To Seed Or Not To Seed? That Is The Question!

Should You Start Seeds?

Every year I ask myself that question.  Is it worth tying up valuable real estate on the windowsill or under grow lights?  How about the  disappointment of seeing a whole tray of healthy looking seedlings succumb to damping off fungus? Or the cost of buying seed starting mixture, fertilizer, and seeds?  How about the time involved? But every year like clockwork, I start my own seeds, even increase the amount of seeds that I plant, because no matter what, gardeners are driven to plant seeds. And every spring, I feel hopeful and enjoy seeing those little seedlings emerge.

I start my seeds in Tupperware containers
I start my seeds in Tupperware containers

Advantages

  • Money Saver

The huge advantage of starting seeds is you can save a lot of money! And that perk is what gets many gardeners hooked. Spending money on sterile seed starting medium is essential as well as your seeds, unless you are a seed saver. But for everything else, you can come up with alternatives. I use an array of different containers, from milk cartons to egg cartons. The plastic clam shells that contain spinach and greens are perfect as mini greenhouses or  planting containers. I bought a bunch of large Tupperware containers at the dollar store for my mini greenhouses.

Also, instead of buying a few transplant varieties of the plants that you want, you can easily grow dozens and hundreds. This can be significant to attract pollinators, as it is essential to plant in drifts and not singly.

  • Something Different

Ageratum Blue Horizon is a flower that I can't do without but cannot find transplants anywhere
Ageratum Blue Horizon is a flower that I can’t do without but cannot find transplants anywhere

The other main reason to start your own seeds, is you can find and plant many unusual unique varieties that you can’t find at any nursery or garden center. There are hundreds of thousands of plant varieties, and there is no way that a nursery can even come close to carrying them all. Nurseries tend to be very conservative in what they carry, and go for the varieties that appeal to the mass market. I am not included in that mass market!! I want different and unusual plants. Go to Plant Geek Alert to see my post on unusual varieties that you can start from seed.

Asclepias physocarpa, commonly known as Family Jewels- Where else could I get this plant if I didn't start it from seed?
Asclepias physocarpa, commonly known as Family Jewels- Where else could I get this plant if I didn’t start it from seed?
  • New Varieties

There are hundreds of new varieties that come out every year due to plant hybridization and these are the ones that I like to jump on and try. This year, I am trying a new tomato variety called Indigo Apple from Wild Boar Farms. The tomato has a dark indigo coloration that claims to have high levels of lycopene which has many health benefits. I will be profiling Wild Boar Farms and the exciting new varieties that are in the pipeline in a future post.

Indigo Apple Tomato available from Wild Boar Farms
Indigo Apple Tomato available from Wild Boar Farms

And I keep on going back to those plants that you can’t buy at a nursery, which is the biggest draw for me. Asclepias physocarpa, or Family Jewels which is a Butterfly Weed, is one, pictured above. I love using this for my dried arrangements and it is a great attractant for pollinators. Also, I grow it because it is a great conversation starter!

Cup and Saucer Vine-another little beauty that I start from seed
Cup and Saucer Vine-another little beauty that I start from seed

Here is another called ‘Cup and Saucer Vine’, Cobea scandens. I love how the beautiful violet flowers nod against my fence all summer long. This is definitely being planted in my seedling flats soon. And yes, this cannot be found at the local nursery! Browsing your catalogs, you can find so many new and unique seed varieties that don’t land on the nursery benches!

Seed Starting Guidelines

For help in ordering seeds, go to my post Art of the Seed to see what companies I order from.

Seed starting is not rocket science but here are some pointers that will help out a newbie if you decide to take the plunge.

  • Don’t start your seeds too early, especially tomatoes! Most annual flowers and vegetables should be sown indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost in your area.

  • If unsure of your last frost date, go to Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart, by The Farmer’s Almanac, which is based on your frost dates and by the Moon.

  • You may have to soak, scratch, or chill seeds before planting, as directed on packet. Read the instructions! Some seeds need light to germinate, and you just need to press the seeds into the medium and not cover them.

  • Think clean!! I sterilize my containers with a dilute solution of bleach  and water (10 to 1) to discourage a fungal disease called “damping off”.  Most seed catalogs offer seedling flats, peat pots, and other growing containers, but egg cartons and milk cartons make good containers, too. Be sure to poke holes in the bottom of the containers you use for drainage.

