Welcome 2014… winter seed sowing

Remember this idea I referred to last Mother’s Day? I had first seen it on Pinterest, and then tracked it back to this blog. In general, Kevin Lee Jacobs describes creating miniature greenhouses in reused plastic milk jugs. He also attributes the idea back to Trudi Davidoff. Thanks, Kevin!

We started saving our gallon milk jugs in the fall. It seems we’re always nearly out of milk, so I was really surprised that it took several months to accumulate 24 jugs. When they were emptied, we rinsed them out so as not to be too heinous-smelling come winter. Using Kevin’s directions, we cut them in half with a knife (kind of time consuming), leaving about 1″ hinge. KP used a drill to create the drainage holes in the jugs. We then used big tubs and put drainage holes in those too.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

I filled each with 3-4 inches of seed-starting soil, and then sprinkled a healthy amount of seed into each little bed. After covering the seed with about another inch of soil and dampening with water, I quickly (!) labeled each one with the plant, species, and date of planting.

For the first batch – 12 jugs, I used 3 different kinds of celery (from Rare Seeds), two colors of cleome (collected from the uni), white nicotiana (seed from Lynch’s), two kinds of beans (leftover from the summer’s failure planting), and asclepsia collected from my garden. KP was most assured that we didn’t need to duct tape them as Kevin had instructed. Since we didn’t have any duct tape on hand, I went a long with it :).

Wouldn’t you know those damn raccoon varmints got in the seed and just mucked things up! Needless to say, there were beans all over the deck and in the asclpsia jug, and dirt every-where. I should know better! Remember this?

So, then we went to get duct tape. All that was available at the grocery store was day-glo PINK. See all the dirt mess inside the tub? Amazingly, as soon as the jugs were taped, I could FEEL the temperature difference between the air outside the jug compared to the air inside the jug!


Varmint-proofing the jugs

Varmint-proofing the jugs

…and here they are, all “varmint-proofed”. Twelve jugs are starting, and when I’m back at the garden, I’ve got at least 12 more ready to go! …very exciting and I have visions of sharing lots of baby plants in the early spring.

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing


Managing expectations

One achievement of a well-established garden is having a full, lush garden with constant interest throughout the season… or so that’s what my fantasy always said! I was looking for relief from feeling the need to have all the blank spaces filled with gorgeous foliage and color. Having always been on a budget, here are some of the ways I’ve been able to fill in spaces and provide interest without spending a bunch o’money.


Alcea rosea (hollyhock)

1. Growing from seed requires a bit more patience and planning. For example, here are the hollyhocks.  I have ‘Nigra’; the other is a pretty pink (as pictured).

Hollyhocks are biennial, and will bloom the second year only, in my experience. They self-seed, so after growing the first year, you can discard or move plant colors to a location that works for you. They are tall and well-behaved. These grew to be nearly 6’.  I’ll let the seed heads dry out and then replant in  another spot for blooms in 2015!

I do the  same to propagate Asclepias, butterfly milkweed. This is an important plant for monarch butterflies, and can be found alongside highways and roads. It is a protected plant in NY state. I have two varieties:


Asclepias curassavica

This is Asclepias curassavica or “red butterfly” which is taller than the other I have – Asclepias tuberosa. I let the plant die back and in the fall when the seed pods brown and split open, I replant the escaping seeds that have a winged feather attached to help disburse it. Once established, they’re perennial bloomers.

2. Another means is by purchasing packets of bulbs and tubers from places like HD. The caladium(s) (caladiae?) I planted earlier in the season are coming up. Very happy with how these are faring and will get more next year. The white and green ones would be especially nice. Inexpensive with in-season gratification for not a lot of cost or care. (P.S. This is how I have also built up my crocosmia collection too.

Caladium “bicolor” (don’t mind the garden ornament!)


Caladium “fancy”

3. By trading with friends and neighbors, you can propagate many species. The gooseneck loosestrife were gifted from another’s garden… the friend of a neighbor, actually. When in bloom and planted en masse, they are cheery and seem to bob their heads in unison when a breeze blows. A caution about this plant: it propagates like crazy and can be hard to control as it sends tubers out and will sprout up in shrubs and other plants.

Lysimachia clethroides "gooseneck loosestrife"

Lysimachia clethroides “gooseneck loosestrife”

Other plants I’ve received this way (and also shared in turn) are the irises that bloom in the spring: Two varieties from an aging neighbor who has now passed, and two smaller varieties from a dear artist friend.

Spring shoots leaving and moving

The end of spring is drawing near. It’s a wonderful time. A good garden dose has been distributed and yet there’s MORE. So much more to enjoy.

The end of spring is a deadline of sorts. By the start of the first day of summer, the general assumption is things had better be pretty set. No more moving of shrubs, planting of trees. There’s lots of time for heaving in of annuals, but if you’re a good gardener you’ll be wanting to have major tasks out of the way by summer soltice.

So I started thinking about my own progress with spring preparation goals. Most interesting when I reflected on this was that I did indeed have goals. Similarly surprising, I hadn’t yet articulated my goals for the spring. (blogworthy benefit)

Here are/were my goals for spring 2014:

Goal 1:   create a stronger visual barrier between the quad and the fence on the south side of the quadrant

Goal 2:   create areas with sequential and continual interest throughout the summer

Goal 3:   do less maintenance along the perimeter and front of house; move detail work to quad so that more of my time and attention is focused on plant maintenance in the quad.

