Grown from seed

Sunday, 03 November 2013

Atriplex hortensis var. rubra, grown from seed

Although at one stage I was mesmerised by growing plants from seed (much of it from overseas), I now have very few specimens in my garden to show for this passion. Many of the seeds failed to come up; of those that did, many were English-style perennials that flourished for a while and then just faded away like so many of such plants that aren't very suited to our climate. Some were annuals, which flowered in their season and then were never seen again. Despite having little to show for my efforts, I still recall the fascination of watching seedlings come up, how I potted them on into progressively larger homes and fondly monitored their progress. They seemed almost like children, and I retain a maternal interest in those few remaining stalwarts in my garden that arrived here as mere dust-dry particles in a paper packet.

Dietes robinsoniana

This October, two of my progeny flowered for the first time ever. In one case, the seed was planted almost 20 years ago, so it was very exciting to see two sculptural scapes of buds on my clump of Dietes robinsoniana (ht 1-1.5 m; the Lord Howe Island wedding lily), which I received from the UK Royal Horticultural Society seed exchange. It is only found naturally in margins of forest on Lord Howe Island and is a member of the Iridaceae family. Its leaves are much broader and taller, and the clump more statuesque than the common-and-garden Dietes grandiflora that is used (especially by me) as a plant for spots where very little else will thrive. My clump grew well over the 20 years, but never showed any inclination to flower until this spring. The lovely white, satiny flowers are large (about 7 cm wide) and have a yellow centre. Each bloom lasts but a day but each morning another group opens, and it has been flowering for at least a month now. The plant requires well-drained moist soils in sun or part shade and should be protected from frost.

Hippeastrum cultivar grown from seed

The other bulb that surprised me with its first-ever flower last month was a brilliant red Hippeastrum hybrid: I grew it from seed given to me by a friend about three years ago. I think the seeds were from a pink-flowered specimen, but as with much seed-raising of cultivars and hybrids, the offspring can vary enormously in colour. I was thrilled with the huge red trumpets on my plant and am planning to move it to a better position for next year's display.

Geranium oxonianum Walters Gift

A perennial that I have had for about 15 years is Geranium oxonianum 'Walter's Gift'. Again this came from the Royal Horticultural Society and is one of the few true Geranium plants that I have been able to retain in my garden. It has attractive burgundy-marked leaves and netted pale mauve-pink flowers in September and October. I am not sure if my version is the exactly same as the true cultivar - because of the variation that can occur with named plants like these, but I nurture it as one of my plant 'children'. It self-sows freely, and usually other gardeners are pleased to take one of the seedlings home.

Melianthus major

I also grew my Melianthus major from seed from the same source, and it is a plant that I enjoy every year. It is a shrubby perennial that I cut back to the ground in late winter. Over spring and summer, it grows stunning blue-green foliage that is comprised of long leaflets that look like that have been cut with pinking shears. It is an excellent background plant for semitropical borders. It does have a strange orange-red flower if left unpruned, but I have never thought it attractive and by the time it appears, the plant can look extremely scruffy. The leaves (when touched) have a strangely peanut-buttery smell, which is rather unpleasant.

Orlaya grandiflora

Another plant I grew from seed that is flowering now is the annual I know as Orlaya grandiflora (though this name may not be correct), a beautiful Mediterranean plant that has lacy white flowers. It belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants and is like a compact version of Queen Anne's Lace. It was given to me in the 1990s, when it was passed from gardener to gardener. It comes up ever year from seed and looks pretty growing amongst spring shrubs, roses and perennials. I usually let some of the plants go to seed and shake the seeds around once the seed pods have matured. Another self-sowing annual I started from seed was the burgundy-leaved Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (pictured at the start of the blog), which winds in and out of my Salvia and Dahlia plants and has an amazingly decorative seed head, comprised of clusters of shimmering red-purple sequins.

