HOW TO GROW SPECIES TULIPS FROM SEED

Red flowering alpine tulip species growing wild on a rocky coast line
How to grow species tulips from seed


When it comes to types of tulips you will find that most of what is available in plant retail outlets are hybrids. This means that they are the result of deliberate cross breeding, a technique used by plant breeders to help enhance and stabilise favoured characteristics. In order to build up stocks as well as to maintain these characteristics from generation to generation it becomes necessary to vegetatively propagate them by either using offset bulbs or micro-propagation. Propagating cross-bred plant stock by seed unfortunately produces mixed results as the hybridization technique will result in seedlings that have mixed combinations of the characteristics demonstrated by either or both parent plants.

Fortunately, this isn't the case when it comes to growing species tulips from seed as this group of plants do not easily cross pollinate with other tulip species. In some cases - such as Tulipa wilsoniana - the flowers are hermaphrodite and able to pollinate and produce viable seed amongst themselves.

Silver coloured paper thin tulip seed
How to grow species tulips from seed
Once the flowers of your species tulip have been pollinated it is just a matter of waiting for the seed and seed pods to form and mature. Once the pods turn brown they are ready to remove. If you can catch the seeds as soon as they ripen it's possible to get away with planting them immediately into pots using a free draining seed compost. For alpine varieties, sow the seeds on top of the compost, covering with a thin layer of horticultural grit, water, and then leave in a cold-frame to germinate. For other tulip varieties, cover with a thin layer of compost of no more than 1 cm. Some varieties such as Tulipa sprengeri may still need to go through the winter before their seeds can germinate.

If you are late in picking the seed pods then the seed coats inside will naturally begin to harden and will need a period of dormancy before they can germinate. Carefully remove the pods and take them to a bright and wind-free environment such as a greenhouse or potting shed.

Open up the pods and remove the seeds - placing them onto a ceramic plate where they can be allowed to dry for a week or so. In their natural habitat tulip seeds will have two or three months of cold weather with which to break their dormancy, but you can replicate this by placing ripe seed in a damp paper towel enclosed in a plastic bag and leaving it in the fridge for a similar period. This is particularly important is you are in an area prone to mild or warm winters.

Once this period has finished, remove the seeds from the fridge and sow them on top of good free-draining compost topped off with no more than 1 cm of compost. Leave outside in a bright warm position or in a south-facing cold frame. Seeds from different tulip species will germinate a different rates so be patient as could take any time from a month up to a year before germination occurs.  Keep the pots watered over late spring and summer and once the new shoots have been growing for a couple of months feed once a week with a half normal dose of standard liquid fertiliser over the growing period. Plant out into open ground the following year.

Main image - By Gideon Pisanty (Gidip) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18666641
In text image - Eric Guinther (Marshman at en.wikipedia) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.de

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HOW TO GROW LETTUCE FROM SEED

A selection of freshly harvested lettuce on display
How to grow lettuce from seed


You can't beat the flavour and crisp texture of a freshly grown lettuce, and truth be told, you can't buy that in the supermarkets. Why? Because commercial grown lettuce first have their roots cut when they are harvested so they immediately begin to lose moisture and therefore crispness from its leaves. Next, they are placed into an enormous vacuum cooler to remove the field heat from the lettuce and later are placed in a refrigerated cool transportation chain until they reach the store.

The best way to avoid all of this deterioration in quality is to grow lettuce from seed yourself. And as far as edible crops go, you can't get it any easier.
 
SOWING INDOORS OR UNDER GLASS

A close up of lettuce seeds emerging from the lettuce seed head
How to grow lettuce from seed
If you are without a heated greenhouse and you want to get off to an early start, you can sow your lettuce seed indoors. They will grow quickly, so you may wish to skip sowing them into seed trays and plant them directly into small pots or compartmentalized packs. Just make sure that you use containers that are large enough for the young plants to reach garden size without the need for potting on.

Fill your tray or container with John Innes seed and potting mix to within a half-inch of the rim, tapping them on the side to help settle the mix. Top up as necessary. If using pots or cells, place a few seeds into each one, and then give a light covering of compost, firming it down gently over the seeds.

