Growing interestin’ plants

“Yeh don’t know them gargoyles at the Committee for the Disposal o’

Dangerous Creatures! They’ve got it in fer interestin’ creatures!”

Reubeus Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Hagrid is one of the best characters in the Harry Potter universe. He is kind and brave, and he will do anything to help Harry and his friends defeat the evil wizard Voldemort and his cronies. One of his endearing qualities is his love for what he calls “interestin’ creatures” – Acromantulas (giant spiders), Hippogriffs, Salamanders, Dragons, Nifflers, Unicorns, and other magical beasts and beings. Hagrid takes care of the beasts of Hogwarts in his capacity as Care of Magical Creatures teacher, and also befriends many of the Magical Beings that live in the Lake and the Forbidden Forest. Often his love and care for Magical Creatures will get him into trouble, such as the time when he tried to keep a baby dragon (Norbert) in his tiny wooden cabin, or he was expelled from Hogwarts for keeping an Acromantula that was thought to be killing fellow students. His ability to see the value of all Magical Beasts and Beings enables him to see the value and unique qualities in all people as well, leading him to fight against the “Magical Supremacy” of Voldemort.

I enjoy Hagrid so much because he is a bit of a kindred spirit. Although unlike Hagrid, I am not a keeper of the beasts of the world (I do not own any pets except goldfish), I do love interestin’ plants of all kinds. I find it hard to walk past a plant stall, sale, nursery, or just a garden without taking a sticky beak to see what is happening or what ideas or new plants I can take home with me.

While I love traditional plants, I like to seek out the interestin’, the exotic, or the just plain weird. Sometimes my husband has been heard to sigh “Can’t we just grow something normal?” – this especially when I start researching fruit trees or planning the Summer veggie patch. I am not interested in growing Pink Lady apples, or Satsuma plums. I want to try growing something different that I cannot buy in a supermarket produce section, like a 17th Century English heirloom apple that can only cross-pollinate with a 15th Century French relative. And although I do grow the standard Aussie Butternuts in the Summer, I also like to try my hand at growing Japanese heirloom pumpkins or Italian spherical zucchini, for fun and interest. Sometimes these experiments are successful; at other times I have an epic fail – like last year’s Lakota pumpkins, which yielded exactly one tiny pumpkin. That was a very expensive tiny pumpkin, for all the water that was pumped into that fist-sized squash…

I also love to grow unusual flowers that I cannot buy at a florist or a nursery, like beautiful crocuses that flower for two days a year, because I think that there is no point growing something I can buy at Coles or Bunnos for ten bucks a bunch. I wait eagerly all year to see their beautiful flowers pop up, admire them extravagantly for those two days, and then wait again for them for another 12 months. I grow six varieties of lavender and six varieties of mint, only one of each I can easily buy at a nursery. I have multiple varieties of thyme and sage, daisies that smell like passionfruit, and four colours of violets that creep around my garden and remind me of my grandmother every time the wind blows and the scent wafts across the garden. I have plants just for touching, and plants just for smelling. I have plants with names (and I think, personalities), including one fruiting vine that stubbornly refused to fruit until I named her and talked to her, sometimes in frustration and sometimes with love until she started to fruit prolifically. Now my husband has caught my crazy, and talks to her as well when he walks by. We might sound slightly bonkers, but people have commented on the huge size and health of our passionfruit vine.

In our streetscape and against the backdrop of our great 70s palace, our garden looks a little out of place. All the other gardens are landscaped in the late 70s-early 80s Australian style of lawn interspersed with diosma bushes and an ornamental tree or two. These yards look very neat. The lawns are tidy and the diosmas are trimmed. In the Spring, small clumps of daffodils occasionally dare to disrupt the tidiness.

