Posts Tagged Renee’s Garden seeds
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.
Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’ — B
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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’
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
With apologies for tardiness, here are my thoughts about the free seeds from Renee’s Garden that I trialed this year. As those of you who have been reading my blog for a year or two may recall, every year, Renee’s Garden offers up to 15 free seed packets to members of the Garden Writers Association in the hopes, I imagine, that we will write about the seeds we try. I know that I feel obliged every year to write up how my Renee’s Seeds samples fared. I had hoped to squeak in my review before last year slipped entirely away, but I know most folks haven’t ordered their seeds yet, so you’ll still have time to ponder my results here.
I ordered 11 seed packets, and received an additional sample in a promotional mailing sent out by this company, so I tried 12 seed varieties this year ranging from perennials to annuals to herbs to a vegetable. I’ve assigned grades ranging from A to F to this year’s seeds, but many more high grades than low ones. This post describes all the varieties that earned an A from me.
Kale ‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ — A
This was the freebie seed packet sent with a promotional mailing. Described as a cut-and-come-again salad baby kale, I had to try it, and it has not disappointed. I first tried it with the spring garden greens and loved it then. For that round, I started seedlings in the greenhouse and transplanted them out when the weather had settled. They produced well and were delicious, but they bolted sooner than many of the other spring greens.
However, when copious autumn rains began to fall, I decided to plant a small fall vegetable garden of broccoli and salad greens. I direct-sowed all the greens, using the same packets of seeds from the spring. All germinated enthusiastically, including this baby leaf kale. When our autumn temperatures turned absurdly warm, I was able to protect these crops through minor dips in temperatures by covering them with a tent of spun garden fabric. At this point, after something like 8 inches of rain during the month of December, the salad greens are mostly mush — except for this kale, which continues to happily grow and produce. I’m guessing that the prolonged cold forecast for January will finally end this delicious, tender, productive vegetable, but I’ll let you know.
Conclusion: I must give this variety an A for prolonged, delicious productivity, but with the caveat that my region experienced an extraordinary fall growing season. As a spring green, its productive life was too short to be worth the space it occupied.
Foxglove ‘Freckled Rose Princess’ — A-minus
I like foxgloves. I think they provide elegance to a flower garden, and the ones I’ve grown usually bloom for quite a while. Pollinators of many persuasions like them, and because they are poisonous, deer and rabbits don’t touch them. They aren’t native, but the ones I grow have never demonstrated any invasive tendencies. This variety sounded lovely, so I figured I’d try them.
I sowed the seeds in the greenhouse. They weren’t the fastest germinators, but they came up reasonably strongly. I managed to grow about 8 or 10 plants to transplant size, then planted them in their permanent bed at one end of my enclosed vegetable area. This bed is a trial bed for plants I’m testing.
A late spring-early summer drought required me to water the new foxglove plants attentively. By doing so, I was rewarded with a number of bloom stalks that showed off rosy bells for about six weeks. When the flowers were done, I removed the stalks. About that time, the rains returned enough to encourage lush growth in the basal rosettes.
I was looking forward to a 2016 mid spring full of foxglove flowers until one of the wettest, warmest Decembers ever recorded hit my region. The last time I checked, most of the foxglove rosettes appear to have rotted into brown goop. I have a feeling they’re gone for good, but I’m going to wait to see if new growth emerges when spring returns.
Conclusion: This is a beautiful perennial that needs even moisture and perfect drainage to flourish. I’m not sure my gardening conditions meet this variety’s requirements. I’ll update you next spring. I’m giving this one an A-minus, because my December rains were more than many fussier perennials could probably handle.
Parsley ‘Gigante Italian’ — A+
All parsleys are biennials, meaning they grow vegetatively through the first year, then produce seeds the following spring, after which the plants die. I started my parsley seeds in the greenhouse and got abundant, nearly instantaneous germination. I ended up with about a dozen vigorous seedlings that grew rapidly and well. I gave away a few plants to friends and transplanted the rest in open areas of my bed of chives, where they flourished.
I harvested parsley leaves all spring, summer, and fall. This large, flat-leaved Italian variety enhanced salads, sauces, and many other savory dishes. About September, the plants surprised me by sending up flower stalks, which I had not been expecting until the next spring. I responded by cutting off the stalks before the flowers opened, in the hopes of prolonging their productivity. The tactic seemed to work, because the plants are still alive. This is one of the few herbs (chives being the other) that didn’t seem to mind the deluges of December.
Conclusion: I’ll be growing this variety again. Santa brought me a food dehydrator, so that I can dry and preserve the abundant tasty leaves of wonderful herbs like this one.
Basil, Thai ‘Queenette’ — A
Renee’s Garden imports the seeds of this variety directly from Thailand, and I can attest that this is the very best Thai basil I’ve ever grown. Greenhouse-started seeds germinated well and produced strong, well-branched plants. This annual herb was powerfully fragrant and flowered constantly, attracting a great diversity of pollinators, including many of the smaller, solitary bees and wasps so important to a healthy garden.
