By Jenny Brown
When you raise your own food, and especially when you write about it, people always ask “How’s the farm?” or “How’s the garden?”
I find the reactions amusing when I’m asked those questions in November and I tell them “I’ve been spending time in my flower garden.”
It’s true. I have been out among my flowers. The flower season doesn’t complete it’s cycle when the blossoms die but rather when the plant has had time to produce mature seeds which will reproduce the same plant next year. I’ve learned to enjoy the ‘full life’ of my plants growing in my gardens, especially when I can save bags of seeds that normally cost a small fortune for just a spoonful-worth sealed in an envelope.
Who doesn’t love Cosmos? The big bushy plant is bursting with colorful daisy like flowers can’t help but make you feel happy to be alive. Cosmos seeds are good sized and easy to save.
Did you know that many flowering plants, including some annuals, can be grown from seed? Even marigold blossoms can be dried and the seeds started indoors the following spring.
In the case of mixed color varieties, over time you are likely to get a faded or even ‘muddy’ appearance in color that will eventually need replaced with new seed that hasn’t been crossed. After five years of saving seeds from my multi-colored zinnias, they started to look like a tray of Crayola water-color paints when the brush isn’t rinsed between colors. With my straw flowers, one color seems to be dominating over the years. I am moving away from mixed color varieties and going to single colors to prevent these issues.
If a plant is an annual in your area and is an open-pollinated variety (not a hybrid), it is very likely that you can save the seeds from that plant and start them again in the spring!
The seeds or the seedlings may require special care (such as temperatures consistently above 80°) or they may need a longer growing season than you have (where I live, that’s about 90% of the flowers!) and indoor seeding may be required.
Gayfeather is one of my summer favorites. It displays a a tall purple-blue stalk that looks, well,… feathery! Even though it’s a perennial in my area and will grow back from the root stalk, I like to save the seeds and start new plants. I haven’t gotten my fill of this feathered friend yet.
Echinacea Purpurea is another plant that comes back every year but it is one I don’t mind having a few ‘extras’ of growing around due to its medicinal quality in the roots. This one takes a little more time to get started; a new plant blooms for the first time in it’s second year.
One of the most, if not the most fascinating and eye catching flowering plant in my beds is Amaranth.
Although it appears more red here, this plant puts out bunches of vivid pink, tassel-like flowering clusters that dangle like earrings. Amaranth is one that doesn’t survive my cold northern winters so if I want to see this little beauty next year, I need to start it from seed.
These seeds are ready to be taken inside and dried out. Sometimes I dry my flower heads on newspaper near the wood stove (not too close – too much heat can damage the seed), but I prefer to lay them on a screen that provides some air circulation from underneath. My favorite drying racks are the mesh screen lids used on top of glass aquariums for reptiles. I happen to have had a couple laying around…when raising boys, you’re bound to have at least one!
Once the heads are dry, depending on the flower type, the seeds can be removed by rubbing the stock between your fingers, pulling it between your thumb and index finger, or by removing the petals and pulling apart the centers. I keep my seed varieties stored in glass canning jars with airtight lids or in a freezer Ziploc bags if I’m saving large quantity.
Flower seeds also make unique gifts! Last year Our ‘Christmas card’ to friends was a packet of seeds with a message on the back.
November is a great time to visit your flower garden; it’s not too late to get out and collect next year’s seed stash!