If you are using a seed tray then give a light and even sprinkling of seeds across the whole tray at approximately 5 seeds per square inch. Once completed, give a light covering of compost and water in. Label with the variety and date of sowing, and place in into a covered propagator making sure the vents are fully open.

Now leave in a bright, warm room, out of direct sunlight. The more light the seeds receive the better germination you will get. Once the seedlings reach about 2 inches in height, thin out and discard any that look weak. Those in the seed tray can be pricked out and potted on into a standard potting mix. Those already in pots can be hardened off in preparation for moving outside.
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If your seedlings were grown under glass then they will also need to harden off before going outdoors. Place them into a cold-frame but keep the lid closed for a couple of weeks. Afterwards the lid can be opened on dry frost free days but remember to shut it again at night. After a further week or so, or when frosts are no longer expected, leave the lid open day and night for a week before planting outside.

.To harden off seedlings that have been grown indoors in a heated room, moved them to a bright unheated room, leaving them there for a couple of weeks before either putting them into a cold frame, or for leaving them outside during the day. Never leave them out overnight, and keep them in if there are strong cold winds of if temperatures drop below 6 degree Celsius. Keep this up for a week and if there is no immediate threat of further frosts they can be planted outside.
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SOWING OUTDOORS

Ornamental border planted with purple and green lettuce
How to grow lettuce from seed
Lettuce plants require a free draining, humus rich soil that is able to hold plenty of moisture in the summer. To prevent the common physiological disorder of 'Tip burn' that can be experienced with some soils, you may wish to add lime before planting.

In preparation to sowing, dig over the soil and add plenty of compost (such as leaf mould or well-rotted manure) during the autumn or early winter. Then a week or so before sowing your lettuce seed rake the soil over to produce a fine tilth.

You may also wish to apply a general fertiliser at this time.

Although lettuce plants like plenty of light they do not like extremes of heat as this can also result in 'Tip burn'. Although early seeded plants should be fine it's advisable to plant your summer harvest in a lightly shaded site.

When sowing spring lettuce seeds directly outside, wait until the worst of the frosts are over. Choose a sunny site but by sowing seeds this early you may need to give them the protection of a small poly-tunnel.

If you are starting them off into seed beds, sow the seeds very thinly in ½ inch deep drills but leave about 6 inches between each row.

If you are sowing lettuce seeds directly into the open ground then leave between 10 and 12 inches between rows. To avoid having a glut of lettuce and to ensure that crops are regularly coming into harvest, make successive, smaller sowings of lettuce seeds, at 1 or 2 week intervals depending on how much you intend on using.

Depending on the variety it can take any time between 6 and 14 weeks from sowings to become ready for harvest, so if you are growing from packet seeds - always read the label.

Once the seedlings get to about 2 inches high they can be thinned out to leave a gap of about 6 to 12 inches between each plant- depending on the overall size of the variety grown. If you are planning on transplanting seedlings grown indoors into open ground then this is an ideal time to do this.

Main image - Mahlum public domain
In text image - By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=974775

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SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana


Tulipa Wilsoniana planted in a rocky border with fully opened red flower
Tulipa wilsoniana


The Tulipa wilsoniana, or as it sometimes known as - Tulipa montana 'Lindley', is a specialty among species tulips and it is all down to its native habitat. Found on the mountains of Turkmenistan at a height of approximately 3000m, Tulipa wilsoniana is categorized among the group known as the 'alpine tulips'. Like all true alpines Tulipa wilsoniana exhibit specific characteristics that has enabled them to survive in such harsh conditions.

The most noticeable and typical trait of all true alpine plants is to do with their flowers as they are almost always far larger than the size of their leaves, two inches across in the case of Tulipa wilsoniana. They have also evolved other modifications to tolerate the cold, drought and poor quality soils that the mountains have to offer. This is demonstrated by the bulbs thick, hard protective outer skin, and the woolly tip that help protect the apical bud from the worst of the cold, mountain weather.

