For many years, we have been told of the depleted bogs where peat has been harvested and why we should not be buying it. Many gardeners wonder what they would use to replace this product that is a great soil amendment and seed starting medium.
Peat is an organic naturally forming product which can take hundreds of years to replace. We all know the history of peat bogs in the British Isles when peat was used to heat homes and then mined irresponsibly, destroying wetlands and ecosystems. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a group which is responsible for setting up a Peatland Programme in the UK.
Did you know that Canada is the largest producer and exporter of horticultural peat, with about 1.3 million tonnes of peat being mined in 2010? Peat companies must, however, follow federal and provincial guidelines. Just recently, in Manitoba, this ruling occurred: On January 20th, 2023, Moswa Meadows and Fish Lake Fen were designated as provincially significant peatlands in the newly created Provincially Significant Peatlands Regulation in order to ensure the biodiversity of the two areas is preserved. Specified development activities, including mining, forestry, agriculture, and peat harvesting, are now prohibited across the nearly 28,000 hectares that make up Moswa Meadows and Fish Lake Fen and will ensure the areas can continue to provide long-term beneficial goods and services including carbon sequestration and storage, water filtration, and flood mitigation. For more about peat management in Canada, check out
Coir (pronounced COY-er) comes from the coconut plant. It is the part between the meaty white flesh and the hard outer shell. Because coconuts are grown and harvested for food, coir is readily available. India is the largest exporter of coir. It can be used on its own as a growing medium for seed starting and root cuttings or as a soil amendment for holding moisture and is a great replacement for peat.
Coir has a pH of 5.7 to 6.5 which is perfect for plants to obtain nutrients. It can be used in containers to help hold moisture and lighten soil. The square foot garden formula is one third peat moss, vermiculite and compost, so coir would be an excellent peat replacement. Coir last longer than peat, being slower to breakdown. It has no odour. It gives sandy soil more structure. Excess salt may be a problem, however, rinsing with fresh water a few times should remove enough of the salt.
Coir is available in many different ways including bales, bricks, pots and discs. Compressed blocks need to have warm water added for it to absorb and expand, just like peat. Place the brick in a bucket, add water and watch it expand. The coir will absorb the water, and can expand by up to 15%. It will soften and have a fluffy texture which can then be placed in pots for planting slips or rooting plants. The small disks also need to have water for them to expand and act like the peat pods we are familiar with. And like the peat pods, these coir disks can be planted directly into the garden. Check out this article: What is Coconut Coir?
Coir products are available online at many sites like Veseys Seeds. I have also found them in Peavey’s and Home Hardware in Peterborough. Let’s all be responsible by purchasing coir rather than peat.
Prior to 1990, the word ‘seedy’ tended to be associated with shabby or run down areas or clothes, or a somewhat disreputable reputation.
Ironically enough, some speculate that the term probably came from the appearance of flowers after they’ve shed their seeds, when they start to lose colour and eventually die.
However, that all changed in 1990, when the first Seedy Saturday was held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, BC. At the time, the idea of conserving heritage seeds from garden plants or agricultural crops wasn’t really a thing, and it was hard to find heritage varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and grains.
In 1988 Sharon Rempel wanted to find period-appropriate heritage vegetables, flowers and wheat for the 1880s heritage gardens she was creating at the Keremeos Grist Mill museum. As a pioneer in Canada’s organic and heritage seed movements, she organized the first Seedy Saturday event, and has kept the titles “Seedy Saturday” and “Seedy Sunday” dedicated to the public domain.
In Canada, these events have continued to be locally or regionally organized events, although the amazing organization Seeds of Diversity maintains a national presence. Almost all of these events occur in the late winter, with a few in the autumn.
We totally get it. Canadian winters are long and cold and by February, gardeners are already looking forward to the springtime and planting. Seedy Saturdays/Sundays are non-profit, public events organized by individuals and community groups to bring together gardeners, seed companies, nurseries, gardening organizations, historic sites, and community groups so they can learn from one another, exchange ideas and seeds, and purchase seeds and plants in a social setting. Seeds of Diversity promotes these events on their website.
Many Master Gardener and Ontario Horticultural Association organizations are critical partners in these events – I love this poster from the London Middlesex Master Gardeners for this year’s event.
Every year more communities join the movement – according to Seeds of Diversity more than 170 events were held in 2019 across Canada. These events can be small or large, depending on the community. I love that they all have the same themes of encouraging use of open-pollinated and heritage seeds, enabling local seed exchanges, and educating the public about seed saving and environmentally-responsible gardening practices.
