Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Viola lab shipping closeupWhy, yes, you're right - that's a whole lot of Viola labradorica peeking out of that to-be-recycled paper.  And yes, I just ripped it out of the ground, lots of it, and YES, FedExed  to Mary's garden in Gloucester.  (And no, that is not best horticultural practice.)

All gazillion V. labradorica plants in my garden descend from a few I transplanted from Mary's mother's garden in Connecticut, on a June day very long ago.  And Jean is coming to visit Mary in mid-June.  So...  we have a little time.  I included some very beefy plants (those roots are almost woody!), and some medium plants, which I suspect will adapt a little more easily.  But they're violets, for crying out loud.  They will adapt.*

If we lose this whole batch, I will have weeded my garden a little, and we'll try again.  But they've arrived, and Mary will let us know when they look more like this:

Viola labradorica in flower

I like plants that have a story, or tell a story, or contribute to one.  It doesn't have to be a complicated narrative - a trip from a Wethersfield garden, to Brooklyn, and then up to Gloucester is just the sort of drive any of us might do in a weekend.  It's a pleasant, sociable trip.  And though I haven't found them exceptionally flavorful, these violets are nominally edible, so they help tell my Shady Kitchen Garden tale.

*How's this for adaptable:  like some other violets, this species produces cleistogamous flowers after the cute, showy ones... those buds don't bother to open into adorable purple flowers (think of all the saved plant energy), but simply self-pollinate before firing an additional salvo of seed in every direction - by my count, about a dozen seeds per bud.  If you have an over-abundance of violets seeding in, take a look for stealth seed pods (...and if you don't have an over-abundance of violets, keep that overnight shipping option in mind).

Exciting update:  the violets have arrived, they're planted, hooray!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Pretty exciting, isn't it? I count 8 or 9 seedlings of a plant that intrigues me so much, I collected its ripe seed and sowed it last fall.

Outdoor fall sowing works for many temperate-zone plants, which expect* a cold-then-warm cycle to cue them that conditions are favorable for embarking on life as a plant. Some plants (probably those whose seed ripens in summer) expect a warm-cold-warm cycle. Of course, you could buy a special fridge for your seed-sowing projects to recreate these cycles artificially; your apple emits ethylene gas that can inhibit seed germination. After all, you'd be a silly apple seed to germinate and then get eaten by a passing mammal - you'd never survive the digestive-tract journey! A seed is very much alive - but in a far less vulnerable form than a just-sprung seedling.

Fascinating though all that is, that is not what I most urge you to learn. Here's today's vital plant-propagation lesson:

LABEL. Label whatever envelope or slip of paper you use to collect seed; label pots or trays you sow seed in (sticks work; you can write directly on some pots, or on tape). Same goes for cuttings, of course - but today's about seeds and seedlings.

Label, label, label!  I think I know what plant this is; I'll know for sure soon enough. If I'm right, it's Mitchella repens, a plant so ridiculously easy to propagate from cuttings, I must have seeded it just Because I Can. Or it might be the mystery seed I soaked for so long, I had forgotten all about it by the time I re-found and sowed it. (If that's the case, this species benefits from lengthy soaking of seeds, pre-sowing - this looks like ~100% germination of that tiny handful of seeds!)

Here's some seed of Salvia sclarea, a beautiful blue form - as you can tell, from the labels - on the paper I'm using to clean it, and on the envelope storing the cleaned seed..  I collected this seed at the Gowanus Nursery, for Michele.  (You may thank her for this important propagation lesson.  Let's repeat it together:  LABEL.)  You can see that some of the seeds are dark brown, some creamy, and some intermediate in color.  The darkest ones are ripe for sure; the palest likely not to be.  Some in-betweens might be developed enough to germinate.

If you've been putting off growing perennial plants from seed - fear not.  Many are remarkably easy.  Sow seed in fall - or whenever it's ripe - and let nature take its course.  And label, so you'll know in spring what you've grown!

*It's usually said that these species "require" these cold/warm cycles.  That is, of course, because they evolved where those cycles occur; I say "expect" because I'm trying to take a step back and inhabit a larger context (along with the plants).  I could have mimicked this process to trick them into "breaking" dormancy and germinating on my schedule.  But no need - the weather and I and the seeds are all pretty much on the same page.  So they made a break for it when the time was right.