As strange as it may seem, these special modifications can also help these plants deal with extremes of heat. This is because both environments suffer with a lack of available water (in its mountain environment water becomes unavailable during the winter period as it freezes) and as such, it has become a particular favourite of the tulip-starved residents of Southern California. Although the weather in these harsh dry environments is unsuitable for flower initiation, you can force a dormancy period on the bulb by placing it in the salad compartment of a household fridge. Leaving it there for 6 weeks or so will usually do the trick. However the change in habitat will create a far taller plant than the European norm of no more than 6 inches.

In the cooler environment of northern Europe, Tulipa wilsoniana will perform best in a sunny position planted into a well to free-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Plant the bulbs three times the depth of the bulb.

In the south of England you can expect to see the emergence of new succulent growth come January. These first few leaves are slow to progress but they eventually develop turning a pretty glaucous colour caused by a grey-blue waxy surface. Mature leave will also display an ornamental oscillating edge. Unfortunately you will have to wait until at least the end of March for the flowers appear but it is worth the effort once the first deep vermilion red flowers with blue-black centres shows their faces.

Main image attribution: I, KENPEI https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa acuminata

A flower bed with a display of mature tulipa acuminata in full bloom
Species tulip  - Tulipa acuminata


Sometimes known as the 'Fire Flame' tulip or 'Turkish' tulip, the Tulipa acuminata is indeed a rare bulb to find. Growing to a height of between 12 and 18 inches it can create a stunning, almost tropical display from early to mid-spring. Its long, narrow, scarlet and yellow petaloids sit high on delicate stems making it ideal for cut flowers but these delicate heirloom bulbs may need a little support if heavy winds or rain are due. You are unlikely to find Tulipa acuminata bulbs in your usual plant retailers but there is usually a reasonable amount stock available from online stocks. Be aware that the quality of the bulbs can be variable however this is going to be a case of beggars can't be choosers.

Although a species bulb, Tulipa acuminata is no longer found in its native habitat. Although catalogue dated to 1813, it is in fact believed to be the last survivor from the early 1700's when tulips like this were all the fashion in the Ottoman empire. So this makes Tulipa acuminata somewhat of a unique find.

If you are lucky enough to get hold of a couple of specimens then you will find that they are relatively easy to care for. Plant them from the end of autumn onwards into a fertile, sandy soil with a neutral pH situated in an open and sunny location; however they will need to be protected from excessive damp and strong winds. In heavier soils add a handful of grit just below the bulb. Avoid soils that are prone to waterlogging as the bulbs will be prone to rot overwinter.

Once planted (three times the depth of the bulb), give them a good top dressing of household compost which has thoroughly decomposed and neutral pH. Do not use heavy manures or nitrogen rich chemical fertilisers.

Unlike most cultivated varieties, Tulipa acuminata can be left in the ground and allowed to spread naturally. Once planted give them a good top dressing, and start to water your bulbs as soon as you see the buds beginning to rise. This will encourage larger blooms and taller stems.

Remove the flower heads and seedpods as the blooms begin to fade. Allow the old foliage to dry off before cutting it back as this will allow most of the nutrients and carbohydrates to be absorbed back into the bulb proper in readiness for next year's display.

Main image credit - Epibase - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE TOMATO SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION

Tomato seeds being removed from the fruit using a knife and into a sieve
How to collect and prepare tomato seeds for propagation

Tomatoes are arguably the most popular of all salad crops and surprisingly easy to grow from seed. So much so that if you are not particularly choosy about which cultivar to grow, or have really enjoyed a tomato fruit from which you still have some seed, then rather than purchasing packets of seeds, you can collect and prepare your own tomato seeds for propagation for little or no cost at all!

Collecting seed from your favourite varieties of tomato has never been easier due to its all year round availability from supermarkets and greengrocers. You don't even need to know their cultivar names, just save the seed from the ones that in your opinion taste the best.

When collecting seeds from tomatoes straight off the vine, allow them to fully ripen first to achieve for best seed viability. Always choose the best fruits from disease free plants otherwise any weakness or disease that the parents plants may have can be passed on to its seedlings. Slice the fruit in half and then either squeeze the seeds and juice into a sieve for washing under a tap or ferment the mixture for a few days in a jar. This not only removes the jelly-like coating which inhibits seed germination, but it also helps to kills off many of the diseases that can be carried on the seeds. To do this, put the jar of seeds and juice in a reasonably warm place for 3 days, stirring the mixture twice a day. The mixture should develop a coating of mould, and rather unfortunately - start to smell!