They’re a great opportunity to swap and exchange your seeds with others, get new varieties from other seed savers, meet seed companies in person, attend workshops/talks, and of course buy seeds!
In the Peterborough area, we are finally getting back to an in-person event. 2023’s Seedy Sunday will be held on Sunday March 12th from 11am to 3pm in a new location at the Peterborough Square Mall in downtown Peterborough (where the winter Farmers’ Market is being held). It’s a great venue, with lots of space (the pre-pandemic Seedy Sunday was held at the Emmanuel United Church and George St United Church).
Long time organizer Jillian Bishop (who runs her own UrbanTomato business and hosts seed saving workshops) says the event is “the perfect place to get inspired for spring. Come out to get all the knowledge, tools and resources needed to get growing this season.”
This year’s Peterborough Seedy Sunday event includes:
An incredible diversity of vegetables, flowers, herb seeds available for sale
Community groups showcasing the great work they do locally
Informative hands-on workshops
A popular Seed Exchange Area where you can trade seeds with other gardeners
Jillian says the last few years have been challenging because of the pandemic.
“As many of you know, in 2020, two days before we were set to host our 15th annual event, we had to cancel as the world began to shut down. As disappointed as we were, we knew it was the right thing to do! Of course, no one could have predicted what happened in the weeks, months and years to come, particularly in the world of seeds and gardening.
All of a sudden seeds became a hot commodity, and seed vendors across the world saw unprecedented demand as people became more concerned about securing their food sources, and had more time at home to plan, plant and enjoy their gardens.”
Peterborough Seedy Sunday, like similar events, went virtual for a few years, but Jillian is very happy to be planning a return to in-person seed fun and spring mania for the 15th annual event, with 13 vendors selling seeds, compost supplies and more! Workshops will be focusing on hands-on skills sharing.
If you’d like to take part in the Seed Exchange, please bring your seeds divided into smaller envelopes (approx. 25 seeds) labeled with the name of the plant, year harvested, and any other information you would like to share! Once you have them all ready, you can bring them down to the Seed Exchange and swap them for other fun varieties you have yet to try in your garden!
Hope to see you in Peterborough, or join your local ‘seedy’ event!
Words of Wisdom from Jillian Bishop
Why I Save Seeds
“Saving seeds means a lot to me. It means a lot to the world. Each heirloom seed contains history and future. Past and present, the ability to adapt to unforeseen climate change and unique environments, to spread stories and knowledge through generations it contains the capacity for communities to grow their own food in sprawling fields, community gardens, abandoned lots and fire escape pots.
Those seeds are living beings. They want to grow. They needs stewards. Citizens willing to give them water, sun, soil and yes, cheesily enough, love.”
More links and information
Seed Companies in Canada-list of seed companies in Canada, as well as the vegetable and fruit seed they’ve sold in recent years.
Peterborough Seed Savers Collective – Great short film (2015) about seed saving work happening locally – follow local seeds being grown out by the emerging Seed Savers Collective, and being shared at an annual Seedy Sunday event.
Canadian Seed Security – The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security works with farmers, researchers, universities, and other organizations to develop resources that can help farmers and seed growers advance their knowledge on seed in Canada.
Seed Savers Exchange – Stewards America’s culturally diverse and endangered garden and food crop legacy for present and future generations. We educate and connect people through collecting, regenerating, and sharing heirloom seeds, plants, and stories.
You have probably heard this adage applied to various activities/hobbies, but here I go. Buying seeds and starting seeds are two different activities. I engage in both, but sometimes the buying outruns the starting and I find myself looking at an unused package of vegetable seed purchased in the past and wondering if those seeds are viable. Checking vegetable seed viability is easy and may save you from the disappointment of a poor harvest.
To say a seed is viable is to say it is alive. Checking for this can be easily done by wrapping a number of seeds (10-20) in a moistened paper towel, placing them in a sealed plastic bag in a warm place (21-26*C) and then checking for germination in a week or so. Your germination rate is a percentage, calculated by multiplying the seeds germinated by 100 and dividing that by the total number of seeds in your trial. It is recommended that if your germination rate is below 70% you should buy new seed. In my demonstration featured in the two photos shown, I used 10 seeds and 7 sprouted. My germination rate is 70%.
Checking for seed viability by putting seeds in water and discarding the floating ones is not a reliable test.
Some seed companies also list on the back of their seed packages the optimum germination rate and the year the seeds were packed and tested. So, I know that the rapini seeds I haven’t used were packed in 2022 and maybe I should plant them this year!
It’s coming to that seed starting time of year so don’t hesitate to give some of your older seeds a chance to prove themselves and save yourself from vegetable garden let-down.
“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff
For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.
Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.
Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!
Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.
So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).
You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?
You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.
Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.
Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.
Timing for Winter Sowing?
You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!
They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).
What Soil to use?
It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.
What Containers? The Ontario Twist
Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used – juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.
You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.
How do I Label?
Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.
This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.
I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!
Want More Information?
Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group
The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year. Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role. I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.
I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden. Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more.
I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry. I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries. Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil. It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds! Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter? That is a win-win for me!
A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees. Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal. For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year. In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.
I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn
If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.
Physical and Emotional Health
Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.
It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!
Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.
While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!
Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.
Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.
Learning Life Values
Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.
Growing Your Own Food
Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.
But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!
Connecting With Nature
I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.
Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.
I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.
Helping The Environment
Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.
We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.
It is that time of year where we turn our attention to thoughts of what we would like to grow in the coming season. Because of the pandemic, many of us have dabbled in sowing some seeds indoors. It does require time, space, proper lighting and the patience to check your seedlings every few days for proper moisture levels or any signs of disease.
Begin planning your garden early. Now is a good time to browse through the seed catalogues and decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need.
If you don’t have the time or desire to start seedlings indoors, there are many vegetables that can be seeded outdoors in the very early spring. They are known as cool season crops.
I look forward to getting out into my garden in the early spring, however, we should not start digging too soon as there are many beneficial insects and native bees that overwinter in the soil or under leaf litter. They all need time to emerge from their long winter nap. By growing cool season crops, I get to play in my garden early and benefit from a good supply of fresh vegetables.
All the following vegetables can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.
LETTUCE & GREENS
There are so many varieties of salad greens such as leaf, mustard, arugula and mesclun. Lettuce is generally a cool season plant, but newer varieties have been developed that will grow happily in the summer. Salad greens can bolt quickly when the weather gets really warm, however, there are varieties that are more bolt tolerant. I usually choose seed that I can sow early in the season. These particular varieties can withstand some shade in the summer so I plant the seed behind a larger vegetable such as kale so that they get the protection they need from the hot sun. Be sure to check the seed package to understand when to sow, how to harvest, and how quickly the lettuce will bolt.
Carrots need good drainage and work very well in raised beds. They work best when planted as soon as the soil can be worked. They require plenty of sun. The cultivated carrot originated in Afghanistan and was purple. According to William Dam Seeds, they believe the orange carrot was developed around the 16th Century. There are many different varieties and some of my favourites are the Nantes and I had great success last year with Nantes Napoli.
I find Kale a very easy vegetable to grow and it will last well into the fall. It likes well drained soil. It is best to harvest the young leaves as the older leaves will get quite tough and stringy. It is rich in Vitamin C and frost will actually improve its flavour. I really enjoy Vates, which is ruffled with a medium dark green leaf. By using a row cover, we were enjoying kale in our salads well into the fall.
Radish is amazingly quick to germinate. I think they add the perfect crispy, peppery taste to a salad. If you plant the seeds early, it will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Radishes also work well for Succession Planting. Radish varieties have evolved over the years and there are now several different sizes and colours. I enjoy the French Breakfast varieties.
Homegrown peas, whether cooked or raw always taste amazing. Taller varieties do require some kind of support and will benefit from a fence or string for the vines. Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller gardens and don’t require support. They do need lots of sun but will tolerate some shade in the summer. Smaller peas are tastier than larger ones, so be sure to harvest often. The edible garden pea dates back to 16th century England. I will admit not to have a lot of luck with peas. I may be getting them planted too late in the spring and with instant summer heat, they do not do well! I am determined to try again this year. My favourite are sugar snap peas and I would like to try one called Sugar Ann, that matures in 55 days and is a dwarf variety.
A favourite cool season vegetable to grow is the vitamin-rich spinach. Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. They mature quickly. As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. Row covers are advisable to protect the plants from leaf miner. Many varieties have been developed to resist Downy Mildew.
It’s that wonderful time of year when the seed catalogues are arriving in the mail. The many seed choices may be both enticing and overwhelming and for some, possibly confusing. Terms like F-1 hybrid, heritage, and open pollinated may accompany tantalizing names like Red Ace F-1 hybrid beets or Brandywine Heirloom tomatoes. What do these designations mean for a gardener?
Let’s start with the term F1 hybrid. This term is used for first generation seed that follows the successful pollination of one genetically uniform plant variety with another specific genetically uniform variety. From the University of California, see “What does “F1 Hybrid mean?” It potentially takes years to develop the parent plants for these seeds which is why hybrid seeds are usually more expensive. The benefits of growing hybrid seed include a more vigorous plant, higher yield, improved disease resistance, shorter time to fruit maturation and consistent performance. This is known as hybrid vigor. If you grow a plant from hybrid seed, the seeds produced by your plant will not be ideal for saving as the offspring from these seeds will have unpredictable characteristics.
