Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. pilosum seedlings emerging

A gardener runs the risk in long winters that the anxious sowings of January, February and March yield far more plants than s/he knows what to do with come April and May. I’m not far from these circumstances, and I still seem to be sowing. Against all advisable best practices, I’ve sowed seeds of things I don’t even intend to plant should they emerge, at least this year. What nursery will they grow in until they have a garden home? I haven’t figured that out yet. Against any wisdom I probably should have by now, I’ve sowed more seeds of certain things I intend to plant than I have room, space or energy to deal with. Every seed of Salvia azurea ‘Nekan’ appears to have germinated. Why did I sow three cells of it? The same is true of Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. pilosum, which is vigorous enough to account for any deficit of seedlings I might have had. No worry now.

I suppose I can’t entirely blame the long winter. With this new house came a finished basement, which I’ve appointed with all the trappings of an indoor seed-starting operation. I last did this when I was all of 11 or 12 years old, retrofitting basement beams and rickety tables in my parents’ rather primitive, farmhouse basement. I sowed heirloom sweet peas and morning glories, tomatoes, peppers and even tried my hand with Phlox drummondii and daylilies (from a cross I’d made the summer before). There were probably more, but these were the few sun-faded, stained packets I found tucked tucked away into a journal while unpacking boxes last week. I don’t recall much from the daylilies and phlox, but do remember some pretty spectacular showings of sweet peas and morning glories (see Ipomoea ‘Mt. Fuji Mix’). The memories of plants grown from seed linger longer for some reason.

There’s something about sowing seeds and raising plants that cultivates a deeper understanding of the subject than simply digging holes. It may not be much, admittedly, but it’s just a little more time and insight into their growth and tendencies that’s all old news by the time you find it on a bench at the garden center. It also feeds the ego of the human experience to cosset small living things which we feel emotionally invested in and watch them grow. Plus, it’s a good way to garden on the cheap or to grow exactly what you want–so often the treasures aren’t on nursery benches or in mail-order catalogs anywhere.

What else am I growing from seed? Here’s a list of highlights, most of which will end up in the Long Look Prairie or Meadow Nord:

Helianthus helianthoides var. scabra ‘Bleeding Hearts’, a new selection from Jelitto dangerously similar in name to ‘Burning Hearts’, which seems to be earning most of the commercial attention. ‘Bleeding Hearts’ offers semi-double orange flowers against purple foliage. I’m fascinated.

Stipa extremiorientalis from seed given to me by Panayoti Kelaidis. A new Stipa to me! I think it will be interesting to see how well this central Asian species fares on my clay soil with its handsome flowering display somewhere between wispy and spiky.

Asparagus verticillatus, also from Panayoti, is a hardy stalwart and climber (every family has one). The late great plantsman Harlan Hamernick popularized this plant through Bluebird Nursery for its beautiful foliage and ample autumn fruiting; totally head-turning when appropriately draped over an arbor.

Silphium albiflorum  is something I grew and flowered at the farm for awhile until it bloomed and died. I’m eager to get plants going here at Three Oaks and at Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. It’s alluring and almost hauntingly white flowers are etched in my memory.

Sanguisorba canadensis is our native North American member of the highly popular genus.  It loves wet feet, as so many do, so I’m hoping to incorporate it at the transitional edge of the prairie and the bioswale to the west.

I often get asked where I procure seeds. While I often trade seeds with other plantsmen or swap through plant society seed exchanges, here are four seedhouses I frequently patronize:

Gardens North (although 2018 will be Kristl Walek’s last year in business, unless it sells to a new owner)


J.L. Hudson

Prairie Moon Nursery