Egg and milk cartons can be used as seed trays
Egg and milk cartons can be used as seed trays
  • Label your containers when you plant. There’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting what you planted.

  • Fill clean containers with seedling mix. Use a good sterile seed starting mix. Don’t use potting soil as this compacts down and won’t let air flow through.

  • Pour soilless mix into a large bucket and moisten with warm water. Fill your containers to just below the rim.

Press your seeds in the medium with the eraser end of a pencil
Press your seeds in the medium with the eraser end of a pencil
  • Plant your seeds according to your seed packet. Most seeds can simply be gently pressed into the mixture; you can use the eraser end of a pencil to push in seeds. Cover lightly with chicken grit or parakeet gravel which retards “damping off”, by allowing air to circulate. To read more about the advantages of parakeet gravel or chicken grit, go to:  http://2footalligator.blogspot.com/2012/03/chick-grit-for-successful-seed-starting.html 

    Parakeet gravel has grit, oyster shells, and charcoal which all retards "damping off'
    Parakeet gravel has grit, oyster shells, and charcoal which all retards “damping off’
Milk carton with parakeet gravel covering seedlings
Milk carton with parakeet gravel covering seedlings

Seed Tip: When planting seeds, plant the largest seeds in the package to get the best germination rate.

  • Cover containers with plastic wrap or place in Tupperware containers until new seedlings poke through.

Seed starting in Tupperware containers
Seed starting in Tupperware containers
  • Water newly started seedlings carefully!! It is easy to spray water into your newly planted seeds and wash then all away.  A mist sprayer is gentle but can take a long time. Try using a meat-basting syringe, which will dispense the water effectively without causing too much soil disruption. Or you can bottom water for least amount of disturbance.

Try using a turkey baster to water newly planted seeds so you don't flood the seeds out
Try using a turkey baster to water newly planted seeds so you don’t flood the seeds out
  • Find a place in the kitchen where there is natural bottom heat—on top of the refrigerator or furnace, or near the oven. I use a simple bottom heating seed mat available from most seed catalog companies.

Bottom heating mat set on top of a large cookie sheet
Bottom heating mat set on top of a large cookie sheet
  • Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C), which is the temperature of most homes.

  • When seedlings appear, remove the lids and move containers into bright light.

Once your seeds have germinated, move them under grow lights or in a bright window
Once your seeds have germinated, move them under grow lights or in a bright window
  • When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, prepare each pot filled with a potting mix with plenty of compost. Move the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well. Keep pots out of direct sun for a few days to acclimate.

Seed Tip- Don’t start your seeds too early. Read your seed packet and see how many weeks are recommended before setting them outside. The problem with starting them too early inside is that they can get leggy(reaching for light) and you will have to repot the plants into larger and larger containers because they could become root bound.

Making Newspaper Pots

Newspapers clog up my recycling bin and I found that I could use them in making simple seed starting containers. The advantage of starting in newspaper is you can plant the entire compostable newspaper-covered seedling outdoors intact, or pot up the container in a larger planter before setting out.

How to make newspaper pots for seed starting
How to make newspaper pots for seed starting

Newspaper pots for seed starting is the ultimate sustainable way of gardening. Here is the method, starting at the top left corner of the collage:

  1. Lay out a single folded sheet of newspaper.
  2. Fold over one layer and crease.
  3. Use a straight side juice glass to roll up your newspaper tightly.
  4. Fasten with twine and tie tight.
  5. Remove the glass and start tucking up the bottom flaps to form the bottom.
  6. Fill with seed medium and plant.
  7. Place in your mini greenhouse (Tupperware, plastic baggie, saran wrap) until the seeds sprout on top of your heating mat/furnace/refrigerator and then uncover.
  8. Be sure to label everything with names and dates. If something doesn’t sprout right away, some seeds take longer than others. But if a couple of weeks go by, you need to restart them.
  9. Keep your seedlings in the brightest light possible, preferably a west or south-facing window or grow light; turn them so they grow evenly; keep misting them or use the meat baster and don’t let them dry out.
  10. When the seedlings have at least 2 sets of leaves, you can transplant them carefully into each pot.

Labeling/Record Keeping

By keeping records year to year, you won’t make the same mistakes twice. You can note when you started something too early or too late and adjust for next year.

