February 17, 2019

Perennials Easy on the Wallet When Started from Seed

Sorrel is one of the first spring greens

Janine Pineo Photo | Sorrel is one of the first spring greens

• By Janine Pineo •

The Earth has awakened.

The muffled quiet of winter gave way to a cacophonous chorus of blackbirds every morning and the sweet harmony of peepers each night.

This daily symphony caught me by surprise; I just didn’t remember how noisy all these lovesick, food-foraging creatures could be.

It is so easy to forget how the Earth does come to life, slowly — oh, so slowly — but with a determination as each plant, tree, bird or animal comes into its own in its own time.

Working around the yard, I’ve tried to slow down a bit and savor the days. It’s difficult, especially when I spot a bush that needs pruning or a plant that needs dividing or a vegetable garden that needs planning.

Almost every day, I’ve concocted a different scheme to get everything into the vegetable patch. I have concluded that it’s impossible. But this weekend — weather permitting — I’ll do it anyway.

I fully expect to have trellis net going in every conceivable direction with every bare spot in between sporting seeds whether there is room or not. It happens every year: In June the garden looks manageable with perky little plants; come July, you’ll take your life into your own hands when you cross the fence line.

Perhaps I should put up a sign: “Welcome to My Garden; Enter at Your Own Risk.” One simply doesn’t know when the poles for the pole beans will topple or whether a pumpkin vine suddenly will pull taut, causing one to trip. And just what was that slimy thing brushing against your ankle?

With the exception of the vegetable garden, however, most of my plans will be on hold this summer. I decided early this year that 1996 would be a “maintenance” year. I’ve put off dividing perennials and cleaning up some older flower beds for a couple of years, but no longer. And while it’s difficult to squelch the urge to expand newer beds, I have convinced myself that a year off, so to speak, will be good for me.

It should come as no surprise that I’ve already circumvented my own edict by purchasing seeds for perennials (so much for gardening vows). It’s just a minor infraction because, with a minimum of work, I can add a few perennials that grow easily from seed. The plants will fill in a few neglected spots in existing beds.

My nearly two-year trial of growing perennials from seed paid off last spring with a colorful show from a couple of biennials. Bellis, or English daisy, is a petite plant with sweet little flowers that look like asters until, as they open farther, the yellow center is revealed. Voila! It’s a miniature daisy.

The Johnny-jump-up seeds did just as well, producing bushy plants that blossomed furiously. I’ve been looking for new plants, but I fear that last summer’s drought may have killed any new offspring.

Lack of water doesn’t seem to have affected the small plot of lupine. This year the plants rival those transplanted from my grandmother’s gardens. I have high hopes that at least one of the plants’ blossoms will be a coral shade I saw while visiting Prince Edward Island, where I bought the Russell Hybrids seed.

Another flower common in P.E.I., where it grows wild, is malva, or mallow. The variety I tried, Pink Perfection, flowered last summer. The plants seem fuller this spring, so I may transplant a few for fun.

My recipe for success is fairly simple: Give the seeds a good organic base and don’t forget to water. I started the four different varieties in early August and watered the little plot faithfully. Once the plants got some size to them, I eased off on the water.

Since it worked, I plan to sow columbine and a viola variety, along with some more malva and bellis. Venturing into herb territory, I’m going to try bronze fennel, sorrel and lovage.

So with the exception of watering the potted plants, keeping the vegetable garden under control, cleaning up a couple of old flower beds and starting just a few seeds for perennials, things should be fairly quiet this summer.

With all that leisure time, I’ll be able to pull up a chair on the deck and watch the little eastern phoebe that’s built a nest under the eaves atop a coach light not five feet from the back door. One bird book says this people-friendly bird can raise two or three broods each summer in her nest of mud and moss.

Actually, I’ll have to watch the nursery. Mrs. Phoebe lined her nest with fur I’d brushed from my elder dog, Bear. It’s a cozy gesture (and pretty smart) but I don’t want the baby brood to mistake my bird-chasing pet for home sweet home.

Between this and the gardens, I do believe I’ll have my hands full.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in May 1996.