Monday, February 22, 2010

Easy Direct Sown Annuals

I am doing something different this spring. I will not be growing all my bedding plants and new perennials indoors under lights. I plan to be away for a bit of the spring season, so I can't take care of seedling plants and am going to rely on buying a few annuals and direct sowing the rest.
This year's (bigger) Thompson and Morgan catalog which is enticing me with its full-color pictures:

It is a challenge to select the right seeds for direct sowing in a northern short-season climate like ours, though. Our frost-free season is about 95 days and thus the flowers have to get everything done in a limited window of time. Direct-sowing is one of the easiest ways to get nice drifts of flowers. Simply throw the seed on the ground in spring time, scratch around in the dirt to mix things up a bit, and let nature take its course!

My biggest successes with direct-seeding (and self-sowing, for that matter) annuals, have been with poppies and cornflowers. The good old breadseed poppy (P. somniferum) and the corn poppy (P. rhoeas) do great after throwing some seed in the raised beds in April. My cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) have self-seeded for a few years and their tall, brilliant blue flowers look amazing in contrast to the yellows and pinks. I have had sweetpeas grow okay and some Phacelia campanularia (California bluebell) grew well in a neglected and dry flowerbed. I am hesitant about distributing mass amounts of viola seeds, considering that Johnny-jump-ups are some of the most prolific "weeds" in my garden.
Mixed colors of Papver rhoeas (corn poppies) last year in my raised beds:

What's neat about direct-sown annuals is that the require so little effort, though the results often cannot be duplicated by putting a fortune into buying bedding plants. Some plants just don't transplant well and should only be direct sown. It's easy to be smug in July, standing next to your stunning flowerbed, knowing that you are reaping the results of your minimal efforts in the springtime.

So here are my ideas for direct-sown annuals to try in my short-season garden:
  • nasturtiums
  • calendula
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) -- I like the new pink and pastel ones
  • cornflowers
  • Nigella/love-in-a-mist
  • mirabilis/four-o-clocks
  • sunflowers -- have done these before with success
  • nicotiana
  • sweet alyssum
  • snapdragons
  • clarkia
  • cosmos
  • cleome -- I have started these early indoors before and am not sure they'd flower in time otherwise
  • flax
  • sweet peas
  • corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) -- these worked very well last year
Any comments and ideas would be appreciated!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Jack Frost and Tomatillos

We're still in the middle of cold winter here, with lots of snow and solidly frozen lakes. I'd be willing to ship a parcel of nice clean snow to Vancouver for those Olympic events on the snow-deficient Cypress mountain. If you read this VANOC, just let me know. I think it's a little odd that a city with blooming daffodils at the time of the winter Olympics is hosting this event.
Currently, it's only -10 C here, with similar temperatures forecasted for the rest of the week. This might be "too warm" for the big dog sled race scheduled to start on Feb 10. Last week, we had some cooler temperatures, creating these patterns on the inside of our bedroom windows at sunrise:

Yesterday, I went to the local grocery store and found some tomatillos in the produce section. I had never seen them there before, so I bought them, purely for the novelty of having them. I don't recall the price listed on the sign, but I think it was more than what I paid for them. After getting home, I realized that the chekout girl never asked me about the tomatillos. Our local supermarket cashiers have difficulty telling pears from potatoes, so they usually ask what is in the produce bag. This girl obviously felt certain in her belief that these were Brussels sprouts, charging me $4.38/kg ($1.98/lb), as recorded on the receipt. Thus, I got my bag of tomatillos for 77 cents, which is probably a pretty good deal. Now I've got to find a recipe!
My "Brussels sprouts":