Add names and dates to your labels
Add names and dates to your labels

I am very forgetful about what I plant where because I plant different varieties of seed in one flat.  When the seedlings send up their small shoots, they all look alike. So, if something doesn’t come up, you will know to try it again. I use old venetian blind pieces cut to the right size and label with a permanent marker like a sharpie, including the date started.  Or try using popsicle sticks/coffee stirrers. Remember you will be watering these and any other markers will smear and disappear.

The Exciting Part

Then I check the flats everyday to see what is coming up.  I love seeing the newly hatched seedlings pop through with their cotyledons, the scientific word for the first two seedling leaves that come through. These leaves are just the embryonic first seedling leaves that every seed shoots out upon germination.  They will disappear in the next couple of weeks after the true leaves start to form.

Jacaranda seedling about 10 days after germina...
Seedling with first leaves-Image via Wikipedia

Grow Lights

If you own grow lights, you can control the amount of light that your seedlings receive and have healthier, stockier seedlings. After the first seeds germinate, put the flats under grow lights which can be as simple as fluorescent tubes hanging from the ceiling with chains.  The chains are critical because you need to adjust the height of the lights above the seedlings.  Place the lights about 3 to 4 inches above the height of the seedlings. At first this seems awfully close, but seedlings are hungry for light, and if they don’t get at least 12 to 14 hours of their allotted light, they will get spindly and unhealthy looking. For a tutorial on making a grow light stand out of PVC, go to Your Own Victory Garden . These are simple to follow instructions to build your own system, stand, and grow light for less than $60. Or go to http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/ten-seed-starting-tips.aspx to see videos on seed starting, and a great three-tiered grow light stand that you can make out of 2 x 2’s.

Fertilize

Since your soilless medium has no nutrients, you need to supplement this lack as soon as the seedlings have their true leaves formed.  The original seed will have some stored food for the seedling to draw on but that is soon exhausted.  Pick up some miracle grow or something similar to feed your seedlings regularly. Follow directions on your package for feeding seedlings.

Inside or Outside

Some seeds are best planted outside- Larkspur, Nigella, Poppies, Zinnias, Cockscomb, Sunflowers are just a few to come to mind. For veggies, I start all my vining crops, radish, peas, and beans outside. Tomatoes and peppers are better started six to eight weeks before your last frost date.

Plant Poppies outside
Plant Poppies outside

 

Poppy, Larkspur, and Nigella seeds are so tiny and need some chilly weather to germinate so I just scatter these outside in early spring or late winter. Sunflowers and Zinnias readily germinate in the spring outside and grow quickly so it is not worth the space to start them inside. Sunflowers, Cosmos, Zinnias, and other quickly growing annuals should be started when all danger of frost is over in your area.

Cockscomb is best planted outside
Cockscomb is best planted outside

Happy seeding!

Amaranthus- A Super Food for the Backyard Gardener

Giant Orange Amaranthus
Giant Orange Amaranthus

I tried growing some Amaranthus or commonly known as “love lies bleeding” this season, and it really surprised me.  I have grown the smaller varieties in the past, like the pendulous variety which topped off at 3 to 4 feet tall.  But the Giant Orange Amaranthus shot up 8 feet tall and then sent out this wonderful feathery plume that everybody who visits just stops and stares at! These flowers are not valuable as nectar sources for pollinators, but the seeds are a great nutrient packed source for humans.

The Giant Orange Amaranthus towers over me!
The Giant Orange Amaranthus towers over me!
Having fun with 'Love Lies Bleeding' at Giverny
Having fun with ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ at Giverny

Grown for thousands of years, amaranthus has been called an”ancient grain” or “pseudo cereal“. The entire plant is edible, leaves, stalks, seeds, and flower, so it has been called “the wonder food plant“. The seeds can be popped like corn, roasted, stir fried,  and sprinkled on cereal. The stems and leaves can be chopped and stir fried or eaten in salads. It is packed with protein, lysine, high in fiber, and supposed to lower cholesterol.

Amaranthus comes in all colors, including the foliage
Amaranthus comes in all colors, including the foliage

It reminds me of chia seeds, another nutrient packed rice like grain. I love chia, so I was really interested in trying out amaranthus. But I wasn’t sure how to harvest it and after some trial and error figured it out. Watch my YouTube video on the process.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cYtAROA4ZU

Basically, I set up a Tupperware container with a screen on top and rubbed the seeds through the screen into the container beneath. You are separating the seeds from the chaff, just like threshing wheat.

