Garden log, 12.15.14

A quick reminder to myself that I sowed in-situ seeds of Nemophila discoidalis ‘Penny Black,’ Verbena bonariensis, Anagallis monellii, and Primula veris. I’ll try some in flats in my cold frame as well, later in the winter, but when it comes to seeds I find that plants do better with less intervention from me. We’ll see whether these follow the trend.

Work on shredding leaves continues. I hope to have a healthy pile of leaf mold come spring.

 

Wildflower Wednesday: Echinacea purpurea

My seed-sown Echinacea purpurea just began to flower this week.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower

I don’t have many of these plants yet. I had perhaps five or six seedlings survive my first winter sowing adventure, and last year (their first year) they slept, of course. This year they are beginning to creep. I have sturdy individual plants that haven’t yet grown into substantial clumps. I look forward to next year, when I hope to have an attractive if small sweep of them brightening up the blue slope near the road.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

 

Cyclamen from seed: Presoaking method

The backlog of unsown seeds in my refrigerator and elsewhere in the house makes me no different from any other gardener, I suppose, but I don’t have the seeds of the plants I want now.

A personal law of mine, which I follow from time to time, says I may not purchase more seeds until I have planted the ones I have. Now is one of those times: I deeply want primula seeds, but I haven’t finished sowing my cyclamen yet.

Continuing with my unscientific experiment of propagating cyclamen from seed:

Cyclamen propagation: Presoaking method

Cyclamen have a hard seed coat. Softening the seed coat by presoaking the seeds is said to expedite germination.

  1. Soak the seeds for 12 hours in warm water. Rinse the seeds, and sow into pots.
  2. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand or vermiculite, then add a layer of grit or gravel (I’m using chicken grit).
  3. Water well. 
  4. Exclude light: I’m further covering these pots with black plastic, just in case the layer of grit isn’t enough.
  5. Keep the pots cool: They should remain between 60-69° F (16-21° C).
  6. Check back periodically. Germination may take 30-60 days.

Growing cyclamen from seed: A winter experiment

Cyclamen are gorgeous, delicate plants. They bloom in winter when little else does. And bittster tells me it isn’t hard to grow them from seed. So he and I went in together on a seed order from Green Ice Nursery, and the seeds arrived not long ago (along with a little gift).

cyclamen hederifolium ready for transplant

The live plants are tucked into their spaces in the garden, and now it’s time to sow some seed.

Instructions for multiple methods to start cyclamen from seed may be found on the Internet. I’m going to try them all (though not in a terribly scientific way).

The first and easiest method is simple winter sowing, or Letting Mother Nature Take Her Course.

cyclamen seed packets from green ice nursery

Cyclamen need dark to germinate. I am beginning with dark plastic pots, filled with coir. I water the coir and pack it into the pot, using another clean pot to tamp it down:

packed coir

The seeds are quite small. These are of Cyclamen hederifolium. I don’t know if there is a variety or cultivar name, but the nursery describes them as “extreme dark purple flowers.”

cyclamen hederifolium extr dark purple seed

The packet came with 10 seeds, so I’m trying this method on five.

I potted the seeds, covered them with a thin layer of coir, and watered them in, passing them back and forth a few times under the fine spray from my kitchen faucet.

watering in cyclamen seed

Finally, I labeled the pot and covered it with a thin layer of chicken grit to reduce light and to reduce the risk of damping off. My chicken grit is crushed granite, available at farm-supply stores.

Then the pot goes outside on my deck, to suffer the elements and wait until spring.

potted winter sown cyclamen

Today we’re expecting to see the edge of a winter storm, with cold rain definite and freezing rain possible. That should get them off to a good start. We’ll check back in three to six months, which is how long it may take them to germinate.

Planning and planting for monarchs

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2...

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2591px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that fall is here, and life in the garden is beginning to slow down (ever so slightly), I am thinking about next year’s garden.

It’s been a wonderful summer here for swallowtail butterflies. I enjoy spotting the caterpillars that continue, even now, to overwhelm my small stands of bronze fennel (one of the construction workers building our addition said he counted 19 on one plant last week!).

swallowtail butterfly larva

A very hungry swallowtail caterpillar munches my bronze fennel to its core.

But as you may have heard if you live in the US, this has been a bad year for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Habitat destruction and widespread use of pesticides have contributed to profound declines in numbers over the past few years. In the past, I have tried to grow plants attractive to all kinds of pollinators, but as I plan for Winter Sowing 2.0, I intend to sow and plant for monarchs in particular.

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed (Asclepias sp.), and females will only lay their eggs on these plants. Different species of milkweed are recommended for different areas of the US: Monarch Joint Venture has a map and fact sheet about them.

But migrating butterflies need nectar plants as well. Monarch Watch is a wonderful source of information on ways to help contribute to conservation of this species (as well as other butterfly species), including recommended nectar plants. I think my household may try to become certified as a Monarch Waystation next year (I feel a Girl Scout project coming on).