Our front garden is a tribute to Hagrid in the middle of Privet Drive. It does not have any ornamental trees. Instead we have five beautiful fruit trees and vines (mulberry, apricot, passionfruit, pomegranate, guava), one pretty sad looking lemon, and a newly planted lemon myrtle tree. Our enormous herb garden keeps company with perennial flowers and spring flowering bulbs in colours that are not designed to match each other neatly but instead were chosen because they make me happy or because I spotted them in a catalogue and I thought they looked interestin’. So we have brightly coloured Harlequin Flowers (sparaxis, pictured above) growing in the same space around the garden with mint, self-seeded parsley and oregano, cosmos, violets, crocuses, pale Erlicheer daffodils, riotous Ranunculus, delicate purple Star Flowers, white, red, purple, and pink lavender, and dozens of different herbs.

I say fight back against the tide of diosma bushes and boring front yards. Don’t give in to the rules of Privet Drive. Be a Hagrid, not a Muggle.

Grow interestin’ plants.

Advertisements

Gardening jobs – Weekend 25th & 26th August 2018

Each week for the past eight weeks, I have checked the weather report anxiously on a Thursday, checking to see how it will be on the weekend. Each week, it has been the same: some version of raining, stormy, windy, and cold.

Not that I am complaining: parts of Australia are in severe drought, and farmers are suffering. When it rains here, I feel thankful that we have it, and hope that some of it is heading the way of the farmers and animals that need it.

However, it has meant that each weekend – the only days that that I have a chance to garden – has been scuppered by truly terrible gardening weather (good for the garden, bad for the humans that want to be outside gardening). I love gardening, but even I have my limits. I am not going to freeze my parts off to dig around in the mud and rain. I am just too old to cope with that level of rain soaking into my bones.

Last week though, the weather report was a cracker. Two perfect days: 18 degrees, sunny, cloudless. I planned to spend one day in the garden and the next painting ceilings in my daughter’s bedroom.

Sod that for a joke – there was no way I was going to waste the first fine weekend in two months indoors painting a ceiling! Instead, we spent both days in the garden, and it was a joyous experience. Our main task was eight weeks’ worth of weeding, which sounds terrible, but was actually very fun (I have been told I have a weird idea of fun, but whatever). When the soil is damp, weeding doesn’t have to be painful. It also gave us the opportunity to look closely at the garden to see what had changed lately. Answer: a lot.

Pickwick Crocus

I have been waiting for the crocuses we planted last year to return. I admit, I have been impatient to see them again, as these rate along with sweet peas and violets as my favourite flowers. As I had not seen even the leaves come up at all this year, I thought they were not coming back. But suddenly, here they had arrived! Most importantly, my very favourites, the Pickwick Crocus, a purple and white stunner with a bright orange stamen, had arrived in its glory. Crocuses do not make good cut flowers and you cannot buy them in florists. They have a brief lifespan of only a couple of days, so to see them you really need to grow them. I was so excited to see they had arrived again. Now that I have seen their return, I look forward to many years of lovely crocuses. I also have white and yellow crocuses. The white crocuses also came back, but no sign yet of the yellow.

Closeup of Erlicheer Daffodils

This year I planted a Daffodil called Erlicheer, which is really more of a Jonquil type Daffodil. It is a really lovely mini-Daffodil with a clutch of cream flowers on the end of a long stem. I planted ten bulbs, and I am looking forward to an annual display. I won’t cut these to bring inside, partly because I love them in the garden, and partly because Jonquils have a strong scent that make my husband and daughter sneeze.

White daffodils planted in a rockery with other flowers and herbs in the foreground
Erlicheer Daffodils in the rockery

Also in full flower were the many types of lavender across the garden, single and double Violets, Calendula, Harlequin flowers (Sparaxis), and Star flowers. The Ranunculus, Anenomes, and sweet peas I planted in Autumn are getting ready for their spring display, and the Nigella (Love-In-A-Mist) that has self-seeded from last Summer is looking like it will be lovely. The only disappointment so far is the Drumsticks (Allium), a striking bulb that I planted in Autumn, and that I cannot find has grown at all.

