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The next three newsletters will be devoted to discussing seeds that do best when planted in the fall. There are a number of flowers and a few vegetables that can be difficult to grow when planted in the spring, but flourish with exceptional germination rates when planted in autumn. Today’s newsletter is going to focus on biennials.
The little secret about biennials is that many of them will flower within the first year they are planted if they are planted in the fall. The other wonderful secret about some biennials, like lupines, is that they will grow in warmer climates, but they are annuals and they will only grow if they are planted in the fall.
Hollyhocks are a very, very old cultivated flower which probably originated in Turkey or parts of Asia and was introduced into Great Britain in 1573. The name is a curiosity because some believe it is derived from the term ‘holly hock’ because the leaves were used to soothe swollen horses heels. Others believe that the name derives from ‘holy hoc’. ‘Hoc’ is the saxon word for mallow, a term for hollyhock, and the plant may have been brought back to Europe by the Crusaders who used the plant to treat tuberculosis and bladder problems.
In 1873, a rust disease, which had spread from South America to Australia and then to Europe, began to attack hollyhocks. The effects of the disease were so devastating that the cultivation of hollyhocks was all but abandoned by the end of the 19th century.
By the 1930’s, Hollyhocks were beginning to make a comeback. In 1939, Hollyhock Indian Spring was introduced and it remains the most popular single and semi-double mix of white and pink blooming hollyhocks available. Double Hollyhocks, believed to be recent introductions are actually very, very old plants from the 1500s and 1600s. Hollyhock Chater’s Double, created in the 1880s with fully double flowers in pink, salmon, red white and maroon is the only Victorian cultivar to survive to the present.
Hollyhocks, for many of us, are very difficult to grow from seed. The easiest way is to plant the seeds in mid-summer to late fall. Sprinkle them in an area and cover with less than 1/2 inch of soil. Then moisten the soil. The seeds may germinate and begin to grow during the late summer and fall. They will die back with the hard frosts, but they will re-emerge in the spring.
Planted according to this schedule, the plants will usually blossom one year after the seed is planted.
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YOUTUBE video on LUPINES
Anyone who has lived with lupines, I believe, will tell you that though the exquisite display of color is brief, it is well, very well, worth waiting for each year.
The first cultivated lupines were an annual variety, 4 feet tall, which produced a snow white spire and was native to the southern Balkans and the Aegean. Known as The White Lupine or Wolfbane, it had been cultivated since the earliest Egyptian times as fodder for animals and the seeds were burned to repel gnats.
Seedsmen in early America offered four colors for sale: white, yellow, blue and rose. The lupine began to gain dramatically in popularity in the early 1800s when, a variety native to the Pacific Northwest, L. polyphyllus, was discovered and described during the Lewis and Clark Expedition and then introduced to the American public in 1826. L. polyphyllus had luxurious spires filled with blue-purple flowers but would once in a while sport a spire of white, pale pink or bi-colored flowers.
Americans planted these lupines in their gardens with some frequency, but it was not until the horticulturalist, George Russell, became inspired by a display of lupines at the coronation of King George V and began a 25 year breeding effort that the popularity of lupines exploded.
In 1937, Russell introduced an array of single colored lupines in shades of red, deep pink, yellow and orange and some exquisite bi-colors like a purple and gold flowering specimen.
Today lupines grace the fields, roadways, drainage ditches and coasts of the colder areas of America. Their extremely hard seed coats require a lot of scraping before they can be worn away to allow moisture to help with the germination process. That is why you often see drifts of lupines clustered around the rough gravelly beds of drainage ditches.
Most lupines struggle in the hardiness zones of 6 and higher. Only the Texas Bluebonnet, the state flower of Texas, a beautiful periwinkle blue to deep blue lupine that is native to the Lone Star State can withstand heat. It can thrive in hardiness zones 5-9.
Lupines can be grown in Zones 6-7 as annuals, but they must be planted in the fall – late October or throughout November and early December. You can scarify (scrape the seed) the seed before planting, but do not soak seed you are planting in the fall. Broadcast the seed in the area where you wish to grow them and cover the seed with 1-2 inches of soil. The lupines will germinate in the spring and bloom in early summer, but then the plants will die, and new seed will need to be planted in the fall again.
In Zones 1-5, lupines will thrive as biennials and do best when seed is planted in the fall as described above.
Columbines are native to many parts of the world including the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast. In 1640, John Tradescant the Younger brought the American columbines to England where they immediately raised the interest of gardeners. The American columbine flowers were much larger and the spurs of the blossoms were much longer, hence the American columbines had an exaggerated drama about them that the English and European columbines did not possess.
Columbines became popular during the latter part of the Victorian Era when cottage gardens became popular. Columbines are grown as biennials, but they are actually short lived perennials. They can tolerate poor soil conditions, but prefer light, sandy soil. They do best when grown in partial shade. The plants do best when their seeds are sown in the late fall and left to germinate in the spring. Germination may take up to several months, so you must be patient, and that is why sowing the seed in the fall is preferable. Broadcast the seed in the area where you want the plants to grow and cover with 1/2 inch of soil. Moisten the soil. When the plants have reached a height of 2 inches, thin the plants leaving at least 8 inches between plants. Columbines are hardy from Zone 3-8.
The Chinese Lantern plant is a biennial which belongs to a family of more than 80 different species including the edible Ground Cherry and Tomatillo. This plant has been a favorite of Easterners and Westerners for centuries and is indigenous from southeastern Europe to Japan.
Many gardeners now consider this plant to be an aggressive, invasive weed, but for others the vibrant orange husk which develops in early autumn to protect the inedible, cherry-like fruit, when dried, produces one of the most unusual dried ornamentals available. Cut the stems in September and tie them into small bunches. Let dry in a cool area away from direct sunlight. This plant is purely ornamental. It is not edible like its cousins the Ground Cherry or the Tomatillo. If ingested the fruit causes indigestion and stomach aches.
Chinese Lantern can be grown easily from seed. They can grow in partial shade as well as full sun. Plant seed in the fall. Cover seed with 1/2 inch of soil. Seeds will germinate in the spring. Thin plants to 10-12 inches. Lanterns appear in late July –early August and turn orange in early September.
By now most of you have finished your garden cleaning for this year. Try a few of these lovely flowers by planting them this autumn. I suspect you will be absolutely delighted with the results. One caution, remember where you planted them and what you planted or you might find yourself digging up these little darlings next spring!