Seed Starting: January 2022

Yes! I have started my first set of seeds. Yes, I’m in zone 5a/b. No, I’m not crazy (as far as I know!). Here’s what I’ve started so far:

First sowing: 1/31/22

Veggies:

Leek, King Richard (organic)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Alisa Craig (yellow, bulb)Seed Savers Exchange
Onion, Sierra Blanca F1 (white, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Rossa di Milano (red, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Yellow of Parma (yellow, bulb)Baker Creek
Onion, Zebrune Shallot Baker Creek

I grew onions and leeks last year, mostly as starts from Dixondale Farms. Due to health reasons I didn’t get the starts put into the ground until very late, and that, plus our horribly hot, dry summer, made for a mediocre onion and leek crop. This year I’m not buying starts–I’m going to try to grow all of my alliums from seed. What I remember from the few alliums I did attempt to grow from seed last year is that they took a long time to get big enough to transplant out into the yard, so I’m starting really early. It’s not like they are going to take up a lot of space in my basement greenhouse even if they do get big, and they are pretty sturdy and easy to pot up, so I’m not worried about them getting damaged or rootbound. (Unlike tomatoes and tomatillos, which I’m not even going to think about sowing until at least late April.)

Flowers:

Sweet Pea, Bouquet Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, High Scent Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Knee-Hi Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Little SweetheartBotanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Perfume Delight Botanical Interests
Lisianthus, Echo Double MixSeeds ‘n Such

Sweet peas are another plant that I started too late last year, and had very low germination rates and low success with those plants that did germinate. Everyone raves about how amazing they smell, so I am determined to be successful with mine this year. Unfortunately, the root trainer I ordered from Gardener’s Supply is unexpectedly running late (even through FedEx, not USPS) and so, after a day of soaking the seeds, I’ve had to temporarily store them in wet paper towels. If nothing else, this should help me find out which seeds are viable or not.

The lisianthus is, honestly, pretty much a crapshoot–the seed packet arrived smashed, with all of the pelleted coating broken off. As lisianthus are almost impossible to germinate and grow as it is, I will be pleasantly surprised if I get even one viable plant out of the 100 seeds I planted. But who knows? It may work.

I should be sowing my next set of seeds around mid-February, I think.

Garden 2021 Review: Flowers

This past year I successfully grew seventy (70) new-to-me varieties of flowers from seed, not including the dahlias seed mixes. (Typing it all up now, it seems ridiculous.) The plan was to try out as many different species and varieties as I could so that I could figure out which ones I liked so I didn’t waste my time next year. In this, I was pretty successful. However, I don’t recommend it–it’s a lot of work, and it’s hard to troubleshoot any pest or disease issues when they come up.

That said, I’m pretty thorough when it comes to documenting what I’m growing, so hopefully all of the angst of keeping everything alive in during our severe drought last summer was worth it. Here is my exhaustive list of non-dahlia flowers I grew in 2021. I grew everything on this list at my home garden from either seed or bulb.

