Gardeners are often urged to start sowing next year’s annuals in October and November, but how well does this work here in Scotland and how easy is it?

I read an inspiring article in this month’s RHS magazine but wonder how relevant a Kentish gardener’s comments are to us in this country.

I don’t for a second want to be negative: you undoubtedly can make a really early start with some of next year’s veg and flowers. And there are great advantages: it takes some pressure off hectic March and April’s sowing, and overwintered plants get going much more quickly. A Which? Gardening trial found autumn-sown broad beans crop three weeks earlier, so when combined with spring sowings, you harvest over a longer period.

But, in my experience, a November sowing in the open ground is a waste of time. I’ve even had poor results when transplanting healthy young plants. I used fleece as protection against snow and gales but wee rodents thanked me for the security it provided.

I can lose around a third of young plants in cold dank soil but I do have an excellent crop in the polytunnel.

Organic slug pellets and mouse traps keep pests at bay as well as offering protection against everything except frost.

And that’s the point. You can sow ornamentals and veg like peas and broad beans but you do need a greenhouse or tunnel.

Even there, seedlings grow very slowly, making them vulnerable to fungal infection.

If you go out to work, you may simply not be around to open and shut windows as required.

A February sowing, preferably in a propagator, lets seedlings grow on much more quickly and strongly. You get good results without so much painstaking work.

That’s when I sow sweet peas, keeping them in the greenhouse until April to protect against frost.

I also ensure a long flowering period by sowing two kinds of sweet peas.

Traditional old varieties like Painted Lady and Cupani flower early and are followed by modern ones such as Judith Wilkinson. It flowers generously until the end of October.

The simplest way to get early annuals is to let nature do it for you. Many of our favourite annuals, including Calendula, poppies and corn flowers, liberally self-seed.

Shake seed cases where you’d like next year’s flowers to grow and enough, perhaps too many, seeds will germinate.

So weed carefully to make sure you don’t remove any of the seedlings you want.

Plant of the week

Viburnum farreri is flowering wondrously through wind and rain. The fragrant pale pink flowers are resistant to most winter weather and if a surprise frost browns them more are produced. It is an upright shrub with small, deeply veined leaves that open coppery red in spring.