Although I have not tried to do so in recent times, it seems harder to import seeds these days, but there are lots of seeds available locally for those who wish to give it a go. My efforts lately are generally focused on growing a few unusual herbs and annuals from seed: I have recently germinated seeds of a giant form of basil known as 'Valentino', and a Mediterranean perennial herb called za'atar (Origanum syriacum) that is said to have the flavour of sweet majoram, thyme and oregano combined. The za'atar mixtures available commercially for cooking are usually a mixture of dried herbs and sesame seeds, so I will be interested to see how my za'atar plant compares to this. I also have plans to sow Mr Fothergill's 'Harlequin' carrots, parsley root (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum, with leaves of parsley and a root like a parsnip) and pal choi. Some of these seeds are embedded in seed tape for easier sowing.

Yellow House Heritage Perennials (one of our site sponsors) is holding an open garden and annual plant sale on 23 and 24 November 2013 at 20 Jervis Street, Nowra, NSW, from 10 am to 4.30 pm. They have an excellent range of interesting perennials suitable for our climate. Enquiries: 4421 8681. Visit their website here.

Reader Comments

  • By Ann 2076 Monday, 04 November 2013

    We have a "true" Geranium in our garden with flowers like your photo, but the plant doesn"t appear to spread by seed, but increases by spreading over time. In Ireland the flowers were very blue so I was disappointed at first, but really enjoy his plant in our shady garden. I do love the true Geraniums - the best blue I have found is Rozanne. Yours sounds a great specimen. Deirdre

  • By Gwenda 4895 Monday, 04 November 2013

    I enjoyed reading our grown from seed /especially the Dites robinsoniana I will look out for seed I have a couple of others Dietes grandiflora and bicolor. Thanks, Gwends. I am going to try to save the seed from my plant and if I am successful I will share it with anyone interested in trying it. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 04 November 2013

    Congratulations on your seed success Deirdre! Producing plants this way, specially the rarer ones is hugely satisfying. My Cedric Morris "Fairy Wings" poppies are flowering now in pastel shades - seed from a friend at Mt Tomah. I have some baby Dietes robinsoniana plants too from the parent on the front lawn. As well a gorgeous variegated violet from Japan and variegated land cress from Annabelle Scott in Tasmania. I"ll try and have some on my little stall at the Cottage Garden Club on Nov.16. They all sound wonderful plants. The fairy wings poppies are gorgeous. Good luck with your stall at CGC. I am sure your plants will be sought after! Deirdre

  • By therese 2119 Monday, 04 November 2013

    Deirdre, I found this blog quite exciting as I"ve also had a more nurturing feel about plants grown from seeds & none of them are still around, sadly. The herbs sound particularly exciting & would love to try them one day. Also, I have been cooking with parsley root a lot lately & find it to be delicious - in casseroles, soups, frittatas or just baked! Also, this Spring seems to be quite different with the cicadas back & unusual flowerings, don"t you think? Thanks, Therese - glad to hear that you"ve cooked and enjoyed the parsley root - I will plant my seeds soon! This spring is definitely a strange one. The abnormal heat and dryness have had an effect. I do hope we get the promised rain soon. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 04 November 2013

    Congratulations on the flowering of the Dietes robinsoniana - it is a stunning flower I think. Thanks, Anne. Yes, I love the flower and am really enjoying it. To think I nearly dug up the clump earlier in the year because it had never bloomed! Deirdre

  • By beverley 2113 Tuesday, 05 November 2013

    Thank you for mentioning the Yellow House Nursery. I would love to go down to Nowra to see but it would mean an overnight stay, which would be great. I find a long drive there and back too much for me in one day. I will see if anyone would like to go with me. Beverley. Thanks, Beverley. Hope you will be able to go. Deirdre

  • By beverley 2113 Wednesday, 06 November 2013

    I have found a really good site on the web for The Yellow House Nursery with a large catalogue of their plants and I have ordered several. I"m finding the way to buy perennials is by mail order. The only nursery that is worthwhile now I think is Parkers at Turramurra. Thanks, Beverley. It is a great website and their plants are good. I bought some at the Kariong Plant Fair. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Thursday, 07 November 2013

    I, too, tried growing from seed from T&M (UK) and the RHS, with varying amounts of success. I"m not usually a fan of Dietes, but your D. robinsoniana looked stunning, congratulations! I have had great success growing Hippeastrums from seed, and also Liliums, of various types, both take about three years to flower. Thanks, Margaret. Interesting about the time for the lilums to flower from seed. It is amazing how quickly that time can pass! Deirdre

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