Acidanthera Murielae (bulb)–These were very slender and delicate, but about 90% of them died due to some kind of “rust” issue–it looked similar to what people in the UK were dealing with regarding their leek crop this year. I’m not sure if I’ll try it again as I don’t know how to troubleshoot the issue.
Aster, Giant Perfection Mix–Despite being annuals, asters take forever to grow. Once they do, though, the blooms are strong and last forever. This blend was a mix of white, pink, and purples–I thought they would look dated because their colors are somewhat washed-out looking, but they were actually quite pretty.
Bachelor’s Button, Blue Boy–These were gorgeous and one of the fastest growing flowers in my garden. I have several different mixes I’ll be growing in 2021. The only downside I’ve seen is that they get so tall that they have a tendency to flop over.
Calendula, Pacific Beauty Mix–All calendulas, I’ve found, have resinous stems and flowers, so expect sticky hands when you try to harvest them. This variety produced large yellow and orange blooms. If I grow them again, I’ll likely grow this variety.
Calendula, Zeolights–Steady, reliable blooms which were a faded orangey-pink color. Similar to the Pink Surprise variety, but with larger blooms.
Calendula, Pink Surprise–Small, light pink blooms. Not worth growing if you are harvesting the petals for tea. May or may not grow these again this year; we’ll see.
Calendula, Resina–Small yellow flowers, but supposedly the best for medicinal purposes.
Chamomile, Roman–Took forever to grow. I had no luck at all with these in 2020, where they were tucked in among my tomatoes. In 2021 I tucked them into a back shady area of my Moon Garden, where they did finally reach a decent size. Not prolific by any means, however.
Carnation, La France–Did not take off; plants grew a total of 6″. No blooms.
Cosmos, Sea Shells–Another slow grower, which I thought was unusual for an annual. These can get very tall by the end of the season. Pretty flowers, but the leaves/stems are sticky. I have a few other varieties I’ll be trying this year.
Daisy, African–A moderately slow grower, but once it was established it was quite prolific. It was a great addition to my Moon Garden. Medium-sized white flowers with pale blue centers; plants were about 1.5′ tall. Depending on space, I may grow it again this year.
Delphinium, Magic Fountains Sky Blue/White–Never took off.
ECHINACEA, GREEN TWISTER–All of my echinaceas took forever to grow. Once I realized that they were perennials, and that this is how perennials tended to act, I was appeased. This variety was the least successful one that I grew in 2021.
ECHINACEA, PRIMADONNA DEEP ROSE–Moderately successful.
ECHINACEA, WHITE SWAN–My most successful echinacea variety, pretty white flowers with spiky yellow centers.
Echincea, Purple Coneflower–The basic purple cornflower. I already had a few of these growing in my main flowerbed. The new ones grown from seed were moderately successful, and actually looked stronger and larger than the ones I had inherited with the garden.
Gaillardia, Lollipop Mix–This was a species I had never heard of until I saw it in a catalogue last spring. The yellow blooms were pretty, but I didn’t like the orange ones. All of my plants were successful. The plants averaged around 1′ tall and the blooms about 2″ wide and frilly. I didn’t like them enough to grow them again.
Hollyhock, Indian Spring–I actually loved these hollyhocks; they seemed to thrive no matter what type of soil I put them in. This mix had white and pink blooms. The white flowers were nice, but I really loved the bright pink ones; they really brightened up the garden. I collected seeds from the pink ones and will be growing them again this year. They all reached a good 4′ tall and were able to support themselves. From what I’ve heard, once you plant hollyhocks, you’ll always have hollyhocks, but I was pretty on top of collecting seed pods so hopefully they won’t have self-seeded.
Hollyhock, Nigra–Unfortunately I had no luck with this variety at all. I’ll try growing it again this year as it seems like it will be a very striking plant.
Hyssop, Apache Sunset–This pant was moderately successful, if slow-growing. The flowers were delicate and pink, but nothing showy, and the plant didn’t get taller than 8″. I’m not sure what I expected, but somehow I hadn’t made the connection that it would smell like anise/black licorice. While I like black licorice, I don’t like it enough to give it space in my garden.
Lobelia, Crystal Palace–I was pretty dubious of this plant based on the seed packet I received from Botanical Interests. I think I only picked it up b/c Laura on Garden Answer had done a video on “true blue” flowers, which apparently are pretty rare in nature. The seeds I planted were all very successful–probably moreso than any other flower I grew from seed last year–and once they were full grown and started putting out their delicate blue flowers, I was smitten. Really adorable little bushy plants with gorgeous color that thrived in lower levels of my Greenstalk. I imagine they would be a great border or ground cover as well; they reached about 8″ tall before they started bushing out. Will definitely be growing again next year. They grow well in part-shade; they didn’t seem to like full sun.
Malva, Snow White--I purchased this variety specifically for my Moon Garden, an all-white garden that I tucked in against my side fence. They grew well but by the time July hit they were overtaking the African daisies and Acidanthera and even giving the slow-growing Fleurel dahlias a run for their money By August I had decided that, despite having pretty white flowers, this plant really should have been labeled a weed. I will not be growing this flower this year.
Moonflower–This was another slow grower, and one I chose specifically for my Moon Garden. By August the vines had finally taken off, and by September they had started producing these beautiful, almost iridescent 5″ blooms. They had a low germination rate, unfortunately. I think next year I will sow them earlier and having them running up the main trellises in my veggie garden.
Nasturtium, Alaska Mix–I love nasturtiums, and had success growing them in 2020, so I purchased a ton of varieties. This mix was a pretty representative example of the species–bright orange and yellow flowers with emerald green leaves.
Nasturtium, Alaska Variegated–This is one of my favorite nasturtiums, as I really love the variated leaves. (The regular green leaves on most nasturtiums remind me too much of lily pads.)
Nasturtium, Black Velvet--This was another successful variety I grew this year. The flowers are an extremely dark red/black and do appear velvety. This is one of the shorter nasturtiums, topping out around 6″. Unlike the other varieties that I grew, this one did not seem to appreciate full sun.
Nasturtium, Bloody Mary Mix–Pretty, successful.
Nasturtium, Cherry Rose Jewel–Pretty, moderately successful.
