Growing Flowers of Hope

I woke up on Tuesday to the news of Joplin, Missouri, and the devastation they’ve recently endured. Joplin is just the latest in a string of debilitating weather this spring that has impacted vast portions of the mid-west, deep-south and south eastern parts of the U.S.

We’ve had record rainfall here in Rochester, NY, and I confess, we’ve been sighing and bemoaning the fact we can’t get our trial beds worked up or our plants put into the ground yet. Well the hand wringing stops now – because the poor spring weather we’ve experienced is inconsequential compared to the magnitude that people have endured in other parts of our country.

Recently I’ve been struggling with how to write about pretty flowers on this blog when all this devastation is going on around us. Then it occurred to me: Some of you are re-building your lives so you can’t even begin to think about flower gardening right now. But those of us who’ve been less impacted might be able to send a little cheer your way with flowers. If you know of someone who has been hurt by any of the debilitating weather this year, please consider growing them some flowers of hope this summer. It may be something as simple as growing them a few bouquets of zinnias or sunflowers. Or perhaps we can help them replant some of their gardens and include some flowers as a counter-offensive frontline of cheer.

Providing flowers for encouragement is only one of many opportunities to help. For those of us who are also vegetable gardeners, maybe we can grow a few extra vegetables to share with those who will be recouping their losses this summer. These are just a few thoughts that come to mind, I’m sure there’s lots more.

For any of my readers who’ve been hurt by this seasons destructive weather, please know my thoughts and prayers are with you. My hope is that having flowers in our lives helps to remind us all of nature’s beauty instead of its destructive power, and that life is a circle. Seeds germinate, plants grow, flowers bloom, and then new seeds are born. From every ending arises a new beginning, and with it - hope.


California Spring Trials – A Peek into the Future

Each spring members of the Harris Seeds staff venture out to California for a week’s worth of flower trials. This event has been in place in some shape or form since the late 1970’s, allowing the breeding companies of ornamentals to showcase their plant material. During the last week in March, Plug & Liner Mgr., Mark Greene and I traveled over 600 miles from Gilroy down to San Diego, visiting 12 different sites that represented about 25 different breeders. Although it’s somewhat intense in scope, it’s always a fun trip because we get a firsthand look at new variety introductions that will show up in garden centers the following year. While most consumers are eagerly sowing, buying or planting flowers or ornamentals for their current spring and summer gardens, this trip really kicks off our entry into the new growing season (2011-2012), and it’s the event where I make final decisions on what new products to add to our product line up for both professional greenhouse growers and for our home garden mail order business. Here are a few highlights below from our trip:
  • Dahlia Fireworks: I’m not normally a big fan of seed dahlias, but this mixture can’t help but catch your eye. Available in our home garden catalog and website now. May be available in some garden centers this spring and summer.
    Dahlia Fireworks
  • Dianthus Diana Lavender Picotee: Unique color for this type of Dianthus. Outstanding color! Available in our catalog and website July, 2011. Available in garden centers spring 2012.
  • Dianthus Diana Lavender Picotee
  • Flowering Kale Glamour Red: Check out the very dark outer foliage on this new 2011 All-America Selections Winner! That’s very unusual for an ornamental kale and makes the contrast of the rose-red centers even more outstanding. Available on our website now. May be available in some garden centers this spring and summer.
    Flowering Kale Glamour Red
  • Coleus Under the Sun: This combination is unique because seeds of two varieties in the Versa series (Lime and Crimson Gold) are combined into 1 pellet. This allows you to sow and grow it on as a combo right from the start. The color combination is great, and this particular series of seed coleus tolerates sun as much as it does shade! Available in our catalog and website July, 2011. Available in garden centers spring 2012.
  • Coleus Under the Sun


Cantigny– A Jewel in the Midwest

During the course of this blog, you’ll find me writing about various public gardens that I’ve visited over the years. I usually come away from these visits more inspired than ever because they are chock full of beautiful and creative flower bed designs, along with very imaginative ideas for both ground and container plantings.

This past summer I visited Cantigny, located in the Chicagoland area. I’d been there some years before, but had forgotten how truly beautiful it is. To give you a little bit of background about Cantigny, it is a sprawling, 500-acre park that is composed of vast formal gardens, two history-rich museums, and more. It had started off in the early 1930’s as an experimental agricultural farm owned by Chicago Tribune’s owner Colonel Robert R. McCormick. In 1955, landscape architect Franz Lipp was hired to design and build a world class horticultural garden. Today it is one of the largest display gardens in the Midwest with more than 160,000 annuals, perennials, ground covers and flowering shrubs and trees.

It was hard to know where to start because your eye is drawn in every direction with plant color and texture. They offer a number of different types of gardens including formal gardens, a rose garden, an idea garden, a prairie/savannah garden and a reflection point. One garden in particular took my breath away. It was a long, curving bed that consisted of drifts of 3 different salvia varieties (S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’, S. farinacea’ Fairy Queen’, and S. splendens ‘Flare’). The way in which it was planted, and the combination of colors rather gave the entire large bed a ‘Monet-esque’ quality. Some visitors were so enamored with the effect they wanted their pictures taken right in the middle of the bed. Apparently the bees and butterflies felt the same way because they too were in high attendance!

I also really enjoyed their Idea Garden that had a number of different creative designs for flowers, foliage and vegetables, all in an abundance of different settings.

I highly recommend making Cantigny a stopping point if you’re traveling near Chicago. Plan to spend at least half a day there, longer if you want to include the museums. We had lunch at their restaurant (quite yummy!), and their coffee bar was most enjoyable. Oh! They had ice cream too - can’t forget that! Click here to go to their website.


A Very Nifty Begonia

Gryphon Begonia
We grew a new begonia introduction this summer that is pretty wild. Usually garden (wax) or tuberous begonias are more commonly known and appreciated for their flowers in gardens and baskets. This new Begonia will be best known for its amazing foliage. It is named ‘Gryphon’ because according to the breeding company that produces it, “The Gryphon is a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion. This superb foliage begonia combines the same majestic beauty with strength and durability.”

They certainly weren’t far off base with their description! The leaves are huge, lush and glossy and are held on long, super strong and sturdy stems. You’ll want a large planter to grow it in as a final product. I grew it at home in a big planter with New Guinea Impatiens, and by the end of August you could barely find the Impatiens.  Not that I minded, because Gryphon on its own was just spectacular. It is hard to imagine that one large plant originally came out of a teeny weeny little seed pellet!

Gryphon Begonia Leaf
They take a bit of time to germinate (10-12 days) and note that a saturated media and high relative humidity is critical for seed to germinate successfully. Plan on 13-20 weeks from sowing to point of sale, depending on what size container you’re growing it in. For home gardeners who want to grow their own from seed, figure 8-9 weeks from sow to transplant into a 4-5 inch pot. Grow it on for another 5-6 weeks, and then you’ll want to move it into your large container. (We used whiskey barrels here at the company.) Once the plants are established you’ll find that Gryphon’s water needs are not too demanding and you’ll still get a very vigorous and showy plant. The breeder claims the plants can also be brought indoors, so I’ve already brought my planter at home inside to see how it fares over the winter months.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m really sold on this new, novel foliage plant. I’ll be curious to know your thoughts as well. More neat plant varieties coming up - Check back again soon!