Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Spring Wish List: Seed Starting

Yesterday it was -16 degrees Celsius and the wind made it feel even colder. I shouldn't complain- at least we didn't get touched by any of the snow spring storms that struck the East coast of Canada. My enterprising brother in Halifax, Nova Scotia made an igloo in the backyard and he and his 4 year old son camped out for a night inside it. 

With the exception of a few stubborn patches, our snow is almost gone. The garden emerging from under the blanket of white snow looks brown and exhausted. What we need now is some warmth and a bit to rain to bring around that miraculous transformation to fresh shades of green.

To usher in the official arrival of spring, my first order of seeds arrived in the mail last week. 

Annual seedlings available at local nurseries tend to be limited to traditional favourites. Last year I found that starting my own flowers from seed opened up the possibility of growing so many more interesting and unusual types of annuals.

So... what flower seeds did I order?

I have been growing biennial foxgloves every spring for a few years now. This year I thought I'd try Sutton's Apricot which are a soft peachy-pink color.

Verbena bonariensis seeds have proved hard to find at local nurseries. So this year I mail ordered some.

In my Zone 6 garden, these are an annual, but Verbena bonariensis are a tender perennial in zones 7-10. 

Verbena bonariensis like sun and moist, well-drained soil. Sprout time: 10-30 days. Sow 6-10 weeks before planting out after frost. Plant height: 4'. Seed depth: 1/16 inch. Sprout time:10-30 days.  Sow 6-8 weeks before planting out after frost. 

I've always grown the more standard orange varieties of Calendula. These yellow Calendula from Select Seeds looked like an interesting alternative.

Calendula 'Kablouna Lemon' , calendula officinalis (annual) have a crested centre and a halo of lemon colored petals. Seed depth: 1/4 inch. Sprout time: 5-14 days.  Sow 4-6 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost or direct sow outdoors in early spring.

I also ordered these ruffled Cosmos just for a change of pace:

Cosmos 'Rose Bonbon', Cosmos bipinnatus (annual) are a compact plants with double pink cosmos. Seed depth: 1/8-1/4 inch. Sprout time: 3-10 days.  Sow 4-5 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost.

Cosmos 'Snowpuff', Cosmos bipinnatus (annual) with double white flowers. Seed depth: 1/8-1/4 inch. Sprout time: 3-10 days.  Sow 4-5 weeks indoors before planting out after last frost.

Nigella, Love-in-the-mist 'Persian Red': I grew the more common blue and white Nigella last year and thought some rose flowers might mix in nicely. Seed depth1/16 inch. Sprout time: 7-14 days. Sow direct in early spring.

Lavatera 'Pink Blush' : I thought I'd try this soft pink variety. Lavatera gets quite tall ( 2.5-3 ft) and fairly bushy. It likes sun and lots of water. Lavatera is best planted in rich, well-drained soil. Seed depth:1/16 inch. Sprout time:10-40 days. Sow indoors 6-10 weeks before planting out after frost.

Have you noticed? Frilly flowers seems to be a recurring theme in my seed choices. 

I've always loved double poppies, so I picked up some Peony Poppy seeds from Floribunda Seeds when I was at Canada Blooms. Seed depth:1/16 inch. Sow directly in early spring. Poppies don't like to be transplanted. Full sun. 

If you like the shaggy lilac colored poppies (seen above) that I photographed in Joe's garden here is a link to similar poppies offered by Select Seeds.

Even though they are reputed to be prolific self-seeders, I want to try my hand at growing annual Candytuft. 

Annual Candytuft, Iberis Umbellata: Height 30-40 cm. Full sun. Flowers range from white to pink and mauve. These plants are taller and less compact to their more familiar white flowering perennial cousins.

Here are a few seed starting basics (lessons I've learned the hard way!):

Read the information on the back of your seed packets as soon as you get them so you can plan properly. For example, some seeds need a period of cold to germinate. It will be a little late to discover this important information like this later in the spring when the weather is already warm.

Pay heed to planting depths: Remember you are not burying treasure, you are sowing seed. Each seed type will have a recommended planting depth. Some seeds, like the foxgloves I ordered, are teeny-tiny and should be sown directly onto the surface of the soil. On the other hand, the Lavatera I will be planting needs to be planted at a depth of 1/4", while the love-in-the Mist needs a depth of 1/16" of an inch.

Sow your seed thinly: I have a bad habit of over sowing and that only produces weak, spindly seedlings. Try to sow thinly, and if like me you tend to get carried away, thin out the seedlings to give them room and better air circulation.