After 3 days add plenty of water to the jar and stir well. The healthy, viable seeds should sink to the bottom of the jar. Gently pour off the top layer of mould and any seeds that are floating amongst it. Empty the good seeds into a sieve and wash them thoroughly under running water. Shake off as much water as possible, and then tip them out onto a china or glass plate. Allow them to dry somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight. Once they are completely dry, rub them off the plate and place into a paper envelope. Date them and write a brief description of the contents and then store in a cool, dry place where they should remain viable for at least 3-4 years.

They are now ready to be sown when you are.

Image credit - Simon Eade  gardenofeaden@gmail.com

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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE PEAS FOR PROPAGATION


Pea pods opened in half to expose the peas inside
How to collect and prepare peas for propagation


You can't beat the flavour of freshly harvested peas, and if you harvest more than you need then they are ideal for freezing to be used later when your pea crop has finished. They are also easy to grow, suffer from relatively few pests and diseases and unless you have a reason to stop growing peas you will not need to purchase another pack of pea seeds if you collect, prepare and store your own pea seeds for future propagation

Collecting the seeds from pea plants is probably one of the easiest gardening jobs you can undertake as the same pea we eat is also the seed we sow. It is just a matter of allowing the peas to mature on the parent plants. You will know when they are ready as the pods will go brown and the seeds inside will begin to rattle. If the weather is bad when you come to collect them you can pull up the entire plant and bring it into the dry.

Shell out the peas and allow them to dry out further in a warm - but not too warm - room. Clean off any material (chaff) that may be attached to peas as this could rot and cause the seed to be affected by fungal infections such as damping off. Be aware that chaff can harbour other moulds, pests and diseases

After a few days place the dried peas into an envelope and label with the variety and date of harvest. Then store them in a cool dark place where they should remain viable for up to 3 years. Just make sure that they are out of reach of rodents which given the opportunity would love to take advantage of the free feast! To ensure dry conditions add a desiccant to remove excess moisture. Suitable materials include calcium chloride or silica gel.

When you are ready to sow your stored seed they will need to be soaked in warm water for 12-24 hours before planting.

Main image credit - Bill Ebbesen https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE FRENCH AND RUNNER BEAN SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION

A tray of freshly harvested green runner beans
How to collect and prepare French and Runner bean seeds for propagation
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When it comes to growing an easily cultivated crop that doesn't take up too much space then cultivated edible beans are almost always at the top of the list. They come in an enormous range from haricot bean (the traditional baked bean), to runner beans and from butter beans to dwarf French beans. French and runner beans are arguably the most popular of all beans to grow but whatever your appetite there is usually a bean to fit the bill. The thing is with beans is this, not only are they easy to grow they are also exceptionally easy to pick the seed and store. So much so that once you start growing them there really is no need to purchase any more beans for as long as you wish to grow them as a crop!

A botanical illustration of a runner bean plant
Bean illustration
Collecting the seed (beans) from French and runner beans is a relatively straight forward job as it is just a matter of waiting for the pods to mature fully on the parent plant.

This is easy to recognize as the pods will start to yellow and dry out. If you are suffering with wet weather at the time of seed harvesting, collect the pods individually and bring them inside to fully dry out. Once this has happened, shell out the beans to dry them off further.

 The beans need to be dry enough that they break when you bite on them, rather than leaving an indentation of you tooth. At this point they are ready for storage.
Keep in an airtight container and store in a cool dark place. If they are dry enough the beans will stay viable for around 3 years.

When you are ready for sowing all you need to do to prepare the beans is to soak them in a glass of warm water for 12-24 hours and you are ready to go.

