Many of us will be starting seeds or (like me) ordering seedlings over the next few months. I mail-order annuals every spring, and to many of my friends—and, I am sure, to many of you—this must seem incredibly prodigal. Bad enough to spend money at local nurseries for the yearly filler for hanging baskets and planters, but to actually have annuals shipped in from such vendors as Select Seeds? Most of my gardener friends in Buffalo would never consider such a thing. The thing is, over the years, I have developed a nostalgic yearning for old-fashioned flowers such as white heliotrope, nicotiana alata, polygonun orientale (kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate) and reseda odorata (mignonette). I don’t know about you, but it makes me happy simply to type kiss me over the garden gate. Not to mention love in a mist or love in a puff.
Nostalgia is all very well—but how to actually grow these flowers? Here’s a Garden Rant fan who’s written a book about it: Lynn Coulter’s Gardening with Heirloom Seeds. (Chapel Hill, 2006) Some of you may be familiar, as the book has been out for a year, but it was news to me. Coulter organizes her survey of heirloom flowers and vegetables by season, beginning with beets, sweet peas, and larkspur and ending with winter squash and “green envy” zinnias.
I’ll be honest. I only rarely grow from seed, and therefore feel barely qualified to discuss this book, but I will say this: it inspired me to try. I was particularly taken by the discussions of old-fashioned flowers: sweet peas, unusual nasturtiums, and bizarre-looking zinnias. They made me think: “This is the year I’ll grow Black Knight sweet peas and Miss Jeckyll Rose nigella. Maybe even mignonette.” Coulter includes descriptions of various cultivars and hybrids, alphabetical (by common name with botanical name after) within each season, and then gives advice about how to grow them, with room for notes on the side.
The book is beautifully illustrated, though I would have liked to see seed packet graphics from other companies than Renee’s Garden. Not that I’m bothered by mentions of vendors; how many of us have told other gardeners about a plant we love without then being asked “Where can I get it?” I’d add Select Seeds, Annie’s Annuals, Jung’s, and a bunch of other companies to the list of those who could provide seeds (or plants) of many of the cultivars Coulter discusses.
Like I said, it’s inspiring. We’ll see how inspired I get in the summer, when I may or may not have pictures of love in a puff to show you (with a Buffalo News in the background to prove I grew it!).
And here’s an old-fashioned ending for an old-fashioned post.