2015 Review of Renee’s Garden Seeds: Part II

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

As I promised in my post yesterday, here are the results for the other varieties from Renee’s Seeds that I tried this year. These varieties were less successful in my southeastern piedmont garden than the ones I described in my previous post.

Grade B

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’ — B

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I think perennial dianthus varieties are lovely, but in my garden, they only seem to be happy in early spring and late fall, when temperatures are cooler. I’ve had one variety — name long forgotten — that I always forget about until it pushes up bright green growth in early spring, followed by some lovely petite pink blooms. The description for Lace Perfume was so evocative that I tried it.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I sowed these seeds quite early in the greenhouse. They germinated well and grew into sturdy little plants that I transplanted into two different beds. Some went into the bed beside my front walkway, and the rest went into the bed in my vegetable area, where I also planted the digitalis and rudbeckia trial varieties for 2015.

As with the zinnia variety I described in the previous post, I was disappointed that this supposed mix — described as producing flowers “in rose, lilac, soft pink, white, and many delicate bicolors” — did not yield the promised color diversity. I got pinks and mauves in a bicolor format.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

But I would have been content with these colors if the variety had delivered the other big promise described on the seed packet: “A new, highly fragrant dianthus…with a heady, spicy/sweet clove-like fragrance that wafts seductively in the air.” There was no wafting in my garden. Even when I put my nose on top of a bloom, I smelled a whole lot of nothing. After such a build-up on the packet, I was disappointed.

Despite these disappointments, this is a very cool-looking flower that drew inquiries from any visitor who saw it in bloom. But my southeastern piedmont climate is just not what these flowers need. We get too hot too quickly, we stay that way a long time, and we generally have either too much or not enough rain.

My test plants agreed. They bloomed freely and looked lovely until mid-May, when the weather turned hot and dry. I watered them to keep them alive, but the heat caused them to stop blooming. When the weather cooled in the fall, they began blooming again. Then the deluges of December hit us. Blooming stopped, and the plants looked increasingly ragged, but they didn’t melt into brown goop like their digitalis and rudbeckia test-mates.

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Conclusion: My guess is that these plants will overwinter successfully and start growing in early spring. If they do return, I think it’s only fair to give them another chance in the new growing season. We all know perennials usually take three years to really start looking good. Maybe my first-year plants were so heat-stressed they just gave up on perfume production. I’m giving this variety a B, because I want it to deliver on its promised perfume. The flowers are quite striking and deserve another year to prove their worth.

Basil ‘Scented Trio’ — Grade B

Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon Basil

Basil has many varieties, and I’d grow them all if I had room. The subtle differences in form, color, fragrance, and flavor are delightful. But when I order a seed packet of a single variety, I end up with way more seeds than I can use. So when I saw this variety listed, I was pleased, thinking that finally I could have some of each of these lovely aromatic basils without having to order them separately. The trio includes Cinnamon Basil, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil, and Red Rubin Basil — a purple-leaved variety. All make fabulous additions to salads and even sweets, and all of them produce numerous flowers beloved by pollinators.

Seed germination was excellent, but variety representation was not. I ended up mostly with the lemon basil, which is lovely, but I would have preferred to have more cinnamon and purple basils among the seedlings that germinated. The lemon and cinnamon basil transplants thrived all summer. The purple basil transplants limped along with less enthusiasm, which was a shame, because nothing makes a bouquet of flowers pop like a few sprigs of purple basil.

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil in background

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil in background

Conclusion: This mix gets a B, because of the uneven representation of seedlings it produced. One way Renee’s Seeds could avoid this issue would be to enclose each variety in its own little packet within the bigger Scented Trio seed packet. I would still receive a smaller number of each variety, and I could better manage their germination/seedling process. And perhaps they could consider replacing Red Rubin with another, more vigorous purple-leaved variety; other better options do exist.

Dill ‘Dukut’ — B

I love dill. We use it in many dishes throughout the year. I decided to try this variety because it was described as “especially sweet-tasting.” I grew it beside another variety I acquired elsewhere. That other variety was noted for its vigorous growth of foliage. Dukut got left in the dust by the other variety. It grew OK, I guess, but not vigorously, and the leaves didn’t taste any sweeter to my palate.

Conclusion: There’s nothing egregiously wrong with this variety, which is why I gave it a B. But I don’t think I’d grow it again, because I need a more productive variety to satisfy our dill cooking needs. I have no photo of this variety. Sorry about that, but dill plants look pretty much the same to me.

Daisy ‘Chocolate’ — C

Who can resist a flower described as having “a tantalizing chocolate scent that perfumes the sunshine with a continuous show of deliciously fragrant butter-yellow little blossoms?” I know I couldn’t. This is apparently a wildflower out west (Renee’s Seeds is in California), and is advertised as deer-resistant. I didn’t test that, because I transplanted my greenhouse-started seedlings into the trial bed within my enclosed vegetable garden, mostly because it was the only spot I had left.