Main image - By InterestingPics - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27617667 - cropped
In text image - www.biolib.de public domain


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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE LETTUCE SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION

A mixture of different lettuce species on display on a table
How to collect and prepare lettuce seeds for propagation


Lettuce plants are some of the easiest to cultivate and most widely grown of all salad crops. While there are plenty of lettuce seedlings available to buy from your local plant retailers in the spring they grow so readily from seed that it really isn't necessary to purchase pre-germinated lettuce plants. So easy are they to grow from seed that they will even germinate on a sheet of damp kitchen roll within a few days of sowing! Sometimes even later on in the same day. The thing is with lettuce being such an easy crop to cultivate do you even need to purchase seed if you have an existing crop already growing in your allotment or garden? Well no.

To begin with select two or three of your best lettuces, and mark them out for seed. It’s very important that you don't collect seed from plants that bolt early as you want lettuces that will stand well. If your parent plants need a little help in getting their flowering stalks to emerge, try cutting the heads partially open with a knife as this often works well.

Close up photograph of lettuce seed emerging from their pods
How to collect and prepare lettuce seeds for propagation
Once the lettuces have flowered, their seeds will ripen gradually and after about a fortnight you can begin to harvest the seed daily in order to get the maximum yield. This can be done by either shaking the heads into a bag or by waiting until a reasonable number of seeds are ready and then cut the plant away from its root. Put it head first into a bucket, then shake and rub it to remove the seeds. If you can leave the whole cut plant upside down in the bucket somewhere dry then any immature seeds that are left will continue to ripen over the next few days. Most of what you will collect in the bucket will be chaff, but you can sort the seed from it by shaking it gently into a kitchen sieve. Some seeds may fall through the holes but most will collecting the bottom leaving the chaff to rise to the top where it can be picked off. If the seed feels a little damp, leave it to dry on a ceramic plate before labelling and storing. Lettuce seed should keep for around 3 years providing it is kept cool and dry.

Main image - Mahlum public domain
In text image - By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=974775

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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE MELON AND CUCUMBER SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION

Complete and half cut melons on a table
How to collect cucumber and melon seeds 


Collecting your own seeds will not only save you money but it will also allow you to select seeds from plants that have characteristics specifically chosen or preferred by you. To harvest melon seeds you must wait until the fruit is ripe and ready for eating. To be on the safe side you can leave them indoors for day or two so that the seeds can develop further.

Once you are happy that the fruit is ready, cut it open, scoop the seeds out into a sieve and rinse them under a running tap. This will wash off most of the jelly like coating which helps to prevent their germination while they are still in the fruit. Once clear of jelly, spread the seeds out onto a china plate and allow them to dry thoroughly. Once dry, store in an airtight container and placed in a cool dark place where they can remain viable for up to five years.

Cucumbers need to be ripened well beyond the edible stage allowing them to become fatter, and generally turn a darker colour. Keep inside for a week or so after picking to allow the seeds to mature fully, then cut open and scoop the seeds and surrounding pulp out into a jam jar. Add a little water, stir well and leave on a sunny windowsill for 2-3 days allowing the seeds ferment. On the third day, fill the jar fully with water, and stir once again. The good seeds should sink to the bottom leaving the pulp, debris and any empty seeds floating on the top. Gently pour off the water and debris, refill the jar, and repeat. After a couple of rinses, you should be left with all the good seeds resting at the bottom of the jar. Drain off the water, and spread the seeds out onto a plate to dry. Like melons, once properly dry they can be stored in an airtight container and placed in a cool dark place where they can remain viable for up to five years.

When ready for planting outside or in pots no further preparation is required other than to plant melon or cucumber seeds into a rich, fertile, moisture retentive, deep and well-drained soil.

Main image credit -Atomicbre at English Wikipedia  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
In text credit - Flixtey https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

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HOW TO COLLECT AND PREPARE SWEET AND CHILLI PEPPER SEEDS FOR PROPAGATION


Supermarket display stand full of fresh peppers
How to collect and prepare sweet and chilli pepper seeds for propagation


Like many plants from this family, sweet pepper flowers are self-pollinating and will easily set fruit without the need for insects. However there is a downside to this as they will cross pollinate not only with other varieties of sweet peppers but will readily hybridize with chilli pepper varieties too. Even if you are only growing one variety, you will need to be aware of the risk of pollen contamination from those varieties growing in adjacent gardens or allotments.