Nasturtium, Dwarf Jewel Mix–Pretty much the same as the Alaska mix. Maybe a bit shorted but not noticeably so.
Nasturtium, Fiesta Blend–Similar to the Alaska mix.
Nasturtium, Peach Melba–Pretty, very successful.
Nasturtium, Single Blend Trailing–When I lived in California, many of the highways there were bordered with huge fields of trailing nasturtiums. When I bought some seeds to grow in IL I just assumed that all nasturtiums were vines. (This is partially why I have so many varieties.) However, this is one of the few that actually trails–most of the other ones are bushy and don’t seem to grow past 10″ tall. I’ll always grow this variety because I love the trailing look.
Nasturtium, Tall Trailing Mix–Essentially the same as the Single Blend mix.
Nasturtium, Tip Top Alaskan Salmon–Pretty, similar in color to the Peach Melba variety. 
Nicotiana, Indian Peace Pipe–Now THIS flower was a huge surprise. Almost 100% seed germination, and the plants grew extremely quickly, reaching 3′ wide within a few weeks and then growing to 6′ tall by the end of summer. It puts out huge spikey stems toped with a profusion of long, tubular white flowers and huge, foot-long leaves. This flower was extremely successful, but since it is a space hog, I likely won’t grow it again.
Pansy, Got the Blues–This is another one I likely picked up due to Laura’s “Blue flowers” episode. I was skeptical of any flower that was less than a foot tall, but these were very successful in my Greenstalk and they survived our record-breaking heat and dryness this past summer. Very adorable little plants that are happy growing in part-shade.
Phlox, Sugar Stars–No germination whatsoever. I tried several times with several different seed-starting mix, and no luck. All of the other species I planted using the same starting soil sprouted, so it must have been something to do with the seeds. These were bought from Baker Creek in winter 2020 or spring 2021.
Poppy, Amazing Grey–These were pretty and the slight gray coloring was a nice contrast in my Moon garden. However, as I found, poppy flowers are extremely delicate and only last a dew days. However, the plant survived and kept putting out blooms until September.
Poppy, Falling In Love–Lovely, delicate white flowers edges with pink. However, as with all poppies, the blooms did not last.
Poppy, Hungarian Blue Breadseed–These were planted in much fuller sun that the other two poppies, and they did not seem to grow as well. The germination rate was moderate. Pretty, vibrant purple blooms, though. I may try these again next year as I’m hoping to be able to make lemon poppy-seed muffins with home-grown poppy seeds.
Rudbeckia, Autumn Colors–These had good germination and grew quickly. I had been used to the scrawny basic yellow rudbeckias I had inherited with the garden. These did not grow tall–maybe 1.5′ maximum–but they put out a ton of yellow/orange blooms. The petals were surprisingly thick and velvety. Their color scheme was great for fall but seemed a bit out of place in the summer garden. As these are perennials, I wont need to sow them again this year.
Rudbeckia, Gloriosa Daisy Prairie Sun–Also pretty, with yellow petals and a green center, but not nearly as prolific as the Autumn Colors. I’ll need to grow them again this year.
SALVIA, ROSE QUEEN–Moderate germination and growth. I don’t see what all of the fuss is about regarding salvias, honestly. These were just eh.
SCABIOSA, FAMA DEEP BLUE–No luck with these The biggest only grew 6″ tall.
Snapdragon, Madame Butterfly Mixed Colors and Madame Butterfly Bronze w/ White–These were pretty, with delicate frilly blooms. Moderate germination; survived cold temperatures better than any of the other flowers. However, I preferred the look of the Rocket Mix variety I picked up at the local nursery.
Strawflower, Apricot–Not very successful. Only had 1 or 2 germinate and the largest one didn’t get taller than 6″.
Sunflower, ProCut® White Nite and ProCut® White Lite–These were moderately successful. O found that any sunflower seeds that were planted in the ground were eaten by chipmunks, and transplanting them out was only moderately successful. I’ll try a few again this year and see how it goes.
Sunflower, Evening Sun–This was by far my favorite sunflower this past year. They germinated well and grew huge and bushy. No issues with needing support, and the flowers were gorgeous.
Sunflower, Mammoth–This one was eh. Chipmunks stole most of my seeds. The one I did get to grow only grew 4′ tall and the head was so heavy that it faced downward completely. I may try it again in a better location if I have the room.
Sunflower, Sparky–This sunflower from Floret was my other favorite. Based on the photos, it looked spiky and thin and I only bought it b/c it was one of the few things Floret had in stock. When I grew it however I was very pleasantly surprised. The petals aren’t spiky per se–they just curl inward a bit. It adds depth and a nice range of color to the bloom. As with my Mammoth sunflower, it didn’t get more than 4′ high but put out multiple blooms. If a sunflower can ever be said to look elegant, this variety succeeds.
Sunflower, Valentine–Lemon-color sunflower, not memorable.
Sweet Pea, Bouquet Blend–None of my sweet peas were very successful. I’ll try again this year.
Sweet Pea, High Scent–This was the only variety that was even mildly successful and put out a few flowers. I’ll try again next year.
Sweet Pea, Knee-Hi Blend–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, Little Sweetheart–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, My Navy–Unsuccessful.
Sweet Pea, Perfume Delight–Unsuccessful. 
Sweet Pea, Royal Blend–Unsuccessful.
Viola, King Henry–Adorable.. Solid royal purple. Very short, but delicate-looking and somehow surived out dry, hot summer with no issues. Perfect  for lower levels of the Greenstalk or as a border/around taller flowers.
Viola, Johnny-Jump-Up Viola–My absolute favorite of my pansies/violas. Totally precious. I never understood why people bothered growing small flowers b/c the ones I bought at the local nursery weren’t very delicate looking and never lasted past July. However the ones I grew from seed were less bulky and smaller but still survived the heat so much better than the ones from the nursery. And they always brought a smile to my face. Not bad for 6″ tall plants. I picked up a few more varieties for this year and I’m excited to see how they turn out.
Zinnia, California Giant–Exactly as described. I had a few reach 5′ tall. Nice bright colors. As it turns out that my mom’s favorite flowers are zinnias, I’ll be growing a bunch more this year.
Zinnia, Canary Yellow–Turns out I love the color yellow, when it’s on flowers! Tall and healthy plants. Not bad for a free seed packet from Baker Creek.
Zinnia, Queeny Lime Orange–Shorter than other zinnias with smaller blooms. Delicate colors, but compared to the larger zinnias, they look a bit washed out.
Zinnia, Senora–Medium-sized zinnia with magenta flowers. It’s a color not included in the California Giant series.
2021’s Flowers