Annual Rubeckia I grew last year from seed

Some types of annuals hate to be moved: Last year I planted sunflowers and rudbeckia in a nursery bed with the grand plan to move them into their final positions in the garden when they got big enough. 
But when they were transplanted, the sunflowers and rudbeckia wilted immediately, and though they eventually recovered, they sulked for days. I am thinking of starting them in plug trays, where I figure I have a greater chance of creating firm root ball that will make transplanting less stressful for the young plants. Perhaps you have a better method?

I am looking forward to getting my seeds started. Now if only the weather would co-operate!


  1. Some lovely seed choices ! Sutton's 'Apricot' is a lovely subtle colour, and foxgloves are refreshingly easy to grow. You are growing 2 interesting varieties of Cosmos, I will be interested to know how they they perform for you. I love cosmos and grow them every year, this year I am growing a dwarf form as well as the taller ones, but both are singles. I am growing 'Tithonia' for the first time so I am interested to see how they turn out. Growing seeds is such a satisfying part of gardening. Good luck with them all!

  2. Such a great selection of seeds Jennifer! I would really love to get some foxgloves in my garden this year! And cosmos as well! Such pretty eggs as well! Wishing you a great weekend! Nicole xoxo

    1. I really, really need to get my seeds started. Last year I dithered around and waited too long. Absolutely love your foxglove photos. One of my very favorite flowers. My local nursery usually has one year plants so I hope to get a few. I agree with you on double and very full flowers. Can never be too full.

  3. Good choice! Love Rubeckia and cosmos as well. I sow them directly in soil although their blooming is a bit later.
    I hope weather will be nice very soon, Jennifer.

  4. Your photos are lovely Jennifer and all the purples and pinks will really look nice in the garden. I hope your weather warms soon. We are about three weeks behind schedule here as well, so I am hoping that the summer will extend longer into October like it did last year. Enjoy starting your seeds!

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    I have not found that annual candytuft selfseeds in our garden (and the seeds are strangely difficult to find - perhaps it is not a popular flower just now). However Verbena bonariensis does self seed a lot and there are even a few that make it over the winter (because of our very reliable snow cover ???). I tried the double cosmos last summer and they were quite successful. I was afraid they might be too top heavy but they were not.
    I never have much luck with annual digitalis. The perennial ones grow fine but the purpureas do not seem to like the garden which is probably too alkaline for their taste. I still seed them regularly but with poor results. Good luck with all these.

  6. -16 degrees Celsius ! Brrrr ......

    Your choice of seeds look and sound great ... I always love the pinks and purples shades, but we are so fortunate to have a wide choice.

    Your photo's are always lovely, thanks.

    All the best Jan

  7. Wow such beautiful flowers, it sure is exciting !! I am hoping your weather improves big time soon. I have a sister in Ottawa she's not too happy! I really need to start using seeds. I have been out in my garden and I decided some things just gotta go! Time for a rethink. The problem here is heat and more heat and dry conditions but I still love the look of a full lush garden- like yours!!

  8. I love your seed choices; beautiful! Here's hoping you get warmer weather soon.

  9. I didn't even get beyond the Verbena...before starting a seed must have list. That Cosmos is stunning....

    I had found a 4 inch pot of Verbena B. a few years ago...of course with our zone5 it didn't overwinter...but mid summer last year...a entire beautiful parade of them popped up in July. I was and am delighted...and hope that they will volunteer again. They are the most stunning flowers swaying in the heat. Perfect for up here.


  10. Getting ready to plant seeds this upcoming week, too. I love your selections, very, very pretty! I'm not adventuring too much this year beyond some bizarre nasturtiums and a marigold I've never seen before, oh, and Orange petunias? We'll see how it goes. :-)

  11. I love your photos so much, Jennifer. And such pretty cottage flowers. The only one I grow from seed is the Nigella that I also sow directly. But hardly ever because most years it self seeds. Anyway that combo will look amazing in your garden - I look forward to seeing it. I would love to spend a night in an igloo!

  12. Oh how I love Nigella! I haven't grown it in a long time - now you've got me thinking!! Lovely eggs too - happy Sunday!

  13. Lots of prettiness there - good luck with it all! :-)

  14. I do love foxgloves, I sowed them from seed once and they have self-seeded ever since.I haven't seen the ruffled cosmos before, how pretty, yes....there certainly is a ruffled theme going on! I love your choices, here's to your weather improving now! I shall look forward to seeing all these growing!xxx

  15. Oh I love your choices and the ruffled flowers Jennifer...spring is slow and about 90% of the snow is till remaining but there are some warm days predicted later this week so I think I will see more than half of it melt soon.

  16. Jennifer, these photographs are just gorgeous!
    I especially love the first one.
    Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.

  17. Oh how fun! That verbena reseeds like crazy in my yard. I bought it once years ago and have dozens every spring. This year several of them actually wintered over. I love it.
    Those frilly cosmos and poppies are going to be gorgeous!


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