For your seed to have any chance of growing true to the parent plant, they will need to be kept in a contained and isolated environment. Because it's difficult for these fruits to ripen properly in England without the added heat generated by a greenhouse or conservatory, they already have the advantage of being protected from wind borne rogue pollen by a physical glass barrier.

To save the seed, try to only take peppers from isolated plants which have been allowed to ripen fully. If you can, pick them from the parent plant just before they fall off naturally, then cut the pepper open carefully and gently rub the seeds off of the ‘core’ and onto a ceramic plate. Make sure you wear rubber gloves when de-seeding chillies as not only will the chilli oil (which contains the 'hot' chemical capsaicin) will stick to your fingers. It is also very hard to wash off.

Place your seeds into warm dry environment until they harden. If you can bend the seeds then they are not dry enough. To maintain their viability try to keep them stored somewhere dry, cool, and dark. One popular method is to keep them in the bottom of a fridge protected by an air tight plastic container. They can be stored in this condition for up to three years and still remain viable for germination.

WARNING - never rub your eyes when handling chilli seeds as this can be both embarrassing and extremely painful. Trying to wash it off can actually make it feel worse so a better way to deal with the pain is to try applying milk or yogurt to the affected area. These products contain an ingredient which will slowly counteract the capsaicin oil and sooth the pain. Although it may not seem like it at the time capsaicin oil doesn't actually cause any long term physical damage to the body.

Main image credit - Math Knight and Zachi Evenor https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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WHAT IS AN F1 HYBRID PLANT?

poinsettia flower
What is an F1 hybrid plant?


When buying packets of seeds at you local plant retailers you may have noticed the words F1 hybrid after the plants cultivar name. You probably also noticed that the price of these 'F1 hybrid seeds are significantly more expensive than regular cultivars. As you would expect there is good reason for this but what exactly is an F1 hybrid plant?

Although at first glance this seems describe the next generation of Formula 1 racing engines, it is in fact a term used in genetics and more specifically selective breeding. In this instance the F1 stands for Filial 1, which describes the first filial (or first generation) of seeds or plants resulting from a cross pollination of distinctly different and genetically pure parent plants. The resulting progeny or offspring of these distinctly parents produces a new, uniform variety with specific and/or desirable characteristics from either or both parents. Using distinctly different parents will also creates a genetic lock as it is now almost impossible to recreate these characteristics to the next generation through the propagation of viable seed known as an F2 hybrid.

An F2 hybrid is the seed or plant that is the result of cross pollinating two F1 hybrid parents. Although some of these F2 hybrids may show some characteristics of the F1 parents most of this generation of seedlings will not show uniformity and will have a range of varying characteristics displayed by the original and genetically pure ‘grand’ parents.

The main benefit of this hybridisation technique is to guarantee the characteristics of the crop sown, but it also produces continuity of size and shape as well as Heterosis, more commonly known as 'hybrid vigour'.

Hybrid vigour is the result of genetic breeding where the dominant genes from one parent plant are used to suppress the undesirable recessive genes of the second parent plant. The resulting seedlings will be larger and stronger than either of the parents as well as generally showing better disease resistance.

It requires a certain amount of research, technical support and field study to produce a worthy F1 hybrid, which is why you will find that any seed packets displaying this term will be noticeably more expensive compared to traditional cultivated varieties.

For related articles click onto the following links:
T and M F1 hybrid
What is Air Layering?
WHAT IS CHLOROSIS?
WHAT IS A WORMERY?

HOW TO CHOOSE PLANTS FOR HOT, DRY BORDERS

cacti at marjorelle gardens
How to choose plants for hot dry borders

With the promise of another hot summer our gardens are once again at risk from another wave of hose pipe bans. Apart from recycling old bath and rain water there are two other ways of dealing with this. Either use plants that suit the environment or manipulate the environment to suit your plants - the first way is easier.

agave plants
How to choose plants for hot dry borders
When it comes to choice, the plants themselves can offer clues to their suitability recognised by their various coping strategies. Keep an eye out for leaves that are either succulent or have a silvery sheen caused by specialist hairs or scales. These hairs reflect heat and light, retaining a thin blanket of humid air around the leaf which reduces water loss. The scales work in a similar way but also act as a barrier protecting juvenile growth. Commonly witnessed on Elaeagnus and dwarf Rhododendrons species these scales are often mistaken for disease and sometimes removed often causing more harm than good. However if you want to be sure of buying the right plants, check out below for my list of recommended plants for hot and dry conditions.

