Seedy Beginnings

Seedy Beginnings

            A giant invasive plant, commonly known as “Millennium Madness”,
sprouted all over the world last year.  It
was particularly bad in the United States, and positively egregious in the New
York metropolitan area.  And, as if
Millennium Madness was not bad enough all by itself, there were rumors that it
was infested on a grand scale with the dreaded Y2K Bug.  While professionals in a host of countries spent months trying to think
of ways to eradicate the Y2K Bug, average people were rumored to be aiding the
rapid growth and spread of Millennium Madness by watering local specimens with
vast quantities of bottled water that they had apparently stored in their

            Fortunately, Millennium Madness proved to be a tender plant, and, from
Fiji to Brooklyn, it began to wither on the stroke of midnight, December 31,
1999.  Most of the Y2K Bugs died
without producing offspring—mutant or otherwise.  All the people with leftover bottled water will just have to save it for
next summer’s drought.

            Now that we no longer have to worry about the spread of Millennium
Madness, we gardeners can focus on the beginning of the new gardening year.  The catalogs have been arriving since before Christmas, and it is high
time to think about seed starting.  Orders
should be going in now for plants that need to be started indoors.  If you want early pansies, start them as soon as possible.  For other flowering plants, vegetables and herbs, it’s
still a good idea to order now, then sort out the planting dates when the seed
packets arrive.

            I love seed starting time because it forces me to get organized.  I am not lucky enough to have a greenhouse, so all my seed starting takes
place under lights in the cellar or on top of my microwave oven in the pantry.  And since the cellar is the least well kept part of my house, there is
lots of work to do before my seeds arrive.  I am in the process of fitting an old rolling medical supplies cart with
lights so that I can maximize the space I have for seed flats.  But before that can happen, there has to be room for the rolling cart,
which means moving the stacks of pots that are all over the place, bringing the
dormant amaryllis plants upstairs and sorting out all the seeds and supplies
left over from last spring.

            Right now I am scouting the catalogs for annuals and the few perennials
that can be started early from seed to bloom the first year.  I will think about other perennials, shrubs, roses and small trees
later—there’s still lots of time.

            Some of the choices are obvious.  ‘Sonata
White’ cosmos worked so well for me last year that I will probably order
multiple packets this year.  They
will be joined by something new—a hybrid, Cosmo sulphureous ‘Cosmic
Yellow’.  I hope that the yellow
does not scream, and that the double or semi-double blooms described in the
catalog will enhance my yellow and white border.  ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds worked hard in my garden until frost last
year.  Now I have the option of
choosing between them and another newcomer, ‘Snowball Hybrid’, which is
supposed to be an even whiter shade of pale.  Seeds are relatively inexpensive, so I will probably order one packet of
each, and then see which fares better.

            I love snapdragons, but the choices are daunting.  Should I order the ordinary white, yellow and gold ones that
worked last year, or should I be daring and get the “classic Swedish
heirloom” variety ‘Helen Weibull”?  There
are also some perennial snapdragons in one of the high-end perennial catalogs.  As I look out at my frozen garden I see that many of last year’s plants
are actually still alive.  Perhaps I will go ahead and assume that they will make it
through the winter.  Then I can
order ‘Helen Weibull’ and feel thrifty at the same time.

            Flying in the face of past failures, I will order some sweet peas.  The ‘Matucana’ variety is supposed to be at least somewhat heat
tolerant, and exceptionally fragrant.  If
it works, the maroon and blue shades of the blossoms should liven up my
daughter’s garden.

            Fragrance is important to me, so I will indulge in Nicotiana alata, which
grows to be five feet tall, flourishes in partially shaded locations and smells
like tuberose.  It will be joined by
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’), which has white blossoms
and a wonderful scent.  With luck I
will also grow a Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’ on my sunny back porch.  Also known as “Angel’s Trumpet”, this plant has large drooping
trumpet-shaped flowers.  All parts
of it are poisonous, but my daughter is old enough so that she won’t sample
the leaves, and the cats do not indulge.

            I love dried flowers in the winter, and I may try two easily preserved
varieties—Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) and Strawflowers (Helichrysum
bracheatum).  There are lots of
wonderful low-growing plants to fill up empty spaces here and there.  I like the pale yellow Prism Sunshine Hybrid petunias and Portulaca
grandiflora ‘Tropical Fruit Mix’, which boasts flowers in shades of mango,
yellow, cream and orange.  To
complement this fruit basket of portulacas I will also indulge in a packet of
the new white California Poppies (Escholzia californica ‘White Linen’.

            A rational person perusing the foregoing list might think that my seed
starting ambitions are almost certainly larger than my available seed starting
space.  However, I prefer to think
that with such space, as with time, the amount on hand seems to expand or
contract miraculously according to the amount required.  After all, it’s still early in the year.


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