Open-pollinated seeds are from plants that get pollinated naturally by insects, the wind, birds, or people. These plants are more genetically diverse which is considered beneficial as plants adapt from year to year to local growing conditions. Some consider the flowers or fruit from open-pollinated seeds to have superior beauty or flavor. Of importance to seed collectors is the fact that seed from open-pollinated plants will grow plants very similar (true-to-type) from year to year and are ideal for saving. There are some details to know about seed saving which could be discussed in another blog but this link explains some of them: University of Minnesota Extension: Saving vegetable seeds.
Heirloom (sometimes referred to as Heritage) seeds are always open-pollinated and have a history of being passed down within a family or community for a number of years, with 50 years being the minimum for some seed companies.
In my garden I grow both hybrid and open-pollinated seeds, including some heirlooms. For a few reasons, I like growing mini cucumbers which are a hybrid variety, but I also enjoy growing heirloom greens, tomatoes, and open-pollinated annual flowers, and saving seed. Having all options allows gardeners to choose the seeds that are best for their needs.
It’s getting close to that time of year when our thoughts turn to gardening and starting seeds. The seed catalogues come in the mail in the new year, the Master Gardeners have their Day for Gardeners (pre-covid, this was usually held in late February), and then there’s Seedy Sunday (usually held in mid-March, and still possible for 2022).
Starting seeds in your sunniest south-facing window is your best bet if you don’t have grow lights. When grow lights are used properly, you will have more compact, healthier seedlings to put out in your garden. And grow lights can be used year round to grow veggies indoors. They can be used for houseplants as well.
There are lots of different options for choosing grow lights from plant stands with fluorescent or LED lights suspended over your seed flats, to incandescent light bulbs that fit into a standard lamp. There are pros and cons to each type of light. For example, incandescent lights are cheapest, but the most expensive to operate. There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing and selecting the grow lights that will work best for you and the plants you want to grow. I’ve done a little research and found Lamps Plus and Modern Farmer have some good information to help you select and use your lights efficiently.
I was very intrigued by the plant known as Verbena bonariensis. This particular Verbena is often shown growing in gardens on the British show Gardener’s World.
I managed to find seeds this spring from William Dam Seeds Ltd. The package instructed me to start seeds 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost, however, due to a huge demand for seeds the past few years, my package arrived quite late and I was unable to start the seeds until well into April. At the best of times, Verbena can be an erratic germinator and I was only successful getting one seed to germinate. However, this one plant was a huge success and I will definitely be trying again next year, although I may be lucky to find some seedlings in my garden.
This plant is one of about 250 species in the genus Verbena. Most are not in cultivation. It is native to Brazil and Argentina. Bonariensis means ‘from Buenos Aires, Argentina’. ‘Buenos’ means ‘good’ and ‘aires’ means ‘air’. It is a perennial in zones 7 to 11, therefore, is grown as an annual in the Peterborough region. In some milder climates such as California, it can be considered a weed. Verbena bonariensis, also known as Tall Verbena or Brazilian Verbena has stiff upright branching stems. It reaches a height of 3 to 6 feet and spreads 1 to 3 feet and is unlikely to fall over. The stiff square and rough stems hold clusters of lilac-purple flowers from early summer right through to late fall. The deep green, lance-shaped serrated leaves form a mounded rosette at the base of the plant. The flowers are borne in rounded clusters 2 to 3 inches across. The cut flowers last a long time in flower arrangements. England’s Royal Horticultural Society Floral Committee awarded V. bonariensis an Award of Garden Merit (the Society’s symbol of excellence given to plants of outstanding garden value) “because of its attractive flowers and uncluttered habit.” They can make an unforgettable display and although they are tall plants, they have an open and airy appearance which lends them to being tucked in between other plants or even creating a dramatic appearance at the front of a border. They sway in the breeze and are very attractive to butterflies, bees and other insects. They prefer full sun to part shade in well-drained soil.
Our very hot summer did not affect its performance and knowing that they are drought tolerant once established is another plus for this plant. There are little known pests or diseases, although powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem. White spots on the leaves do not seem to have much impact on blooming.
If you leave the flowers to develop seed heads for the birds, the plant may self-seed the following year. As this was my first season with this plant, I will have to wait until the spring to see if my conditions are good for self-seeding. I understand that they may not appear until late spring.
It is also possible to cultivate through cuttings and you can find out how to do this in this short video by the very well-known British gardener Monty Don.