Growing Asparagus

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Asparagus (Asparagus officionalis) is a popular vegetable today and was quite popular in the nineteenth century.  The photograph above is of an antique variety, ‘Giant Asparagus’ an engraving from The Illustrated London News, dated 1851.  An asparagus knife is shown alongside the plant.  This year, I grew another old variety of asparagus from seed, ‘Connover’s Collosal’, dating to the second half of the nineteenth century.   It is difficult to find plants of heirloom varieties of asparagus, so one has to start them from seed.  However, the process is slow, as the plants take three to four years to reach the size for harvesting.  (If too many shoots are cut from very young plants, productivity may be reduced, or the plants may die.  But if the plants are allowed to become established, an asparagus bed will last twenty years or more, even up to fifty years!)

Late March into early April is an excellent time to start asparagus from seed.  Use a sterile medium, cover the seed about 1/4 inch deep and place the pots in a warm location (77 degrees is optimum).  The seeds should come up in about ten days.  You may direct seed into a bed if soil temperatures are above 50 degrees, it will just take a little longer for the seeds to germinate.  Asparagus plants begin to grow slowly and will not be ready to transplant out for about three or four months.  Meanwhile you can prepare a bed for them.  An ideal spot is in full sun with a bed large enough to accommodate the number of plants you need.  It is usually recommended to plant five to six plants per person.  Since the plants are perennial (USDA climate zones 4-9) they benefit from a well-prepared bed.  Peter Henderson, in his book Gardening for Profit published in 1867, recommended planting transplants nine inches apart in rows three feet wide for commercial growers, or two feet wide for home gardeners.

Once you have established how many plants you need, you can make the planting bed.  Henderson recommended trenching the bed two to three feet deep with about three inches of rotted manure mixed into the soil.  A deep sandy loam is best for them as they are native to alluvial soils.  Bernard Mc Mahon, in Mc Mahon’s American Gardener, published in 1857, recommended double digging two spades deep and placing several inches of rotted manure in the trench, then spreading another layer of rotted manure over the surface.  He directed gardeners to mix this second layer of manure with the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches.  My young plants, now a year old, have spears a little larger in diameter than a toothpick.  The young plants may be grown in a temporary (sunny) rich bed for another year, then moved to their permanent location.  Place the crowns of the plants two inches below the soil surface.  Keep the beds weeded to ensure quick, even growth.  Mc Mahon recommends three years from planting (which would be four years from sowing seed) before cutting can begin.  Dress the bed every spring with rotted manure, bone meal and wood ashes.

If your family really enjoys asparagus, plant more than five plants per person; I plant twelve per person.  If you plant two-year transplants, spread the roots out like the spokes of a wheel and cover with about one inch of prepared soil.  Water well.  As the plants grow, cover them with more soil until you have them two inches under.  Do not use fresh manure as it will burn them and (heaven forbid) do not use chemical fertilizers, especially on newly planted asparagus.  Wait two years to begin cutting.  A summer mulch of three inches of straw is excellent, will protect the plants in winter and the spears will come up earlier in the spring if the ground is not frozen too deeply.

When you cut asparagus spears get them into the refrigerator right away or cook them immediately because they lose flavor as quickly as sweet corn does.   Considering how expensive asparagus is, I find the start up work well worth while.  Enjoy!

March Gardening Calendar

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This photo is of a double blue primrose seedling, blooming now in Corvallis, Oregon.

March is a very busy month for gardeners.  Root crops stored from the previous year and planned to produce seed can be planted out late in the month after the soil thaws (cabbages, celery, lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips).  Planting time will arrive soon, or has already arrived for those of you in mild climates.  Weed and clean borders and vegetable beds, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals, plant rhubarb, asparagus, sea kale and artichokes.   Plant and/or prune cane fruits and fruit trees (cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, etc.).  Check cold frames on a regular basis, venting as needed and closing the glazing panels at night.  Watch temperatures in the greenhouse also, as March is a month of ups and downs in temperature.  Manure and other organic soil amendments (epsom salts, seaweed meal, alfalfa meal, greensand, bone meal, compost and wood ashes) can be spread over vegetable, fruit, flower and rose beds.  Grape vines can be manured now, leaving space around the stem; treat roses in the same manner.