2021 takeaways: Flowers

I love violas and pansies! Who knew? Very cute flowers, and they are pretty hardy as well. Mom loves zinnias, so I’ll grow a bunch more those. Bachelor Buttons are gorgeous but need some support. Hollyhocks are gorgeous and fun. Moonflowers are lovely but need a lot of room to vine out. Lobelias and cosmos are also gorgeous and low-maintenance. Asters are gorgeous but take a while to grow. I only need to grow one variety of calendula–the pollinators love them, but they love other, prettier flowers as well. On the whole, it’s better to grow your own flowers from seed as they tend to be healthier than those from the nursery.

Garden 2021 Wrap-Up: Dahlias

This was my first year growing dahlias. I had never even heard of them until February of this past year year, when I was unexpectedly stuck at home for six weeks due to a surgery and ended up binging on gardening videos. This past spring, the flower farming world (here in America, at least) was all in a tizzy about Floret’s new book, Discovering Dahlias, and as everyone seemed to be obsessed with them, I decided to try growing a few. Over the course of my recovery (and because I was still generally stuck at home due to Covid), “a few” turned into 17 different varieties in tuber form and another three varieties of dahlia seeds. (For people new to dahlias, one of the key things to know is that dahlias don’t breed true. If you collect seeds from a dahlia and attempt to grow them the following year, it’s really a crapshoot as to what will come up. They’ll all be dahlias, yes, but the size, shape, height, and color will not match the parent flower. This being the case, most dahlias are sold in tuber form, which produces an exact clone of the previous year’s flower. And thus specific dahlia varieties are maintained.)

Here is what I ended up planting this past year:

Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraAmerican Meadows
Dahlia, Black SatinSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitSkyfall Flowers
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, CheersSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, FleurelDutch Bulbs
Dahlia, FleurelLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Giant Hybrid MixJohnny’s Seeds
Dahlia, Karma ChocTerrain
Dahlia, Noordwijks GlorieLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Redskin Mix Pinetree Seeds
Dahlia, Unwins Mix Baker Creek
Dahlia, Kelvin FloodlightVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, EmperorBreck’s
Dahlia, Southern BelleSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, My ForeverSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Mary MunnsSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, VixenSwan Island Dahlias

There were actually several more tubers I tried to grow, but once I sprouted them and tried to plant them out, I found that they were covered in crown gall.

Of these varieties, my strongest growers by far were the Kelvin Floodlight and the Fleurel. Fleurel was the first variety I purchased, and as it arrived looking dehydrated, I ended up buying it from Longfield Gardens as well. However, even the dehydrated tubers sprouted reliably. Kelvin was a impulse grab from Walmart’s bins. Both grew about 3′ tall and produced blooms 7-10″ wide. They were just gorgeous. (However, when I lifted them this fall to store them, the Kelvin tubers definitely had gall and the Fleurels looked like them might as well, so I’ll be starting with new tubers this year.) Another show-stopping dinner plate dahlia was the Belle of Barmera. I intend to grow all three again this year.

I had several non-dinner plate dahlias. Of these, the ones that grew best were the Southern Belle, Creme de Cassis, Emperor, and Vixen. Of these, my favorites are Vixen, as it looks exactly like a Disney-fied rose, and Southern Belle, which has a gorgeous array of sunset colors.

My Creme de Cassis only grew true for one of my tubers, however; the other produced a peachy large bloom with a huge open center. The plant grew 6′ tall and was extremely prolific–producing many more blooms and earlier than any other dahlia I grew this year. None of my Cafe au Laits produced a true Cafe au Lait either–just similarly colored 4″ blooms. And there were several other dahlias that didn’t match their names, or I honestly couldn’t remember which one was which, but even so, I ended up with huge bouquets of flowers from August until frost, which for us this year wasn’t until the end of October.

I’m looking forward to another large crop of dahlias this year! I have a bunch of new varieties on the way. 🙂

Garden 2021 Wrap up: Successes

So if you’ve been reading any posts in this blog, you’ll know that I planted way too much this past year. Such is the way of life during Covid.

