Very few home gardeners grow flowers from seed. They buy perennials in pots and annuals in six-packs or pots and put them in every year.
But Old House Gardens (oldhousegardens.com/) said in its Friends of Old Bulbs newsletter that it is going to be giving away packets of single blue larkspur (Consolida ambigua) or peony or breadseed poppy seeds (P. somniferum) free with every bulb order they receive this fall. That got me thinking about why so few people grow flowers from seed.
The seeds Old House Gardens is offering are self-sowing varieties. That means that they are annuals, but the flowering plants drop seeds that sprout easily.
“The easy part is that they sow themselves and come back every year,” said Scott Kunst, founder and head grower at Old House Gardens in Michigan. “The hard part is that you get more than you need and have to thin them out.”
Old House Gardens, which specializes in heirloom bulbs, does not sell flower seeds. Kunst said he thought about adding seeds to his catalog, but decided it would take attention from his prime product.
He especially likes the old blue larkspur that grows in his garden, and he wanted to share it with his customers.
“I like that it doesn’t overwhelm other plants,” Kunst said. “It is a very light presence in the garden to start out. It’s 3 feet tall, and very deep bright blue that is radiant, and there are not a lot of blue things in the garden. It is kind of architectural, with good leaves and spire shape. It combines well with a lot of other things, such as breadseed poppies. It blooms in iris season and overlaps with peonies.”
He said that he was not able to find a seed source for the simple blue larkspur during a Google search.
“I found a lot of mixed larks and double larks, but did not find the simple, old, wonderful tall blue variety,” he said.
If you want to get blue larkspur and don’t get the seeds by ordering bulbs from Old House Gardens, you can get the mixed variety and pull out or deadhead all of the colors that are not the color you want. The idea is that if you plant a packet of mixed color larkspur, but you want only the blue to drop seeds in your garden, you let the blue flowers go to seed but all the other colored larkspur go into your compost bin.
Nancy and I grow self-sowing plants in our vegetable garden, but Kunst said they work well in cottage-style flower gardens. The seeds may not sow themselves in the same place every year, but they mix in well with the perennials.
Kunst did say the people who use mulch in their flower gardens might have some trouble getting the seeds to sow themselves.
Other self-seeding varieties that Kunst grows in his garden are Johnny jump-ups, corn poppies, snow-on-the-mountain, feverfew and honesty (lunaria).
Nancy and I grow most of those. We got the breadseed poppy and feverfew seeds from the American Horticulture Society sometime in the 1980s, and they have been coming back since. We also have Johnny jump-ups, forget-me-nots and lunaria, but I think they just showed up on their own.
The forget-me-nots we try to pull up before they go to seed because they will take over the garden if we don’t. We always miss enough so they look good in spring. Kunst said the forget-me-nots escape his gardens and end up in the lawn, but he just mows around them.
We also let dame’s rocket, echinacea, rudbeckia and agastache or giant hyssop drop seeds so new plants come up in our vegetable garden.
The only problem with growing the annual flowers in the vegetable garden is that I have to plant vegetables around the flowers, but it is worth the effort.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: