Flower and herb seedlings await transplant into raised beds with cabbage starts and last year's leeks still growing.
Various herbs and flowers add fragrance, diversity and pest control to gardens along with a supply of flavorful, nutritious, fresh or dried seasonings.
Story last updated at 5/15/2013 - 1:28 pm
Planting seeds is both practical and satisfying but the real fun comes from trying something new. The staggering selection of seed varieties available today can be overwhelming as we peruse the gardening catalogs but at least a wide range of interesting choices are available. Most of my gardening space is taken up with favorite vegetables, herbs, and the usual marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias I like to scatter throughout but there are always a few new items I haven't tried before.
Last year I recklessly nurtured a profusion of flowers for hanging baskets. I started seeds for plants I'd never grown in all my years - petunias, impatiens, verbena, lobelia and alyssum. I crowded them into eight or 10 pots and hung them in my solarium porch. All summer they added a wonderful, cheery aspect to the room but as the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers got bigger, the massive flowers were in the way; shading important vegetables. When I put them outside, the rain and wind soon took their toll. Now that I've tried them, I want to keep growing those pretty flowers, just not so many.
To fill the compulsive planting void from fewer flowers, I'm experimenting with herbs this year, adding hyssop, anise, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, chamomile and valerian to the usual plantings of oregano, basil, thyme, savory, rosemary, sage and parsley. The seedlings are just ready to transplant into the garden now but already the strong fragrances are making me glad I'm trying more herbs.
Some seeds sprout easily and others need increased light, moisture, or temperatures to germinate. Many of the tiny herb and flower seeds can be tricky. Just think how amazing a seed is! The seed coat is there to protect against parasites, mechanical injury and other stresses while the embryo inside contains all the tiny parts of a mature plant along with endosperm to feed the developing seedling. It's incredible that a speck of a seed can turn into a six-foot plant loaded with fruit.
Germination begins with absorption of water, which activates an enzyme, respiration increases and plant cells duplicate. When the embryo becomes too large, the seed coat bursts and a growing plant emerges. The tip of the root is first to emerge to anchor the seed in place, allowing the embryo to absorb water and nutrients from the earth. Larger seeds should be planted deeper for a better anchor. They have enough endosperm to feed the seedling longer as it works its way toward the light.
Many seeds need at least 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. for germination so use of a bottom-heating mat should result in quicker sprouting and stronger, healthier seedlings. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers may germinate in half the time at optimum temperatures, greatly reducing the chance for rot and disease to occur. I've gardened for years without a heat mat but bought one last year for the flowers. This year I used it successfully for tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, savory, valerian, thyme, lemon balm, petunia, dahlia, impatiens and marigolds. When the first hint of sprouting is seen, plastic covers and bottom heat should be removed. Placing grow lights low over seedlings is also important for strong, stocky plants. Even with a south-facing windowsill it's difficult to avoid tall, thin seedlings.
The weather this spring has been amazingly sunny, unlike the usual chilly, rainy conditions of our rainforest climate so the biggest challenge has been keeping everything watered and not stressed by too much heat. What a deal! Hopefully, there will be enough sunshine and warmth throughout the gardening season for bumper crops of vegetables and lots of pretty flowers.
Carla Petersen writes from Thorne Bay. She is a freelance writer and artist. Visit her website at whalepassoriginals.com or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.