Fantastic Foliage from Seed – Part 1

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Hypoestes Splash Select Series early Aug 05Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska’ June 24 06

Pick up just about any glossy nursery catalog these days, and it’s nothing but temptation: You simply must have the latest black-leaved elderberry and golden grass and coppery heuchera. Uh, yeah…until you finish filling out the order form and realize it’s time to take out a home-equity loan to pay for them all – whilst that was tongue in cheek, if you were to do such a thing, you may want to check out Equity can be very important for you later on in life, however, some of us aren’t really sure what equity release is so a quick google search should be able to fix that. However, right now, the reality is especially cruel when your garden is relatively new or rather large (or both), because that’s when you really need quantities of cool plants in a hurry. Well, put away the nursery catalogs for this year and turn to the seed catalogs instead. With a little hunting, you can find some fabulous foliage annuals and grow as many as you need for the price of a few seed packets. (Admittedly, that’s not as cheap as it used to be, but you can usually pick up several kinds of seed for less than the shipping cost for one perennial these days!)

Tropaeolum majus ‘Tip Top Mahogany’ mid Oct 05Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are a super choice to start with, especially if you’re a seed-starting novice. The seeds are large and easy to handle, and you can sow them right in the garden if you’re nervous about the whole indoor-seed-starting thing. At the top of this entry is the classic Alaska Series, which usually comes in a mix of flower colors (typically red, orange, and yellow), though you can sometimes find single colors (such as ‘Alaska Salmon’) too. Obviously, though, the blooms are secondary to the cream-splashed foliage. Alaska Series plants produce tidy mounds that are great as a front-of-the-border filler or edging. If you have a big space to fill and need more of a ground-covering effect, look for ‘Jewel of Africa’, which has the same variegated leaves on long, trailing stems. You can buy both ‘Alaska Mix’ and ‘Jewel of Africa’ through JL Hudson Seeds. Looking for something chartreuse instead? Check out the equally-easy-to-grow ‘Tip Top Mahogany’ shown here, available through Territorial Seed Company.

Ipomoea ‘Cameo Elegance’ Sept 9 05Morning glories (Ipomoea) are also invaluable for those of us who need to fill lots of space, either horizontally or vertically, and they too are super easy to grow from seed sown right in the garden. To get a jazzier version of the traditional, large-flowered climbing type, look for ‘Mt. Fuji’ or ‘Tie Dye’, both of which offer silvery gray splashes on their leaves and a mix of bloom colors. Or, for a smaller-scale morning glory that works equally well on a small trellis or in groups as a groundcover, consider ‘Cameo Elegance’, shown here. Its small white-rimmed pink flowers and even smaller, white-splashed leaves are perfectly proportioned and definitely eye-catching. You can find all three of these morning glories at Summer Hill Seeds.

Antirrhinum ‘Frosted Flames’ midJuly 05

Here’s another little charmer: ‘Frosted Flames’ snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus). Reaching barely 6 inches tall in full bloom, it flowers in a range of bright to pastel colors and bicolors over tiny leaves that are heavily streaked and speckled with creamy white. This isn’t a good choice to fill a large space, but a grouping of even a half-dozen plants can make an intriguing accent at the front of a bed or border. Snapdragon seed isn’t quite as simple to sow as that of nasturtiums and morning glories: It’s very tiny and is best sown indoors, but its seedlings are surprisingly sturdy and not hard to handle. You can find ‘Frosted Flames’ seed through Thompson & Morgan.

For a seriously ground-covering foliage plant you can grow from seed, you can hardly do better than ‘Silver Falls’ silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). Those of you in very mild areas may already know of green-leaved dichondra as a lawn substitute, and I imagine you could use silver ponyfoot the same way. Up here in Zone 6, it’s definitely an annual, which I find a relief after seeing the way it spreads when planted in the ground!

Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ on July 4 and Sept 9 07

The shot at right above started out as just three plants in June and filled an amazing amount of space by September. It swamped a few delicate companions but did an excellent job covering any bare space around the base of sturdier annual and perennial partners. One source of seed for ‘Silver Falls’ is Pinetree Garden Seeds.

Hypoestes Splash Select Series early Aug 05For those of you who enjoy something really different, check out polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya). At right are plants from the Splash Select Strain: ‘Splash Select White’, ‘Splash Select Pink’, and ‘Splash Select Red’. When you sow ‘Splash Select Mix’, you get all three colors, and you can either separate them at planting time or set them out all together. They can adapt to either sun or shade in most areas. The plants can get a little leggy as the season goes on, so you may want to pinch or trim off the stem tips every few weeks to keep them bushy. One source of seeds for ‘Splash Select Mix’ (and the single colors too) is Park Seed.

