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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label seed starting. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label seed starting. Show all posts

      Monday, July 15, 2013


      Above, 'Summer Splash Marigolds' with lantana on my 18th story roof garden.
      It's not yet mid-July but the Marigolds I started on my condo windowsill at the end of March are in full bloom. The color in the garden against the cold grey pavers and steely containers makes me happy. I was even happier when I saw a bee buzzing around them, and I'm trying to remain patient until my first butterfly sighting.
      One pack of seeds, only $2.79 from Renee's garden seeds* has given me 20 plants to spread around in multiple containers, and I have about 3/4 of the seed pack left. They'll probably still be viable next year if I store them in a cool, dry spot. The lantana cost me about $18 for a tray of 12 small plants at wholesale. Compare for cost, but that's only one reason to plant seed. You get a vast array of varieties and color choices and the genuine thrill of starting new life.

      I start seeds in commercial kits made for the job,
      In juice or milk cartons,
      cardboard egg cartons, and yes, even recycled plastic flower pots, that I've cleaned impeccably before reusing.
      Regular GardenBytes reader BFF Nana sent me an email with this news:
      "There was an article in today’s Boston Globe West section about the Concord (Mass.) Library that 'lends' packets of vegetable seeds and patrons give back from their harvest.  Cute idea! You 'borrow' seeds at the beginning of the season and bring back more at the end."
      Yet another great way of to share your garden, (see blog post below this.)
      My 'Summer Splash' marigolds are a cross between African and French types, (Tagetes patula x erecta) very bushy without pruning. Renee has kindly offered to send a complimentary pack of these marigolds to the first four Gardenbytes readers who email me with your name and address.

      *As a garden writer, I get free seeds from most seed companies upon request. I particularly love Renee's because of the varieties offered and the huge about of information on the seed pack . 

      Friday, March 29, 2013


      Dear friend Diana from Wales U.K. writes, "Has spring arrived in New York? We (and the plants) are still freezing and the wind is from Russia!! Certainly we normally have some green shoots by now but this year is horrendous and the temperatures are still around freezing. Not so good for the garden, everything is stuck waiting for the soil to warm up."
      Yes Diana, it's spring here, even if I have to use my close-up lens to find it. Above, some early Euphorbia, the only plant in full bloom on my roof garden.
      Tulips making an appearance, though the poppy seeds I planted in this container last week are still in hiding.
      Fat leaf buds on the hydrangea,
      Fat flower buds on the quince,
      If I lie down at set my camera 6" away, I can see the buds of grape hyacinth planted last fall in tree pits in front of my building.
      Upstairs on my south-facing office windowsill, seeds of 'Super Bush' tomato, basil 'Profumo di Genova' and Portulaca 'Pastel Sundial' give me real hope for warmer weather. The basil shoots already have a strong flavor, and as I thin them in the container, I'll use the sprouts for dinner recipes.
       Since I need some immediate bloom, my corner grocery store provides me with yellow tulips to mix with some rhea eggs I've saved for years.

      Monday, December 10, 2012

      FLAVOR WINNER 2012

      Wasabi Arugula (Diplotaxis erucoides) received the most acclaim from family and friends of any herb, any plant I grew this year and was entirely new to me.  I got a freebie packet of seeds, sent by Renee's Garden and in my careless way, I practically threw it in a container with a row of Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena). I've grown the  Nigella for years; it's an herb that's beautiful in both the flower and pod stages, with tasty little black seeds. The Wasabi Arugula isn't pretty in any stage, but is stunning in taste, with a spicy flavor highly reminiscent of wasabi paste that come in a little green mound with your sushi platter.
      From that one pack of seeds I got my first pickings in about 5 weeks, continued to pick all summer, but left some to reseed itself, my favorite gardening activity. Treat the leaves and tiny white flowers as an herb for adding flavor to something else, not as the major part of the salad. Add a few leaves to any meat or cheese sandwich, dressing, or sauce for a zap of flavor. For poached salmon last summer, I made an oh-so-difficult dressing of plain yogurt and chopped Wasabi Arugula leaves.
      It's now December 10th and I picked some for Charlie T. just yesterday, the perfect Hanukkah gift for this fine cook. I'm hoping to have a few fresh leaves all winter, as the packet says "frost hardy". I expect a crop in spring from the dropped seeds, though I've already gotten a new pack of seeds for insurance.
      An advantage of this herb in city gardens is that it will grow in full sun or "partial afternoon shade"; that means for many of us that when shadows of a tall buildings start to hit our herb garden this plant will still thrive. If you cut more than you need for a meal, store the stems up to a week in a glass of water and keep cool.

      Tuesday, May 1, 2012


      In the easy and efficient Burpee Greenhouse Kit I planted seeds of Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and Moon flower vine, imagining how stunning they would be in my roof garden. Splashes of brilliant orange in 15 containers, huge white flowers unfurling at dusk and climbing up the fences.