I don’t cook much with this herb, but many folks do, and I know it is used in teas too. I grow it mostly as a companion plant for my vegetables, because it attracts beneficial insects, and I think its strong fragrance confuses some pest insects. My plants flourished with almost no supplemental water during the dry early summer. And later autumn rains didn’t bother them either.
The flower stalks make great additions to bouquets, and I used them often that way all growing season.
Conclusion: This is a wonderful summer annual herb that adds fragrance and insect appeal to any garden. I would happily grow it again, despite the fact that the faintest of frosts kills it completely — well before even other basil varieties surrender. This variety gets a solid A.
Zinnia ‘Blue Point’ mix — A-minus
I try a different zinnia variety from Renee’s Garden every year. Sometimes I’ve been wowed, sometimes disappointed; this year fell somewhere in between. In the past when I’ve tried a mix, I’ve been pleased by the relatively even color balance that resulted from the greenhouse-started seedlings I transplant into my garden. But this annual variety yielded more pink shades by far. They were nice enough, but I like to use zinnias for bouquets full of color. This year required more monochromatic bouquet construction.
The plants grew tall — about 5 feet or so, and the rains of autumn plagued the leaves with fungus. But for much of the summer, they looked pretty good.
Still, zinnias are annual flowers I will always include. They are easy to grow, make great cut flowers, and draw a diversity of pollinators to the garden. Every piedmont gardener with four or more hours of sunshine on a flowerbed should grow zinnias.
Conclusion: I might try this variety again, but if I get another uneven color mixture of plants, I’d discard this zinnia option permanently. I’m giving it a provisional A-minus, based on the hope that future mixes would yield more color variety.
What a gorgeous perennial this turned out to be. I had tried this the year before, but only got a couple of weak plants started in the greenhouse that never took off when I transplanted them. I had better success on my second try. I still had germination problems. More than half the seeds didn’t germinate for me in the greenhouse. This is very unusual. I almost always get excellent germination from any seed — perennial, annual, vegetable, etc. — that I start in my greenhouse. But the plants that did come up grew vigorously. I was able to transplant out four very healthy plants.
Floriferous is the word that best describes their productivity. During June and July, the two plants that survived vole and drought challenges bloomed copiously and constantly. I imagine they would make great cut flowers, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any, because the pollinators were addicted to them — and they looked so gosh-darned fabulous in the garden.
I was very hopeful that these plants would survive the winter and return for a new growing season. After all, the native rudbeckias have no trouble with this. But like the foxgloves, my Capuccinos did not fare well during the warm, absurdly wet December my area experienced. The vigorous basal rosettes present in November seem to have melted into mush. Like the foxgloves, I will not dig up where I planted them until the new growing season begins. If I don’t see signs of resprouting then, I’ll know they drowned.
Conclusion: As much as I want to give this variety an A+ for its wow factor, its weak germination combined with its apparent inability to handle wet soil mean I must give it a provisional A-minus. If it comes back next spring, I reserve the right to revise the grade upward.
That concludes my description of the varieties that earned A grades in my garden. In my next post, I’ll describe the varieties that didn’t perform quite as well for me, along with a couple of varieties from previous years that continue to do well.
Here’s hoping the new gardening season will bring us optimal growing conditions. We could all use a break from droughts and deluges.
My apologies to my dozen or so loyal readers for my prolonged silence. A gardening-related injury sidelined me unexpectedly. I start physical therapy tomorrow, and hope to be ready for another growing season by the time it arrives.
I am overdue to summarize my experience with the free seeds Renee’s Garden provided me with as a member of the Garden Writers Association. First, I was unable to try three of the varieties I requested. The two sunflower types and a Four o’clock mix all required direct sowing. Unfortunately, my garden experienced no measurable rain for the first two months of the growing season, starting right about the time I needed to sow the seeds. By the time the rains returned, it was mid-July — not a good time to start any flower seed in the piedmont of North Carolina.
However, the seeds I was able to sow in my greenhouse in early March all germinated magnificently, and I was able to transplant out a number of seedlings that performed quite well for me all summer long.
I didn’t try any veggie varieties from Renee’s Garden this year. Here are the flower varieties I grew.
Asclepias ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’
This is a non-native, tropical species of milkweed that was described as floriferous and tender, meaning winter should kill it. When I planted this, I had not read that these tropical milkweeds are actually confusing Monarch butterflies, especially in the western US, where groups migrating south are becoming confused by these flowers. Instead of resting and then flying further south, they are laying their eggs on these tropical milkweeds, thereby disrupting the life cycle pattern of the Monarchs. I don’t think this is an issue in the southeastern US, because the first freeze kills this variety to the ground.
