Monday, March 12, 2018

FLOWERS - Biennial

A biennial plant has a life cycle of two years. The plant produces foliage the first summer, overwinters in a dormant state and then flowers the second summer. The plant usually dies after its' seeds mature at the end of the second season.

Although it might sound challenging or complicated to grow biennial flowers, I have not found this to be the case. It is similar to growing annual flowers. In fact, after the first planting, several of the biennials that grow well here in Sitka gardens require no work at all. They sprout like weeds every year! The only task will be digging up any of these weed-like biennials that appear in unwelcome locations. Dig them up, transplant, share or toss.

Let's have a look at three eager, self-sowing biennials.

Myosotis sylvatica, alpestris

Forget-me-nots appeared in our gardens all on their own. No, I never planted any. Seeds had somehow already found their way into our soil.
Forget-me-nots self-sow pretty aggressively. The seeds are tiny and scatter in the wind. Forget-me-not seed pods mature early in the season so are not hindered so much by rain and mold as other later maturing flower varieties. Depending on conditions, powdery mildew sometimes develops on forget-me-not plants just before they die. This is a sensible time to remove these unsightly plants from the garden beds. 

Here it is mid-March and I just returned from taking this photo outside along one of our garden paths. So, this is how a forget-me-not plant looks in March after it has grown for nearly a year. This plant will be blooming in May and June. 

Forget-me-nots flower in a variety of colors in our gardens.

I like to let forget-me-nots grow in amongst border plants. The photo below was taken in the mid 1990's. I dug up some of the forget-me-nots scattered around our gardens in early spring. I transplanted them into the raised garden behind where the girls are sitting. That eye-catching pink vine is Clematis montana rubens.

A few years later, we built a trellis for that vine. The forget-me-nots have continued to appear each spring ever after.

I love how the forget-me-not seeds scatter and grow down along the base of our rock walls. In case you were wondering, the white ground cover cascading down is Arabis.  The purplish flowers cascading down are Aubrieta novalis blue.

No matter how fertile the soil, these tiny blue forget-me-nots grow ever so cheerfully.

Digitalis purpurea

Flowering foxglove is a common sight all around Sitka each year beginning in early June. Flowers appear first at the lowest section of the stem and work their way up. The seeds mature in the same progression. If you do nothing to prevent it, the seeds mature and scatter all summer long. No wonder there are so many foxglove!

Foxglove was never intentionally planted in our gardens. The seeds were probably transported in one way or another. It could be as simple as a seed hitching a ride into our gardens on the bottom of one of our boots. More likely, the seeds were already in our yard soil and surfaced when we disturbed the soil to make gardens. 
Below is the outcome when foxglove are allowed to grow in the same bed with giant pacific delphinium.

As you see in the above photo, most foxglove in Sitka flower in shades of white and pink.
Here is a close-up of a pink foxglove. 

Over the years, foxglove made uninvited appearances in a surprisingly large number of our garden photos! 
Here are just a few of those photos.

Admittedly, foxglove flowers have been an attractive addition to our gardens. But, they are simple to identify and simple to remove if you are not happy when they appear. Here is what a foxglove plant looks like in March after overwintering.

Another important consideration is foxglove's inclination to attract and accumulate massive amounts of aphids whenever we have unseasonably warm and dry summers. Warm, dry summers have been rare.  Some people are of the mind that a plant in their garden attracting aphids will keep the aphids away from other plant varieties. My thought is that, if foxglove attract aphids, all of those happy aphids will reproduce and the offspring will wander all over the place. So, I have mixed feelings about keeping foxglove around.  

Regardless of my thoughts and efforts, each year at least a few foxglove starts have managed to escape notice and make a lovely appearance in our gardens.

Lunaria annua

I know. It doesn't look all that worthy at first glance. 

It was Al Richter, leaning on a shovel when he said, "I think you are really going to like having this plant at your place, by golly." He was right. Al dug up a a young plant for me to take home. Lunaria annua has been welcome in our gardens ever since.

Although it goes by several names, let's refer to Lunaria annua in this post as 'silver dollar.'

Silver dollar is a shade loving plant. Right off the bat, that scores lots of points in our climate!