After weeding, we cut back the oregano and mint that was looking a bit ratty. Since we first planted a prostrate style oregano when we moved here three years ago, it has spread rapidly. We do use it for cooking, but it grows faster than we can ever eat it, dry it, or give it away. We also have a lawn that we hate – I call it a ‘lawn’ but really it is more a flat green collection of weeds. Whatever lawn variety is there was taken over by clover and other weeds a long time ago. My husband has tried various methods to weed it, feed it, mow it, and keep it going, but I think at this point we are ready to give it up as a bad job and try again. But today we had the bright idea to dig up clumps of the oregano and transplant it into the lawn. I am hoping that it will take over there and grow into a prolific herbal lawn that we can mow just as we mow the weed-lawn now.

We also decided we needed another tree in our front yard. We already have a Mulberry Tree (black English, the best kind), an apricot (Trevatt), a sad baby lemon tree that is struggling mightily, a pomegranate, and a bay (laurel) tree. We also have a large and rambling Nelly Kelly passionfruit climbing over an archway. However, I wanted something else to add more structure. My mother gave me a lemon myrtle that has remained happy in its pot, but it is a full sized tree that really should be given the room it deserves to grow. We decided to plant it in the lawn. If we don’t succeed with the oregano lawn, at least we will have a beautiful tree to distract us from the weed-lawn. Lemon myrtles are also native trees and attract bees.

Lemon Myrtle Tree planted in the lawn
Lemon Myrtle Tree

So far our little lemon myrtle seems very happy. In the background of this picture, you can see hollows in the lawn where I have planted clumps of the oregano.

My daughter came home while we were in the middle of our weeding and tidying up. She spent a little while trying all our sensory plants. We have planted a range of herbs and plants that she can visit when she wants to feel or smell or taste something lovely. We have Lamb’s Ear to touch, violets and climbing roses to smell, and fun herbs that trick the senses, like Passionfruit Daisy and Pineapple Sage (pictured below). It makes the garden a welcoming and relaxing place for her.

Pineapple Sage in flower

 

The next day was focused on the backyard, where our winter veggies were keeping company with a lot of nettles and mallow weeds. While my husband was on weed duty, I turned the compost and tried my hand at trench composting.

Trench composting is very simple. Dig a trench, and fill it with organic matter. I used a mixture of weeds and some of the organic material from my compost bin that still needed to break down further. Then cover with soil. I am trialling this in different spots in the garden, and then I will plant my summer vegetables there. I am going to test whether my vegetables do better in the trench composted areas, compared to my usual method of cow manure, mushroom compost and homemade compost.

Next fine weekend, it is time to start tomato seeds for planting out in October. Next weekend is predicted to rain however, so I guess I can’t put off the painting any longer.

 

Gardening jobs – Sunday 3rd June 2018

This weekend has turned on some spectacular Winter weather – cold, crisp, and sunshiny, with barely a cloud in the sky. Perfect weather for that endless winter weeding, provided I rug up well! It was touch-and-go for a minute, when I couldn’t find my woolly winter beanie, but crisis was averted, and out I went.

The sunshine of the past week that followed some wet weather caused germination of many weed seeds, so I have spent two days weeding, and then mulching with sugar cane straw to try to prevent the weeds returning. Some people believe that sugar cane mulch causes nitrogen drawdown, but I have never seen any evidence of that, and I am happy to use it in my garden.

Compost ready for the garden bed

I also spent a happy hour turning the compost in my bin and digging out the fresh compost to add to the garden. There was enough in there to add to a whole new section of garden. I cleared that section of weeds, and added the compost, before planting brassica seedlings from my raised seedling bed. These included a mix of broccoli (Green Sprouting), cauliflower (Purple Cape), and cabbage (Mini Drum). After watering in, I mulched and then fed with seaweed solution to prevent transplant shock.