As you can see from the photos, the seeds I planted produced some plants with pure yellow-orange flowers, and some with red-orange flowers. The red ones were especially stunning. My plants bloomed all summer until hard frost, and grew to a height of about four feet. The plants were sturdy, requiring no support to remain upright even during thunderstorms.
They produced many seed pods, and the resulting seeds yielded a number of volunteer seedlings in the bed where I transplanted this variety. I’m assuming all were killed by the first freeze. I’ll let you know next spring if any reappear.
Marigold ‘Summer Splash’
I didn’t take a single picture of this variety that I liked enough to put in my blog. This variety produced larger plants than my favorite Queen Sophia marigold, and the branches broke and split early on. The flowers themselves were kind of a ho-hum yellow. Give me Queen Sophia any day.
Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’
I tried this Cosmos variety, because it is supposed to be shorter than some of the others. It may have been slightly shorter, but mine all grew eventually to a height of about 4.5 feet — not where my knees appear. As is true for most Cosmos varieties, a spell of heat and humidity combined with hard rain turned the plants into fungal mush. But during the early drought period I mentioned previously, they were very happy.
All three colors in the mix were lovely. As is often the case, the white flowers tended to look the worse for wear most often.
The pink and magenta versions stayed lovely for several days. After the fungus killed the plants, I pulled them up and left that bed empty. In September, a number of new seedlings appeared, clearly the offspring of the many spent flower heads I had snipped off to keep the flowers blooming.
Echinacea ‘Paradise Mix’
This is the only perennial from Renee’s Garden that I tried this year. It often takes perennials a full year’s cycle to grow large enough to produce flowers. But one of the plants I grew managed to produce the lovely bloom above. This mix was advertised as producing flowers in the red-yellow-orange range, so I confess I was disappointed when the one flower I got looked very much like my native coneflowers, only slightly larger. Very late in the fall, another seedling produced a flower bud that looked to me as if it were going to be red, but a freeze killed it before it could open. However, all the seedlings I planted out grew well throughout the season, and I’m hoping for lots of variably colored flowers next year.
Dahlia ‘Dwarf Watercolors’
Dahlias are usually considered to be perennial flowers in my area, but the seed package from Renee’s Garden called this variety an annual. I love dahlias, but most are large and take a lot of room, plus deer love them. The description of this variety was irresistible. My sowing yielded 5 plants, 2 of which were eaten by voles early in the season. Of the three that survived, one was a lovely white with pink undertones, one was a double yellow, and the other was a single yellow.
All bloomed nonstop all summer, no doubt aided by my attentive snipping of spent flower heads. I also sprayed them all summer with deer repellant. I interplanted them with two other varieties from Renee’s Garden, and because these dahlias really were dwarf varieties, they were a bit overpowered by what turned out to be larger flower varieties. But that did not prevent the pollinators from finding them.
After frost zapped these plants, I decided to see what their roots looked like. To my delight, all three had formed a significant number of tubers. They seemed to be in excellent condition, so I bagged them up with some dry potting soil and put them in my cool garage for the winter. I’m hoping the tubers will re-sprout for me next spring, despite their description as annuals.
Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’
I tried this annual last year and failed. It would not germinate for me in the greenhouse. What a difference a year makes. I got abundant, vigorous seedlings this year, all of which successfully transplanted, eventually growing to large (3.5 feet), multi-branched, perpetually floriferous bee magnets. For reasons known only to my camera, I didn’t get any great pictures of that bed, but trust me, they are well worth growing.
Snapdragon ‘Butterfly Chantilly’
This snapdragon mixed-color mix germinated well, and the flowers bloomed all summer long. However, the mix did not produce colors I liked. They were mostly muted and muddy. One pure lemon yellow one was the exception. I won’t try these again.
Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’
This zinnia mix did not grow as large as the variety I tried last year. Instead of attaining heights of nearly eight feet, this variety stopped around the five-foot mark, which was fine with me. Even so, the stems eventually began to fall over and split from the weight of side branches laden with flower buds.
Despite their tendency to fall over and their eventual disfiguration by humidity-enhanced fungal diseases, these flowers kept producing until hard frost. Every bloom attracted abundant pollinators, from bumblebees to butterflies.
I loved the mix of rich colors and forms in this variety. They made for fabulous instant, long-lasting bouquets of cut flowers. I would happily grow this mix again, but next time I’ll space them farther apart, and I’ll introduce a support system early on, before they start collapsing under their own weight.
I grew three varieties this year. This is my third year growing ‘Cup of Sun’. I just love it. It’s a clumper, not a climber, and in my garden, it remains politely in its place until late summer. For some reason, at that point in the growing season, it tends to go a little nuts, overgrowing anything in its path. Fortunately, by that time, most of the beds are done for the season.