I planted during only two seasons this year–Summer and Fall–due to my knee surgery in the spring, Even so, I was able to get a large amount of new-to-me species in the ground. This was my first year planting many tyes of plants: leeks and onions; tomatillos and eggplants; dahlias, snapdragons, and a variety of other annuals; rudbeckias, echinaceas, and other perennial flowers; and turnips, rutabegas; and apples and lilac trees. I also grew the usual: tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, lettuce, winter squash.

Successes: Flowers

Madame Butterfly Bronze snapdragon

Probably the biggest surprise this past year were my snapdragons (Madame Butterfly Bronze; Rocket mix). The seeds of the snapdragon are as small as grains of ground pepper, and they took a while to germinate and grow. Once they were established, though, it seemed like nothing could kill them. They have long, strong stems; bright , frilly flowers; and they are easy to clean for flower arrangements. They also seem impervious to the heat (we had a record-breaking hot, dry summer this past year) and they were my last flower to die off this fall. I hear that you can plant them early spring, which is my plan this coming year–I should have snapdragons for flower arrangements from May until November.

My second pleasant surprise were my bachelor buttons. I planted the basic “Blue Boy” variety and wasn’t expecting much just from looking at the picture on the seed packet, However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they grow fast and tall and bloomed quickly. And the color–an electric, true “blue” which is so rare in plants–is absolutely gorgeous. The color is practically fluorescent. I finally understand why describing someone as having “cornflower-blue” eyes is a compliment.

Bachelor Buttons

I was also successful in growing both rudbeckias and echinaceas–specifically Autumn Colors rudbeckia and White Swan and Purple Cornflower echinaceas. They were all really slow to germinate and really slow to grow past seedling size. However they did eventually grow! The rudbeckias grew the fastest, and ended up having a really fascinating texture–the petals are almost velvety. And echinacea flowers are unexpectedly hard and spiky. But still, all in all, they were a success.

Another plant that was hugely and surprisingly successful was my nicotania plant (Indian Peace Pipe). The seeds took easily and grew fast–spreading out a 3′ wide diameter within a month before shooting up to 6′ tall with tall spikes and massive leaves. Apparently the seed pack wasn’t lying when it said that the plant could get 6′ tall! It is a huge space hog, however, so I don’t think I’ll grow it next year.

Indian Peace Pipe (Nicotiana)

Successes: Vegetables

My tomatoes, as usual, grew very well this year. (Honestly, I don’t know of any area in North America where it is hard to grow tomatoes.) This year’s new tomato varieties were Paul Robeson, Carbon, Terracotta, Sun Gold, and Barry’s Crazy Cherry, all of which grew well. I was particularly happy with the taste of the Paul Robeson and Sun Gold tomatoes; I will definitely growing those next year. (Fresh Paul Robeson tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with salt are amazing. And this is coming from someone whose acid reflux prevents her from eating fresh tomatoes!) The Sungolds were sweet and made great gifts to friends and family.

All of the many peppers I grew this year were successful as well. My favorites were pimento peppers, which I picked up as starts from the local nursery, and the Pasilla Bajio Chile Chilaca pepper, which was considerably milder than expected and extremely prolific. It was a great pepper to cook with eggs or fajitas.

The only other veg that was really successful this past year was the garlic. I grew Chesnok red and Duganski, both hardnecks. I ended up harvesting them mid-June as the greens had already started to turn brown and shrivel due to our extremely early summer heat. At first, I thought the crop had failed as bulbs were small, but later I found out that these varieties are just small by nature. Given that, they were both successful!

Successes: Trees and Bushes

This year I purchased three apple trees–Haralson, Fuji, and Honeycrisp. The Fuji was supposed to be a dwarf tree but ended up being a standard sized tree. I got a refund but ended up keeping it. All three have thrived and the Haralson even put out an apple! So far so good.

Peach Knouk-Out Rose Bush

I also picked up five rose bushes–one Peach Knock-Out and four Double-Red Knock Out roses. All five thrived. Three of the red ones are now lining my side fence, and the fourth is in front of my detached garage. I ended up potting the peach one and giving it to my mother for Mother’s Day–she brought it inside for the winter, and it’s still growing and putting out a ton of blooms.

However, I also purchased a bunch of raspberry bushes, which all died (except for one Ann Gold raspberry) due to some kind of leaf blight. The Japanese maple I bought also died (nursery issue, I believe). One of the lilacs I bought died, and all but two of my hydrangeas also died from some kind of leaf blight. Half of my strawberry pants also died of some kind of unknown issue. In general, it was not a great year for putting live plants into my garden 😦

Splitting and Pre-sprouting Dahlia Tubers

The day has finally arrived! I received my first big batch of dahlia tubers yesterday, from Longfield Gardens. I had also received one tuber each from Skyfall Flowers and Dutchbulbs.com a few weeks ago. With all of these tubers, I decided to try my hand at pre-sprouting–for some of them, just to make sure the bulbs were viable; for others, because I wanted to take cuttings and grow more of them 🙂

The first bulb I received, back on 3/25/21 (I’m in zone 5a/b), was from Dutchbulbs. It was a Fleurel bulb clump for my Moon Garden, and it looked absolutely dead. It was a dehydrated as could be, with the outer layer sloughing off most of the tuber clump. I trimmed everything off except for one damaged tuber which looked like it had a bit of crystalized sap on it, and planted that just to see if it was actually viable. The tuber from Skyfall Flowers, on the other hand, was a finely trimmed and cared-for Cafe au Lait tuber (that I paid way to much in shipping for–$15 for one bulb!). It looked happy and healthy. I planted both in pots indoors, and both have now pre-sprouted! The desiccated Fleurel actually has three sprouts coming off of it. I am amazed.