Happy Broccoli seedling tucked into a freshly mulched garden bed

Hand weeding allows you to take stock of changes in the garden. For example, my bed of mixed greens (silverbeet, rocket, and coriander) are now ready to start picking. They are still at the lovely, sweet, tender stage and are really delicious. Coriander is a tricky herb. It can only be planted in cooler weather, as it will bolt straight to seed as soon as any hint of warmer weather hits. It also dislikes transplanting, so it is best to grow it directly from seed and then leave it alone to grow quickly. Pick it frequently so it grows nice and bushy, and ensure you keep it well watered. Some people dislike it intensely, but our family loves it. I have planted a lot and will plant some more in a couple of weeks to ensure a good supply while I can grow it myself. I tend not to buy herbs, as I have the space to grow all I need, but I make an exception for coriander in the Summer.

Rocket, silverbeet, coriander

The beetroot I thinned a couple of weeks ago is responding to the extra room. It is time to plant some more though so I can have a steady supply of fresh beetroot during the cooler months.

Beetroot seedlings

The broad beans and peas I planted recently are taking off. I have purple-podded peas, dwarf snow peas, and although I have planted three kinds of broad beans, to date only two have germinated. I think the third packet, which I found at the bottom of my seed tin, was too old. I will give it another week before accepting defeat, though.

Broad bean (Aquadulce)

The Crimson-flowered broad bean started flowering this week. These were planted about a month ahead of the Aquadulce, so this is not surprising. It was exciting to see the flash of red in the mostly green and brown garden.

I’m having a week off work this week, so I’m hoping for a few more pleasant days to get out in the garden. Next job on my list: rose pruning, and transplanting some very unhappy feijoas.

Gardening jobs – Weekend 20 May 2018

pumpkins.png
Pumpkins – the last until next year

 

The weather turned! And just like that, the rain set in, and with it, my ability to get outside in the garden much for a couple of weeks. I’m not complaining though – it has been lovely to have some rain on the roof and in the garden.

With the rain also came: weeds! So many weeds! So this weekend I really spend my Sunday morning out among the damp soil, hoeing weeds in my vegie patch.

Weeding is one of those gardening tasks that many people dislike, but I find it therapeutic. I think of it as an exercise in mindfulness. For my lovely plants to flourish, the weeds must be removed regularly, and we only hand weed at our place as we garden organically. I plod along, pulling out the weeds, and listening to a podcast and occasionally standing to stretch my back (boy, have I learned that lesson! A week in bed and months of physiotherapy are expensive and not worth repeating). As the weed pile in my rusty old wheelbarrow grows higher, the rows of happy plants grow neater, and I feel a sense of satisfaction that Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey called “the quiet mind.”

My friend, the things that do attain

The happy life be these, I find:

The riches left, not got with pain,

The fruitful ground; the quiet mind;

Of course it would have been better for Henry Howard if he had taken his own advice, but alas, too often we don’t.

After weeding about half the garden (the rest to be left for the upcoming weekend), I had the sad/happy task of removing the tomato and pumpkin vines, and picking the last of our very happy tomato and pumpkin crop. Look at the pile! I have more pumpkin vines than I can fit in our green bin, and more than I can cram in my compost. I think I will be discarding pumpkin vines slowly in the green bin for at least a few months.

pumpkin vines

The pumpkins were a wonderful success this year. We grew three varieties, with the Butternuts ‘volunteering’ from our compost, and the Kent grown from saved seed. I estimate over 40 kilograms of pumpkins harvested, with some now in our freezer and a couple left in storage in our pantry cellar. I gave a lovely Butternut to my sister, made some more pumpkin soup, as is the law, and cooked the smallest Butternut drizzled with maple syrup and olive oil with a roast chicken the other night. Yum!

Finally, I sowed more broad beans (I have warned my husband that this Spring will bring a plethora of broad beans!) and planted out some broccoli seedlings I have been raising. I am hoping against hope that they will survive slugs, snails and white cabbage moth caterpillars. I have more to plant out this weekend. I also thinned the beetroot and carrot seedlings. I hate thinning, but it is a necessary evil to sacrifice all those baby plants so the others can grow nice and strong.