Rub the seed heads through a screen to harvest Amaranthus
Rub the seed heads through a screen to harvest Amaranthus

In just 10 to 15 minutes, I harvested about a cup of the seeds ready to use in cooking. They taste good too! I will be growing more varieties next year for sure.

Autumn All-Stars – Part 1

PicMonkey Collage autumn

September is one of the hardest months to have beautiful fall bloomers as it is usually bone dry, and your spring and summer bloomers have peaked and shriveled up and are only a memory.  This time of year I look for the big bloomers that were putting on lots of green growth all summer, things that you didn’t notice in May, June, and July, but now have come into their own.

Nicotiana

One all-star is Nictotiana sylvestris, which carries its stately tiered white bloom for weeks in the fall.

Nictotiana sylvestris is a reseeder in my garden, coming up every year without any effort on my part
Nictotiana sylvestris is a reseeder in my garden, coming up every year without any effort on my part

Nicotiana sylvestris is a stalwart performer that I can always count on, and I do nothing to make it happen! It reseeds every year in different unexpected places, and I am glad it does that because not only is it not invasive, it comes up in great locations. I notice a rosette of the sticky, gummy leaves in mid-summer, and let it do its thing. As it slowly adds girth to the rosette, the flower suddenly shoots up with a tall stalk topped with long-stalked tubular white flowers that have a heavy scent at night.  This whole plant shines at night and will bloom for weeks on end.

My scarecrow surrounded by Nictotiana which reseeded
My scarecrow surrounded by Nictotiana which reseeded

 Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’

Solidago 'Fireworks'
Solidago ‘Fireworks’

Solidago or Goldenrod is not well-respected in the US, probably because you see it everywhere on the side of the road.  A native wildflower that is vigorous and provides a much-needed pollen source in the late summer and fall, the blooms resembles the lacy patterns of fireworks. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of this plant.  The English recognize a good plant and admire it greatly, and plant it extensively in their gardens for the late summer color. A butterfly and bee magnet, it is invaluable as a food source for pollinators. The cultivar ‘Fireworks’ is my favorite as it intertwines with other plants for a color show.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Agastache 'Blue Fortune'
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Anise Hyssop or Agastache is my absolute favorite for fall blooms. The whole plant is impregnated with a pungent licorice odor and deer give it a wide berth because of that attribute. The flowers start to bloom in July and just keep on coming for weeks on end.  You never see the flowers without hordes of pollinators working the spikes. Agastache comes in blue, pink and peach colors.

Agastache Tutti Frutti surrounds a dahlia
Agastache Tutti Frutti surrounds a dahlia

Rudbeckia

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Rudbeckia hirta with green centers
Rudbeckia hirta with green centers
Rudbeckia hirta, Gloriosa Daisy
Rudbeckia hirta, Gloriosa Daisy

No fall garden would be complete without Rudbeckias, or Black Eyed Susans, also known as Gloriosa Daisies. But I like the unusual ones, like Rudbeckia hirta, which has a huge (7 inches across) flower and is neon yellow, and is treated as an annual here in zone 6b. My other favorite is Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’, which is a solid perennial here and is notable for its narrow petalled flowers with a ‘spoon’ topping off the ends.

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‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia
'Henry Eilers' Rudbeckia with pods for Blackberry Lily, which will open and display ebony black seeds
‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia with pods for Blackberry Lily, which will open and display ebony black seeds

Magical Sunflowers-Fibonacci Spiral and Heliotropism

A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun
A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun

Magical Qualities

Sunflowers have always been one of my top favorite blooming plants. The list of their attributes is long; they are cheerful and uplifting, long blooming, easy to grow, feed the birds, good for flower arranging, etc.

A field of sunflowers
A field of sunflowers

I could go on and on, but the most interesting and fascinating features are twofold: the blooms actually move to follow the sun from east to west across the sky, and the seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci Spiral to pack as many seeds as possible in a small space.

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sunflower

Facing the Sun-Heliotropism

The amazing sun-following trick makes these plants seem to possess some mystical powers. What’s really going on here is something called heliotropism, and lots of plants do it. But with a field of huge sunflowers in bloom, it is a sight to behold.  Heliotropism means moving toward the sun.  The puzzle with sunflowers is, why do the flowers need to face the sun?

