Beginning the Fragrance of Summer

Seeds from Monticello

Seeds from Monticello

We’ve just gotten our big wallop of a snowstorm and it’s the first of the season.  Among the other joys of snow: digging out your driveway, attempting to drive on uncleared streets, and other people’s frantic, over fast swerving around bends, “because it’s going to snow”,  I have one more calm and quiet one.  This is the weekend to start the seeds.

Every house has its micro climates and when it comes to plants I am rapidly learning the ones in this house.  The mud room is my cold frame, excellent for the white miniature rose and herbs, the family room is fine for potted plants and forced bulbs.  The front windows though may be ideal for starting seeds.

Nicotiana alata Night Flowering Tobacco

Nicotiana alata Night Flowering Tobacco

In my household there are always two sets, mine and the Hub’s.  His will be vegetables including maybe some melons because every year he hopes to harvest a few of those in August and if he does, he’d better start them now.  Mine are the old fragrant annuals that are hard to find at Garden Centers.  That means Nicotiana alata, Heliotrope and Mignonette.  That last one is now so difficult to find that in the end I had to resort to Monticello and the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants just to locate it.

My reward is three elegant little packages and I will shortly be soaking some seeds and popping them into little peat bundles.  I don’t have to do this.  All three of them can be sown directly into the garden and in other years Heliotrope was scratched straight in to the soil.  It has never been a successful strategy though.  What I do now is to start them indoors and transfer them to pots outdoors.  I’ll do the same with the Mignonette which has featured for years as an indoor plant in our houses.

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana sylvestris

The Nicotiana is new to me.  My mother used to grow the big old Nicotiana sylvestris with its pipe stem droopy flowers in white.  The plants are tall as Russian Wolfhounds and take a good deal of fertilizing.  They are gross feeders and my mother shoveled quite a lot of compost around their roots as a rule.  Did she she buy these in pots and transplant them or start them indoors? I cannot remember now.

In any case mine are not those big showy plants but the smaller white flowering tobacco you often see in gardens, with the difference that these are an older species which the Monticello people say was introduced into cultivation in 1829.  They are the Night Scented Tobacco whose flowers open in the evening.  They are also decidedly old fashioned and white.

White heliotrope which I also grow

White heliotrope which I also grow

When it comes right down to it most of the flowers I put into our garden are green, white, or possibly a very dark purple.  They are usually the most scented ones and that explains the restrained color scheme.  I suppose there could be incandescent oranges or dress ribbon pinks dotting the beds, but they seldom have the best  perfumes. So I stick with white flowers and spike them with bits of silver leafed or dark foliaged plants that make them leap out into the landscape.

Perhaps to round out the scheme of fragrant whiteness I should include a Calamondin Orange that I can put outdoors in summer and make the season for our local bees?  They love single roses and orange blossoms almost as much as they love lavender (which yes I also grow with abandon).  But I am

Calamondin Orange in fruit

Calamondin Orange in fruit

afraid of unhealthy Calamondins. I’ve had three now which died of a blight shortly after they arrived and I’ve been wary ever since.

So am I the only one who is starting seeds this early?  Is any one else getting on the Spring planting circuit now?  If so what are you planting?

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10 thoughts on “Beginning the Fragrance of Summer

  1. Not me, I’m afraid. It’s mid-summer here and I’m admiring my herbs and tomatoes. Jasmine has almost gone, roses are giving me a small second flowering, and the potted gardenia my flower again if I’m lucky. It’s hard to grow gardenia here so I’m proud of myself. I have more basil, mint and tarragon that we can eat.

    I had not realised that mignonette was hard to find? I mean, I don’t grow it but I’m sure I’ve seen it around …

    • Mignonette may not be hard to find in your part of the world. Here it is. Seed savers can find it, and some specialty nurseries, but apart from Thompson & Morgan (my previous suppliers) I had my best luck at Monticello. It’s not a showy plant and maybe that explains why it isn’t popular here.
      Imagine being able to grow gardenia outdoors! What is that like? Here it’s beg and plead with your plants not to drop all their buds. They usually do anyhow, temperamental little devils are gardenias 🙂

      • Yes, I think you said once before that gardenia can drop their buds, but mine have so far not done that. The plant was doing poorly until I realised that gardenias apparently like acid soil, so I fed it some azalea food as well as regular fertiliser. Now it is happy. It’s in a pot on the front step, gets plenty of sun. The problem here is that although the summers are hot, the winters are frosty, and although the plant survives, it hates the cold. If I lived a couple of hundred kms north the conditions would be milder.

        • Well all my gardenias do drop their buds, so now I’m going to try your azalea food trick. We have azaleas everywhere here so the leftover food might as well go to hungry gardenia!
          Also I didn’t know climate varied so much in your part of the world. Wow.

  2. Despite not having the right conditions or timing or even a garden, I bought packs of bluebell seed, dwarf lavender seed and lemon balm seed – now, if I can find them again in whichever Safe Place I put them, I’ll get busy!

    • Seed syndrome. I have that disease. You buy seed you have seed you put it in pots, you get grow lamps (if you really can’t resist). But something about Spring makes us do it. I blame genetics frankly, we humans must be hard wired to garden 🙂

  3. I’ve never started seeds for flowers. Started herb seeds once in one of those multi-opening pots; they sprouted and then got leggy and fell over and died before I could harvest them. Shrug.

    I cheat and buy pots at the local nursery, which up until two years ago was run by some very good friends from church. Then they got divorced (in their 60s! grandchildren!) and sold the greenhouse. I’ve been back there once, but it’s not the same.

    In any case, I usually tend to go for color rather than scent, at least with the annuals. I love those enormous orange marigolds (well, I like the way they smell too) and multicolor lantana and blue salvia – the color mix just makes me happy. I did once plant flowering nicotiana, but it didn’t like the spot I picked for it; it didn’t thrive. I have twice put out a few heliotrope plants, but didn’t bother to dig them up and pot them for indoor wintering (LAZY). Mignonette I have never smelled – but I do love the gardens at Monticello, so I might have to pick up some seed packets next time we go.

    • Mignonette they say is one of those scratch into the garden and leave things, likes sun and poor soil. Don’t we all have some of that? Ideal for modern gardeners

      I used to never start things from seed but then moved to Vermont and had no money. So what little I could put together went to Thompson & Morgan or else the rose nurseries (big splurges those) and I had the best morning glories and foxgloves and lupines! The lupines hopped the fence and ran all over that tiny little Vermont town. No one complained though.

    • Sure you’re a gardener, consider that hyacinth.

      Confession, i would not be either, except for my mother, who could just do it. Suppose I got from her that fearless sense that nothing would go wrong if you picked up secateurs and hacked into a clematis, because for her, nothing ever did. Things simply bloomed.
      So I hope that hyacinth puts on a nice show for you and that Truffle doesn’t eat it!!

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