by Kathie Hoyer – January 13, 2021
Another January, another row of milk jugs in my sleeping garden! What a great way to begin a new year and celebrate the turning of the seasons. I truly think that Winter Sowing is one of my favorite classes to teach – it combines instant gratification with a great lesson in patience. You can put it all together in about ten minutes once your materials are collected – a milk jug, some potting mix, seeds and a few other things. On the other hand, the results of those ten minutes won’t come until next spring. But all those sturdy little plants eagerly reaching for the sun are a great way to jump into spring.
Last year we had our first Winter Sowing class and I used up the leftover materials to make a couple extra milk jug mini-greenhouses. I planted them with the leftover seeds and left them out in the empty nursery lot. A happy surprise greeted me when I came back from lockdown in late May: clusters of small plants that were thriving despite being ignored for so long. The annual larkspur (Consolida regalis) bloomed happily this summer in the garden behind the nursery and the beardtongue (Penstemon strictus), transplanted into a large pot, grew into a lush green display.
Because it is a hardy perennial, it won’t bloom until next spring, but its sprawling, spoon-shaped leaves have really filled up the pot!
This year, we added a few new seeds to trial in this class, so I thought I’d give you a few descriptions to get you excited about trying this project at home. Last year’s choices are in this Journal entry, and the Tip Sheet can be found here.
Bee Balm / Monarda ‘Lambada’
Spires of rosy-lavender flowers; annual; blooms early summer until frost; full sun to part shade; 24-36” x 12-18”
If you like a garden full of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, Monarda is a must. A lovely, fragrant, long-lasting cut flower, this bee balm is also more tolerant of dry soil conditions than most and deer resistant. Add a tangy, lemon-mint-oregano flavor to salads and summer fruit dishes with the edible flowers or make an unusual iced tea from the basil-scented leaves.
Plains Coreopsis or Tickseed / Coreopsis tinctoria
Yellow, zig-zag edged flowers with mahogany centers; annual; blooms mid-summer to fall; full sun; 12-24” x 10-14”
A prairie wildflower that attracts pollinators as it gracefully sways in the wind. Allow the seedheads to mature in the fall and you’ll attract songbirds as well. With great heat and drought tolerance and non-stop blooming, this is a perfect addition to the vegetable garden as well as annual flower beds. With luck it will re-seed and establish itself as a great garden friend.
Sea Holly / Eryngium planum ‘Steel Blue’
Unusual flowers above spiky, star-shaped foliage; perennial; blooms summer to frost; full sun; 24-48” x 18-22”
I was very excited to see this addition to our seed rack – we sell another cultivar in the nursery and can barely keep it in stock since it is so popular with cut-flower gardeners. Maybe the reason sea holly is such a rarity in the nursery business is its stratification requirement – but that’s exactly what makes it a perfect candidate for winter sowing. In addition to being so lovely in fresh or dried arrangements it is quite a tough plant – tolerating heat, drought, poor soil and, as its name implies, salty soils by the sea or along your driveway!