Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sowing Seeds for Wildlife and the Trouble with Hummingbirds

Seed catalogues should come with a health warning for wallets. A packet of seeds costs very little, but how often do we disappear into the magical world of glossy plant photos and find ourselves in a parallel universe where we have endless time to garden and limitless growing space? Even if our gardening lives were perfect, we would probably still be faced with a space/time dilemma if every flower, fruit and vegetable we desired leapt from the page and onto the credit card. Consequently, this time of year, which is normally associated with excess in the eating and drinking department, is a time for exercising restraint as a gardener. I am not fond of exercising - be it in a gym or restraint on the plant front - so as a reward for my sporadic gym attendance, I allow myself a little light indulgence in the form of two packets of I've-never-tried-these-before seeds per year.



Seeds purchased in one year cannot qualify as newbies the following year, so if they are any good, they are automatically transferred to the regular seed purchase list, thereby allowing space for two more packets of newbies. A problem arises if all the newbies turn out to be goodies. A decade of two successful new must-haves annually equates to twenty new seed packets in ten years (my maths genius knows no bounds). Add these seeds to those which have become essentials over the previous years of your gardening life and you have a whole load of seed packets (I am not even going to risk guessing your age, but please feel free to do your own calculation). 


Pollinator magnet Eschscholzia californica
Of course, if a plant is a consummate self-seeder, all is good and well. We buy it once and enjoy it forever. Cerinthe major falls into this category and if you have never grown it, I really recommend that you add it to your wishlist if your conditions suit. I posted about it here http://blog.thompson-morgan.com/high-value-low-cost-plants-cerinthe-major-purpurascens

Pollinator magnet Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'
A plant which has seeded itself into the buy-once-enjoy-forever category in recent years is pollinator magnet extraordinaire, Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’. Bright blue flowers emerge from pink buds and turn magenta as they fade. These breathtakingly beautiful flowers adorn bristly stems from June until at least October (by at least, I mean that they are still in flower in December this year). 


Pollinator magnet Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder'
A dry, sunny spot suits 'Blue Bedder' perfectly. It copes near the coast, looks wonderful in a cottage garden style planting and is happy in a container. It is at home mingling with grasses and contrasts well with the soft foliage and sulphur yellow flowers of Alchemilla mollis. Sow it indoors in February and March or direct from March to May, after which, hopefully, you will not have to buy it again. It self-seeds in my garden, but not so much that I have to compost excess plants.



Echium vulgare - or viper's bugloss - is classed as a noxious weed in certain areas of the world. Here in the UK some farmers don’t like it as it can seed into fields where it puts its roots down deeply. ‘Blue Bedder’ is an annual viper's bugloss which at 45cm, is more compact and bushy than the viper's bugloss we see growing in gravel pits and along roadsides. It is hugely attractive to bees, butterflies and moths and I have read that it is a hummingbird magnet. If only we had hummingbirds in the UK... not that you would see a great photo of one if we did. I have an extensive collection of photographs of plants which a hummingbird has just left. The best I have ever managed is this. Look closely, it is there, although it might very well be a sparrow for all the detail you can see. Pitiful, isn’t it?



I am linking this post to Wildlife Wednesday which is hosted by Tina at http://mygardenersays.com/ . Do please take a trip over there to marvel at the wonderful wildlife in gardens around the planet. I guarantee that this hummingbird photo will be the worst one you will see in the whole meme *hangs head in shame.

45 comments:

  1. Thanks for joining in with Wildlife Wednesday, Sarah. I have to count myself a lazy gardener because I love plants which reseed themselves with little of my effort. Your photos are lovely, it's nice to see such warm weather bloomers this time of year. I love the shot of the hoverfly on the Eschscholzia californica!

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    1. I don't view it as lazy; I view it as delegating a gardening task to the plants. It leaves us free to do the things that plants can't, like sitting on a bench and enjoying a cup of coffee.

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  2. I'm very fond of viper's bugloss but my problem with planting is that there is a rosemary bush in my small London garden which has somehow turned into a very sizeable shrub indeed, and is now taking up a lot of the bed which I give over to flowers. So I can't try anything new - there's no room. Cutting the rosemary back only seems to encourage it - and it is wonderful, looks and smells great, so I don't want to be too harsh and damage it by being really brutal. . any suggestions?