By far the bulk of my dahlias, however, have come from Longfield Gardens. Their prices are amazing (for us non-wholesale buyers, anyway)–3 full clumps of tubers per order, with each order usually ranging in cost from $14-$16.50. (Plus free shipping over $50!) I realized, when I received the bulbs, how they could offer such a low price on their dahlias, when so many other online companies are charging the same prices but for one bulb only. The clumps, when they arrived, were kind of a mess. Some of the clumps were almost immaculate, while others (such as the Melody Pink, for some reason) were so beat up I could barely salvage one good tuber out of each clump. Still, I was able to get at least one good tuber per clump for each type of dahlia I ordered–and some of them had up to 6 or 7 viable tubers. Here was how I processed them.

Though I hadn’t ever split a dahlia tuber before, I’ve now watched countless videos on how to do it, so I decided to give it a go. With the Longfield dahlias, I have at least three of each variety, so I figured the odds were good. I had heard that people often choose to divide the tubers in the spring because it is easier to find the eyes, and I have to agree. A good 2/3rds of the bulbs had eyes already sprouting. With the rest, I took an educated guess, or just kept them together in one clump.

Finally, I potted up two varieties yesterday: Melody Pink, as it was so beat up and I was concerned none of the tubers were viable; and Great Silence, as a friend of mine has already put in a request for that one. (I’m waiting on a set of 10×10 trays from Bootstrap Farmer to arrive before I pre-sprout the rest.)

The sprouts on my first Fleurel and Cafe au Lait bulbs from my earlier orders are just about ready to be cut, so I should have a Pre-Sprouting Dahlias Part 2 coming up soon. Wish me luck!

Seed Sowing, Week of 3/22/21

Another week, another batch of seeds started.

My Swallowtail Seeds order arrived, finally–over 30 days after I ordered it, true, but the website did warn of 5 week delays. So I was finally able to get my Echinaceas planted. My Pinetree Garden Seeds order also arrived, slightly quicker than the Swallowtail Seeds order, and another small order I put in at Johnny’s arrived, all in the same week. So it was a pretty busy week of sowing.

My “Moon Garden” plants are, for the most part, started. I’ll be using the Fleurel dahlia as my centerpiece, with the White Swan echinacea, Snow White malva, Abyssinian Gladiolus (Acidanthera Murielae), and white African daisy in graduated rows leading up to it, and any ranunculus and gladiolus bulbs form my mixes that end up being white, all framed by a moonflower vine. I’ve also got night-blooming jasmine on order, but that’s not set to arrive until late May, so I need to remember to leave some space in the Moon Garden for it as well. All in all, not a bad start for an all- white garden.

Sowing 3/20/21:

Madame Butterfly MixJohnny’s Seeds
Dahlia, Unwins Mix Baker Creek
Dahlia, Redskin Mix Pinetree Seeds
Calendula, Pink Surprise Baker Creek
Calendula, Zeolights Botanical Interests
Lupine, genericJoseph

Sowing 3/24/21:

Amazing Gray PoppyBotanical Interests
Black NasturtiumRH Shumway’s
Peach Melba NasturtiumBotanical Interests
Malva, Snow WhitePinetree Seeds
Rainbow Loveliness Cottage PinksBotanical Interests
Hollyhock, Indian SpringBaker Creek

Sowing 3/26/21:

Dahlia, FleurelDutch Bulbs
ECHINACEA, GREEN TWISTERSwallowtail Seeds
ECHINACEA, WHITE SWANSwallowtail Seeds
SALVIA, ROSE QUEENSwallowtail Seeds
SCABIOSA, FAMA DEEP BLUESwallowtail Seeds
MoonflowerSeed Savers Exchange
Madame Butterfly Bronze w/ WhiteJohnny’s Seeds

Sowing 3/27/21:

Basil, Lettuce LeafBaker Creek
Chamomile, GermanBotanical Interests
Cosmos, Sea ShellsBaker Creek
Swiss Chard, Ruby Red/RhubarbBotanical Interests
Beet, CylindraJohnny’s Seeds
Beet, BolthardyPinetree Garden Seeds
Salanova® Green Sweet CrispJohnny’s Seeds
Salanova® Home Garden MixJohnny’s Seeds
Delphinium, Sky Blue/WhiteSwallowtail Seeds
Hollyhock, NigraTrade Wind Fruit
Genovese BasilBotanical Interests

The reason I start so many seeds is because 1) seeds are cheap, and I’ve already paid for them; and 2) I like to have variety. I’m not sure if I’ll end up planting all of these seedlings in my garden, but I want to have the option to do so. And despite overspending on seeds this year, it’s still cheaper than buying these plants already started from my local garden center (assuming my local garden center even carried all of these varieties, which is unlikely). But, mostly I just need something gardening-related to do right now while I’m housebound and healing.