Many vegetables can be sown indoors now for transplanting out later: cole crops (brassicas), onions, lettuce, peppers, eggplant and leeks.  Some vegetables can be direct sown outside if weather permits and if your soil is not too wet to work: arugula, carrots, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Celery and lettuce can be direct sown into frames.  Several vegetables and fruits can be transplanted now: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, asparagus, horseradish, head lettuce, onion sets and plants and perennial herbs.  Make sure your mushroom beds do not get too wet; replace straw if wet.

Potted auricula primroses should be protected from rain and frosts; they will begin to bud soon.  Sow any remaining auricula and primrose seeds.  Herbaceous perennials can be divided and planted now.  Many hardy annual flowers may be sown during March: larkspur, sweet peas, lychnis, nigella, lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and sweet alyssum.  Inside the greenhouse sow: petunias, impatiens, pansies, alyssum, chrysanthemums, iceplants, portulacas, salvias, snapdragons, sweet Williams, ten-week stocks, mignonette, hesperis, Shasta daisies, hibiscus, lupine and Salvia x superba.

Roses and other shrubs may be layered now, and cuttings may be made of geraniums, myrtles and hydrangeas.  If you want to plant a hedge from seed, now is the time to sow seeds of hawthorns, stone fruits, roses and other hardy shrubs you might like to use.  The young plants can be transplanted out to their permanent positions later.

Happy Spring!

 

Some More Heirloom Early Spring Flowers

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I have several more wonderful heirloom flowers blooming here in Oregon in late February.  Tulipa schrenkii is shown in the first photograph.  It was introduced into Europe in 1608 from Turkey and is rare today.  The rather pointed petals are a warm red, margined with golden orange.  John Parkinson described and illustrated this tulip (though botanists have changed its name) in his great work A Garden of Pleasant Flowers, published in 1629.  He calls it “Tulipa pracox rubra oris luteia.  The early red tulipa with yellow edges, or the Duke.”  This species was an ancestor to the ‘Duc van Tol’ tulips, which were developed to be forced into bloom and sold, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Tulipa schrenkii is hardy in USDA zones 3-9.

Tulips are fairly easy to grow.  they prefer sandy or light soil, full sun, and a dry summer.  If you live in an area with rainfall in summer, you can dig them and store them in in netted bags or open boxes until October, then plant them again.  The bulbs will increase under such treatment.  I cover my bulbs with poultry netting to discourage cats from scratching the bed and squirrels from digging the bulbs.

The beautiful. fragrant Narcissus orientalis known in the nursery trade as ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is illustrated I’m the second picture above.  This plant is illustrated in Parkinson as well, labeled ‘Narcissus Africanus aureus major.’  He compares it in size to the beautiful ‘Primrose Peerless’, and mentions that it is of “…exceeding sweet a sent”  (I have used the modern “s” instead of the antique “f” used in 1629).  Parkinson also mentions the “blackish brown coate or skinne” covering the bulbs.  This narcissus is forced in great quantities today and has a delicious scent.  Out of doors, it is hardy in USDA zones 8-10 and needs a dry summer as well, being native to northern Africa and Asia Minor.  I have grown this variety inside the house; in the low desert in California, and now here in Oregon (in the warmest, sunniest spot available).  It is beautiful and indispensable in my garden.

The third photograph depicts Vinca minor or periwinkle, just beginning to bloom here.  It has been grown since Roman times and Pliny refers to it as Pervinca.  Chaucer used the spelling “Pervinke”.  The plant is a vining groundcover with evergreen leaves and lovely blue flowers.  Periwinkle loves part shade and a moderate amount of water.  A white form exists, as  well as a double blue and a plum-colored single.  Vinca minor is hardy in USDA zones 4-10.

