Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Fall and Two Plants for Late Season Blooms

Anemone hupehensis
I love the changing seasons.  Coming from northern Italy I remember clearly when we started wearing sweaters, it felt good after the hot and humid Venetian summer.  Where I live now we wear sweaters all year due to the fog, so I can't tell from the cold that the Fall is now on us.  Many people think that there are no seasons in California, but it is so not true, my garden looks more and more brown everyday, and few annual plants stopped flowering in spots where the sun doesn't reach anymore.  I started pulling some of the string bean plants and bought many winter veggie seedlings.

Nothing says it more than Fall is here than the Japanese anemone, or Anemone hupehensis.   After planting two plants I realized how invasive this plant is, but I decided to keep it because the flowers are so elegant and it eases the season transition with its beautiful flowers.

One thing I will miss during the upcoming months are the flowers I can pick fresh from my garden.  I am hoping for few more weeks of bloom and then it will be all over until March or April.

By far the plant in my garden with the longest blooming is the Mexican Sage, or Salvia leucanthaThe bees are still buzzing around it, and I expect at least another month or two of blooms.  This plant can send underground runners too so it has to be kept in check every few years, however it has virtually no pests and it attracts insect pollinators and hummingbirds love it as well.

Mexican sage in the background

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Collecting Seeds

My garden started looking a little unkept, leaves are turning brown, annual plants are dying, but as this is part of the cycle of life I am looking forward to a new season and get busy collecting seeds for next year's garden.

Seed collecting has been a passion of mine for some time, as far as I can remember actually.  It is the cheapest way to propagate and share plants, and to add to my plant collection.   When I see a flower head full of seeds I can't help it and bring some home.

Seed saving has been done since men discovered agriculture.  We call ourselves Homo sapiens, but we lost 93% of the crop varieties in just 80 years due to poor agricultural practices.  I am glad to see companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds prosper.

It is true that some plants hybridize easily so if you collect the seeds you don't necessarily end up with the same flower color, but that could be the fun part.

Dead heading flowers channels the energy of the plant to produce new flowers instead of developing seeds, so it is a good practice in the garden.  However, towards the end of a plant life, and especially in the Fall, it is a good idea to let some flower heads fully develop seeds to collect them for next year planting.

Black eye susan

Birds, a key asset to any healthy gardens, need seeds to survive the winter so I let my sunflower heads on the plant and sometimes I get a nice surprise and see some cool action.

Seeds are ready when they look brown and dry and detach easily from the flower head.  Letting seeds dry for few days at room temperature will assure that no mold will develop when stored away.

Some plants spread easily so I try not to let too many seeds escape, but when they do, in the case of borage or kale, I embrace the bounty of little tender plants to quickly sautee for a healthy meal.

I collect many tiny containers for  seed storing, envelopes, little ziplock bags, spice jars, anything small that can be used.  A good way to reuse, repurpose everyday object.

Orange cosmo seeds
Orange cosmos

 These orange cosmos come from seeds I collected last year in a public park, so they cost nothing.

Purple Scabiosa seed head
I find the seed heads' shapes and colors really attractive as well.  The fuzzy seeds of the Bishop plants are an example of beautiful form.

Orlaya grandiflora or bishop flower
The first time I saw this flower, Orlaya grandiflora, at a local demonstration garden I became enamored of the delicate and elegant flowers.  It is used to attract beneficial insects like the tiny parasitic wasps that lay their eggs into aphids.  I later found the plant at Annie's Annuals, if the seeds are viable I won't have to spend a cent to have it again next year.

Orlaya grandiflora or bishop flower

More orange Cosmos

Cilantro flowers
Some plants are really prolific in their seed production, so I will end up with more seeds I can possibly use, but luckily there is a local produce and plant exchange in my town and some people share seeds as well.  A six-pack of cilantro plants I bought to attract beneficial insects produced so many seeds that I will be able to preserve some for cooking as well.

Cilantro seeds or coriander

Happy seed saving!