Here’s what I did:

“Goal 1:   create a stronger visual barrier between the quad and the fence on the south side of the quadrant”

To do this, I moved the hypericum from the quad, north side, to new beds created adjacent to the fence. [note to self: add future post on creating new beds!] And I also started moving the Joe Pye weed from the south stretch to the most western south stretch. I added the hypericum from  the north side the quadrant to do two things – alleviate the constant trimming (hypericum can be a vigorous grower) and coax something with a smaller profile in that area for greater color exposure from the new room in the house.

(pic of new back beds not available)

“Goal 2:   create areas with sequential and continual interest throughout the summer”

To accomplish this, I purchased some bulbs from HD:

I planted Caladium underneath the Baptista. It will be shaded by then, I think, between the Crocosmia and Casablanca lilies (wait until you see these lilies)

I planted some anemone on either side of the walkway for section 4 and 3:

"section 3"

“section 3”

"section 4"

“section 4”

Can you see the red circle? Planted there and then in section 4 “The Bride” Anemone. Towards the extreme right in section 4 is Scarlet Flax. Here are snaps of the packaging:



Scarlet Flax

Scarlet Flax

Of course, I’ve already forgotten where I planted “Mr. Fokker”… I think in section 3 somewhere. I may have also missed the timing on the scarlet flax. Will watch and see what shakes out with that.

In case you’re wondering, the big leafed plant adjacent to the anemones in section 3 is hollyhock, a biennial. Started it from seed last year so we should see some gorgeous blooms this year.

Can’t do a garden without some lovely salvia to brighten up the late summer and fall. I planted indigo spires on both sides of the front of the quadrant, just behind the boxwood:

Salvia "indigo spires"

Goal 3:   do less maintenance along the perimeter and front of house; move detail work to quad so that more of my time and attention is focused on plant maintenance in the quad.

Long-term extended goal 1 is to move the plants requiring maintenance out of the perimeter gardens and into the quadrant, because that’s where I want to spend my time. So, the Joe Pye weed is migrating up to the north side of the yard to aid with establishing a perimeter. More pics to follow.

From seed, some of my favorite plants

Papaver orientale

Papaver orientale

Eschscholzia californica

Eschscholzia californica

Some of my greatest gardening achievements have resulted from haphazard seeding. These poppies, for example, are just majestic as they herald the new season in early June. So big and bold… and so well behaved. After blooming, the seed capsules stay big and strong for awhile. Then, the plant relapses into its dormant state until the next spring time, leaving room for other late summer bloomers.

Another poppy favorite that is as loyal and forgiving as “orientale” is Eschscholzia californica, or the California poppy.

There’s something so wonderfully alive and responsive about poppies. For instance, at night and during rain, the plant will fold its flowers to protect its pollen, I suppose. Both of these poppies have allowed me to move them (after blooming) and they continually return. Love them!

Poppies greeting the morning sun

Poppies greeting the morning sun

Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds

I mentioned this seed company in an earlier post. Just learned of this WSJ article about their work. Here’s a description of the “heirloom” in Heirloom seeds from the WSJ article:

“Heirloom seeds are those that are passed down from generation to generation, are open-pollinated and aren’t patented or genetically modified. Every week, people from as far away as the Ukraine or as close as Appalachia send Mr. Gettle their own heirloom seeds, each with a story. Customers from St. Louis to Saudi Arabia buy the seeds for small farms, home gardens, schools and public gardens.”


Happy Mother’s Day

Being a mom is a lot like starting seeds. The progeny require much more time and nurturance than you can ever imagine. These babies took twice as long as I anticipated and what coaxed them out of their own little wombs was a lot of rain and sun. So many mornings I sat outside, peering into the little pods, anxious to see any stirrings of maturity. Ever so gently, I watered every day, but nothing. Finally ready to let go and let them mature or not, we had four rainy days with a sunny one in the middle. Life has its own timing. We have to continue nurturing, loving and trusting until It – our babies, our pets, our friends, our endeavors – arrive when ready.

Image tomatoes big time. Always have and probably always will. Tried about 6 plants last year I had bought from Home Depot. Unfortunately, I put them in a spot that didn’t have enough sun and by August, they became unwieldy, beastly vines that beared little fruit. This year, with the garden getting more sun, I decided to try again.

So I ordered some seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds on 4/1. I ordered these varieties:

Image Image Image

and started them in decomposable seed pods in organic seed starter on 4/8. In the NE this year, it’s been a cold, but sunny spring with very little rain. These guys were sucking up water like mad, requiring a good soaking every morning. Most nights were cool (between 45-50˚) so every night for weeks, the trays would come in and then back out in the morning. Weeks and weeks went by, but nothing! Uncle Mark Bagby was the first to finally show signs of life around 4/29, followed closely behind by the Celery Tendercrisp.

Now, it’s mother’s day, 5/12 – for crying out loud – and I’m just finally seeing signs of arrival! I think what has brought these babies to fruition is the last four rain-soaked days punctuated by a full day of hot sunshine.

Here are some snaps:

First, the Uncle Mark Bagby:



Here’s the Paul Robeson at 5 weeks. (Sorry for the blurry pic. Still snapping with the phone.)


These little darlins are baby celery plants. If you don’t grow celery, and can, you DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING! Throughout the summer, I hack off bits here and there for salad, pasta, pretty much everything. It’s fresh and tangy, and I use it like I would parsley. But being able to snip what I need without destroying the entire plant and without the waste created by not using an entire bunch bought from the grocery is a blessing and convenience. And better yet, it grows through October and will even give you some love early the next spring!

The nursery, in situ:Image

Here are the other seeds I purchased. Most probably, I’ll sow these directly when I can get back to the garden next weekend. Hopefully.


Keep watch for future posts on these blessed seedlings. Please remind me if I forget.  Next year, I want to try this Snow Starter idea:


Recycled plastic jugs as seed starters in January