An important feature of these three plants is that they can be grown with moderate water, an important factor in the increasingly dry climate of the U.S.

Some of the First Flowering Bulbs of Spring

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The three flowers above are the first to bloom in my garden this year.  The first photo shows blooms (from left to right) of: Galanthus nivalis flore pleno, the double snowdrop; Iris reticulata; and Muscari botryoides, the grape hyacinth.  The snowdrop and the iris were planted last fall (2015) and the grape hyacinths were here in the garden from times past.

The double snowdrop is a beautiful flower, having rows of green and white petals that resemble the old-fashioned layered petticoats worn in the nineteenth century and before.  The single form was known in ancient times and is described by Theophrastus.  It is illustrated in Gerard’s The Herball of 1596 and was considered a type “bulbous violet” at that time.  The double form, illustrated above, occurred in  the eighteenth century.  It blooms slightly later than the single form, but is quite unusual and uncommon today.  G. nivalis is native to Europe and likes cool, rather moist conditions and cold winters (USDA zones 3-8).  I have mine planted in part shade under a Pieris tree.   Snowdrops have a faint, earthy fragrance and will begin to bloom as soon as the snow melts.

Iris reticulata, which does not seem to have a common or folk name, is native to Turkey, Iran and the Caucuses Mountains.  Bulbs reached Europe and North America in the mid-nineteenth century; nowadays several forms and colors are available.  The flowers have an unusual violet-like fragrance.  The plant is beautiful and undemanding, preferring full sun, rather alkaline, gritty soil and dry conditions in summer.   I. reticulata thrives in USDA zones 4-9 and multiplies well.

Muscari botryoides is the original “grape hyacinth” known since at least 1596 and is illustrated in Gerard’s Herball.  It resembles the commonly grown Muscari armeniacum, but blooms earlier.  It is hardier as well, growing in USDA zones 2-8.  M. botryoides has sterile upper flowers which are lighter in color than those below.  The flowers have a fragrance of honey.   M. botryoides has almost disappeared from modern bulb catalogs, but if you search, you may fnd it growing in old established gardens, or around abandoned home sites.  I am lucky that it was planted in the garden of my house, built in the 1920s.  The flowers are just opening here in mid-February.

SCENTED GERANIUMS (PELARGONIUMS)

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Scented plants were extremely popular in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.  People grew them in their gardens and on windowsills.  Today, bright colorful flowers hold the public’s interest and we do not often see plants grown primarily for their fragrance.  Scented geraniums (botanically classified as Pelargoniums), while not as showy as their modern hybrid cousins, the zonal (P. x hortorum) and Martha Washington (P. x domesticum) geraniums, are delightful and charming.  The scented varietes are attractive, easy to grow plants that release their fragrance when touched.