Sunflower 2
Sunflower 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The stems of all actively growing sunflower parts – flowers and leaves – grow to face the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis.  During the day, the stems elongate on the side away from the sun, tilting leaves and immature flowers toward the sun throughout the day and ending up facing west at sunset.  When there’s no light, the other side of the stem grows, pushing the leaves and flowers back to the east where they will be facing the sun at sunrise.

A heavy head of seeds
A heavy head of seeds

Growing leaves and immature flowers are green and full of chlorophyll and actively photosynthesizing. The younger sunflower has immature leaves along the stem facing the sun as well.  The lower leaves on the younger sunflower, as well as all parts on the older sunflower have matured, and though they are generally facing up, they are not facing the sun. Once the flower matures and is not actively photosynthesizing, then it remains stationary and will hang with the weight of the growing seeds.

A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
Sunflower ready to open
Sunflower ready to open

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Fibonacci Spiral

English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the f...
English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the free software GeoGebra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fibonacci Spiral is another fascinating attribute of the sunflower. The concept is named after a Middle Age Italian mathematician named Fibonacci who was considered to be one of the most  brilliant mathematicians of his time.    The principle underscores that mathematics is utilized in nature in every facet, especially in the design of nature.

Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature's use of the Fibonacci Spiral
Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature’s use of the Fibonacci Spiral

The Fibonacci spiral or numbers are nature’s numbering system. It appears everywhere in nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pine cone, or the scales of a pineapple. It means that a plant or animal grows in the most efficient ways, maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate over many generations. In the case of close-packed leaves in cabbages and succulents the correct arrangement may be crucial for availability of space. 

Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tin...
Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) with spirals indicating the arrangement drawn in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the  seeming randomness of the natural world, we can find many instances of  mathematical order involving the Fibonacci numbers themselves and the closely  related “Golden” elements.

The famous Fibonacci sequence has captivated mathematicians, artists, designers, and scientists for centuries. Also known as the Golden Ratio, its universality and astounding functionality in nature suggests its importance as a fundamental characteristic of the Universe.

Array of sunflower seeds
Array of sunflower seeds
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci galaxy
Fibonacci galaxy

Grubb Heaven

Hanging bicycles dripping with plants adorn the ceilings at Flora Grubb
Hanging bicycles dripping with plants adorn the ceilings at Flora Grubb
a great display of airplants
a great display of airplants

If your name is Flora Grubb, what better business to own than Flora Grubb Gardens? She couldn’t have picked a better name to own a garden/nursery business! Flora Grubb Gardens is a sophisticated garden boutique, nursery and floral/landscape design business located in San Francisco. Something like I would love to own! All the elements unusual plants, design, fresh flowers, and, unique nursery hard goods are part of the mix that I thrive on and draw me like a magnet.

Planted wall with succulents
Planted wall with succulents

On a recent trip to San Francisco with other garden bloggers on our annual “fling”, we visited this destination with a lot of anticipation and ready to shop. The nursery is located in the Bayview section of San Francisco in a pretty rough industrial neighborhood, but Flora Grubb stuck out like a green thumb!

Looking at Flora Grubb's wares
Looking at Flora Grubb’s wares

Flora Grubb started with about 4 employees and as soon as she opened her doors at the Jerrold Ave location in 2007, the business was “hot” and has continued to grow with over 25 employees at present. Featured in many magazines and Martha Stewart Living, Flora Grubb must have the right “stuff”. And from what I saw at the store front which is simply a tall steel open-faced structure, covered with Douglas Fir reclaimed wood, I can see how she has been so successful.

Innovative containers!
Innovative containers!

The plants are integrated with the nursery wares in a seamless way that shows you how to display them in your home.  Typical nurseries line up the plants in sections and have a section for hard goods, but Flora Grubb takes plant shopping to a new level.

They offer all kinds of services such as a potting station where you can pick out your plant/s, pot, choose your soil, and top it off with a selection of toppings. Just check the Yelp reviews and you get the idea that people love this place and can’t say enough good things about it. Here is a typical description on Yelp – Part plant oasis, part dream garden, part coffee shop, and part nirvana! What a recommendation.

