|Now is a good time to start the Dusky Crane's Bill from seed. Also known as the Black Widow, these plants grow wild in most parts of Central and Western Europe but less so here in the UK. They are great ground cover, with lobed leaves, and dark purple flowers in early summer. They are very hardy and cope well in just about all conditions, from sun to full shade and all soil types except heavy clay.
These plants have a reputation for being tricky to grow from seed, with some experts recommending a period of cold to get them going. However, a recent test germination we have just done here in Cornwall in late September resulted in a strong flush of seedlings within a couple of weeks. No special treatment - just sow the seeds in a tray of seed compost or multi-purpose compost in autumn and early winter, cover the seeds lightly with compost, keep outside somewhere, eg in a coldframe or on an outside table, and the seeds germinate within a few weeks. If the weather turns cold they may wait and germinate in the spring!
You will see the first two leaves of the seedlings are very different to the next true leaves. The first leaves are rounded, followed by the lobed true leaves seen in the top left of the middle photo below. Transplant the seedlings into their own small pots once the true leaves have formed and the seedlings are growing well. Grow on over winter, protecting the young plants from slugs and snails, and then plant out in spring. These plants are semi-evergreen, and may die down in cold winters or colder gardens. Do not assume the young plants have died and wait for a new flush of leaves in spring. Plants flower in early to mid summer. Trim the plants back after flowering if they look untidy.
Once the plants are established in your garden, they will spread around naturally.
Seeds...................................Seedlings..............................Plants in flower
Updated exactly one month later on 12th November 2018 is the small plant below. The seedlings were moved on into small pots shortly after the middle photo above was taken and they are now growing strongly outside in the mild Cornish autumn, looking really healthy and not troubled by pests, wind or heavy rain! You can still see the remnants of the first two leaves on the bottom left of the image, being very different to the main leaves that followed.
See here for more information on buying, sowing and growing Dusky Crane's Bill.