Scented geraniums are native to coastal South Africa.  The first plants to arrive in Europe were brought by Dutch traders in the sixteenth century.  Several species exist in the wild and hybridization has taken place over the long time since they were brought into cultivation.  The second picture from the top, above, is of P. graveolens, known as ‘True Rose’.   It dates to 1787 and is one of the oldest still grown today.  It has a healthy, robust habit and delightful rose scent.  ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’ is illustrated in the third photo from the top.  It dates from 1802 and is a P. graveolens hybrid with a rose, fruit and spice scent.  Its leaves are beautifully cut and margined with a thin white line. The very rare ‘Skeleton Rose’, also known as ‘Dr. Livingston’ is another old P. graveolens hybrid from the nineteenth century or earlier, with beautiful, deeply cut lemon and rose-scented foliage.  This variety seems to prefer soil with a lower pH (more acidic) than the others.  The top photo shows foliage and flowers of ‘Fair Ellen’ an old hybrid of P. quercifolium  and has, as you would expect from the Latin name, oak-shaped leaves, scented of rich fruit and spice.  The bottom photo shows potted scented geraniums wintering on a cool porch.  The plant on the right is ‘Skeleton Rose’.  On the left is the rather large velvet-leaved P. tomentosum known as ‘Peppermint’.  It has a true mint scent.  This variety is the most sensitive to heat and is the first to curl its leaves and wilt if it is in too hot a location.  Many more species and old hybrid scented geraniums exist, but they are hard to find.  I am collecting them as I come across them (and when I have the cash to buy them).  Many scents and hybrids were once available, including: apricot-scented, nutmeg-scented, filbert-scented, spice-scented, lemon-scented, apple-scented, almond-scented and orange-scented.  Louse Beebe Wilder, in her wonderful book ‘The Fragrant Path’, reprinted as ‘The Fragrant Garden’, mentions a person she knew as a child who owned a collection of over 100 varieties of scented geraniums.  In her book, she lists 18 species and hybrids still available years later— in 1932.  She complained that many had disappeared or were very hard to find.  This seems true today, though plants are available from two sources that I can recommend: Logee’s Greenhouses http://www.logees.com and Select Seeds http://www.selectseeds.com.  Both of these sources are in the eastern U.S.  Seed for scented species can sometimes be sourced; this season I have started seeds of P. grassularioides, the coconut-scented geranium.  Seed came from Terroir Seeds htpp://www.UnderwoodGardens.com.

Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. They prefer a somewhat cool, sunny atmosphere and a medium level of humidity.  A sunny south facing window on a cool porch is very much to their liking in winter.  That season is a rest period for the plants.  Do not water them very much in winter, but let them almost wilt; then water.  I make an organic soil mix with compost, bone meal, greensand, wood ashes and sharp sand or perlite (1/4 to 1/3 part of the potting mix, for excellent drainage).  My plants really like this mix and I never need to fertilize.  In early spring growth begins and picks up speed into summer, so watering is increased.  It is best to let the plants become nearly dry— avoid overwatering.  During the heat and bright sun in summer, some of the plants may begin to flag, so it is best to put them in an east window or provide light shade and a cooler location.  I repot my scented geraniums once a year, unless growth warrants additional repotting.  Otherwise, it is best to do so in summer.  Softwood cuttings can be made anytime from April through July.  If a plant is repotted in early autumn, cuttings may be taken then also.

 

Designing A Garden For Heirloom Plants

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Winter is an excellent time for gardeners to plan garden designs as there is minimal activity outside this time of year, epecially in northern climates.  As soon as soil can be worked you can begin executing your project.  In southern and low desert climates it is also a good time to plan your garden and build it because the cool temperatures make it easier to do heavy physical labor.

This last year I designed and built a garden in Early American style to hold my collection of antique roses, fruits, flowers and vegetables.  I had several goals: create a design based on historic models; maximize use of space and efficiency; minimize maintenance labor; use local materials, protect plants from predation and create the best growing conditions possible.  The first picture above depicts an American garden design plan from the late eighteenth century.  The original drawing is archived at the Essex Institute in Salem, MA.  My photo is taken from British and American Gardens of the Eighteenth Century, edited by Robert P. Maccubin and Peter Martin; The Colonial Williamsburg Press, 1984.  This style of design and use of space has its roots in Medieval gardens of Europe.  The plan is formal; beds are edged by timbers, are often raised or slightly raised and mud-free (and/or weed-free) paths separate beds.  This formal style is quite convenient to tend: crops can be separated and rotated; soil pH, texture and drainage can be adjusted from bed to bed, and some beds can be high water-use, while others may be medium or low water-use.  I find it convenient to place high water-use beds nearest the house and low water-use beds farthest away.

The second photo above is of my garden design for my garden in Corvallis, Oregon.  I measured the entire site, then made the drawing to scale on graph paper.  I used cut-out pieces of colored paper for structures such as the greenhouse, cold frames and porches.  I made labeled pieces of graph paper to indicate trees and shrubs.  The cut-out pieces can be moved around over the drawing until you determine where you want everything to go.  Shade is an issue in this garden, so sun-loving and shade tolerant plants were placed accordingly.

