January. It's the time of year when I get itchy. Yes, I know it's too early. It's -4°C out there for goodness sake. But there they all are, sitting in their little paper packets saying Put us in, oh please put us in.
Rubbish. We're not saying anything of the sort. We're not ready. It's too cold and too dark. We won't do anything. Wait till March ...
I rake the blogs for posts about winter sowing. Ellen of How I Love to Garden is encouraging and points me to a couple of other good websites. But are the seeds I've got suitable?
I pore over the instructions - at some length and with a dictionary, because they're in German, fruit of a trip to the local garden centre while I was in Aachen over Christmas. It was January 2nd and it had snowed hard overnight. I was one of two customers in the whole place, and the other one was buying houseplants. The staff clearly thought I was stark raving mad to have turned out that particular day to buy a summer's worth of seeds.
April, sow direct. No good. March, under glass. March, under glass. Hmm, that's promising. As we're in Italy, maybe I could get away with it now. It's warmer here. ..
I grab one of my Italian gardening books and check the sowing times. March, under glass. Rats.
And then things start to look up. Cowslips (which incidentally in German have the wonderful name of Keys of Heaven) Sow in the winter months. Rucola, all year round. OK, now you're talking. Surfinia, Ivy-leaved Pelargoniums, Heliotrope : In the house or greenhouse 18°-22°, January to March. Yes! That's what I've been looking for ...
In the house or greenhouse. Heated greenhouse obviously. Don't have one of those on the balcony - it'll have to be the house. Time to clear the books off my bedside trolley table again, and push it up to the window. Ignore those Oh not again looks from the rest of the family as what they believed to be their home is turned into a nursery. They'll thank me later when the balcony's looking wonderful and I don't have to spend money on garden centre plants.
So we're off once more. Despite the fact that it's the coldest month of the year and light evenings are still a far-off dream, it's time to start. Spring may not quite be just round the corner, but it's coming. I promise.