I interplanted ‘Cup of Sun’ with a new variety for me — another clumper called ‘Empress of India’. It was not nearly as vigorous as ‘Cup of Sun’, but it was quite lovely, producing leaves that were more blue-green than ‘Cup of Sun’.
The climbing variety I interplanted with my pole beans this year was called ‘Moonlight’. It produced a pale yellow flower that was not nearly as vigorous or visually effective as the ‘Spitfire’ variety I had grown before. If I grow a climber again, I’ll probably go back to ‘Spitfire’.
I direct-sowed all the nasturtiums when I planted my veggies, which is why they managed to become established before the early drought set in.
By the time the first hard freeze killed the nasturtiums, I was secretly relieved. They were mounding over paths and beds in all directions — gorgeous — but reminding me just a little too much of that evil southern invader, kudzu.
In summary, my test varieties this year were mostly very successful. I’d grow most of them again.
And I’m looking forward to what Renee’s Garden will be offering for next year’s growing season. Thanks, again, Renee’s Garden, for giving me the opportunity to test your seeds in my garden.
It was a mixed-results year for my Renee’s Garden flower seed trials. Top winners included the two nasturtium varieties I tried last year — Spitfire and Cup of Sun. They were so gorgeous last year that I just had to have them back again, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded all the expectations I had based on last year’s results. More on that in a moment.
The other big winner this year was a zinnia: Raggedy Anne. These are old-fashioned zinnias that produce long stems, making them ideal for cutting to use in indoor arrangements. I’ve had trouble with such zinnias in the past. Usually the heat and humidity of typical North Carolina Piedmont summers are too much for them. They bloom for a bit in early June, then succumb to fungal diseases and drought. Not this year.
Two factors likely played pivotal roles. First, the weather this past summer in my region was atypical. We never hit 100 degrees, nor the high 90s, even during the dog days of the season, and we never went into drought. I haven’t had a summer growing season without drought in over 15 years. I had truly forgotten what adequate rainfall can do for a garden — and, alas, the weeds — but that’s another story.
The other likely contributor to the success of the zinnias was the compost mix Wonder Spouse and I added to the vegetable/flower beds in the spring. This stuff was truly black gold; all the plants reveled in the nutritional bounty of this supplement.
How happy were the zinnias? I started one batch early in my greenhouse, transplanting them out in late April. They were blooming by mid-May, and they didn’t stop until our first freeze killed them in mid-October. And they eventually grew as tall as the sunflowers I tried this year — well over 7 feet high. These were sturdy-stemmed plants that lifted abundant, constantly produced large zinnia flowers to the sky without any support from me. I actually had to stand on a stool to cut the final flowers before the cold got them. They were amazing.
So pleased was I with the transplanted bunch of Raggedy Annes that I direct-sowed the remaining seeds in the package. This is usually highly risky, but the abundant rainfall ensured nearly 100% germination. Then I had two tall patches of rainbow-colored flowers, most 3-4 inches across, in shades of cream, orange, yellow, and pink. Forms varied from more cactus-type flowers to what I think of as traditional zinnia shapes.
They made wonderful cut flowers too, lasting at least a week indoors. I was able to create several lovely zinnia-based arrangements that I presented as hostess gifts at various events over the season. I’ll probably try this variety again, just to see what kind of results I get during a more typical growing season. Although, maybe, if I’m very lucky, adequate rainfall will become typical of my summer weather again. How great would that be?
As for the nasturtiums, the rain and compost gave Spitfire the enthusiasm of that notorious southern invader, kudzu. Seriously, after the tomatoes and beans surrendered to fungal diseases in August, Spitfire vines took over those trellises. Paths were swallowed, orange, subtly fragrant blossoms dangled in abundance from rounded leaves the size of saucers. I was actually relieved when the freeze turned them into mush, fearing I had unleashed a monster.
Last year, the beautiful nasturtium, ‘Cup of Sun’, surrendered to the drought by early August. This year, it continued to flourish until the freeze. Cup of Sun isn’t a climber, so it remained a much more polite plant, confining itself to the beds where it was planted. I love the subtle variations in color in this variety.
Having proved their worthiness across two vastly different growing seasons, I suspect these nasturtiums will remain a part of my vegetable garden for the indefinite future. I may not even need to plant them next year. I noticed seed pods all over the garden. I direct-sowed both nasturtium varieties when my soil had warmed enough to plant the bean seeds. They took it from there without any further aid from me.
Because I like variety, I decided to try a sunflower seed mix from Renee’s Garden this year. I chose Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color.’ Direct-sowed seeds yielded 100% germination in my moist compost-enriched garden. Plants shot up straight and tall, topping out at about 6 feet.
Flower size was moderate — large enough to make an impact, but not so large as to be too heavy to stand upright without support. Most, but not all, of the flowers were bi-colors, producing two-tone blossoms in a range of yellows, oranges, and reds.