When the design was finished, trees and shrubs that cast heavy shade were removed or moved to new location; materials and workmen were sourced.  Tree and shrub roots were ground and removed.  Soil leveling was undertaken, then fences were built.  We tilled the soil, as seen in the third photo above, then raked the grass and roots into piles approximating the location of beds.  We had such a hot summer that the grass roots quickly died.  They provided immediate organic material for the soil.

We measured and drew out my design with spray paint and began to build our boxed beds.  I used 2′ x 12′ cedar lumber anchored in place with metal spikes set in concrete.  The fourth photo shows bed construction in the back yard garden.  Trenches 6 inches deep were dug to lay the timbers into.  Now we had beds raised six inches above the original soil level and 4 inches above planned level of the gravel.  This enabled us to use the native soil and amend it with 4 to 5 inches of compost, manure, greensand, wood ashes, alfalfa meal and bone meal (See the fifth photo above of the front garden).

After soil preparation, planting could begin.  The sixth photo above is a shot of the back garden two weeks after planting.  Vegetables grew quickly in the wonderful, organically amended soil.  The front garden was finished and planted a few weeks later (the seventh photo above).  The front beds were planned for bulbs, perennials and shrubs that use little or no additional water in our climate.  I do have to water the rose bed bordering the fence; watering deeply but infrequently once the roses are established.

The last photo shows one of the large 3′ x 3′ wooden tubs newly planted with ‘Blue-Podded Blauwschokker’ peas, which date to the sixteenth century.

The entire construction project took six months, from design to planting.  For a labor force we had two people working part time and one person working full time.  The garden is planted with heirloom plants dating from the ancient Greco-Roman period through the Oregon Trail Era (1830-1869).  Also included are a few more recent varieties, dating before and up to 1925, when the house was built.

 

January Gardening Calendar

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On or near the beginning of each month I will present a gardening calendar.  I find that it saves time and worry if I have a ready-made plan for activities in the garden.  January is one of the least busy months of the year for gardeners, but we have a few things that need to be or can be done:

Plan your garden for the year.  Read seed and nursery catalogs and pick out what you would like to grow.  It is a good idea to plant greater numbers of the vegetables and fruits your family uses on a regular basis.  Minimize or eliminate the things you do not.  Figure out how much space you have and how much seed you need, then order.  If you are just beginning or reconfiguring your garden, January is a great time to undertake design projects.  January is also an excellent time to repair equipment, such as garden tools, plant supports and cold frames.

If you have a supply of fresh manure you can make a hotbed in which to grow early vegetables and flowers.  Though perhaps unpleasant to deal with, a hotbed provides a little microclimate that is much warmer and more humid than the out of doors.  Hotbeds will extend your growing and harvest seasons.  They are a real help in climates with short seasons and cool nights.  Squash, melons, peppers and eggplant enjoy the warm nights a hotbed will provide, thereby significantly increasing production.  In the nineteenth century most winter vegetables, such as cauliflower, were grown in hotbeds.

Carefully tend your cold frames in January, covering them with insulating materials on cold nights and admitting air during the day if it is not too cold.  Now is the time to clean debris and dead leaves out of winter lettuces and other greens in cold frames or cold greenhouses.

Early cabbage can be sown indoors, as well as parsley, cauliflower and eggplant.  Flowers to sow inside to transplant out later include: geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, petunias, pansies, snapdragons and violas.  Primroses, auriculas, delphinium and many other perennials can be sown now indoors.

Manure can be spread over vegetable beds and perennial borders.  Pruning can begin of fruit trees and raspberries.  If you live in a mild climate or have a large cold frame or cold greenhouse, you can harvest any of the following: leeks, spinach, kale, carrots, lettuce, corn salad, onions, parsnips and chard.  In a cold climate carrots and parsnips outside can be covered with straw to protect them, so you just have to push away the snow and straw to dig them.  In a cold (unheated) greenhouse greens can be grown and harvested all winter, especially if an inner layer of floating row cover is placed over the crops to protect them.  Stakes or hoops will prevent the fabric from touching the leaves of the plants.

