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April 3, 2005

Starting Seeds

Before Graham was born, Brian gave me a four-level grow light tower. I was thrilled because this would give me the opportunity to start lots of strange and exotic plants from seed. Just think of how magnificent our gardens would be with the influx of these wonderful plants! I couldn’t wait to get started. Everything I read said that starting seeds was so easy, anyone could do it

So I started such strange and exotic things as my own horticultural Holy Grail – the Meconopsis betonicifolia or blue Himalyan poppy. I saw them growing in Bodnant gardens in northern Wales in May 1995 and was transfixed. It had a flower so true blue, it almost vibrated. We purchased one at the onsite garden center to give to our bed and breakfast hostess but I knew I couldn’t carry one home to Minnesota.

We located some seeds online and early the next spring, wham-bam, I had germinated two entire trays of the seeds. Tiny shoots were popping up everywhere and I was so proud. Then I was so disappointed. Both trays suddenly succumbed to damping off or some other problem. Maybe I over watered, maybe I under watered, but whatever ever the cause, both trays were gone.

Then Graham came along and the grow light tower went dormant until last year. Every week or so from early March until early May, I started seeds in successive waves: dark purple Sweet William, cherry pink and orange Profusion zinnias, fluorescent green nicotiana, aromatic basil, and at least five different kinds of morning glory, including Heavenly Blue, my favorite.

The thing I forgot to consider is that with every tray of seeds, you have to prick out each seedling and pot it up into a larger pot. Soon I had more trays of seedlings than my four grow lights could handle, and I had to move some to a card table in the sun room. Then I needed more card tables and the sun room began to look like a Bachman’s annex.

Some of the seedlings did just fine in the sunlight coming through the south-facing windows, but others just plateaued or stalled out. When it came time to plant all these teeny-tiny plants, it took so long I had to take a vacation day to finish it. Some plants moped along all summer before finally achieving any sort of bloom; it seemed hardly worth my time in the beginning to get them started.

So I had a new strategy for this spring: only grow a few plant varieties so they would get equal and adequate time under the grow lights to produce a plant worth putting into the garden. I can purchase the annuals, vegetables and herbs I really want at any number of garden centers for a reasonable price. And the plants are truly ready to go.

Great idea. And I pretty much forgot all about actually implementing it until my friend Shana threw down the gauntlet in mid-March when she announced that she had already started her seeds. The race was on.

So on March 14, I started six varieties:

1. Verbena bonariensis
2. Celosia “Forest Fire”
3. Nicotiana “Lime Green”
4. Viola “Freckles”
5. Penstemon “Sensation Mix”
6. Scabiosa atropurpurea “Cutflower Mix”

By March 20, three of the Scabiosa had germinated and six more had sprouted by March 26. Today most are at least an inch tall.

I checked and misted the tray every day but it took until April 1 for another variety to germinate: three Celosia have sprouted.

I’ll keep track of the seeds’ progress and will let you know if my new strategy has worked. Remember, anyone can start seeds but only a gardener can produce a useful plant. Let’s see how I do.

What’s happening in the garden now:
Mama and Daddy Mallard have returned to the yard. Two years ago they had a nest in the front bed among the emerging crocus and hatched out seven ducklings. The day after the babies hatched, the entire family was gone, off to find a more watery home. Last year they made a nest in the backyard underneath an arborvitae but none of the eggs hatched. This weekend they made a reconnaissance around the back yard searching for the best spot, but hopefully they got a beakful of doggy smell and decided to move back to the front yard.

We have blooms again! Today two snowdrops suddenly appeared in the front bed under the silver maple. Graham helped to spot three other shoots coming up through the leaves. They seem late this year. I know we’ve had blooms in mid-March before, but the snow cover must have kept them down.

The chives have taken off and we should be able to have the first fresh herb and cheese omelet of the season this week. Yum!

The hellebores that had sheltered under a bag of leaves have lifted their branches several inches above the ground. I think I can the flower buds emerging close to the ground.

The bergenia leaves that looked completely dead this winter have miraculously turned green and healthy again.

Garden chores for the week:
• Take the burlap off the dwarf Alberta spruce and wisteria trees
• Cut back the Jackmanii and Sweet Autumn clematis
• Lift bags of leaves from some of the less-tender perennials
• Remove matted leaves from the corners of the lawn, perennial beds and other areas where they were trapped
• Whack back the rudbeckia from under the maple so the snowdrops can be seen better
• Plant lettuce?

Links of the Week

Get over and check out our Dog Blog. We did some fun Frisbee activities this past weekend and Brian has posted some photos there. Enjoy!

And if you didn't hear about Brian's April Fools Joke that he pulled on Vikings fan you best read about it. He duped hundreds and hundreds of Vikings fans this past Thursday.

Posted by maasx003 at April 3, 2005 7:27 PM | Gardens



Loved the commentary. But I'm exhausted just reading about it. Looking forward to more.


Posted by: Carol Just at April 5, 2005 12:29 AM

I tried that seedling thing a LONG time ago-in the basement, I had filled the wheelbarrow with tiny little pots of seeds, covered wheelbarrow with saran wrap after misting--can't remember which "helpful hint" column I read that in -- obviously none of them germinated, think they rotted from too much mist, (did use a grow light or two)--oh well--now all I have to do is log onto your web site and read what I need to do.
Toodle doo

Posted by: karen m at April 5, 2005 8:06 PM