My book and web site

Check out my book, The Sustainable-Enough Garden, available on Amazon, and the book's web site at See more plant photos on Instagram.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Almost spring

Is it late winter or early spring? The calendar date is still far from the vernal equinox, but on the glass-half-full side, the garden is already starting to wake up. Snowdrops have been blooming since early February. 

Our first flowering tree is in bloom, a witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise.’ 

I’m declaring the start of the gardening season—whoopee!

    It’s time—or past time—to order seeds to plant this spring. I’m feeling a new appreciation for seeds. In doing the research for my book, I learned to my surprise that producing plants for garden centers is far from a local enterprise. I had imagined just one step between a grower and the garden center where I shop. The reality turned out to be much more complicated. I had to come to terms with the fact that plants I bought came with a significant carbon cost.

    Perennials come from multiple starting points, depending on the plant. Jan Lesnikoski, a grower at Sunny Border in Connecticut, explained to me that wholesale nurseries buy seeds and plants from around the world. Sunny Border uses tissue culture products imported from South Africa, Holland, Turkey, and Poland (tissue culture converts tiny pieces of plant tissue into large numbers of genetically identical plantlets). Large plantations in Costa Rica and Ecuador with space to maintain supplies of stock plants send unrooted cuttings for Sunny Border to root and grow to saleable size.

     Garden centers like the one I favor, Russell’s in Wayland, Massachusetts, do grow annuals and vegetables on site, either from seeds or from plugs (small young seedlings) they buy from regional wholesale brokers. 

    This new knowledge about global sourcing makes starting plants from seeds seem more desirable. Although seeds may come from all over the world, they’re small and packaged by nature for easy travel, so shipping them incurs less environmental cost.

    This year I’m planning to buy my usual vegetable and annual flower seeds: arugula, lettuce, peas, beans, cucumbers, nasturtium, sunflowers and zinnias. Most I’ll plant directly in the garden; a few I’ll start indoors under lights. 

    Renewing my membership in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society yielded a gift certificate from White Flower Farm. Despite wanting to be more sparing about buying perennials, I think I’ll use the gift to buy some that are popular with beneficial insects I’d like to attract.

    I have my eye on a selection of coastal plain Joe Pye weed that's native to the eastern US. 

Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe'

It stays 3 to 4 feet tall, smaller than Eupatorium maculatum, the species I’m used to seeing. I also want a butterfly weed

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa

to complement the swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, that I grew last year.

    My ambition is to learn more about growing native perennials and shrubs from seed. That way I can expand my supply of plants without incurring the carbon cost of shipping them from around the country or around the world.

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