      Using the little peat pellets included in the kit as my growing medium and adding liquid organic fertilizer at half strength after 2 pairs of real leaves appeared, the seedlings flourished.

      Although I had warned gardening clients and friends not to be fooled by our Mid-march summer, I had the nerve, the gall, the chutzpah, to think I would be immune. So I put the tray on the roof, in a 'protected' location to harden off for transplanting. That was one and a half weeks ago. The garden gods punished my hubris, not with frost but 39 degree weather and strong winds.
      Now I have this... back inside and trying to survive. Instead of 36 strong and healthy plants, I my be able to salvage five puny ones.
      Have I learned my lesson? I'm ashamed to say, probably not.

      Thursday, February 16, 2012

      ART, SEEDS and DRINK

      Plant-o-Rama at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the midwinter extravaganza for serious gardeners. This year I had the pleasure of meeting folks from The Hudson Valley Seed library. Initially attracted by the art on their seed packs, I met Doug Muller who with Ken Greene is the force behind the program. I heard their story and was delighted to know that they'll have an Art Exhibit at the Hort. Society of NY, with the opening reception this Friday 2/17 from 6-8 PM. The exhibit itself runs until March 2, 2012 with a pop-up shop to buy the seeds.
      Hudson Valley Seed Library grows, collects, and sells over 200 varieties of heirloom flower, herb, and vegetable seeds in packs decorated by artists submitting to an annual competition.The seeds are open-pollinated, no hybrids or genetically modified seeds, saved by members of the Seed Library. To join the on-line community, see the catalog, and learn more about planting and saving seeds, visit seedlibrary.org.For more information on the gallery opening and buying seeds locally, visit the Hort. Society of NY.

      Saturday, February 11, 2012


      On May 30, 2011, I had the pleasure of cutting some small leaves for a salad. I enjoyed the irony of 'Wine Country Mesclun' advertised as "straight from the Napa Valley" growing in a container on my roof in Manhattan. I once lived in California 30 miles from the Napa Valley and I know that Third Ave. it ain't.
      That same spring I planted 'Monet's Garden Mesclun' from seeds I'd also been given to try by Renee's Garden Seeds.I don't use any dressing on my salads so I taste the flavor of the pure ingredients. Both of these mescluns were DELICIOUS and ridiculously easy to grow by just broadcasting seeds in containers and covering with 1/4 in. of soil.
      By mid-summer, the lettuces had gone to seed, as they do in full sun and high heat.
      Partly because I'm the laziest gardener extant, partly because I'm thrilled with nature's ability to replant without needing a gardener, I left the old stalks where they were. Ugly, right?By Sept. 30 new seedlings had emerged from the soil and I had visions of a second crop before winter. But these guys didn't seem to grow, just muddled along though the holiday season and our extraordinarily warm winter. Today in a light dusting of snow they're slightly bigger, and I hope to have a harvest in March.I keep watching; better than a Broadway show. Of course not so beautiful as lettuces in the Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden at the NYBG, laid out in neat rows, but MINE, ALL MINE. (O.K., not all mine, I must share with others in the building, but you know what I mean.)
      This season I'll be trying Renee's Wasabi Arugula for it's spicy leaves and edible white blossoms. Visit: Reneesgarden.com for their selection of 20 lettuce varieties with planting instructions for each.

      Friday, June 10, 2011


      (above, one pack of bachelor button 'Blue Boy' sown in 2006)
      Here in NYC of course we recycle paper, plastic, metal, the usual stuff: garbage to the compost, good clothing to one of the many worthy thrift shops, books to the library for their sale. But the ultimate form of recycling happens on my roof top with little help from me.
      Annuals that I've started from seed, resow themselves for the following year: Among the herbs, new dill, cilantro, calendula, viola and bronze fennel will sometimes emerge even in the same growing season. The flowers are well represented by bachelor buttons from the mother plants at top that show up here, and here
      and here.as do portulaca, California poppies, spider plant (Cleome), and cosmos. I got a particular thrill this year when, in the space occupied by the only hydrangea that died over the winter, emerged a plethora of cosmos seedlings, enough to dig a few and plant in other in other bare spots around the garden. I've had second and third generations of larkspur and love-in a mist (Nigella damascene) as well.
      Perennials also blow their seeds around the garden. Clematis found a home in the pot of black bamboo and in spring climb so rampantly that they cover the bamboo. Goldenrod, and blackeyed Susans are not weeds to me as they move from pot to pot on the wings of a slight breeze. I'm actually thrilled when I spy something in a new location and try to plot the path of the wind. I love to see seedlings pop up between pavers though I suspect it may not be the best for the roof membrane.This year I'm coddling two tiny seedlings that might be scions of my coral bark Japanese maple. (above) If they prove to be so, I'll buy new big containers and settle them in for a lifetime above 3rd. Avenue.
      The Dilemma
      Deadheading usually spurs the growth of both annuals and perennials. It's a task I thoroughly enjoy, the kind of mindless garden activity that's both productive and relaxing. My new spectacular lupines come with the instructions to cut off spent flower stems before the seedpods form. But if I do, they won't be able to seed themselves, as lupine are prone to do. Bigger, stronger mother plant, or potential babies? That is the question.

