for my family to eat and enjoy, and for me to defend against the badgers.
There are lots of things that it’s important to do, to make sure that your plants grow well. You have to give them the right soil, with the right nutrients, and if they’re growing inside, or if they’re outside and it doesn’t rain for a while, you must water them the right amount. Some plants need super sharp drainage and others need wet roots. You need to give your seedlings enough light, and if they’re on a window sill you need to turn them so that they grow straight and tall. You must pot them on at the right time, and you should definitely acclimatise them gradually to their outdoor positions. But the one thing that you must never, ever do, is to crush or tread on them. (Even if you’re laying a lawn, designed to walk on, you don’t tread on it while it is establishing itself.) Because you’ll never grow a strong plant if you keep flattening it down and small plants aren’t as tough as old ones.