Grown from seed

Sunday, 03 November 2013

Atriplex hortensis var. rubra, grown from seed

Although at one stage I was mesmerised by growing plants from seed (much of it from overseas), I now have very few specimens in my garden to show for this passion. Many of the seeds failed to come up; of those that did, many were English-style perennials that flourished for a while and then just faded away like so many of such plants that aren't very suited to our climate. Some were annuals, which flowered in their season and then were never seen again. Despite having little to show for my efforts, I still recall the fascination of watching seedlings come up, how I potted them on into progressively larger homes and fondly monitored their progress. They seemed almost like children, and I retain a maternal interest in those few remaining stalwarts in my garden that arrived here as mere dust-dry particles in a paper packet.

Dietes robinsoniana

This October, two of my progeny flowered for the first time ever. In one case, the seed was planted almost 20 years ago, so it was very exciting to see two sculptural scapes of buds on my clump of Dietes robinsoniana (ht 1-1.5 m; the Lord Howe Island wedding lily), which I received from the UK Royal Horticultural Society seed exchange. It is only found naturally in margins of forest on Lord Howe Island and is a member of the Iridaceae family. Its leaves are much broader and taller, and the clump more statuesque than the common-and-garden Dietes grandiflora that is used (especially by me) as a plant for spots where very little else will thrive. My clump grew well over the 20 years, but never showed any inclination to flower until this spring. The lovely white, satiny flowers are large (about 7 cm wide) and have a yellow centre. Each bloom lasts but a day but each morning another group opens, and it has been flowering for at least a month now. The plant requires well-drained moist soils in sun or part shade and should be protected from frost.

Hippeastrum cultivar grown from seed

The other bulb that surprised me with its first-ever flower last month was a brilliant red Hippeastrum hybrid: I grew it from seed given to me by a friend about three years ago. I think the seeds were from a pink-flowered specimen, but as with much seed-raising of cultivars and hybrids, the offspring can vary enormously in colour. I was thrilled with the huge red trumpets on my plant and am planning to move it to a better position for next year's display.

Geranium oxonianum Walters Gift

A perennial that I have had for about 15 years is Geranium oxonianum 'Walter's Gift'. Again this came from the Royal Horticultural Society and is one of the few true Geranium plants that I have been able to retain in my garden. It has attractive burgundy-marked leaves and netted pale mauve-pink flowers in September and October. I am not sure if my version is the exactly same as the true cultivar - because of the variation that can occur with named plants like these, but I nurture it as one of my plant 'children'. It self-sows freely, and usually other gardeners are pleased to take one of the seedlings home.

Melianthus major

I also grew my Melianthus major from seed from the same source, and it is a plant that I enjoy every year. It is a shrubby perennial that I cut back to the ground in late winter. Over spring and summer, it grows stunning blue-green foliage that is comprised of long leaflets that look like that have been cut with pinking shears. It is an excellent background plant for semitropical borders. It does have a strange orange-red flower if left unpruned, but I have never thought it attractive and by the time it appears, the plant can look extremely scruffy. The leaves (when touched) have a strangely peanut-buttery smell, which is rather unpleasant.

Orlaya grandiflora

Another plant I grew from seed that is flowering now is the annual I know as Orlaya grandiflora (though this name may not be correct), a beautiful Mediterranean plant that has lacy white flowers. It belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants and is like a compact version of Queen Anne's Lace. It was given to me in the 1990s, when it was passed from gardener to gardener. It comes up ever year from seed and looks pretty growing amongst spring shrubs, roses and perennials. I usually let some of the plants go to seed and shake the seeds around once the seed pods have matured. Another self-sowing annual I started from seed was the burgundy-leaved Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (pictured at the start of the blog), which winds in and out of my Salvia and Dahlia plants and has an amazingly decorative seed head, comprised of clusters of shimmering red-purple sequins.

Although I have not tried to do so in recent times, it seems harder to import seeds these days, but there are lots of seeds available locally for those who wish to give it a go. My efforts lately are generally focused on growing a few unusual herbs and annuals from seed: I have recently germinated seeds of a giant form of basil known as 'Valentino', and a Mediterranean perennial herb called za'atar (Origanum syriacum) that is said to have the flavour of sweet majoram, thyme and oregano combined. The za'atar mixtures available commercially for cooking are usually a mixture of dried herbs and sesame seeds, so I will be interested to see how my za'atar plant compares to this. I also have plans to sow Mr Fothergill's 'Harlequin' carrots, parsley root (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum, with leaves of parsley and a root like a parsnip) and pal choi. Some of these seeds are embedded in seed tape for easier sowing.