As it grows in height, the silver dollar plant fills out and catches your eye with lots of bright little flowers.

It will grow to a height of three or more feet.

About mid-summer, the silver dollar plants start developing seed pods.

Gradually, the entire plant looks like a little tree full of dangling ornaments.

I like to use branches of varying sizes in dried flower bouquets.  

But first it is necessary to let it all dry out.

Towards the end of summer, when the seed pods look mature with well developed seeds, I pull some of the plants. I hang them upside down inside the house in a warm, dry location.

Once the plants are dry and brittle, I either leave the plant whole or break off branches. I carefully peel both sides off of each seed pod taking care not to break the pod from the branch. The seeds fall out. The round, shiny interior layer of the pods remain.

The peels get tossed, but I save the seeds to plant or share.

As it turns out though, I haven't yet needed to plant any of the silver dollar seeds. Seeds have dropped each year from silver dollar plants, travelled around somehow... and started growing on their own. 
Here is a silver dollar plant in March after it has overwintered.

Silver dollar plants show up solitary and in groups, depending on where the seeds land. In the photo below, the silver dollars are in the lower left. The bright orange in the lower right is Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow.' The white blooms above are on a Pristine apple tree. Everything seems to go crazy when the soil is warm and fertile. Lots of weeds would be thick in the lower section too had I not just pulled them out.

Young silver dollars plants usually transplant well if you want to dig them up and change the location. 

In the end, silver dollar seed pods are uniquely beautiful and long-lasting.

Campanula medium

Throughout my entire life, I have enjoyed reading in the evening before bedtime. I love to read. Whether fiction or non-fiction, authors would occasionally mention English cottage gardens. It was in my early twenties that I actually visited England. The look of English cottage gardens was a lot like I had imagined! 

Our own covered garden, attached to our greenhouse, hints of an English cottage garden... in large part due to the inclusion of breathtaking canterbury bells.

Canterbury bell plants are full of surprises. Until the buds bloom, there is no certainty of flower color or layers of bells. The variety of colors bloom with any number of layers.
Let's have a look at a few.












I think it was in the late 1980's that I ordered this packet of seeds from the Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalog.

This particular seed company no longer exists. 
However, I see that very similar looking canterbury bells are currently sold by PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS.

When the seeds were no longer sold by SHEPHERD'S GARDEN SEEDS, I decided to collect seeds from my own canterbury bell plants. I did not want to chance losing the opportunity to grow this particular variety of canterbury bells. I had purchased a packet from a different company back then... and was disappointed with the difference.

Canterbury bells rarely self-sow. Best to be prepared to start seeds yourself each year.

Collecting seeds from canterbury bells can be challenging. Sometimes the pods tend to mold before they ripen.

So, I carefully remove the dying flower petals above the seed pod and the green, outer, bumpy-looking covering of the seed pod where it meets the stem WHILE IT IS STILL ATTACHED TO THE PLANT.

I leave the pods on the plant for as long as a month and discontinue watering.
I have found that the seed pods have a better chance of maturing using this approach.

If you have more than one plant drying, label each plant with the color and number of bell layers.

At the end of the season, I usually have lots of mature, healthy seeds to save. These seeds have sprouted for me even when they are five years old if stored in a cool, dark, dry location.

When I am not so busy in May or June, I start a flat or two of canterbury bell seeds every year. The seeds sprout easily indoors, three or four seeds  to each 4 inch pot. Once the plants have grown two or three inches, I transplant them out in the open wherever I have space in my gardens. 

Canterbury bells do best planted outdoors in fertile soil wherever they will get plenty of rain. All you will see is a short green plant throughout the first year. Here is how it looks in March after it has overwintered. 

Canterbury bells will grow and bloom the second summer.

Canterbury bell flowers HATE to be rained upon. 

So, I dig up each plant in late April or May before the flower stems start shooting up. I transplant all of these canterbury bell plants to locations where rain will not fall on their sensitive bells. It is best to surround the plant with some kind of support or fencing if you can. The stems will be plentiful and heavy with blooms. 

Transplant them under overhangs.

Into pots on covered decks. 

In the greenhouse.

And in a covered garden.

Why so many canterbury bells?
Because they are so perfect in bouquets!
We really enjoy giving bouquets.

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