A giant invasive plant known as “Millennium Madness” sprouted worldwide 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, ordinary 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 stored in their basements.
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 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 and then sort out the planting dates when the seed packets arrive.
I love seed starting because it forces me to get organized. I am not lucky enough to have a greenhouse, so all my seed starts 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 to 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.
by E Ginsburg