I’m hoping for some lovely weather this Sunday so I can finish my weeding and plant out the rest of my seedlings, and then – bring forth the rain!

Gardening jobs – Week beginning 23rd April, 2018

DSCF2568.JPG

This odd Autumn weather is continuing, with warm days punctuated by brief storms. I am still picking eggplant, capsicum, and tomatoes almost as much as I was in the heat of the Summer. While I am happy to have this abundance of Summer vegetables, it is now almost May and it seems strange to be still picking eggplant right now.

One of my eggplant bushes has grown so large and has been so prolific it deserves a name. It spans about a metre across and at the moment has about ten fruit still on it (it is actually impossible to capture the full plant and all its fruit in one photo). I am hoping it will over-winter and I can keep it for next Summer. I have named it Audrey II.

DSCF2566.JPG

We picked 13 kilograms of pumpkins this week. I used one pumpkin to make a big batch of pumpkin soup, and put the rest in the pantry to store. We have quite a few more Butternuts and Kent pumpkins still growing on our vines, including this one just hanging around. We will wait for them to get bigger before picking them, although we could pick them at any time if we wanted to (they would just not have as rich a flavour and colour). This has been my most successful year with pumpkins. All we have done is water them. I have just let them do their thing, and they have rewarded us with about 25 kilograms of delicious pumpkin goodness so far. Considering most of the vines have popped up from the compost of their own accord, I would say they have been a great deal for the garden space they take up.

DSCF2561.JPG

I have had a lovely week off work, and spent quite a bit of it out in the garden (of course). Much of it was spent doing the boring tasks that have to be done this time of year: weeding, feeding, and watering.

On Monday, I spent a pleasant afternoon potting up some plants that have been waiting for me to have a spare minute, including a beautiful Cinnamon Myrtle that I bought from the Diggers Club a couple of weeks ago. This is a gorgeous cinnamon scented native shrub that can be used in herbal teas. Later I will plant it into the garden and hopefully it will attract native bees. For now, I have potted it into a large terracotta tub. I also potted up dark purple violas into a large ceramic bowl and into window boxes now hanging on our balcony.

A few weeks ago we planted up our Autumn/Winter garden beds, and while our seedlings all germinated, so did a whole lot of weed seeds. My husband and I spent a couple of hours this week weeding out grass and other annoying weeds from in between the baby plants. Now our seedlings can grow unimpeded.

DSCF2562.JPG
Garlic, red and gold beetroot, and rocket seedlings
DSCF2559.JPG
Dwarf snow pea seedlings (front); Purple podded pea seedlings (back)
DSCF2555.JPG
Broad bean (Crimson flowering) seedlings

After the boring part of weeding, I turned the compost, retrieving a couple of barrow loads of fresh compost for the garden, and my husband moved a raised garden bed from the front garden to the back. Thanks to my parents’ chooks, I was able to refresh the compost bin with manure and straw, and I can see that in about six weeks I will have a nice batch of compost to feed the rhubarb. Rhubarb is a very hungry plant and my six rhubarb plants will be ready for a good compost feeding by then.

We placed the new compost in the bed and planted some new seeds in the garden and in the raised bed:

  • Asian greens: Tatsoi, Pak Choy, and Shungiku;
  • Cauliflower: Purple Cape and Purple Sicilian;
  • Kale Red Russian;
  • Cabbage Mini Drum;
  • Broad bean Aquadulce;
  • Snow pea Dwarf.

I have planted quite a lot of peas and broad beans this year, mostly to fill in some spaces that would otherwise lie fallow, and also because these plants are nitrogen fixers. Some people do not like broad beans, but if they are picked nice and young they are really delicious. The peas I expect my children will eat before they ever reach the kitchen.

