I wonder exactly what species I’m growing here
I should have learned a lesson about labeling and expectations when my crocus labels vanished, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention. When I made a trip to my grandkids’ home this week, I couldn’t resist taking along one special flat with seedlings of dozens of species, carefully marked with botanical name, seed source and dates. (I entrusted the rest of my plants to a competent budding gardener without a qualm.) Within half an hour of my arrival, my darling granddaughter, who can tell you she’ll be 3 in June, had organized my labels into a neat and tidy row along one edge.”Look, YaYa, I’m helping you!” she announced happily and proudly. I looked at this little girl, who is one of the most precious people in my life, and cried.What’s so special about these seedlings anyway? On Feb. 24 I planted seeds of tough, native Western plants from a small stash I have bought and collected. They need a moist, cold period of some months to grow, either by sowing in situ in the fall or by a process called cold stratifying. I had been given a stack of used plug trays, the size of flats or trays of petunias from a nursery except containing 288 thimble-sized cells instead of 12 regular six-packs. I had a big bag of sterile, soil-less seed-starting mix and plastic covers from packaged seed-starter sets I bought on sale at the hardware store last fall. The month was right, and it looked like an easy morning project. Those itty-bitty cells were painstakingly slow to fill, and when I set the flat into a pan of water the dry soil came up like popovers in a muffin tin. Some of it floated away, and the rest lost volume as it absorbed water. In barely less than a day the plugs were saturated but only half full. I topped them off and let the flat drip drain until the soil was just damp. From now on, I won’t need reminders to moisten the soil first.I covered the seeds with a sprinkling of soil. After I finished writing the wooden plant labels resembling – guess what – Popsicle sticks, I found they were too tall to fit under the plastic covers. Though it went against the grain, I broke them into ragged halves to fit. More sensible than I, the great garden writer Lauren Springer, in “The Undaunted Garden,” disdains labels. No plugs, six-packs or store-bought domes for her, either. She uses plastic pots and writes on the side with a pencil. Could it really be that easy? Finally, the plug flat moved outside to the protected northeast side of my greenhouse, a scrap of heavy wire fencing keeping the cover from blowing away and being dislodged by deer. It snowed, it froze, it rained, it sunshined. When it wasn’t buried by snow, I peeked under the cover to make sure the soil wasn’t drying out. Nothing happened. Then, almost exactly two months to the day after sowing, there was a sprout! Every day more came up, and they’re still coming! The flat went into intensive care in morning sun. To give the new seedlings light but continue to protect the ungerminated seeds, I take the cover off every morning and replace it every evening. My granddaughter listened gravely as I explained why I was upset about the little wooden sticks. Later, while playing, she told me, “Look, YaYa, I’m being careful.” And she was, too.I got over it. My assorted species of crocus are no less beautiful for having no name. I sort through my handful of labels and copy them into my notebook. Among them are Penstemon pseudospectabilis, a large, robust desert beardtongue, and Penstemon oliganthus, the mountain meadow penstemon, a delicate lover of dappled shade and moisture. There is the biennial Centaurea rothrockii, basketflower, and the annual and fleeting Lupines texensis, known to us all as bluebonnets. What do I have? Which is which? Maybe I will be able to identify my mysterious seedlings when they are sturdy enough to plant out. Maybe not. Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie, and starts many of her plants from seed. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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