24 February 2008

winter sowing

A few years back I read about something called winter sowing. Don’t know how I came across it, but probably through GardenWeb or Dave’s Garden or somesuch on the Internet.

A woman named Trudi Davidoff is the founder of the winter sowing movement (http://www.wintersown.org/), and she began doing it because (1) she didn’t have a lot of space in her house to start seeds indoors; (2) she didn’t have a lot of money to buy fluorescent lights, heat mats, and flats; and (3) she had a lot of seeds, many of which required stratification (in essence, they needed to “weather” a bit) in order to germinate. She thought why not sow a bunch of seeds in a more or less controlled environment outdoors and see what happened. The control came from sowing the seeds in flats, though these are not flats she bought at the garden center. She used empty plastic Chinese food containers, plastic gallon milk jugs, two-liter soda bottles . . . basically anything that could hold some soil and could be closed up a bit to form a mini-greenhouse.

As I say, I’ve been thinking about doing this for a year or two. So this year I’ve decided to take the plunge. I sent a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Trudi, and she sent me ten packets of seeds (Thanks, Trudi!), including blackberry lilies, hollyhocks, milkweed, nasturtiums, poppies, sunflowers, zinnias, lettuce, tomatoes, and watermelons. For an artist’s date on Wednesday I went to Home Depot on 23rd Street in Manhattan and spent about an hour at the seed display. And I bought more seeds: Rudbeckia, Festuca, some zinnias and marigolds, sunflowers (we had a bunch come up last year from around the bird feeders), and something called Cerinthe, which I don’t think can be winter sown, truth to tell, but I love the picture on the packet.

On Friday I called Alan and asked whether I could start some seeds on his roof. He said yes. Yesterday I went to the dump and asked to rescue some of the milk jugs people were dropping off. I loaded about 25 or so in Butch’s trunk, stopped off to buy a bag of soil, and then came home.

And today I planted the first three milk jugs with Rudbeckia, Festuca, and blackberry lily. I’ll leave them at Pleasant Hill and hope for the best. Maybe when it gets warmer I’ll bring them back to the city so I can keep a closer eye on them. Currently, the jugs are next to the herb garden, which gets a lot of sun in the morning and a little less later in the day. Fingers crossed, let’s see what happens!

10 February 2008

dahlia wish list 2

Wonderful and more wonderful! My dahlia wish list inspired an early birthday gift from J and S, B’s mom and sister: a gift certificate to Old House Gardens! Thank you, Kentucky family!

Because I’m a firm believer in the age-old proverb “An unused gift certificate gathers no tubers,” I acted quickly and ordered the following (again, all photos and descriptions from the Old House Gardens Web site):

Andries’ Orange (1936): Simple yet extraordinary, this charming dahlia became an instant staff favorite when it first bloomed here—and bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. It’s a clear, companionable orange, never harsh or glaring, and its 4", semi-cactus flowers on wiry stems are a flower arranger’s delight. Its full Flemish name, “Andries’ Oranje As,” commemorates a favorite liqueur of the 1930s from the small Belgian town of As. 3–5', from Oregon.

Bloodstone (1939): Named for an ancient gemstone reputed to have both herbal and magic powers, “Bloodstone” is an absolute knockout. It blooms more profusely than any dahlia we’ve ever grown, with small, elegant flowers of dark, jewel-like red set against deep green leaves. Photos fail to convey its excellence—prepare to be wowed. 3", 4–6', from Oregon.

And because I can't resist something somehow named for the man who explored and settled Kentucky, I had to order this gladiolus.

Boone (1920s): Think you don’t like glads? We dare you to try wee, wildflowery “Boone.” Its graceful, pint-sized, primulinus blooms are a warm, soft apricot, and it’s remarkably hardy—to 6b for sure, and friends in zone 5 New York tell us it’s a long-term perennial for them. Collected originally from an old homesite in the Appalachians. We’ll send baby plants in 2-inch pots. 3', 6b(5?)-9S/11W, from West Virginia.

And finally, I’ve wanted to try growing cannas for a few years. No time like the present!

Madame Angele Martin (1915): The subtle beauty of this French classic eludes our camera. It’s not orange but a soft gold, apricot, and pink, like a summer sunrise, enhanced by olive-bronze foliage that one enraptured fan calls “pearly and mysterious.” To see what we mean, just grow it! 3–5', from France.

Thank you!