Ok, that’s a sampling of some cool foliage annuals that stay fairly low. Next time, some seed-grown leafy lovelies that work well in the middle to back of a border, or even as shrub substitutes!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Frances March 20, 2008, 1:59 pm

Super ideas, Nan. I forget about the Alaska series nasturtiums, after so many failures with the green types, lots of leaves, few if any flowers. It wouldn’t matter with Alaska. It would be perfect in the cups of the blue strawberry pot! Thanks.
Frances at Faire Garden

Right, Frances–who needs the flowers? (Well, I actually do like them very much, but I like the leaves even better.) I can imagine how stunning they’ll look in that pot of yours!

Lisa at Greenbow March 20, 2008, 10:32 pm

Your first sentence says it all…too much temptation. I have a stack of temptation on my work table just waiting to be planted.

Oh, sorry, Lisa – I hope I didn’t add to the temptations! I know you already have a lot of planning and planting to do with your new sunny space.

jodi March 20, 2008, 10:42 pm

Splendid, Nan, although I don’t do well with morning glories…I did grow dichondra a couple of years ago but was singularly unimpressed with it, which suggests I probably didn’t give it what it wanted for conditions. Nasturtiums delight me in any colour, and the splashy foliage just makes them that much more irresistable for me.

I imagine nasturtiums are quite happy with you, Jodi. Regarding the dichondra, I should say that I didn’t have as much luck with it the year before last, in a spot that was hot and south-facing but where it was shaded by some taller companions; patches of it kept rotting out. It really liked being on top of that low wall last year, though!

Jean Ann March 21, 2008, 10:07 am

I am thinking the same way! Have you tried Fedco seed? Very affordable and lots of perennials to choose from, too.

Welcome, Jean Ann! I’m embarassed to say that no, I haven’t ordered from Fedco yet, but I plan to for next year. A friend recenly showed me their catalog, and I thought their selection and prices were great.

Kylee Baumle March 21, 2008, 10:47 am

Nan, can you believe it – I get into nearly as much trouble looking at the seed catalogs! When I look at the total, I can’t believe it’s that much! I’ve got an acre of ground to work with here, so I’m only limited by my budget. (What’s a budget?) I might just try the Alaska nasturtiums. I don’t seem to have all that great of results with the other ones.

Oh, Kylee, you bet I *can* believe it! But just think how much you’d be paying to buy the same quantity of already-started plants.

Elly Phillips March 21, 2008, 11:10 am

Nasturtiums are one of my all-time favorites! And after thinking I’d blown my seed budget for the year, I found packs of both mixed nasturtiums and morning glories in a “five for a dollar” rack at my local Tractor Supply. Marigolds, too, and lots of other flowers and veggies, all packed–I was suspicious and checked–for 2008. Guess what I bought?!

Yes! I found a display like that at a tiny local hardware store last summer – and would you believe they were HALF PRICE? It must cost someone more than 10 cents for the production and packaging. The seeds had excellent germination, too. Thanks for reminding me, Elly: I should go see if they have them again. I’d even pay full price for them!

Theresa in Merida March 22, 2008, 8:24 pm

I have both nasturtiums and morning glories that I planted from seed sprouting in my garden, the morning glories just bloomed for the first time today. I also have some polkadot plants that are coming up in the pot where I let some go to seed, I didn’t know that they would grow from seeds, but thought that I would try.
I just added this blog to my favorites, I found it through Bloomingwriter.

Welcome to GGW, Theresa! How neat that the polkadot plants self-sowed for you. They’re such fun annuals.

Pam/Digging March 23, 2008, 2:03 am

I am using silver ponyfoot in my cattle trough containers and loving it. But if you let it creep along the ground, it does root. Better to trim it a little so as to keep it in bounds.

Ooh, I can definitely see it being ideal for your containers, Pam. I can also imagine how trimming would be in order. I should have done that with mine, but I was curious to see how far it would spread.

Kim March 23, 2008, 11:26 pm

Hey Nan… but what do you do when your seed wishlist is as long and pricey as your plant wishlist?!!! 😉 lol.

The ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra didn’t spread so much for me in a dry, hot southwestern exposure, but it did spread. I have some in the pot with my bay laurel, so it’s been a cheery (but stagnant, growth-wise) addition to the indoor garden, too.

That’s where the loan application comes in, Kim! Seed exchanges are perhaps a more practical and financially responsible option. I’ve never tried bringing ‘Silver Falls’ in for the winter. It’ll be interesting to see how yours adapts when you put it outside again (if it will be a more vigorous spreader, for instance).

kerri April 2, 2008, 10:29 am

I overwintered some ‘Silver Falls’ too for the first time. I’ll let you know how well it does this summer. Yours formed such a beautiful carpet!
I love the Alaska series Nasturtium and will have to try it. I had good luck with orange nasturtiums sewn and planted rather late last summer. They looked wonderful with pumpkin decorations in the fall.
Those little ‘snaps’ were pretty in pink for me last summer. I haven’t tried morning glory yet, but of course, I want to! And the polka dot plant too. That sure makes a pretty showing!

I can imagine how pretty your nasturtiums-and-pumpkins display looked. Nasturtiums produce some of the best orange flowers!

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