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"Start with the soil" is a theme you will hear often from the experts.  Our guest writer, Lawrence Griffith, is the Curator of Plants at Colonial Williamsburg.  He is no exception.  He says, "While the process of preparing a seedbed can be tedious, the results in cost savings are enormous."

Weeding is another garden activity that cannot be skimped.  Furthermore, thinning has to be done to insure a healthy crop of seedlings.  Griffith reminds us that if we lavish attention on our garden beds, we will have a successful garden. 

He has found several native perennials can be planted into a well-prepared outdoor seedbed.  Read the article below to find out which flowers will bloom the first year they go into the ground.

--- Anne K Moore, February 27, 2009 ---
Photos by Anne K Moore ---


By Lawrence Griffith, Curator of Plants, Colonial Williamsburg

Increasingly, gardening smart means gardening inexpensively.  One tactic to investigate is gardening from seed planted directly into the soil, the gist of my newly published book, Flowers and Herbs of Early America.

Initiated through a Mars Foundation grant, the book's purpose is to investigate the use of indigenous and introduced plant species to early America.  While conducting live field trials during the preparation of the book, I discovered that several native American perennials could be seeded directly into the soil and can be expected to flower within one growing season.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and American vervain (Verbena hastata), when started from seed in the ground in mid-March, can be expected to bloom by mid-summer of the same year.

Purple coneflower, 36 to 48 inches, proved surprisingly easy to induce into bloom the first year from seed.  In field trials, seed sown in March germinated by the middle of April with flowering commencing by the second week in July.  The plants remained in flower through the third week of July.  Its spectacular seed heads give another couple of months of durability and effect in the garden.

Boneset (up to 5'), a fever tonic of the Deep South, is also an effortless perennial to seed in the garden.  In field trials, boneset performed like purple coneflower, germinating in April and flowering by the second week of July.  Boneset's white flowers attract an array of flying insects, and its lack of bright tint cools a garden during the blazing heat of summer.

Anise hyssop, another American native, is a quick growing, short-lived blue-colored perennial easily raised from seed in one season.  Its use among Native Americans was myriad, from fevers to respiratory complaints.  Its bloom is so profound as to attract more insects and butterflies than even the boneset, now making it a valuable bee plant in Europe.

American verbena, a valuable blue perennial, was a great find on the part of the Mars Foundation research.  Seed sown in early April and germinating in early May resulted in blooming by June, when it assumed an impressive 5'-6' in the garden when given sufficient water.  Persistent deadheading can result in re-flowering through the third week of August.

While the process of preparing a seedbed can be tedious, the results in cost savings are enormous.  Considering that perennials average $8.00 for a one-gallon pot, or a shrink-wrapped package, a hundred seedlings from a package of $3.00 seed can be a present from heaven.

The soil of a seedbed needs to be well tilled, have profound friability, and be of a small, smooth texture high in organic matter.  Seedlings are delicate and can be smothered by large-textured soil mediums or soils.

Upon apparent germination, much discretion must be employed to ascertain weed seedlings from intended seedlings.  Generally, if you're growing multiple crops, weed seeds will appear in all beds, and the intended crops only in that plot designated for them.

Weeding around seedlings is a delicate and an extremely tactile occupation, and extremely important, as is thinning.  Although thinning is anathema to some, it is the key to the success of a healthy crop of seed-sown perennials.  

For under $20.00 in seed, home gardeners can access four of America's best perennials for cents on the dollar if they take the patience to prepare their soil, plant their seeds, tend to them, and wait for summer.


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