Even the shopping baskets were unique
Even the shopping baskets were unique

As well as very unusual plants, they have a huge selection of succulents in a rainbow of colors and shapes suited for the San Francisco climate, but houseplants for me in zone 6b. They sell the coveted Victoria Agave which is a slow-growing beautiful Agave known for its striking markings.

Queen Victoria Agave - Agave victoriae-reginae
Queen Victoria Agave – Agave victoriae-reginae photographed at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Also, the beautiful spiral agave.

Spiral agave at the Ruth Bancroft Garden
Spiral agave at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Flora Grubb is a trend setter for plant lovers and buyers and has an array of beautiful unique containers.

We had our cocktail hour and munchies at the nursery so had plenty of time to browse and get into trouble with plants needing to go home on a plane! Some people were lucky and could drive home and picked up some nice larger specimens.

Delen Kitchen of Plant Propaganda with her treasures at Flora Grub http://www.plantpropaganda.com/
Delen Kitchen of Plant Propaganda with her treasures at Flora Grub
http://www.plantpropaganda.com/

I picked up some unusual things that I have never seen before. I found a new salvia that is hardy to minus 20 called ‘Curling Waves’.  I loved the crinkly textured leaves, and though it wasn’t blooming I am a sucker for salvias and bought it.  And am I glad that I did! Here it is on You Tube-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dq8eUttc4U.  I can’t wait for this one to bloom.

I am also a sucker for oddities and loved this cactus called ‘Tail of the Monkey’ and since it was small and portable bought it.

Hildewintera- Cola de Mononis or Tail of the Monkey
Hildewintera- Cola de Mononis or Tail of the Monkey

I found that it grows pretty quickly to look like this.

Mature Tail of the Monkey- Beautiful!
Mature Tail of the Monkey- Beautiful!

Since I do a lot of flower arranging, I was intrigued with their grape wood selection and their colored reindeer moss collection. The grape-vine wood is sold in pet stores as perches for birds and reptiles but Flora Grubb’s selection was especially interesting, good for accents in arrangements.

Reindeer moss and lichened twigs
Reindeer moss and lichened twigs
Old gnarly grape vine that has been bark peeled and trimmed to an interesting shape
Old gnarly grape vine that has been bark peeled and trimmed to an interesting shape

This is a destination nursery for anyone interested in plants and floral design to pick up that unique plant or container. The living succulent walls alone are worth the trip.

I loved this treatment of a container!
I loved this treatment of a container!
Planted table with succulents made out of repurposed pallets
Planted table with succulents made out of repurposed pallets
Beautiful living succulent wreath
Beautiful living succulent wreath

If you happen to be in the San Francisco area, this is a must-see for plant lovers everywhere!

Labyrinth Plantings

Peaceful vantage point
Peaceful vantage point

Last year, I posted about installing a stone labyrinth for a client.  We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and just finished up the spring plantings. Go to Healing Labyrinth-Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, to see how I created and implemented the design and installation.

The theme for the plantings was pollinator friendly shrubs and perennials to surround and embrace the labyrinth to soften the harshness of stone and to bring nature in. When it came time to plant, I had to consider that the site is shady to part sun, with some parts in full sun, so I had to use an entire spectrum of plants that would attract pollinators.

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Hillside above labyrinth planted with many native plants

Where the wall surrounds the labyrinth pathway, I left a small space of 6″ to plant something simple but beautiful to soften the stone edge in the shade.  Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’ was chosen for its bright color in the shade and its graceful form. It has no attribute as a pollinator friendly plant, but was perfect for the spot. A slow grower that stays under 12″ high, the grass will not outgrow its space and is very low maintenance.

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Hakenochloa All Gold
Hakenochloa All Gold

The only plantings that were original were extremely fragrant pink climbing roses on the fence. I kept them as a backdrop for the new plantings.

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Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’

The garden surrounding the labyrinth is in partial to full sun and I went wild with the pollinator friendly plants.  The main shrub that I used was Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ –  seven of them spotted around the space. Clethra is a highly fragrant deciduous shrub that blooms in July and August in shade and partial shade and is frequently visited by an array of pollinators.  The racemes of dark pink flowers last for weeks and the foliage turns a bright yellow in the fall.

Butterfly bushes were also used to give late summer color as well as perennials such as stachys hummelo, salvias, sedum, vernonia, hibiscus, coral bells, and nepeta. A few annuals were selected for color and pollinator appeal –  petunias and pentas.

Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
Just planted bed with stepping stones planted with grass seed
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Planted area 6 weeks later

The upper slope over-looking the labyrinth was in full shade and was planted with colorful foliage plants-coral bells, hostas, carex, toad lily, Lenten Rose, tiarella, brunnera, lamium, heucherellas, and woodland phlox to give texture and brighten the shady area.

Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Toad Lily- bees love this in the fall
Hillside of foliage plants for shade
Hillside of foliage plants for shade

Under the teak bench, I planted Mazus, a steppable creeping plant with tiny purple flowers.

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Mazus is a purple flowered creeper

 

In and among the rocks of the water feature, I planted several Deutzias for spring bloom, and variegated Iris, sedums, annuals, coral bells, and balloon flower. The water feature looked very stark without any plantings, so I was careful to plant things next to and within the rocks surrounding it so that plants would cascade over it.

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Water feature 3 years later in the spring

To frame the picture, and provide some privacy, a screen of Skip Cherry Laurels was planted behind the fence to anchor the new space. These will eventually grow up to over 8 feet and knit together for a nice hedge.

Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
Planting the Cherry Laurels for a screen
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Downward view of labyrinth with Helleborus in the foreground
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A Helleborus or Lenten Rose opening up in the winter
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Clethras turn a wonderful yellow color in the fall

Peony Envy

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Peonies are blooming right now and I am in heaven! I love the flowers for cutting, fragrance, and Wow factor. Plunk some peonies into a vase, and it looks like an arrangement by a master. You don’t need to arrange them – they just sit in a vase and say “look at me!” No one can pass them by without exclaiming, touching, or sniffing. For those who love peonies, you can extend the picking and sniffing season for about 6 weeks with a variety of peonies that bloom at different times.

There are three major types of peonies.

Pink tree peony
Pink tree peony
  • Tree Peonies-

    First off the track in early May are tree peonies which are the upper class of peonies; they seem a little snobby and too perfect and everyone loves them. Tree peonies have woody stems and lose their leaves in the fall and grow very slowly to form a small shrub. They prefer to have a little shade. The ultimate color to get for a tree peony is yellow. I still have to get one of these.  I have been burnt buying them from growers and they turn out to be white or pale pink! So, buy them in bloom if possible!

  • I went to a peony tree farm that was run by a Chinese family and took this picture of their Chinese Shar-Pei in the field
    I went to a peony tree farm that was run by a Chinese family and took this picture of their Chinese Shar-Pei in the field

    When these bloom, it is almost a sensual experience cutting the flower off the shrub.  The blooms are massive, maybe 7 inches across with beautiful centers of frilly contrasting stamens. The foliage is beautiful also and will remain throughout the season.

The coveted yellow tree peony
The coveted yellow tree peony
Paeonia 'Linne'
Paeonia ‘Linne’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Herbaceous-

    The most common and many people know this one the best.  It is the one found in gardens that someone planted 50 years earlier, and they are still going strong. The stems die to the ground in the winter just like any other perennial. I dug lots of peonies up from my mother’s garden that bloomed very sparsely, having been shaded out over the years, transplanted them to my garden in full sun, and they now bloom like gang busters. So, herbaceous ones demand full sun to bloom well.

Herbaceous peonies with nepeta make a good combo
Herbaceous peonies with nepeta make a good combo

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Itoh peony with a nice rounded shrub shape
Itoh peony with a nice rounded shrub shape
  • Itoh or Intersectional Peony- 

    Just a fancy term for a cross between a tree peony and a herbaceous one. The top growth will die down during the winter and the plants have a nice rounded shape. They are usually shorter than herbaceous ones, thus no floppy stems or staking. These like a little shade also and since they are a relatively new species, are expensive.  Prices range from $50 to $150 on line. I just bought one, it set me back $80 and is a beauty! The color is almost a coral pink, one that I have never seen in a peony.

peach-peony-patricia-s

Ants

Everyone has seen ants attracted to peony flowers and that might stop some people from cutting them and bringing them into the house. You can briefly swish the buds and blooms in a pail of water to flush them off if they bother you. Ants are attracted to the nectar secreted from the buds only and will not be on flowers in full bloom. They are not harmful to you or to the flower, so don’t try to spray them with insecticide!

English: Ants, as well as wasps, are attracted...
English: Ants, as well as wasps, are attracted to the nectar of peonies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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