As always, the sunflowers were reliable pollinator magnets. Several bees always lingered on them, and during the height of the swallowtail butterfly population explosion, those beauties competed with the bees for spots on the sunflowers.
These blossoms are supposed to be good for cutting too, but I never do it. I never seem to have that many, and unlike the zinnias, these plants die after the first flush of flowers. Still, I love their lofty enthusiasm, and most summers, they are the tallest flowers in the garden.
I might try this variety again, but Renee’s Garden always offers so many tempting sunflower varieties that I might feel obliged to try yet another one.
The other Renee’s Garden flower varieties I tried were not as successful. Because they were so resiliently lovely despite the drought and heat of last year, I tried Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ again. They did not like the abundant rains of this past season, remaining small, blooming unenthusiastically, and eventually expiring from a fungal disease.
I tried sowing Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ and Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’ in the greenhouse. I do this successfully with many flower varieties, herbs, etc. However, despite quick germination, I could not persuade the salvia to thrive. All the seedlings eventually died of fungus problems. I had a few seeds left, and decided to direct-sow them in the garden. One germinated and managed to bloom. The flowers were lovely, the plant didn’t seem to be strong enough to stand up without support. I never managed to get a good photo of it before it expired.
The monarda variety struggled in the greenhouse, but I managed to raise about six plants to transplanting size. Monardas are notoriously susceptible to fungal diseases in my region, so I was not surprised with the problems I had with these seedlings. However, once they settled into the compost-rich garden, the plants grew tall, flowering beautifully.
As readers of this blog know, I love purple flowers, so I was thrilled with these beauties. Alas, after three days of blooming, we got another rain. The plants almost melted before my eyes, becoming piles of green mush, victims of the rampant fungal diseases that flourished during the rain-soaked summer.
Finally, I’ve always been an admirer of Cornflowers. I think my appreciation began with the crayon named for this flower’s color in the big boxes of crayons that I loved during childhood. When I saw Renee’s Garden was offering Cornflower ‘Blue Boy,’ I had to try it. I was disappointed. In their defense, I suspect the rain and compost were at least partly responsible for the rampant growth of this variety. Plants grew three feet tall before they began to produce flowers.
Flower size was small, relative to the size of the giant green plants, nearly disappearing. The plants all flopped over, reducing the impact of the flowers further. Perhaps a drier year would produce different results, but I am disinclined to find out.
This concludes my two-part review of the Renee’s Garden seeds I tried this year. I want to thank this fine establishment for offering members of the Garden Writers Association like me the opportunity to try their products for free. Without this chance, I would never have discovered the subtle beauty of a planting of Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun,’ or the relentless productivity of Zinnia ‘Raggedy Anne.’ Thanks, Renee’s Garden. I hope you’ll give me the chance to try a few new varieties next growing season.
Last growing season, Renee’s Garden offered me the chance to try a few free seed varieties. As a member of the Garden Writers Association, vendors of garden-related items occasionally send me free samples of their products, in the hopes that I will review them favorably. I was very happy with the results of the free seeds that Renee’s Garden sent me last year. You can read my reviews in Part 1 and Part 2.
This year when I received my order form for free seeds, I decided to add a few vegetables to my Renee’s Garden trials. Today’s entry covers my results with these vegetable varieties.
As you likely know if you’re reading here, vegetable gardening is the fastest growing area of interest for new gardeners. Analysts speculate that this interest is driven in part by folks who want access to high-quality vegetables at reasonable prices. Whatever the reason, I think it’s wonderful that more newbie gardeners are out in their yards playing in the dirt. I tried a beet variety, two carrots, a spinach, and a pepper mix.
Beet, Dutch “Red Baron”
I always grow Red Ace beets, because they do well for me every year, and I like their sweet, robust flavor. As a comparison, I tried Red Baron from Renee’s Garden. Beets don’t really transplant well, so I always direct-sow them into the vegetable beds. Germination rates for the two varieties were both high; if anything, Red Baron did slightly better. Vigor of the plants also appeared to be nearly identical. In fact, if I hadn’t labeled my rows, it would have been easy to mix them up based only on top growth. However, differences in flavor readily distinguish Red Baron from Red Ace.
This was not my best year for root crops. I think perhaps uncharacteristically heavy spring rains may have had something to do with this. Still, when it became clear that summer heat was asserting itself, root crop yields were respectable.
Between Red Ace and Red Baron beets, Red Ace had a much sweeter flavor, but we found that we liked Red Baron too. Red Baron beets were earthier, more hearty, in flavor. I think they would be the basis of a delicious borscht. Red Ace beets are better suited to salads. I would grow Red Baron again.