      Wednesday, March 2, 2011


      On Feb. 18th, 2011 in NYC, it's too early for the 'onion snow', but snow it does, AGAIN. On my rooftop, remnants of last fall's decorations are partially buried.

      Indoors, my zinnia seedlings started on 1/23 in their Burpee Greenhouse have sprouted 3 sets of leaves, just the stage to nip off the newest set to encourage branching.
      Chive seedlings also look and smell encouraging.

      By Feb. 23 the snow has mostly melted. In Central Park I spy hellebore buds.

      And on my roof garden, these thrilling signs:

      Self-sown seedlings of bachelor button 'Blue Boy' magically appear in my containers. (O.K., had some planted there last year). They'll be the first annual to bloom in my garden, distributed to many containers by the wind and by my deadheading and leaving the spent flowers in the pot.

      Some euphorbia whose name is long gone from my memory are in full bud.

      A new hellebore I was sent to try last fall is actually in full bloom, although a little ragged. It's 'Hellebore Gold Collection Cinnamon Snow' and a very welcome sight despite that ungainly name.

      Thursday, January 27, 2011


      The glum view from my office window this a.m. is anything but springy. But on my sill, Giant Zinnia seeds, planted 4 days ago, are sprouting in their 36 cell Burpee Greenhouse Kit. Next to the greenhouse, for comparison, a recycled salad container, covered with plastic wrap containing chive seeds.(above, greenhouse top removed for photo)
      Burpee is sponsoring Ellen and my class in seed-starting on 3/28 and I wanted to try their system as I'm more frequently using something like this...which works fine but I must punch drainage holes in the bottom and steal a tray from my toaster-oven to catch the runoff. Also I need fresh seed starting soil-less mix and last Sunday when I wanted to plant, my only bag of mix was behind the frozen doors of my rooftop shed. I actually recycled some used mix I had in the apartment for the chives (BAD GIRL!), because I'm lazy and the Jets were playing the Steelers in the AFC final.

      I've never used anything as complete as the Burpee Greenhouse Kit with the bottom watering try, seed tray, germination cover, plant marker and growing cubes (which are compressed round pellets until reconstituted with water). I was a little skeptical about the need, but I was ecstatic to have it ready to go with everything complete, instead of running around the city gathering supplies, and I'm thrilled with the speed of germination.

      Below, Burpee's lavender, Lavandula 'Lavender Lady' grown from seed at my flower & herb farm. I learned that even when my seedlings don't look like the picture books, they'll catch up and be successful.

      Wednesday, July 21, 2010


      Somewhere in my wanderings last year I acquired a free pack of 'Giant Double' Mixed Zinnias seeds, offered by the Home Gardening Seed Association. Who even knew there was such an association, but the flowers they list as easiest to grow from seed are Cosmos, Sunflowers and Zinnias. To that list I'd add among the annuals, Marigolds, Cornflowers, Larkspur, Calendula, and Cock's comb; and among the perennials, Globe thistle, Yarrow, Lavender, and Globe centaurea.
      Starting late March my office windowsill was filled with seed starts, some old favorites like the Zinnias and some new ones like Cerinthe and a biennial hollyhock. Also new for me were recycled containers: a pineapple juice carton with the side cut off, several cardboard egg crates, and the plastic pots that came with my spring pansies.
      I used to buy trays with plastic liners each winter, but no more. I do however use new, sterile seed starting soil-less mix. After careful watering, turning the trays daily to capture the light, feeding with an organic liquid fertilizer, and nipping the growing tips of the Zinnias, by early May the seedlings were ready to go outside for hardening off in a sheltered location behind two huge pots. The egg cartons were holding, up but dried out quickly, wicking moisture away from roots. At this stage I watered from the bottom, wondering if my nice jelly-roll pan would ever be usable again.
      I planted California poppies (here with Cinquefoil), Bachelor buttons, and Calendula directly where they were to grow since they like to get a cool weather start (late March). A little later, the bush morning glory seeds went in among some roses and by July 1 they were in full bloom, just when the poppies and Bachelor buttons were going to seed. This true blue variety, a gift from Renee's Garden seeds, is Covolvulus tricolor 'Royal Ensign'I'm not as impatient for cosmos, so I strewed some seeds at the base of tomato starts. When the seedlings looked strong and healthy, I distributed them into flower containers around the roof

      Above, more Zinnias grown in egg cartons. It's amazing what a bang you can get from half a pack of seeds. I'm saving the other half for next year. And below, more poppies from Renee's. Look carefully to see the long thin seed pods. I'm hoping the seeds will distribute themselves all over my garden and bloom in glory next year.

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