So far, everything from the 3/20/21 sowing has germinated, and the Amazing Gray poppy from 3/24 has also germinated (poppies seem to germinate very quickly). I reordered the Madame Butterfly Bronze with White because it turns out that I hadn’t ordered the correct variety earlier–I had ordered a Madame Butterfly mix instead. So I will have a ton of snapdragon seedlings to choose from in about two months.

A note on dahlia bulbs: not all dahlia sellers are equal, apparently. The Fleurel bulb I ordered from DutchBulbs.com (again, very early into my dahlia purchasing) was way overpriced, and the bulb I received was clearly dehydrated, with the outer skin peeling off of most of the bulb. I planted it up in a pot anyway, but as of yet, it doesn’t show any signs of life. To be on the safe side, I ordered another Fleurel from Longfield Gardens, which was cheaper and actually includes three bulbs per order rather than just the one Dutchbulbs.com offers. (Also, the customer service at Longfield Gardens is amazing! Quick to respond and very flexible in rearranging my orders.) Once I get all of the bulbs I ordered and have them planted, I’ll write up a comparison of the five companies from whom I ordered dahlia bulbs.

More Live Plants

So, the longer I sit at home waiting for my knee to heal, the more plants I buy. It is what it is.

I’ve picked up more bulbs, some lavender, and even another dahlia (I know, I don’t need any more). Here’s what I’ve got on order so far:

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

The Miscanthus is the plant I’m most excited about currently. I never thought I’d be the type to buy ornamental grasses–it’s always seemed too mature and “posh”–but, lo and behold, I am now aware of their many practical benefits.

The fence around my backyard is pretty but impractical. It’s also only a few years old, so I don’t have a really legitimate reason for tearing it down and putting up a more practical one–nor do I have the funds at the moment to do so. The fence is about 3′ high and in the picket fence style, with about 3 or so inches between each vertical slat. It’s pretty, but offers no privacy, and if we ever get a dog that is medium-sized or larger, it’ll be useless. (My parents, the former owners, had a mini dachshund.) As our back fence borders the alleyway, which is well paved and often used by joggers and dog-walkers in the neighborhood, I constantly feel like random strangers are walking through my backyard. it’s highly irritating but I couldn’t figure out how to handle it without spending a bunch of $ on a new fence, which my fiancé would never agree to. Enter ornamental grasses.

I came across the idea of using large ornamental grasses as a hedge while watching “You Can’t Eat the Grass”‘s bulb unboxing the other day–they had bought a different variety for use at their farm. I did some searching on Google and found one I liked–the Encore by Proven Winners 🙂 I have a strip of dirt between the fence and the alley which is currently populated by 30-year-old day lilies which need to get dug out anyway. So, I ordered six of the grasses to plant in that area, which should cover the fence. And it’s grass, so I imagine it’ll grow pretty quickly once they get established. And it is supposed to have really nice fall colors and “winter interest”, which means the breeder recommends not cutting them back until spring, so means that the hedge will last most of the year. Problem solved! Hopefully.

English Lavender–Hidcote

Another plant I picked up is some English Lavender (Hidcote). I haven’t grown much lavender, and the small plant of French lavender I picked up last year I attempted to overwinter on my back deck, thinking it was hardy to my zone. Apparently not. Looking back, I think I was basing this belief on the fact that lavenders definitely overwinter just fine in California, where I lived for 15 years. (Many places in CA have massive lavender and rosemary bushes edging the houses.) Alas, I am no longer in CA and need to deal with Zone 5b limits. So this time I did some research and picked up a few English lavender plants, which are hardy to my zone. I bought them from Michigan Bulbs, a company i’ve never purchased from before, but I had a coupon for free shipping 🙂 and many other online stores are already sold out. The plants are bare root, apparently, but I imagine they should fill out pretty well over the course of the summer.

Also from Michigan Bulb company are some more bulbs:

First, a mixed bag on dwarf Gladiolus bulbs. Dwarf, as I’ve never grown gladiolus and didn’t want to have to mess around with staking yet another type of flower. Next, a mixed bag of Anemones (again, a type of flower that is new to me). Finally, a mixed bag of ranunculus, as I had also ordered most of my ranunculus from Easy to Grow bulbs, and I wasn’t sure of the quality. Looking on Amazon, Easy to Grow is the main seller of ranunculus, and the reviews on the bulbs are pretty bad. (I had bought the bulbs directly through their website, which does not have any reviews.) So I figured the worse thing that will happen is I end up with too many ranunculus bulbs.

