Doubly sweet: Sweet Williams and sweetcorn

As spring slowly moves into summer – or it should be – a new range of flowers starts to dominate our gardens. Many of these are biennials and include lots of old-fashioned, cottage style flowers that are reminders of times past. Wallflowers, foxgloves, forget-me-nots and, best of all, sweet Williams.

Sweet Williams are hardy beinnials, sown in May, planted in autumn and they flower the following May and June. They are useful because the fill the gap between spring and summer flowers but they can be awkward in bedding schemes because they are at their peak when most people want to strip out the spring bedding and plant summer flowers. But they are useful for dotting among herbaceous plants to provide colour before the summer display gets into its stride.

I love them, not only for their perfume, but for the wide range of colours. The ‘Auricula-eyed’ kinds with contrasting zones of colour are especially lovely. I always make sure I have some in the garden so I can pick them as cut flowers. They last well in a vase but make sure you strip off the leaves that will be under water or the scent of the flowers is overwhelmed by the smell of the water after a few days!

You can buy single colours or, more often, mixtures. Above is a salmon pink that is almost the same shade as dianthus ‘Doris’, another flower I grow for cutting.

You can buy plants in bloom now for instant effect but it is better to sow seeds next month or buy young plants in autumn.

Even better, there are now annual kinds that are tall – 45cm (18in) – and bloom in all summer. There are several kinds of these and they are wonderful, bushy bedding plants – look out for them for sale over the next few months.


As plant breeders have produced these new sweet Williams, they have also created sweetcorn that is much more reliable in out climate and likely to give you a good crop. Sweetcorn needs a sunny, sheltered spot and it is not for every garden; each plant only produces one or two cobs and the plants are big and leafy so you need a fair bit of space. But fresh sweetcorn is so delicious it is well worth trying.

You can buy plants now but there is also time to sow seeds. Seeds germinate easily in warmth and because the plants will not survive frost there is no need to sow too early. Sow seeds in individual cells or small pots now, to plant out in late May.

An important consideration with sweetcorn is that the plants produce pollen at the top of the plants and this drifts down to pollinate the cobs below. If you grow just one plant the chances of the cob filling out fully is very small so you need to plant a block of them. It is best to plant at least 25 – 5×5. The plants need to be spaced about 45cm (18in) apart – though you can go a bit closer – so you do need a fair bit of room.

Give the plants a rich, fertile soil, plenty of water when growing, and you should have delicious cobs to rip off the plants in August.

Jobs this week

Keep pansies and violas deadhead and feed them once a week in pots and baskets. Lack of water leads to greenfly and mildew on the leaves.

Sow peas direct in the garden. Also sow beetroot, carrots and parsnips – when it warms up a bit. Save time and buy some cabbage plants for a summer crop. Sow the first French beans in pots indoors – French Beans hate cold soil and will not grow or germinate if it is cold.

Give shrubs and herbaceous plants a boost with a dressing of fertiliser. Chicken pellets are perfect for all plants.

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