I have given up indoor seed starting completely on
several occasions. The first time it happpened I was a novice
gardener. I had ordered seeds of just about every plant that
I saw in the garden catalogs without thinking about such practical
things as gallons of potting soil, hours of daily watering,
and square feet of windowsill space. It also did not occur
to me to determine whether or not I had room in my garden
for even a fraction of my seedlings. My chaotic efforts eventually
produced some wonderful plants, but the process was so exhausting
that I said “Never again.”
After that I made some half hearted attempts at seed
starting, but it always seemed as if I got my seeds in too
late, or forgot that I wanted to take a long weekend at a
crucial time in the life of my young green charges. My seed
starting still resulted in a measure of success, but not enough,
it seemed to me, to make the heartburn worthwhile.
But life and gardening ideas evolve. For the past two
years I have been very selective about the seeds that I start
indoors. When I open the catalogs I steel myself, and try
to remember how it feels to thin hundreds of seedlings with
a pair of nail scissors. With that in mind, I select just
a few varieties that I am sure I will not be able to get in
the garden centers. I buy in quantities that I know I can
accommodate the top of the microwave, which is the optimum
seed starting area in my house
This strategy has proven very successful. Last year it worked
so well that I had enough white cosmos seedlings to give to
a neighbor. My ‘Moonlight’ nasturtiums were an absolute triumph,
and my ‘White Linen’ California poppies grew like wildfire.
Now I am finally ready to take on pansies.
I have always loved pansies, and that is the problem. My
unbridled affection makes me want to have masses of them in
the garden. The kind of masses that require hundreds of plants.
The kind of masses that also require hundreds of dollars of
expenditures at the garden center. Even in my pansy-besotted
state I know that it is no good to have masses of pansies
if you are also going to lose your house because you bought
pansies instead of making mortgage payments. Therefore, in
the interest of mental and financial wellbeing, it behooves
me to tame my expectations and start some pansies from seed.
The Thompson & Morgan seed catalog (call 800/274-7333
for a catalog, or access the T&M website at www.thompson-morgan.com)
is at once a great and a terrible place to start the process
of seed selection. There are 35 separate cultivars and seed
mixes listed in the pansy category, and lots more under “Violas”.
Most of the pansies are cultivars of one hybrid, Pansy x wittrockiana.
Within that category are traditional types like ‘Universal
Mixed’, with the distinctly blotched petals that pansy fanciers
call “faces”. There are also pansies in single colors, like
the screaming orange ‘Padparadja’, the velvety ‘Bingo Deep
Purple’, or the sunny ‘Clear Sky Primrose’. For those into
the fashionable black flower craze, T&M has a new hybrid
this year, ‘Blackmoon’, that is as close to black as you are
ever going to find. If you saved some seed until summer, you
could raise a bed full of “Padparadja’ and ‘Blackmoon’ for
a lovely Halloween garden display.
Of course hybridizers can never resist taking a good flower
and doubling it, and the people who work with pansies are
no exception. ‘Can Can Mixed’ is an assortment that the catalog
copywriter describes as producing “dazzling frilly blooms”.
“Dizzying frilly blooms” seems more appropriate, as the multi-colored
blossoms look a bit like overblown rhododendron flowers. For
my money, a mass planting of ‘Can Can Mixed’ looks rather
like a really colorful hallucination, but to each his own.
With such an array of choices, it seems wise to choose some
guiding principals. I chose color. I really like ‘Springtime
Lemon Splash’, which sounds as if it should be a cologne,
but is actually a pale yellow cultivar with a dark purple
face. I may combine them in containers with ‘Maxim Marina’,
which come in shades of purple, with very pronounced purple
and white markings.
For novelty’s sake, I am also ordering ‘Bronze Tones’, a
cultivar that I spotted in the wonderful Select Seeds catalog
(call 860/684-9310 or access the Select Seeds website at www.selectseeds.com).
These are arrayed in shades of antique gold, bronzes and browns,
and would look equally lovely in the spring, or, with appropriate
pruning and summer care, in the fall. In fact, I am so enamored
of ‘Bronze Tones’, that I just might forgo my orange and black
Halloween pansy bed, and install them instead.