I have planted many types of Asian greens because my eldest daughter loves Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese food. She chose the Shungiku (also known as Chop Suey Greens) seeds and asked me to grow them for her. I have never tried them before, but like all Asian vegetables I am sure they will be fast and easy to grow.

I also planted Daffodils Erlicheer in the front yard, and had the joy of noticing the return of last year’s Spiraxis, Yellow Crocus, and Ranunculus. We are still waiting hopefully for the return of one of my favourite flowering bulbs of all time, the Pickwick Crocus. I remember where I planted it last year and can’t see any sign yet, but perhaps in a few weeks they will pop their heads up. Crocuses grow for only a short time but are so beautiful that it is worth growing them for the brief splash of beauty in the garden.

DSCF1467.jpg
Crocus ‘Pickwick’ – please come back!

I have one last packet of Ranunculus to plant out – that will be a job for tomorrow, along with a great deal of weeding in the front yard, which has been sadly neglected of late.

And then, back to work and the real world of 9-5 and part-time gardening.

Gardening jobs – Weekend 7 & 8 April, 2018

After planting seeds and garlic last weekend, I listened to the BOM Weather forecaster on Saturday morning and learned that we are about to be hit with a period of unseasonable warmth in South Australia, with temperatures in the mid-30s over the next week, and continuing dry weather into May.

This is bizarre weather for mid-Autumn, even in Australia, but also disappointing news when I have just planted up a whole garden full of seeds for Winter. It also explains why my late-planted tomatoes are still setting fruit, I am still picking three to four eggplant a week, and the capsicum and chilli plants are producing heavily. I may end up with a full crop of sauce tomatoes after all.

DSCF2047
San Marzano tomatoes

My main task for this weekend was to ensure that the new seedlings popping up (so far, rocket, pak choy, and green sprouting broccoli) survive, and to keep the rest of the plants going. So we watered everything well and will continue to do so.

On Sunday, my friend Lisa and I attended the Heirloom Weekend at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. In previous years, this has been a very busy and well-attended event with a lot of stalls and displays of heirloom vegetables. This year was very quiet, with only three stalls. We were able to turn our coffee cups (we forgot to bring Keep Cups) into pots for free rainbow chard seedlings, and taste and buy raw honey from a community garden in Henley Beach. We also bought plants and seeds from the Diggers Shop because that is the law. I bought:

  • Lemon Balm to replace the plant I killed earlier in the year (it is apparently possible to kill a lemon balm plant);
  • Cinnamon Myrtle. This is an Australian flowering native with cinnamon scented leaves that are edible and can be used for herbal tea. I want to grow this to attract native bees;
  • Cauliflower Sicilian Purple. This is a beautiful, vibrant purple cauliflower. Growing cauliflower takes commitment as it is very slow growing. You have to be prepared to allow the space in your garden to be set aside for almost half a year. It is worth the effort, as the flavour of homegrown cauliflower is not replicable with storebought, and you can’t buy the purple variety in the shop;
  • Cabbage Mini Drum. You can buy mini cabbages in the shop but I do like to grow them myself as the freshness of the flavour is really lovely.

I am hoping for some cooler weather next weekend and some time on Sunday to plant these lovelies. I also have a Lemon Myrtle to plant. I am starting to run out of room…

Seed Saving, Part II

Saving seeds for home gardening

If you come to my house, you are more than likely to find a plate or a saucer on our fireplace, with some seeds drying on it. I often wonder what visitors to our home think we are doing. Who are these people, with their plates of dried out husks all over the place?

I save seeds for future planting in my garden because it’s fun, it saves money, and it contributes in a very small way to plant biodiversity.

Saving seeds is very easy. I have learned to do it over time by reading about how to save seeds from different plants, watching YouTube videos, and testing it out myself. For some plants it is very intuitive, and you don’t need a guide. For others, it is helpful to read about the plant and the way seeds are reproduced in nature.

I save seeds in two ways: by allowing the plant to self-seed in my garden, and by actively sourcing and saving seeds for replanting later.