Carrot, Nantes “Starica” & Carrot, Snacking “Rotild”
As you can see in the above photo, many of the carrots did not grow as optimally as I’d like. Most of what you see are the Renee’s Garden varieties. They grew more robustly than the several carrot varieties I tried from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which surprised me. Johnny’s offers pelleted carrot seeds, which makes these tiny seeds easier to handle while planting. I am able to space the seeds in the row far enough apart that they don’t require much thinning as they grow.
Renee’s Garden carrot seeds were not pelleted. I ended up doing major thinning to their rows. Interesting to me, Renee’s carrot seeds germinated at much higher rates than Johnny’s pelleted seeds, which is why I ended up with more of those varieties at harvest. I’ve never had such poor germination results with pelleted carrots before; I’m not sure why this happened.
As for flavor, despite their less-than-lovely looks, these Nantes-type varieties were both tasty. Starica was sweeter than Rotild.
Spinach, “Summer Perfection”
The blurb about this Dutch spinach variety sold by Renee’s Garden states that it “stands up to early summer heat.” I’m thinking that Dutch and/or California (location of Renee’s Garden) early summer heat must be a pale imitation of North Carolina Piedmont early summer heat. Summer Perfection bolted fast and early for me, just as soon as our high temperatures hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit (i.e., late March).
I grew this variety, along with all my other greens, beneath a canopy of spun garden cloth. The transplants went in before the last frost and were protected by the garden cloth. As temperatures rose, the garden cloth shaded the greens. I think this system (aided by phenomenal spring rains) kept some of the greens going into May — an unprecedented growing season for me!
Summer Perfection leaves were delicious before they bolted, but the variety is probably not worth growing in my climate. They just don’t last long enough to provide a sufficient return on my investment in them.
Pepper, Italian Sweet “Sunset Mix”
Every year, I grow a hybrid variety of Sweet Italian pepper called Carmen. Plants are consistently vigorous, overwhelmingly productive, and the scarlet fruits are reliably sweet, zinging the palate with a vitamin C tang. So when I saw that Renee was offering an heirloom mix of the pepper type from which Carmen is derived, I was curious, especially since I was promised plants with yellow or red fruits.
I have a love-hate relationship with most heirloom plants. In the southeastern US where I garden, our fungal diseases and insect pests are numerous and often devastating, and our summers are usually brutally hot and frequently plagued by drought. Most heirloom varieties I’ve tried start out strongly, but soon succumb to the growing challenges of my region.
I sow pepper and tomato seeds in my greenhouse and transplant them into their summer beds when growing conditions stabilize. Peppers especially don’t do well if you transplant them before nighttime temperatures stop dipping into the low 50s. The germination rate for Sunset Mix was about 60%. I routinely get 100% germination from Carmen seeds, and that was the case again this past spring. I attributed the difference to the hybrid vigor of Carmen and was not really surprised.
Vigor of the transplants was good. Sunset Mix plants grew as tall as the Carmens. Each plant produced a fair amount of fruit, but not at the hybrid vigor levels of my Carmen plants. As you can see by the harvest basket photo above, Sunset Mix produced some nice-looking peppers. Their flavors were good, but had much more bite than Carmen fruits. I found that Sunset Mix peppers did not always please my digestive system, while the milder, sweeter Carmen fruits never bothered me. I donated most of the Sunset Mix fruits to friends and the local food bank, where they were much appreciated.
I would not grow any of these varieties again, except perhaps the Red Baron beets. Even though the carrots were productive, they didn’t seem to appreciate my soil. I’ve had much better success with other carrot varieties. The spinach bolted so fast that I deem it to have been a waste of bed space. The peppers, although productive, just couldn’t match the flavor and productivity of my Carmen hybrid plants.
Still, my garden is big enough to accommodate a few experiments, and I will continue to try a few varieties that intrigue me. I never know when I might stumble on a treasure worth adding to my list of essential varieties.
Coming soon: Results of this year’s trials with Renee’s Garden flower seeds.
If you have not had an opportunity to enjoy the delightful rose-like fragrance of nasturtium flowers, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. They smell just like old-fashioned roses to my nose — without all the fuss of pruning, thorns, and battling diseases and insects. And the colors are rose-lovely too — as long as you like warmer oranges, reds, and golds.
I continue to adore the two nasturtium varieties I grew from seeds from Renee’s Garden. As I explained in my last entry, this seed company offered me the chance to try out a few seeds as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association. I will gladly use my own money to grow these nasturtiums again.
The gorgeous, fragrant climbing nasturtium above is Spitfire. I interplanted it with my Fortex pole beans, and they climbed their way to the top of the trellis almost as quickly as the beans. As I had hoped, they offer pops of color to what would otherwise be a monotonous wall of green beans. The nectar that delights my nose with its perfume must also be very tasty, because the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds defend this trellis as enthusiastically as the feeder near my front door. I am routinely scolded for intruding when I harvest beans in the morning.