Enjoy January!

 

 

Antique Chrysanthemums

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More than 150 species of Chrysanthemum exist in nature.  In this article we are concerned with Asian species brought to Europe and North America as garden plants.  In ancient China gardeners selected interesting plants from the wild and over centuries developed chrysanthemums into popular garden plants.  A yellow garden variety and a white were known in China by the fifth century B.C.  By 1,000 A.D., in the time of the refined Sung dynasty, thirty-five named varieties of mums existed.  By 1700, the number had jumped to 300.

The florist chrysanthemums we grow today in America (and all over the world) are descended from wild and garden plants introduced from China.  The first species to reach Europe was Chrysanthemum morifolium, ancestor of modern florist mums.  Plants arrived in Marseilles, France in the 1780s, then were brought to England by 1790.  The flowers of this species are purple.  After 1800 more garden varieties arrived in Europe and America from China.  The yellow-flowered C. indicum arrived in England in the early nineteenth century.  Enthusiasts soon crossed C. morifolium x C. indicum to create a wide range of colors and shapes.  (It is not known how many of the diverse forms that appeared in the early 1800s were new hybrids; some may have been garden varieties received directly from China.)  By 1834 fifty varieties in several colors and shapes were available in Europe and America.

Robert Fortune introduced another Chinese species, C. rubellum, the Chusan Daisy, in 1846.  The advantage of this species and several of its hybrids is that it endures colder temperatures than the other two species.  The plants tend to be shorter, also.  The picture above (from The Cottage Garden, by Roy Genders, Pelham Books, 1969) shows several blooms of C. rubellum.  Because of the button-like shape of the flower this kind of mum came to be known as the “Pompon chrysanthemum”.   The pompon class is still recognized today by the National Chrysanthemum Society.

I once grew a beautiful pompon mum named ‘Paul Boissier’, but lost it in a move.  It grows to about three feet or more and has beautiful, double orange and bronze flowers in the lovely circular shape of the pompon mums.  Few heirloom mums survive today, and only a very few are commercially available.  Shirley Hibberd, in his book The Amateur’s Flower Garden, published in 1871, listed 100 named cultivars of chrysanthemum.  None of them is available from a nursery today!  It is probable that if some of these old named plants do still exist, they would have to be re-identified.  I am always looking for old mums, especially pompons, but have not had much success.

Today the National Chrysanthemum Society recognizes thirteen distinct classes of mums, defined by their flower shapes.  Emphasis seems to be on contemporary varieties, not on heirloom mums, but membership does expose one to the great diversity of modern mums available.  Membership is only $20.00 per year for an individual.  Youth memberships (under 17), garden club affiliation (organization) memberships, and life memberships are also available.   The website for the society is mums.org.  Two benefits of membership are a cultural manual for new members and a quarterly journal.  Why not join and voice a desire to locate, preserve and propagate antique chrysanthemums?


 

Antique Florist Anemones

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The genus Anemone is a reasonably large one with 120+ species.  Here we will concentrate on three tuberous-rooted types that are native to the Mediterranean region: Anemone coronaria, A. pavonina, and A. hortensis.  These species cross readily.  Both wild and cultivated forms have large and beautiful flowers that last well when cut.  In the sixteenth century species and cultivated anemones were introduced to Western Europe through the development of trade with Constantinople (now known as Istanbul).  Turkish gardens at that time held many beautiful cultivated forms of anemones and these were valued almost as much as tulips.

