If you’re like me, you’ve been buried in seed catalogs for the last few weeks, completely overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of possibilities concealed within those flimsy pages. I’ve since buttoned up my orders, mostly. There may be a few more stragglers in there but for the most part it’s done and I’m really excited because I had a great experience last year creating a beautiful, layered new border mostly from seed that cost me about $20. Some were direct sown, while others like the Prairie Sun rudbeckia, were given a headstart indoors to get a jump on the season. I like instant gratification, especially after a looooong winter.
The dry, full-sun area around the patio was screaming for a do-over. It was a long narrow border of Walkers Low catmint which has the not-so-attractive habit of splitting open like a bad part. Factor in the bindweed having a field day in there and I had one helluva mess. The pollinators loved it. Me, not so much. But I didn’t have the cash to fill it full of perennials and went with seed instead.
There were a few holdover plants like the two amber carpet roses near the center and Matrona sedums punctuating the ends of the bed, but for the most part it was a blank canvas. It’s not a large bed by any stretch of the imagination. At about three feet deep and 20 feet long, it’s just big enough to get expensive. So the idea to plant entirely from seed was born of necessity and the outcome exceeded my expectations.
Here’s the before…
Here’s the after taken in mid-July…
The beauty of it was that once it got going, it never stopped. I had constant color from late May when the carpet roses popped through the first hard frost in mid-October. The most expensive plants were the dahlia tubers of which there were two varieties in this bed, the cactus style deep red Nuit d’Ete and the single-petaled pollinator magnet Bishop of Dover. Everything else was grown from seed.
Once the dahlias were planted, I put the next tallest plants – Prairie Sun Rudbeckia – in front of them to cover the dahlia’s “bare knees.” It’s the only plant I started indoors, the rest in this border were direct sowed. It’s probably my favorite yellow-flowered plant and so cheery. It looked great placed in front of the deep red of the dahlia. The only downside to this plant is it’s tendency to flop even in a gentle breeze. I didn’t do it any favors when I planted it in this very exposed site. I’ve since learned there’s a new and even better kid in town, Rudbeckia “Dakota Gold,” with less tendency to flop. I can’t find seed for it anywhere so I may grow my old stand-by until I do. We’ll see.
Verbena bonariensis sounds more like a disease than it does a flower, but this is a favorite and has continued to pop up all over my garden. It’s one of those see-through plants that just sort of hovers above the other flowers in a subtle way, attracting pollinators all summer long. Funny thing, I planted seeds about 10 years ago and never had to do it again. They’re here to stay but not in a bad way. If you don’t like where they are, a gentle pull takes care of it.
What’s a garden without zinnias? I LOVE them for their ease, saturated colors and non-stop nature. And Magellan Coral zinnia didn’t disappoint. I wanted a very low-growing zinnia for the front of the border and at a foot tall with five-inch blooms this one was a real winner! Wowzah!!! What’s more, I rarely deadheaded it. That’s probably not something to brag about but it didn’t seem to faze it. They just kept going, with new flowers growing over the old. The pollinators dug it too.
Every border needs knit-together plants. These are the unsung hereos of the garden that connect the different elements and in this border, Thai basil was the knitter. A low grower at about 15″ tall, it too found a home at the front of the border.
Like the rest of the plants in this border, it was pollinator friendly and I loved the juxtaposition of it’s long flowers next to the landing pad habit of the rudbeckia and zinnias. A mix of flower shapes makes a border that much more interesting. Thai basil is also edible and while I didn’t cook with it this year, it was fun giving my family leaves to nibble. Unlike sweet basil, it has a clove-like flavor and gives off a similar fragrance when you rub the leaves.
There’s a reason why this one has hummingbird in it’s name. They love it, not to mention the flowers sort of look like little hummers. Coral Nymph always had one or two flitting around. The package said it grew two feet tall, but mine reached three feet in no time and I was glad I sowed the seed closer to the back of the bed where it could reach above the other plants.
Of everything I grew last year, this border was the most satisfying. I created something beautifully affordable with very little effort that appealled to me and the pollinators. One of the take aways was that I discovered how inept I am at staking. The Nuit d’Ete dahlias and rudbeckia suffered but every season teaches you something and this was one of my lessons. I’ll be upping my staking game this year.
Before I sign off, did you know I have a YouTube channel? Yeah, it’s a thing. And my most recent video covers the importance of protecting young tender bark trees like maples, beeches and fruiting trees. They’re susceptible to trunk damage during the winter. If you have any of these trees in your garden, check it out…
Great suggestions. How did you manage the bed until the seeds matured? I did some direct sowing but made the mistake of scattering seeds. It was hard to tell what was weed or desired. Ended up with some monster weeds.
Heather Blackmore says
I cleared the bed completely before sowing and kept an eye on it. Purslane and bindweed are the common invaders here so I just pulled them as soon as they popped to the surface. I suggest doing a little homework before you sow the seed so you know what the seedlings look like when they surface. I also placed small markers with the name of the variety planted there.
Very beautiful. I had some containers where I just threw down some seeds one year and they came out great. I think that’ll be my plan again.
Heather Blackmore says
My mom does that too with great results. She’s done four o’clocks, zinnias and small sunflowers in different containers around her sunny patio.