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February 2006

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Growing from seed, Jeffersonia, severe frost and periwinkles

Before my first seed packets arrived I had cleared out and cleaned up the potting shed. This is a slowly disintegrating wooden and glass structure on the gloomy north side of the house.  It has all the appearances of being neglected and unloved although in fact I spend some long and very satisfying time there as I regard propagation as being central to serious gardening. I sow alpine seeds as soon as possible in John Innes seed compost loosened with a little coarse sand. The seed pots are left just outside the shed. When I moved here I covered this nursery area with a membrane and then a thick layer of sand. This keeps it relatively weed free and reduces the need to water. The area gets little sun and the pots are often frozen for short periods.

Alternate frosting and thawing helps to achieve good germination which usually starts in the first warm days of April. I keep the seeds of larger perennials and more tender plants until the weather improves in March. As I grow very few tender plants I rarely put seed pots under glass. I usually keep alpine seed pots for two years as in some cases germination can be very slow and erratic.

Alternate frosting and thawing helps to achieve good germination which usually starts in the first warm days of April.

In my earlier gardening days I relied particularly heavily on growing good plants from seed. It was simply the only way to build up a collection. Recently it's easier to buy good mature plants locally. Growing from seed is however always fascinating and, for example, this past year I renewed my stock of the dwarf Delphinium cashmirianum from seed. Two other elusive plants of striking beauty that I have recently reintroduced from seed were Jeffersonia dubia, lilac-flowered member of the berberis family, and Glaucidium palmata with peony-like flowers. Both these are among the most choice plants for the woodland. In contrast for a sunnier place is the shrubby Salvia lycioides, the seed of which I accidentally acquired. Getting the wrong seed from seed exchanges can be frustrating. This time it was a really pleasant surprise.

The severe frosts in November brought last season to an abrupt close and large swathes of salvias which usually manage to show some colour here well into December collapsed, possibly for good. Many other genera which occasionally throw up the odd flower right up to Christmas took a beating too. Even the reliable Sollya heterophylla, the Australian bluebell creeper and the ‘Australian fuchsia', Correa reflexa are looking below par. An exception is a Mandevilla species which I picked up this summer. Admittedly it had some protection in my (very cold) greenhouse but it looks very much to be from warmer climes. To give it a little extra protection I've moved it into a warmer porch where the display seems to be never-ending. It's related to the outdoor vincas or periwinkles which, despite my constant attacks and the severe cold, have continued to pop up and flower in the darkest and coldest days - I might even get to like them in time!



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