The first picture above shows a page from Gerard’s The Herball of 1596At that time Anemone coronaria was called A. tenuifolia. (The modern A. tenuifolia is a species native to South Africa.)   Gerard had twelve forms of the species A. coronaria in addition to several other kinds of anemones.  The variation in the flowers of A. coronaria in its single to double forms can be seen in the woodcut.  The term anemone-flowered is derived from the shape of the flower on the lower right of the picture, which has longer outside petals with shorter petals in the center.

The second picture, also from Gerard’s The Herball, depicts Anemone latifolia, now called A. pavonina.  (I have not been able to find a picture of A. hortensis, which may be depicted in early herbals, but may have been listed under another name at that time.)  The botanical classification system devised by Carolus Linnaeus that we use today had not been created in 1596.  Since then botanists have renamed various plants over and over as they identify distinguishing characteristic of species.

The third picture is from The Garden of Pleasant Flowers, by John Parkinson, of 1629.  More garden forms of anemones were known by then and natural hybrids between the three species listed above increased the diversity of garden anemones.  Both Gerard and Parkinson grew named forms.  The popularity of these plants led to their development as florist plants, grown by specialist gardeners and displayed in pots at flower shows.  The word “florist’ has changed in usage; its meaning today refers to those who primarily sell cut flowers.  Anemones were at that time as well loved as tulips, polyanthus primroses and auricula primroses. The popularity of anemones peaked in the eighteenth century, when over 300 named varieties were known and sold.

Today, all of the old named anemones are gone.  Hybridization and selection in France in the 1800s created the ‘De Caen’ single-flowered type, descended primarily from A. pavonina.   ‘St. ‘Brigid’ double anemones were developed out of A. coronaria in Ireland in the 1880s.  Nowadays, these two strains represent the florist anemones in modern gardens.

The last two pictures above are examples of the modern strain of ‘St. Brigid’ anemones, from my own garden.  The tubers are hardy to USDA zone 7b when left in the ground over winter.  Gardeners in colder zones lift the bulbs and store them over winter, replanting them in spring.  The flowers and foliage do take some frost—the picture of foliage and buds above shows plants two weeks after heavy frosts down to 19 degrees F.  The plants need good drainage, sun, and not too much wet in summer.  In the Willamette valley we can grow them with little or no watering, yet they survive as perennial plants.  They do go dormant earlier in the season with this treatment.  Both ‘St. Brigid’ and ‘De Caen’ anemones bloom best (and all summer) with cool summer temperatures and regular watering.  The cut flowers are beautiful and colorful.  Several of the still life pastel paintings by Odilon Redon of France portray the exquisite beauty of these flowers.  Why not try growing some!

Antique Zinnias

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The first zinnia species introduced to the United States was Zinnia elegans from Mexico in 1793.  It was a single form; double forms were introduced in 1858.  Zinnia haageana, another Mexican species was introduced in 1876.  A nursery catalog from 1876 sent out by Henry H. Dreer of Philadelphia describes Zinnia haageana as “A double variety of Zinnia mexicana; flowers deep orange, margined in bright yellow.”  These species were crossed together and a wide color range created, as well as new flower forms.  Few old seed strains exist today; the oldest hybrid seed strains I have located are the ‘Cactus’ mix from 1928 and the ‘California Giants’ mix, also from 1928.

In the photos above, the red semi-double zinnia is one I grew this season, of the variety ‘Will Rogers’ from 1940.  The flowers of this strain are most often semi-double, but sometimes fully double.  The flowers are a beautiful warm shade of red.  The other two pictures above show the much smaller flowers of Zinnia peruviana, a species from Mexico with a range extending into South America.  These come in earthy yellow and red shades.

Zinnias can be started indoors if you need to start them early and in areas with cool or short summers transplants can be set out after danger of frost has passed.  The seedlings will need plenty of light in all stages of growth (inside, too) so they will not become thin and floppy.  Seeds can be direct sown about the date of the last frost or later if your season permits.  Zinnias enjoy heat and sun.  Some of the most prolific plants I have seen were grown in the desert Southwest, but they seem to do well in most of the U.S.  Why not try one or two older seed varieties of zinnia?