Self-seeding (a.k.a the lazy way)

Only do this a) if you have the space (I do); and b) for plants you don’t mind spreading around the place. I mostly allow plants like herbs and some flowers to self-seed. But a word of warning before you do this: make sure that you know for sure the plant will self-seed true-to-type the following year (i.e that it is an heirloom variety). I made this mistake two years ago with a variety of Cosmos (an annual flowering plant) that I believed would self-seed prolifically. The first year, the plants were spectacular, and I really wanted a second crop from the seed heads that grew very easily from the spent flowers. I sprinkled them far and wide in my garden. Sure enough, the plants regrew the following year. However, they produced only one or two flowering heads, and are now an annoying weed in my garden. I am still pulling them out. The lesson here is: really know your plant before you go ahead and allow it to self-seed in your garden. Plants are biologically hard-wired to try to reproduce, even when humans have bred them not to be able to do so. You may not get what you want.

DSCF1126.JPG
Cosmos

The plants I allow to self-seed are: parsley (both Italian and curly), violas and pansies, lettuces, lamb’s ear, sweet peas, nigella, and white alyssum.

Parsley is a good one to try first, as it goes to seed at the end of its two-year lifespan, and is not happy to be transplanted. When it does go to seed, it will often grow to an enormous size, so you will need to be ready for this. Choose a plant that is in as unobtrusive a spot in your garden as possible, and let it bloom and the seeds form.

Allowing plants to go to seed is a lesson in patience. You have to accept that the plant will look sprawly and overgrown for some time. However, you will be rewarded by beneficial insects (in my garden, primarily foraging bees and ladybugs) that love to visit your herbaceous flowers.

DSCF2032.JPG
Parsley seed heads forming

After several months (yep, months!) the parsley seed heads will dry and you can either collect them and save them in a jar for future planting, or sprinkle them around your garden. It is likely that they will already have spread by wind or birds, and you will start to find little parsley plants popping up at odd spots throughout your garden. Personally, I love this look and am happy to let them grow where they will. However, you can transplant them when they are young. Do it before the parsley has had time to develop its long taproot, or it will be grumpy and will not do well. One thing I enjoy about having so many herbs all around the place is that friends and family know that we always have herbs free for the taking. If they want a bunch of parsley for dinner, they can just grab some from our garden.

This is also the case with Lamb’s Ear, which really struggles to be transplanted. I have only had success in a few cases. It self-seeds readily, but hates to be moved. I don’t mind letting it go to flower and seed though, as the tall pink flower spikes atop the soft grey foliage are stunning and provide a point of difference in my garden. The bees also love these.

DSCF0389
Lamb’s Ear flower stalk

Alyssum and violas are very easy to self-seed. Since I planted a punnet of white alyssum three years ago I have never needed to replant. I let it go along its own way, and I now find the flowers in cracks, between other plants, and in my grass. Again, I don’t mind this, but if you want a neater garden you will need to plant it in a pot. For a less invasive variety, plant the purple variety. In my experience it does not self-seed readily at all (kind of annoying from my point of view, but good if you do not want a spreading variety).

Sweet peas were an unintentional self-seeder. In 2016 I planted Sweet Pea Matucana, a purple and pink heirloom sweet pea that grows very strongly and is very sweetly scented. Due to time constraints, I let it develop a lot of seed heads before I removed the spent plants. I deliberately saved some to plant the following year, but a full stand of flowers grew without my help last year (I also planted some in a different spot). I saved more seeds from that crop and this year I will plant them again, along with the new seeds for Sweet Pea America I just purchased. Sweet peas are my favourite flower, so I am more than happy to have them reappear annually without any effort on my part.

 

Saving seeds

I save seeds from plants that have been highly prolific, or that are especially tasty. Some of my efforts at saving seeds have been highly experimental and very successful; other efforts should have worked but were dismal failures. It is very much a trial and error process. In terms of saving time, it is not a hobby for that. I could buy a packet of seeds or a punnet of seedlings and be done with it.