Spitfire has continued to bloom nonstop despite our record string of 100+-degree days and moderate drought. Of course, they have benefitted from the bit of extra water I’ve been giving the pole beans, since they grow intermingled with them. When temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for two weeks, some of the tender leaves of Spitfire were damaged, but because the vines continue to produce new growth, the setback was temporary.
I am equally enthusiastic about the mounding nasturtium variety I acquired from Renee’s Garden. ‘Cup of Sun’ has produced a gorgeous mix of deeply fragrant flowers in sunny shades of gold tinged with varying amounts of orange, as you can see from the close-up at the top of my last blog entry. Before the heat wave, their mounds of constantly blooming flowers floating above the leaves were quite eye-catching. Because I was unable to spare much well water for them, they suffered during the heat wave and persistent drought, but the recent slight moderation in temperature and the addition of a bit of rain has them rapidly on the mend. Here’s what they looked like in June before the heat heat:
As gourmet salad lovers know, the flowers make beautiful, peppery additions to salads, but I confess we haven’t taken advantage of this fact. They are just too pretty to eat. I direct-sowed the Spitfires, which germinated a day or two behind the beans. I sowed Cup of Sun seeds in my greenhouse and transplanted the happy plants after I got the veggies settled in.
I’ve also enjoyed the two varieties of Cosmos that I tried. A speciality mix of several colors and forms called ‘Dancing Petticoats’ is still producing abundant flowers in shades of magenta, pink, and white. The plants surrounding a shallow tray of water in my garden have been healthier than the ones growing in another bed, because they receive more water. By dead-heading spent blooms, I have been rewarded with a constant parade of new, large, colorful Cosmos beauties. The down side to larger Cosmos for me is always their floppiness. I started with sturdy transplants grown from seed in my greenhouse, but as soon as they settled in their beds, they shot up stems too spindly to support their weight without staking. As they’ve grown, I’ve just let them flop and drape as they please, as you can see here:
The flowers attract a constant parade of bumblebees and solitary bees. When we finally got a prolonged, heavy rain last weekend (hallelujah!), the Cosmos plants became quite bedraggled, as you can see here:
After they dried a bit, the stems were able to lift the flowers off the ground again — mostly. The flowers of this variety look great for several days, which makes them useful for short-term flower arrangements indoors.
I also grew Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ — a mix of warm orange, yellow, and gold flowers growing on sturdy plants that topped out at about 1.5 feet. They are spectacularly floriferous, as you can see here:
As much as I like this variety, I feel obliged to warn you that the flowers are prone to petal shatter — a condition characterized by the rapid dropping of petals not long after the flowers fully open. I haven’t seen quite such a severe case before. The petals of Little Ladybirds start falling less than 6-8 hours after the flowers open. I have ensured a constant parade of color by meticulously dead-heading the spent flowers every single day. Because they are growing in my vegetable garden, I’m there anyway to harvest veggies, and my patch of these flowers is not large. But if you are unwilling to do this, your plants will likely not be as persistently floriferous as mine have been. Even though the plants are much shorter than ‘Dancing Petticoats,’ the rain beat them down severely too, as you can see here:
The Renee’s Garden catalog describes Little Ladybirds flowers as excellent butterfly attractors. This has not been the case for me. However, the bumblebees and solitary bees work these flowers from dawn to dusk.
The last annual I tried from Renee’s Garden was also marketed as a butterfly magnet, and because I’ve grown this variety before, I knew that Monarch butterflies and swallowtails would be frequent visitors. Torch Tithonia, also called Mexican Sunflower, produces large, bushy plants with velvety leaves and large, bright orange flowers that persist for most of a week in my garden, despite the heat and drought. I love them as cut flowers for that reason, although I hate to deprive the butterflies of one of their favorite flowers.
Finally, a quick word about the one perennial variety I tried: Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino.’ I love Rudbeckias. They persist well in my landscape despite total neglect, they multiply without any help from me, they flourish in hot, dry sunny spots after they are established, pollinators from butterflies to every species of local bee visit them constantly, and goldfinches consider their seeds haute cuisine.
So when I read the description in the Renee’s Garden catalog for Cappuccino, I knew I had to try it. I sowed the seeds early in my greenhouse, where germination was a tad low — maybe 60%. I ended up with about a dozen plants to trial in my garden. I transplanted these later than I would have liked. It took me a while to make room for them, and veggies are always top priority during spring planting season. After that, they were barely watered, never mulched, and subjected to record heat and moderate drought.
Despite all that abuse, one plant managed to produce two flowers. Although these flowers were not perfect (they were chewed on by something), I’ve seen enough to persuade me that these will be lovely additions in future growing seasons. I expect them to be as persistent as other Rudbeckias I grow, so I’m looking forward to the rich, warm shades of their flowers contrasting with the standard solid golds of my current forms. Here are the two flowers that showed me the potential of this variety:
As you can see from the photo, the bees have already approved this new addition to my garden.
