Seed Starting and the Mexican Sunflower Crisis
The closing of Anton’s, a neighborhood plant nursery, threatened to plunge our garden into crisis. I loved Anton’s for a lot of reasons, but particularly because it was the only place where I could buy one of my absolute favorite plants: Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), a stately annual with dazzling orange daisies.
Now, it is possible to order Mexican Sunflower seeds. However, in our climate you really cannot sow them outdoors, and I was completely unprepared to start seeds inside.
So it was with a sense of crisis averted that I got hold of a copy of Starting and Saving Seeds, by Julie Thompson-Adolph. Julie sells an extensive variety of organic plants (mostly vegetables) that she grows herself from seed. She also writes on gardening for her own blog, Garden Delights, and a variety of other outlets.
There are actually a lot of reasons to start plants from seed. First off, though an initial investment in equipment is required, seeds are far cheaper than plants. I blush to think how much I have spent on annual flowers over the years, especially those that come in individual pots often priced at $5 to $7 each.
Second, seed starting opens up a much wider world of plant choices. I also hope to lessen my personal burden of guilt for all the plastic pots that I buy and discard every year. Plus, you don’t have to worry about growers who use neonicotinoids and other agents harmful to pollinators.
The author, who I’ve met at several Garden Blogger Flings, has a love for her subject that comes through in clear and engaging prose. I particularly appreciated the section on seed-starting equipment, which emphasizes the affordable and the practical with a step-by-step approach.
Another section covers seed collecting and storage, while the final portion reviews a variety of plants and how they can be propagated by seed. While the author emphasizes edible plants, flowers are not ignored. My beloved Mexican Sunflowers, for example, have their own write-up, from which I learned that the botanical name Tithonia comes from Tithon, a prince of Ancient Troy.
For gardeners with an interest in native plants, the book includes a number of plant genera indigenous to North America, including Asclepias, Echinacea, Symphyotrichum, etc.
Now that I have read Starting and Saving Seeds, I am looking forward to growing plants from seed in the new year. In addition to Mexican Sunflower, I definitely want to grow some Zinnias and ‘Italian White’ Sunflowers. Plus I’ll be happy to grow some annual herbs like Basil and Dill. At the same time, I know I have to keep things manageable and not get overly enthusiastic in the first year.
Even so, it’s exciting to start a whole new aspect of our garden.