Tomatoes

Saving tomato seeds is a fiddly business. If you have an heirloom tomato that you want to grow again next year, wait until you have a nice, ripe specimen. Fill a cup or small jar with water, and scoop the seeds into the cup. Let the tomato seeds sit in the cup overnight. They will ferment slightly. Strain in a fine sieve, ensuring you remove all pulp from around the seeds. Dry on a plate lined with paper towel until completely dry. They will stick to the paper, but they are easily removed. Store in a labelled jar in a dark place.

Pumpkins

Can you say ‘easy’? Pumpkins are the gift that keeps on giving, provided you have the room to grow them. Easy to grow, easy to save seeds, easy to eat. There is nothing about pumpkins to dislike. I saved my first lot of pumpkin seeds from a Kent pumpkin bought on sale at the supermarket, and it produced perfect replicas of that original pumpkin. In fact, it’s hard to keep a pumpkin seed down. Try composting them – you will just end up with pumpkin plants down the track. We currently have about ten pumpkin plants in our garden, and we only planted four of them. The rest are self-seeded butternuts from our compost. They are also producing beautiful, fat butternuts. I see pumpkin soup, pumpkin dal, and pumpkin scones in our future.

To save pumpkin seeds, just scoop them out of a fully ripe pumpkin, give them a rinse to remove the pulp, and dry them on a plate. Too easy.

DSCF2064.JPG
Ripe pumpkin with seeds ready for harvesting: just scoop, rinse, and dry on a paper towel. Easy!

Zucchini

I have to be honest: my success rate saving zucchini seeds is low. I find the seeds to be flimsier than pumpkins, and they do not dry as well. The process for drying them is the same as pumpkins, but the result is not as good (for me). I will keep trying but so far, not great.

DSCF2065.JPG
Scoop the seeds from a very mature zucchini plant

Capsicums and Chillies

These are as easy as pumpkins. Let the capsicum or chilli ripen on the vine until red (or yellow or black, depending on your variety). Cut open and remove the seeds. Dry on a plate, and store in a jar in a dark place. I have had good success with both chillies and capsicums.

Beans and peas

These are very simple. Toward the end of the season, when the bean or pea vines are almost at the end of their natural cycle, let a couple of pea pods or beans grow larger than you normally would if you were planning to eat them. Let the pods dry on the vine for as long as possible. Give them a shake: you should hear the little peas and beans inside rattle. If you are worried about mildew, gently remove from the plant and bring inside to dry. Voila! Bean or pea seeds! When completely dry, remove from the pods and store in a jar until next season. I have saved both beans and peas this way with success. They can be prone to fungal diseases, but I have not had this problem.

Eggplant

This is kind of a pain, because you have to sacrifice an eggplant. To get an eggplant to the point that it has set seeds, you need to let it get to that old and bitter stage, when they are not really worth eating. Some people recommend pulsing your ancient eggplant in a food processor with water until the seeds rise to the top. I have not found that to be necessary. When they have reached the seedy stage, the seeds more or less fall out as you cut it up. Save the seeds you want and then compost the rest.

Lettuce

A lettuce sets seeds in a similar way to a thistle or other weedy plant you have seen in your garden. It has yellowish flowers that then sets a woolly seed head. These need to be allowed to dry out to brownish small seeds. The seeds are very fine, so when it reaches the dry stage, cover the head with a brown paper bag to catch the seeds.

DSCF2025
Australian Yellow Lettuce forming seed heads. As the seed heads dry, cover with a brown paper bag, or all your seeds may blow away!

In the end, much of seed saving is about trial and error. Try saving some of the simpler seeds, such as pumpkin, beans, and peas. I have had most success with capsicum and chillies, and pumpkin. I have yet to try silverbeet or any of the greens (except lettuce), carrots or root vegetables, brassicas, or sweetcorn. One day, I hope to be self-sufficient in seeds and have no need to buy seeds from a seed company.