Of the varieties I’ve described in this entry, I will definitely grow the nasturtiums, tithonia, and rudbeckia in future gardens. I will always grow a cosmos variety or two, because I love the forms and colors of these flowers. But I may try different varieties in the hopes of finding one with stronger stems and shatter-resistant petals.
I also acquired Moonflower seeds from Renee’s Garden. When this annual vine begins blooming, I’ll show you why I always enjoy this old-timey flower in my garden.
As a member of the Garden Writers Association, various purveyors of garden-related products sometimes offer me samples of their products in the hopes that I will write about them. Last winter when the folks at Renee’s Garden offered me a number of free seed packets, I couldn’t resist.
I had already ordered my vegetable seeds, and my few experiences with an occasional veggie packet from this firm had not been ideal. I assumed that because Renee’s Garden is based out of California, their veggie seeds were probably not ideally adapted to the heat and humidity of Piedmont summers.
I don’t usually buy many annual flower seeds for budgetary reasons, but since these were free, I settled on 10 flower varieties from Renee’s Garden to trial in my garden. This company offers many heirloom seeds, so I thought I’d try some of those, and some that the catalog promised would attract butterflies. I’ll write a second blog entry soon to document the flowers I don’t describe here.
I planted nine annual flower varieties:
- Fragrant Moonflower — a vine that produces fragrant white morning-glory-type flowers that bloom at night.
- ‘Chocolate Cherry’ — an ornamental sunflower with “rich chocolate-burgundy ray petals that surround dark chocolate center disks”.
- ‘Sun Samba’ — a colorful mix of sunflowers ideal for creating beautiful bouquets.
- ‘Cup of Sun’ — a mounding nasturtium producing sunshine-colored flowers.
- ‘Spitfire’ — a climbing nasturtium with orange-red flowers attractive to hummingbirds.
- ‘Persian Carpet’ — a border zinnia mix of warm colors purported to attract butterflies.
- ‘Torch’ — a tithonia variety purported to draw butterflies, especially Monarchs.
- ‘Dancing Petticoats’ — a speciality mix of cosmos in shades of white, pink, and magenta.
- ‘Little Ladybirds’ — a smaller cosmos mix of sunshine colors purported to attract butterflies.
I also couldn’t resist one perennial offering: ‘Capuccino’ Rudbeckia — a Fleuroselect award winner in Europe that produces bicolor flowers in rich shades of red and yellow that is heat- and drought-tolerant and attractive to butterflies.
I direct-sowed the sunflowers and the moonflowers in my garden. The moonflowers got a late start, because it took me some time to prepare a place for them near a fence. They germinated well and are growing vigorously. I’ll update you on them with pictures when they bloom.
The sunflowers germinated with great enthusiasm. Despite record heat and prolonged moderate drought, they continue to produce abundant flowers that the local bees can’t get enough of. The seed packets for these flowers suggest they make great bouquets, but I think I’d have a bee riot on my hands if I tried to cut them to bring inside.
Here’s a shot of a Chocolate Cherry Sunflower when they first started blooming:
Note the lovely dark leaf veins that contrast beautifully with the green leaves. As the season has progressed, the petals are looking more cherry than chocolate. Here’s a shot of one I took this morning:
The ‘Sun Samba’ mix has been blooming for almost two months now. Some are just blooming for the first time this week, mostly because they decided to pretend they were trees, devoting much time to shooting skyward. The seed packet for this variety says they’ll reach 5-7 feet, and that has mostly been true, but at least two of them are approaching ten feet. As proof, I offer you this photo taken today. Wonder Spouse is standing right next to the base of this sunflower.
The Sun Sambas display quite a lovely range of colors. Here’s a sample:
And to give you a bit of context, here’s a shot of most of the double row of Sun Sambas. Note the giants towering among the mix.
The seed packet for zinnia ‘Persian Carpet’ says this mix attracts butterflies. Butterflies visit my garden often, but I’ve never seen one on these zinnias. The bees, on the other hand, seem to like these bright flowers very much. The packet claims these flowers mature to a height of 1-1.5 feet; however, my zinnias are leggy and about three feet tall. I had to stake them to prevent them from flopping over.
The flowers of Persian Carpet zinnias remind me of marigolds; they are in the same range of colors. However, the zinnias don’t have the marigolds’ spicy fragrance. The big win with this variety is how long individual flowers last — weeks! Seriously, they stay lovely for weeks. I’ve never seen a flower last so long. And they are very pretty. See what I mean:
My flowers don’t vary as much in color or pattern as the image on the seed packet. I’m not sure I’d grow these again, given their awkward growth pattern and unpopularity with my butterflies. But they have laughed at the heat and drought, and that’s no small feat in my garden.
This concludes Part 1 of my review. I’ll tell you all about the nasturtiums, cosmos varieties, tithonia, and rudbeckia soon.