With thoughts of spring amidst the swirling snow, I am busily planting seeds. The stratified, native seeds have been brought into the warmth with the hopes that they will break dormancy and push through the soil. This year, I used the cold frames that were one of the first "shipments" we made from Mendon to ensure that I had something in which to grow plants at my new farm in NH. Due to the fact that I had no knowledge of what, if any, critters might be lurking to chomp on seeds, I used open, but closely woven trays to protect the flats set out in them. Each Friday is designated for a select group of flats to be brought inside, depending on how much cold they need. Some seeds need 4 weeks, others need 6, 8, or even 10. A couple need two years - so those will probably be relegated to the pile of forgotten flats.
Bringing them in was easy for a little while, but now I am having to use a crow bar to release them from the ice that has formed around them. I could wait until spring, but to be able to have plants of a size to sell at the plant sales, I need to figure out how to release winter's grip and get them under lights. We have had temperatures below what is normal for this time of year, so the sun is not doing its job as well is it should. The joys of trying to grow native plants. Mother Nature does it so well, and I am but a poor substitute. Right now, I have Ageratina altissima (White Snakeroot), Asclepias incarnata and A. tuberosa (Milkweeds), Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint), Althaea officinalis (Marsh-mallow), and Conoclinium coelstinum (Blue Mist flower) up and thriving. Just emerging are Campanula americana, Coreopsis lanceolata, Eupatorium seronitum, Monarda punctata and M. fistulosa, Penstemon digitalis, and YEAH! Lobelia cardinalis. I have struggled for years to grow Cardinal Flower and last year was the first success I had, and it looks like I will have some this year as well.
The past several year has had many challenges and discoveries as I transitioned to a new home after being in one place for 35 years. One of the delights being "up country" is finding some wonderful patches of native plants quite unexpectedly. One of the days I was moving stuff, I drove up the road I now live on and was overwhelmed by masses of huge bloodroot on the side of the road and into the woods. It was growing happily, I guess, in its native environment. Needless to say, I was stunned, as it took me years to develop even a small patch at my former home. I eagerly await their appearance this year. It is only for a day or two that you can view this spectacular plant in bloom.
I also happened upon the most striking patch of Cardinal Flower on a small reservoir nearby. I was looking for mushrooms (which I found) and happened to look up and see a sea of red. Almost the entire shoreline was rimmed with red. The pictures I took did not do it justice. It had to be seen to be believed. I did return in the late fall to collect some seeds. My own small pond will hopefully be a good spot to grow this gorgeous flower.
Though I am tending to grow many natives, I still love unusual herbs, and have some plants of Clary Sage, Lovage, Rue, Horehound, Costmary, Salad Burnet, and Milk Thistle, among others. Add to that the peppers and tomatoes that I need to grow, and I will soon be looking for spaces for all these plants.
Planting a seed and seeing it emerge is magical. It still thrills me, after all these years, to experience that first sliver of green break the surface of the soil. I am eager to share what I have learned with the patrons of the Richmond Library this coming Saturday. Carol Jameson and Susan Marsden - two gardeners I have met from Richmond - will be working with me on a seed starting workshop and pass on our accumulated years of plant knowledge. Here's hoping that some new converts to starting plants from seeds will blossom!
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