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    1. Is there a good strong central stem? If so, could you trim off the side branches once the weather warms up and create a standard? Then you will be able to underplant it with something lovely. If not, do you like herby roast potatoes? We eat them weekly throughout spring and summer and our rosemary plants never get too big. A good haircut after flowering, plus weekly herby roast potatoes might do the trick. Alternatively, you might consider taking cuttings, then once you have a good replacement, swap it with the big rosemary and don't allow the new plant to get too big. I grow Miss Jessop's Upright - it tends to behave reasonably well with me. I hope this helps!

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  3. I'm very partial to reseeders. Buy them once and plant them and you never have to purchase them again. Best bargain in the seed catalog!

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    1. Absolutely! They are tremendously good value for money.

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  4. I too am a great fan of self seeders, it is difficult to choose a favourite, it would probably be either Miss Wilmotts Ghost or the Welsh Poppy.

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    1. They are both winners - Miss Willmott knew a thing or two about self-seeding ;-)

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  5. I have Californian poppies in many colours, and Flanders red - they are welcome to reseed. But the viper's bugloss attacks if you get near it - invasive alien and promptly weeded out here. But the flowers are an entrancing colour!

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    1. Californian poppies are brilliant. The foliage is beautiful; the flowers are massively popular with pollinators; and the seedpods are a wonder to behold! It's a shame that viper's bugloss is a noxious weed where you live - there are problems with it in some areas around the globe.

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  6. Hah! As if II needed more encouragement to buy seeds!! We won't discuss the ones sat out in the cool of the garage that I managed to not get around to sowing after all. That "I've plenty of time to get all those sown" delusion I know so well...

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    1. Hopefully those seeds will see some kind of growing medium next year! So long as they're not parsnips, my guess is that they will probably still come good. Fingers crossed!

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  7. I wish we had hummingbirds here too, I remember the first time I saw one, I thought it was a bee it was so small. I've never managed a very good photo of one either. I think it's a great idea trying out two new things each year, it's a good idea to try something new and add to the things you usually grow. I like self seeders too, my most prolific self seeder is honesty.

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    1. I learnt a few weeks ago that our UK hummingbird hawkmoth is as tricky to photograph as a hummingbird. I must have taken 50-60 photos of one moth flitting around the Salvia uliginosa. Needless to say, none of them are worth publishing. Honesty is great for wildlife - very well worth growing.

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  8. Echium is a beautiful plant. I see it at the Chicago Botanic Garden, though it is a different variety (or species?) with flowers much more tightly packed. It's not a plant you see much in home gardens in this area. I grew Eschscholzia for the first time this year. I love the flowers. Curious to see how much they self-sow.

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    1. Eschscholzia flowers are wonderful! Hopefully they will self-sow well for you. Eschscholzia seeds well here, although I always like to throw down a few extra seeds to guarantee big clumps of flowers.

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  9. I love self-seeders but with our winters mostly native plants self-seed here....my seed packets are reserved for annuals (or what are annuals here) and veggies....I do have to restrict myself though as I could have too many seeds and no where to plant them.

    Donna@LivingFromHappiness
    http://www.livingfromhappiness.com/wildlife-lessons-welcoming-autumn-visitors/

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    1. I tend to sow only annuals/biennials too, as I usually propagate perennials vegetatively. The cold frame is packed with rooted cuttings at the moment - there is a whole lot of hope in that little cold frame!

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  10. The thing I like most about self seeders is their choice of places to pop up unexpectedly. These plant combinations often top anything I have planned.

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    1. You are absolutely right! I love these happy accidents!

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  11. I share your pain with the seed catalogue dilemmas ! I just want one of everything! A good rule to allow yourself 2 wild cards every year! I love Cerinthe and although it doesn't self seed prolifically here, I can usually find enough seed to keep me going from year to year , without resorting to buying a packet. Other good self seeders for me are, as others have mentioned, welsh poppies and californian poppies. Verbena Bonariensis flatly refuses to reproduce, for some reason, although I see clouds of it in gardens nearby!

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    1. Any plant which self-seeds enough for you to have more, but doesn't turn into a weed, is a true winner.
      I suspect that I am the only person in the UK who has never grown Verbena bonariensis. I think it is because when it became hugely popular, it was hailed as the see-through plant and people kept growing it in random places as if it wasn't really there. But I could still see it! I have only ever seen it used beautifully in a planting scheme once - and I really did love it then. I should grow it for its wildlife value alone - that and the challenge of placing it.

