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July 6th, 2012

Growing Foxgloves From Seeds

How do I grow foxgloves from seed? I admired my neighbor’s foxgloves this spring and she offered me seeds.

blog-dougI’m a fan of foxgloves of all types but especially Digitalis purpurea, the common biennial foxglove. They’re easy to grow from seed; one packet yields a generous drift of plants, which is fortunate, because the tall, tapering spires tend to look best when there are lots of them.

Gather seeds from your neighbor’s foxgloves a few weeks after they finish blooming. Stalks that were not deadheaded after flowering will have turned brown, bearing a gazillion seeds each. The seeds shower out of the seed capsules in abundance as you clip the stalks. It doesn’t take long to fill an envelope with seeds, even though they’re tiny.

The only trick to growing foxgloves is the timing. They’re biennials, which means they produce a rosette of leaves in their first year and a vertical spike of flowers the following spring. Sow seeds now, in early July. Some gardeners grow the seedlings in a flat and transplant, but I’ve always found it easiest to sow them in the garden where I want them to bloom next year or in a partly shaded “nursery” bed. Dig the soil to loosen the surface, mix in some compost, and then sprinkle the seeds over the ground. Keep the bed moist while the seeds are germinating.

Eventually—sometime in September or when the seedlings are about 4 inches tall—you’ll need to thin the seedlings so they’re spaced about a foot apart in all directions. It’s tempting to leave more, but crowded seedlings tend to produce wimpy flower stalks. Fortunately, they are easy to transplant at this stage, so you can share the extras with your neighbors. The plants will go dormant when winter arrives, only to return for their grand show next May.  —Doug Hall

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May 15th, 2012

Sowing Seeds in Hills

Excuse me, but just what is a flat hill? I read about a gardening expert who plants her squash in flat hills. I don’t know what that means.

blog-dougIn gardening parlance, “hill” refers to a cluster of plants—usually vining vegetables such as squash, melons, or cucumbers—that have been sown as a group. I suppose the term got its start in an exceptionally rainy climate where raised planting was necessary to provide drainage for such crops. In this situation, or in poorly drained soil, it’s customary to make a small mound of soil upon which the seeds are planted—a literal hill.

But in regions where soil drainage is adequate or rainfall is scarce, the mounds dry out quickly. In most cases it’s better to form a shallow basin in the soil and plant the seeds in the middle of it. The basin facilitates watering through the course of summer. And even though there’s no elevated ground involved, gardeners refer to this technique as “planting in hills.”

Seed packets for pumpkins and other sprawling crops often recommend planting in hills. The usual procedure is to plant 8 or 10 seeds in a circle about a foot across. Once the seeds are up and growing, select the most robust 3 or 4 seedlings and pull out the rest. Space the hills of rangy melons and squash up to 10 feet apart; those of compact cucumbers or bush-style zucchinis can be much closer.  —Doug Hall

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April 10th, 2012

A Child’s Garden of Learning

My granddaughter will be 4 this year. I am an avid vegetable gardener, and I want to share that passion with her. What’s the easiest vegetable for a child to grow?

blog-dougStart with radishes. The seeds germinate and grow quickly; they’re ready to eat in 30 days. On the chance she isn’t a radish fan, let her plant seeds of a few other vegetables that you know she likes to eat, like bush beans or leaf lettuce or snow peas.

Don’t forget to plant some flowers, too. Giant sunflowers are a kid favorite. When I was that age, I was intrigued by the exploding seed capsules of garden balsam. Zinnias and cosmos are great for bouquets and easy to grow from seed.

Books on gardening with children often stress the importance of choosing crops and flowers with big seeds, on the theory that they are easier for small fingers to grasp. But in my experience, kids do just fine with the tiny-seeded stuff, like lettuce and carrots. Seeds are cheap; let her learn by planting. Make your shared garden time informal and fun.

Your granddaughter is at an age when the world is filled with amazing discoveries. She’ll always remember the lessons about nature and life that she learns at your side.  —Doug Hall

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