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Easy Planting

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, December 8, 2000

This fall I’ve harvested a lot of seeds from plants that self-sow – seeds that grow well just by getting onto the ground. They don’t need to be planted a certain depth, and they get enough water from whatever precipitation falls over the winter. I simply pick the seeds when they’re ripe, and scatter them where I want them to grow. I may pick spots that are not so suitable as right next to where the parent plant grew – but on the other hand, most plants don’t do well crowded. I figure I’m helping them extend their territory.

Lots of plants have their own devices for traveling. Like the Pink Butterfly Weed (Asclepias incarnata), one of the most prolific plants in my garden. It’s a milkweed: though the flowers are much more showy, with their two tones of rose, it’s got that typical milkweed pod, which opens to release numerous seeds attached to their downy parachutes that go flying away on the lightest breath of air.

Some seedpods don’t open so dramatically; they just wait till the ravages of winter break them apart. But you can tell the seeds are ripe when they rattle in the pod. Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferum) have an especially elegant mechanism for releasing seeds. When the plant dies, the stems get hard and stay upright well into winter. Atop each stands a solitary seed pod, a big, inch-wide globe, which is equally hard. But the top has little holes, all around the center, which allow the seeds to pour out when the stem finally gets broken – and not until then. Like a little pepper shaker (the seeds are tiny and black). The most elegant part of the pod, however – the part I admire the most – is the little umbrella arching over the holes, which protects the seeds from the weather, until they’re ready to come out.

This way to plant is so ridiculously easy, you might know there’s a catch. You have to avoid weeding out the seedlings in Spring. If you don’t know what the plants look like when they’re tiny, you have to be prepared to let them grow until either you recognize them, or they show enough of themselves that you can decide whether you want them. More than once I’ve let a weed grow and flourish until it finally flowered in fall, before I could decide it’s not ornamental enough to keep.\

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© Copyright 2000 Catherine Holmes Clark