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    2. Nope, you are not the only one never to have grown Verbena bonariensis, I haven’t either! But I have saved a link to remind me how beautiful it can be, make sure to enlarge the photo window before you start clicking though them.
      If only one had a field available….!!
      http://www.benary.com/en/product/W6161

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    3. Wow! Maximum impact! I love these photos. Thank you!

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  12. Ah the temptations of new seeds, and the sobering reality of limited space and time to care for. It sounds like a very good plan to limit oneself to a couple of new discoveries each year. Love your Echium photos...Have wanted to grow this one for a while now. You've remined me to get out and get some seeds! Thanks...Onward to new heights of blueness : )

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    1. Do! It's a lovely plant - and a joyous hive of activity on a sunny day. It also has a wondrously long flowering season and you can sow it direct, so I am not absolutely certain that it has to count as one of the two newbies (rules are meant to be flexed).

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  13. This is a tempting time for sure....I always buy far too many seeds, so I love your cunning plan of two newbies!!!
    Oh...I do love Blue Bedder and Vipers Bugloss, I love the name of the latter.xxx

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    1. It is a great name. I have read that bugloss means ox tongue and refers to the roughness of the leaves!

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  14. That slight lull after Christmas is when I hit the seed catalogues, slipping into a mood of denial concerning both the time and space I'll have in the coming season to raise everything that fancies my tickle. You'd think I'd've leaned by now, but no.

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    1. Is there a glass of warming whisky involved during the slight lull? I suspect that this isn't a matter of learning, but simply of looking at the coming year through whisky-tinted glasses.

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  15. Hi Sarah, what I did to try and temper my urge to buy everything form the catalogue is to go online and add everything that I wanted into the shopping cart, then I printed it out so I could see all the items, then I bought one or two things from the list, gradually over a long period so at the end, I got all that I wanted, eventually. That works well for me.

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    1. I like your thinking. When everything arrives at once, it can be a bit overwhelming.

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  16. The seeds I like best are those I get for free with magazines. I always sow them, and I have always been pleasantly surprised by plants I never intended to buy but got completely for free.

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    1. Free seeds are great! I am impressed that you manage to try them all. As we sign in at our local gardening club meetings, there is a pile of seeds (many of which came free in mags) which people don't want. Anyone can help themselves to packets of seeds from the pile. It's a great way of trying new plants.

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    2. Uhm…I don’t buy that many magazines so I suppose I get around 5-8 every year – still haven’t got any yet but I know it will start as soon as we get past Christmas :-)

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    3. I bet you have some now! I dropped a stack off at the local gardening club after I did a major seed packet reorganisation at the weekend. It's amazing how many seeds I accumulate over the year. Now I've made room for the newbies!

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  17. I had no trouble finding that hummingbird! As for seeds, well, they are a temptation. It is fun to dream as I examine each new catalogue. It is a favorite winter pastime. Now if I only had a hundred acres in full sun and a large barn to store all the necessary equipment and a staff to care for all! My dreams have a way of expanding, but fortunately my 3.5 shady acres keep me in check!

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    1. Thank you - you are too kind with your hummingbird spotting! I should think that 3.5 acres would keep you very busy indeed!

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  18. You have such a great sense of humor that I was giggling all the while reading it :-). Well, your picture says that you are between 25-30. Well, you only asked us to guess.

    I completely agree with you regarding seed collection. And, what about buying them, then completely forgetting about them; then, again buying them (thinking I don't have these) while the old ones are collecting dust in the cupboard :-D.

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    1. Happy new year! I wish I was 25-30 again! I have forgotten I have bought seeds before too, along with remembering that I bought them, put them somewhere safe and being unable to find them. I usually find them some time in August, when it is too late to sow.

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  19. I started sowing my seeds today and am sowing so many this year that I'm not sure I have room to grow them all. Trivialities.... Echium is invasive here or I'd love to grow it along with the 28 other seed packs I couldn't live without!

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    1. I love the first sowings almost as much as the first signs of germination. I don't like juggling too many plants on my windowsills in mid-April though. Happily the windowsill crisis is easily forgotten by the time we sow again.

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  20. Ah Sarah, I was curious to see where the Humming bird stuff was coming from.
    I only came across Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'after having been gardening for decades. It really is a plant worth growing.

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    1. It is. It also copes wonderfully well with being dug up and moved to plug a gap in a border.

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