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Grow Heirloom Flowers From Seed

By Home Garden Seed Association

Heirloom flowers are not easy to define precisely, but you know them when you see them. Flashy spikes of hollyhock rule the early summer garden; fragrant four o’clocks bring a smile at day’s end; the glorious spires of larkspur blossoms light up the spring garden. Some call heirloom flowers “pass-along plants,” because they are open pollinated and you can save their seed. Once you have established a population in your garden, it’s a pleasure to save and package their seeds in pretty envelopes to pass along to gardening friends.

Treat yourself to these pleasures from the past. Although harder to find as started plants in garden centers, bachelor’s buttons, bells of Ireland, and their various and sundry aptly named cohorts are easily grown from seed. For the price of a packet of seeds, these lovely, easily grown and often fragrant flowers will make your garden reign supreme.

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Joseph’s coat (Amaranthus tricolor) can be sown directly in a sunny location in the early summer garden. It grows quickly and will reach one to four feet in height. This brilliant foliage plant can be used as a spectacular edging, or as a specimen plant in a mixed border.

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Bachelor’s buttons(Centaurea cyanus), traditionally blue, come in a range of cool colors, and are dazzling in a bouquet. Sow seed directly in a sunny spot in early spring, or in fall, and thin the seedlings so they stand about six inches apart. Plants can reach three feet in height and are most effective in a mass. Stake them early on to prevent flopping.

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Balsam impatiens (Impatiens balsamina) was a popular garden flower 100 years ago, but the 18-inch beauty is an unusual garden sight today. It grows easily from seed sown in spring, adapts to sun or shade, and attracts butterflies. And it has an interesting feature which makes it a great choice for children’s gardens: When you squeeze mature seedpods, they explode!

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Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) send up two-foot spires loaded with green, bell-shaped calyxes. As they grow taller the spires tend to bend in curious directions, which makes them interesting in fresh and dried flower arrangements. Sow the seed directly in a sunny location in early spring, or in fall. Thin plants so they are 8 to 12 inches apart.

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Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) got their name because the flowers open in the evening, and close sometime the next morning. Plant the seed in spring in sun or part shade, then just sit back and let them grow into shrublike two- to three-foot plants. Flowers are lightly scented and attract hummingbirds.

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Love in a mist (Nigella damascena) is romantically beautiful at every stage of its growth. It is ethereal in bud, elegant when the delicate purple flowers appear, and interesting when flowers develop into striped, balloon-like pods. Sprinkle the seed among perennial flowers in spring or fall, and enjoy the combinations. Plants grow to about two feet in height.

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Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) symbolizes gallantry in the Victorian language of flowers. In the garden it offers beauty and an intoxicating fragrance. Sow this biennial directly in the garden in summer, in sun or part shade, and it will bloom the following spring and summer. Plants range in height from one to three feet. 

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