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( ...

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( Danaus plexippus en ) on a hybrid Milkweed en ( Asclepias tuberosa en x Asclepias incarnata en ). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many milkweeds species perform well with winter sowing–a technique in which the gardener sows seed in a simple pot or flat and leaves it exposed to the elements all winter long. The gardener doesn’t tend the seedlings until it’s time to pot them on. It couldn’t be easier–so there is little excuse for me to not try to help this beloved and charismatic species recover from the challenges it has suffered.

I hope that, if you garden in North America, you will explore resources like Monarch Watch and Monarch Joint Venture to find out ways you can help. There are wonderful citizen science programs around through which gardeners and homeowners can assist with migration tracking and population counts.  No garden is too small to contribute to the conservation of these creatures.

Grow Write Guild #10: This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts

The Grow Write Guild’s prompt #10 is This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts.

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. ja...

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, and Anemone × hybrida (commonly known as the Chinese or Japanese anemone, thimbleweed, or windflower) are herbaceous perennials in the buttercup family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot seem to grow Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica). These gorgeous plants typically top out at about 3′ tall,  showing lovely wide blooms in shades of white, pink, and lavender from August to October or so. At a time when asters and chrysanthemums dominate, anemones bring much-needed elegance to the fall garden.

Just not to mine.

Anemone hupehensis

Anemone hupehensis (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

Gardening literature alleges that Japanese anemones can colonize large areas and become “almost thuggish.” I wish. This article does acknowledge that they dislike disturbance, so transplanting them can be tricky. If I can find a local gardening friend who has them, perhaps I can try propagating them by root cuttings.

Gardening literature also instructs me to plant them in partial shade to full sun, in well-drained soil (what else is there?). I have plenty of partial shade and I would have thought I had dug in enough compost anywhere I tried to plant them, but my efforts are insufficient. They also apparently like regular moisture and cool soil. This year notwithstanding, the regular moisture, I am sure, is at the heart of my problem. I am habitually irregular in my watering: very good for a few weeks, then forgetting a bit, revisiting it once again, then leaving it while I go on vacation, hoping a little rain falls during the week of above-90 temperatures.

“Tough plants for partial shade!” “Easily grown in average soil!” One can always find Japanese anemone on plant lists with such headings. These reminders only serve to highlight my anemone-incompetence.

Anemone hupehensis 'Prince Henry'

Anemone hupehensis ‘Prince Henry’ (Photo credit: KingsbraeGarden)

This year, though, I may finally be in luck. I have planted Anemone hupehensis ‘Pamina,’ which I got at the Duke Gardens plant sale last fall. When I transplanted it, the root ball fell into perhaps a dozen small pieces, and I planted each of them that was of reasonable size. The others I overwintered in my winter sowing orgy, and transplanted this spring. Then it has rained, almost nonstop, since March.

Here they are the Anemones ‘Pamina’ today, offering such promises as I can hardly hope to believe. Look at all those buds. What method will they contrive to break my heart again?

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' in bud

New project: Pathway garden

Gardeners are always being made to cope with some disaster or another. If it isn’t rain, such as we have had virtually nonstop since March, then it’s impossible drought or hailstorms or drying winds or plagues of locusts. Weather happens; we must get on with it.

So, despite a brief rain on Sunday (see previous comments about not working the soil when it’s wet), I made progress on my pathway garden. As before, I cleared the area–perhaps another 10 or 12 feet in length alongside the property-line fence–and hauled in soil amendments. This time, I treated the area to some moldering sawdust from the tree we removed in early May (in preparation for the house addition that it has been too damp to build), then a generous layer of the manure-grit mixture. A careful till and smooth-over with the rake, laying and leveling the brick edging, and I was ready to plant.

The plants

I installed another Hydrangea paniculata ‘Snowflake,’ a variegated Fatshedera lizei ‘Aureosomething’ (the tag, of course, is in the shed), perhaps two dozen or so displaced crocus and daffodil bulbs, and three Disporopsis perneyi, or Asian fairy bells. The Disporopsis were an impulse buy, a kind of horticultural checkout counter Toblerone. The evergreen foliage looks like that of Tricyrtis, another shade plant I love but which my voles apparently love more. I hope the Disporopsis‘s stiff vertical form will contrast nicely with the floppy, broad foliage of the hydrangea, and perhaps blend gracefully with the Fatshedera which I intend to cover the fence.  As I mentioned before, in my mind it looks fantastic.

pathway garden phase 2 planted

And, hoping that very late is better than never, I transplanted some winter-sown seedlings of Anemone virginiana and Mitella diphylla. The pathway may prove too damp and shaded for the anemones but I expect this site is marginally better than the milk carton in which they were growing sitting. If they do want more direct light than they’ll get here, I’ll move them to the white garden, but that bed expansion is further down on the to-do list. The mosquitoes back there are the size of hummingbirds, I swear.