Zinnia mania

If I am obsessed with tomatoes, the Brit is mad for zinnias. After growing a few from seed last year, we have moved into full-scale production this month. The flat (72 plugs, filled with Burpee seeds bought last year or maybe for 10 cents a pack at the end of 2007) that we started 10 days ago has germinated nicely on the heat mat and has been moved to stage two, or 16 hours under the grow lights daily. Wonder what colors we’ll have?
We’ve just planted 3/4 of another flat of seeds using Valueseeds. This variety is called Pulcino, about a foot tall, and the color is mixed. All should be ready to go outdoors in mid-May, when the danger of frost has passed.
Also planted tonight were dwarf white nicotiana, nicotiana tinkerbell and flambe salmon petunia, also from Valueseeds. I admit I was disappointed in those packs. At least one should have had 100 seeds in it. If there were that many, there were microscopic. We have three plugs apiece of the nicotiana and two of the petunias.
We planted another flat of seeds 10 days ago (including three tomatoes … aiming for big rootballs and early tomatoes). The basement is definitely turning into an ersatz greenhouse.

one of last year's zinnias, grown from seed
one of last year's zinnias, grown from seed


Today was warm and sunny, so we decided to do a little winter clean-up in the yard. As usual, one thing led to another, and I decided to clean a bit of what I want to keep as a woodland path. One section has plenty of these horrible briars alongside it. They are thorny like roses but clearly not, since the deer don’t touch them. Whack, whack with those loppers! It will be a constant battle…
But when he decided to go to the river behind our property, I suggested we hack away at the briars blocking the way and create a proper path. Fortunately, we didn’t have to clear the entire route. It quickly opened up to a grassy, marshy area that is still half-frozen (but will soon be mud) that leads to the river. In more than three years, I had never been back there. We could hear the water moving. A bit further east, geese were in the water. Perfect for birdwatching when it is dry. And maybe it is at the peak of summer. I know one thing: this is not the route to take to launch a kayak!

the river behind our property
the river behind our property
more of the river
more of the river

I’m in trouble

Our 2007 tomato jungle
Our 2007 tomato jungle

I said I would restrain myself on tomatoes. (And yes, I said it last year too. It’s an ongoing struggle.) So I thought five varieties, just two plants apiece. Only I still have seeds from five packets (the initial lack of restraint, which goes back a few years), and I’ve just ordered another variety, which makes six. I saved seeds from two varieties last fall as an experiment, so that’s eight (not that I’m wedded to ‘mystery red’). And a colleague in Chicago sent me seeds she’d saved from two other varieties. I’m already up to 10, and that’s before Tomatomania, or a trip to Maine that would include a side trip to Green Mountain Transplants for a few heirlooms at 55 cents apiece, or something I might see at the Farmers Market. Yes, I’m in trouble.

Planting just one of each seems … well, impossible. Noah’s Ark it must be. Two by two, and two beds for sure. Good thing he’s promised that new bed. The 10-footer could take 10, the eight-footer could take eight and ‘mystery red’ may have to wait a year. As for the Ramapos we may start for a friend .. need to think about if I could ask for one and where I could squeeze it in. One set of seeds is an early version, determinate and could grow in a pot if necessary. Hmm.

If any volunteers spring up from tomatoes that rotted in the beds or the compost, someone else will have to do the killing.

Next: do I skip Tomatomania?

Looking hard for inspiration

We went to the New Jersey Flower Show last night. I have to say I’m glad it was ‘date night’ (two-for-one tickets) because I found the show gardens sorely lacking, even for my untrained eye. Lots of bright yellow daffodils  (why couldn’t they have used some unusual varieties?), bright red tulips (I thought I loved red tulips but this was too much, and again, how about something a bit different?), purple hyacinth … you get the idea. I felt it could have been a Home Depot display, not something a landscaper wants to charge you lots of money to do. (The Brit says I’m a bit unfair and the displays come down to economics, especially in this economy.)

The witch hazel in the Eastern Trajectory display looked funky and offers winter appeal (assuming that was the winter look), and I could see it as a shrub in the yard (what a concession!), but now I want to know why Ken Druse said it’s ugly for a lot of the year. Can it work as a backdrop in a flower bed, or does it need to go in the back somewhere?

Another discovery: I like lime-green mums/daisy-like flowers.

The ‘stroll’ with Ken Druse was one of the highlights. He was supposed to talk plants as he walked through the show gardens, but he clearly didn’t think much of them and didn’t want to say anything bad while in them. And the organizers didn’t provide any kind of microphone. So there were fewer than a dozen of us, and he just answered questions. It didn’t seem like the place to sell a lot of books.

Speaking of vendors … quite a few junky ones that had nothing to do with the garden, or outdoors. I think the sheet vendor rated highest there. But we bought some foxtail lily rhizomes, figuring they will add interesting spikes in July/August, multiply fairly quickly and should be deer-resistant, and a bike planter. Yes, it’s kitschy but it hopefully will be fun worked into the plants, rather than plopped in the middle of the yard.

Bottom line: once might have been enough. But do I want to brave the madhouse that is Philadelphia?

Seeds, glorious seeds

It’s Groundhog Day and no matter whether you believe all that about the shadow, it really is six weeks or so until the first official day of spring. (For the record, no sign of that fat groundhog living under our deck.) And while I promised I would hold back on seeds this year and buy only what is absolutely necessary (so probably nothing), my resolve went out the window when I came across a bookmark I created a few years ago to www.valueseeds.com. Only 99 cents! Flat $1.99 shipping! And once I started looking, I was lost.

This obviously doesn’t have the variety and depth of the Burpee catalogue, but striped beets? Arugula — need that. Can’t have enough coriander either. Rainbow chard caught my eye too late last year, and I still have regular chard seeds. But at 99 cents? And despite those plans for Tomatomania, why not start yet another variety from seed? If Marmande is from the South of France and has a very rich flavor, how can I resist Super Marmande? (I might not need Tomatomania after all! Or I might concede I need a second tomato bed, given that I probably already am pretty close to limiting myself to just  two plants apiece of five varieties. Though there is that stulpice heirloom I’d like. And what was that other one? Stay tuned. Last year I swore I would restrain myself and I still ended up with about 20 plants, some of which were volunteers that I couldn’t bear to kill. )

These were just the vegetables. It looks like the wackier flowers are gone (that may be a good thing), but there’s nicotiina, knautia, maybe my excuse for hollyhocks against the garage? After a few searches for information on some of these plants,  I’m guessing that this is the discount arm of Thompson-Morgan that sells the leftovers. But at 99 cents, I’ll take a risk on old seeds. They can’t be any older than the ones in my basement.

OK, OK. Maybe I should start planning what goes where first.  This is starting to feel like a kid whose eyes are bigger than his stomach.