It took this small-flowered perennial a long time to bloom, and the flowers are tiny. As soon as the first one opened, I was down on the ground trying to catch a whiff of its advertised chocolate scent. For about six weeks, I thought the packet spiel had misrepresented this flower. But one really hot summer day in late June/early July, I was in the vegetable garden tying tomatoes when I suddenly got a whiff of dessert — chocolate dessert — maybe dark chocolate brownies, or a decadent fudge — something with a whole lot of yummy chocolate fragrance. Sure enough, these little yellow flowers must have needed a hot, dry spell to persuade them to unleash their super power — chocolate!

Daisy 'Chocolate'

Daisy ‘Chocolate’

Conclusion: This variety gets a C. The plants were unimpressive, the flowers were short-lived, and the fragrance only appeared on hot, dry days. I’m thinking this California wildflower can’t handle the humid climate and intermittent downpours that my southeastern piedmont garden offers. The December deluge seems to have melted these plants into nothingness, but as with the other test perennials, I’ll wait until next spring to see if they re-sprout.

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ — D

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' in late May

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ in late May

Advertised as “an improved culinary selection” discovered in Italy, I was curious to see how this variety would compare with the culinary sage in my garden that has persisted about ten years through all kinds of weather. The newcomer was no match for my old faithful plant.

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' leaves in November

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ leaves in November

It germinated well and produced vigorous seedlings, which I transplanted into the far end of my chive bed, which was empty. The plants grew strongly and well until about September. As humidity grew and rain became frequent, this new variety contracted a fungal disease and began dropping leaves. By the time the December deluge hit, it was barely alive. It did not survive. My old reliable sage plant is still plugging along.

My old reliable sage in November

My old reliable sage in November

Conclusion: I gave this one a D because it did well for a while, but it is clearly not adapted to my growing conditions. As for its supposed superior flavor, blind taste tests between my old plant and this variety yielded no significant differences. The leaves on this variety were more narrow than those on my old plant, but the fragrance and taste were pretty much identical.

Cerinthe ‘Pride of Gibralter’ — F

I will grow anything once. You never know until you try whether a strange-sounding plant might just be the coolest one you’ve ever grown. So when I read the description for this variety, I was intrigued: In vogue in plant lover’s circles, this fascinating annual’s indigo-violet flowers dangle gracefully from bronzy-blue bracts above succulent rounded leaves.

Sounds interesting, yes? Maybe in California. In my garden, the stems grew tall, the bluish-green leaves covered the stems, and the flowers never looked like the ones in the pictures on the web site. In those pictures, the flowers are large enough to extend beyond the leaves they emerge from, and the purple color contrasts well with the leaf color. The plants in those photos are unusual-looking, but in an interesting way. Mine were so ugly I yanked them out and tossed them in July.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

Conclusion: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. But in this case, absolutely nothing was gained. This variety earned the only F in my trial of Renee’s Garden seeds.

Noteworthy Varieties from Previous Trials

Two Renee’s varieties with staying power deserve a brief mention here.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

A close-up of flowers of Salvia 'Coral Nymph'

A close-up of flowers of Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

I wrote about this in last year’s review of varieties from Renee’s Seeds. This gorgeous annual self-sowed itself all over my front garden. When seedlings popped up in suboptimal spots, it was easy to simply dig them up and relocate them. Myriad insects of all sizes adore the flowers, and so do I. As is true of most salvias, this variety seems to thrive despite our erratic weather patterns.

Dahlia ‘Watercolor Silks’

dahlia

I also grew this perennial from seed from Renee’s Garden last year. The mixed colors of this variety were lovely, and the seed packet describes it as a “perennial grown as an annual,” which befuddled me. So last year when frost killed them to the ground, I dug up the fat tubers the plants had produced, and stored them in plastic bags filled with vermiculite in my garage.

First open dahlia bloom

By spring, all the tubers had sprouted, so I re-planted them. In doing so, I discovered that I must have missed a tuber, because it was sprouting in the spot where it had overwintered. All the plants grew strongly in the spring and bloomed well, but the wet fall weather created fungus problems for them. I decided to let frost kill them, then let them overwinter in the beds where they had grown.

bumble on dahlia

But that was before I knew it was going to rain all of December. I kind of doubt the tubers will return for another year, but if they do, I’ll certainly write about it.

tiger on dahlia

Pollinators love these dahlias, and so do I. They’re a nice size — suitable for smaller spots.

This concludes my review of my 2015 trials of seeds from Renee’s Garden. Now I can turn to my pile of 2016 catalogs with a clear conscience — and just in time for a round of seriously cold weather that encourages indoor garden contemplation.

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