Finally, I did pick up another (!) dahlia. And I picked up some more Cafe au Lait tubers, because I realized I spent way too much on it earlier (it was the first dahlia I bought, and I spent like $15 for 1 tuber (!)–which, once I realized what I had done, completely broke my discount-loving heart.) I was so offended by this that I decided the only logical solution to this would be to buy more Cafe au Lait bulbs cheaper somewhere else. Obviously. So I did, but I needed to add more to my order in order to get the free shipping, so… I also picked up a mixed bag of caladiums and the “Melody Pink Allegro” dahlia, because it’s really pretty and pink and I’m a sucker.

Next up on my list of living plants to arrive, I believe, will be the Asparagus crowns from Gurney. Still need to plant my leeks/onions, which I should finally be able to do this weekend, assuming the dr gives me the ok at my appointment tomorrow. I’m thinking that many of these seed/plant companies assume that I have limitless amounts of land or that I’m actually a farmer. I am not. I don’t know what I’m going to do with 10 asparagus crowns–I really only have space for 5 at most, honestly, unless I start planting them in the lawn against the side fence–and the 25 strawberry plants and 25 sweet potato slips on order will likely be too many than I can manage as well. But that’s the size of order that they sell. Already, my local friends are getting inundated with seeds; the same will go for bulbs and live plants, I guess. (I’ve already hit my mom up for some of my dahlias, but as she lives in a condo now, she has much less space and no desire to care for a bunch of plants. 😦 ) But as I’d really rather not grow any of these from seed, my options are limited. There are worse things, I suppose.

Ordering Live Plants, part 2–Flowers

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching gardening videos on YouTube this past year. Between quarantine and my knee surgery, I have’t been able to do much; and with this long winter, I’ve needed to be reminded that the green will come again.

I’ve found a lot of vloggers I like, but the downside (?) is that they’ve inspired me to expand my garden from just veggies to include flowers–most of which I’ve never even heard of, much less grown. And many of them are not grown from seed.

Dahlias

Lavender Perfection

Dahlias seem to be the big flower this year. Floret Flowers, a small family flower farm in the Pacific Northwest, is very influential in the cut-flower industry (the flower version of market farmers). They just put out a new book on dahlias, Discovering Dahlias, which has really amped up the buzz. Dahlias are one of those weird plants that have a huge amount of variability in their DNA, so the only way to guarantee what type and color of flower you’ll get is to divide up a tuber (or take a cutting from a growing tuber). You can grow them from seed–I’ll be doing both this year–but with the seeds, it’s a total toss up what type of dahlia you’ll get. The seed mixes I’m planting are Unwins Mix (Baker Creek); Redskin Mix (Pinetree Seeds); and Dwarf Cactus Mix (RH Shumway’s). They will not be as big nor as luxuriant as the flowers from the tubers, however.

Dahlis are a bit finicky; the are not frost hardy, and so in my zone (5a/b) we have to dig them out each fall and store them overwinter. The bonus of this is that, like most tubers, they multiply when they are planted; you’ll usually end up with more than you started. (Which is awesome, because dahlia tubers are expensive.) Swan Island is the oldest dahlia farm in the US; and Floret Flowers usually grows dahlias ,but took this year off so they could build up their stock again. Both of these farms are pretty expensive, however. The best prices I’ve found on dahlias (non-wholesale) is from Longfield Gardens in New Jersey. However, no matter which company you try, most dahlia tuber varieties are already sold out. The ones I’ve ordered are scheduled to be delivered mid-April.

Here are some of the dahlias I’ll be growing from tubers:

“Dinner plate” dahlias (7″-10″ blooms) Left to right: Fleurel; Lavender Perfection; Noordwijks Glorie; Thomas Edison; Vancouver; and Cafe au Lait. Cafe au Lait is considered one of the most desirable dahlias, and is often used in bridal bouquets.

Other dahlias–“Pom Pon” Dahlias (4″ blooms) Left to right: Black Satin; Cheers; Great Silence.

Ranunculus

Those darn YouTube gardeners have also turned me on to another type of flower I’d never heard of: ranunculus. Ranunculus are grown from corms (kind of like really small tubers) and from what I understand, they are almost as pretty as dahlias but are not nearly as finicky. They like cold weather and can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Of courser, my orders won’t be delivered until mid-April, as that’s when the flower companies have decided that they should be planted in my zone, but next year I should be able to get them in the ground much sooner. I’ve decided to go much less dramatic with the ranunculus colors as well. Left to right: Picotree Red/Yellow (Longfield Gardens); Tecolote® Pastel Mix; and Tecolote® Rose (Easy to Grow Bulbs).

Finally, I’ve also ordered my absolute favorite flower, Night-Blooming Jasmine. Night-blooming jasmine is actually not a real jasmine; it’s a jessamine, which is a member of the nightshade family. Technically night-blooming jasmine is not perennial in my area, as they can’t handle frost; but I’ve been told that if I keep them potted and bring them inside to overwinter, they should survive. So that’s my plan. 🙂 I absolutely *love* the smell of their flowers; regular jasmine just does not compare, and I’ve desperately missed their smell since I moved back to IL.