Alternatively if you want a quick fix, try planting African summer bedding. Cultivars of Gazanias, Mesembryanthemums, Osteospermums, and Geraniums will all give a tough, drought tolerant, yet spectacular show of colour throughout the summer.

specimen palms at majorelle gardens
How to choose plants for hot dry borders
Of course you can always cheat by manipulating the local environment to suit your required conditions. This is all about keeping as much water in the ground as possible so that there is enough available to sustain healthy growth.

Although commonly used to prevent weed growth, landscape fabric or the more heavy duty Mypex is an extremely effective control against soil water loss through evaporation. In addition Polyacrylamide crystals or ‘Swell Gel’ – a product of the nappy industry – is also used as a popular method for retaining moisture in hanging basket composts. Used sparingly and it can be mixed in with your usual compost when planting out in the garden, however use too much and over watering can cause your newly planted stock to lift straight out the ground.

The harsh growing conditions of summer can be exaggerated in beds sited next to brick walls so its one to keep an eye on. Once heated by the sun, these walls can act like enormous wicks drawing moisture from the soil and turning it into unsustainable dust. To prevent this, dig the soil away from the wall and then line where it touches the soil with heavy duty plastic. The soil can then be dug back into place although organic matter will probably need to be added in order to rejuvenate it.

HARDY PLANTS FOR DRY, SUNNY BORDERS

specimen cacti and succulents at Marjorelle gardens
How to choose plants for hot dry borders
Below are just a selection of the most popular varieties of plants that are suitable for planting in hot, dry beds. However, with all of these plants, they need to be established first before they left to defend for themselves - and that will of course mean some watering, especially for young and newly planted plants. Usually by the second year they can pretty much fend for themselves but remember they are not desert plants, so if you want them to thrive instead of merely survive, water them - just don't over-water them!

Acaena species......................Achillea species
Armeria maritima................Bergenia species
Ceanothus species................Cheiranthus species
Cistus species........................Convolvulus
Cytisus species......................Dianthus species
Eryngium species..................Gaillardia species
Genista lydia..........................Hypericum species
Junipers species....................Lavender species
Mahonia species....................Miscanthus species
Hardy ornamental Sages......Rosemary species
Santolina chamaecyparis....Sedum species
Sempervirens species...........Stachys byzantina - lamb's ears
Tamarix..................................Thymus species
Verbascum species................Weigelia species
Yucca species


All image credits - Simon Eade gardenofeaden@gmail.com

For related article click onto the following links:
HOW TO CHOOSE PLANTS FOR HOT, DRY BORDERS
HOW TO GROW CEANOTHUS THYRSIFLORUS 'PERSHORE ZANZIBAR'
HOW TO GROW YUCCA GLORIOSA 'VARIEGATA'
HOW TO GROW YUCCA PLANTS
Telegraph - hot plants
WHAT IS A YUCCA?
YUCCA FLACCIDA
YUCCA WHIPPLEI

THE HISTORY OF THE JACK 'O' LANTERN HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN

halloween pumpkins displayed on a bench
The history of the Jack o Lantern halloween pumpkin



Although pumpkins are very much part of northern European 'Halloween' culture, the plant itself is believed to have originated in North America. In fact, seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C.

References to pumpkins date back many centuries, and the very name 'pumpkin' originates from the Greek word 'pepon' meaning 'large melon'. However - over time - there was an evolution in how the final name arrived, starting with the French who called it the pompon'. The English changed the name to 'Pumpion' and finally American colonists changed that into 'pumpkin' which has so far remained unchanged.

It was the native American Indians who first used the pumpkin as a food crop but they had other uses for it too. Not only did they dry strips of pumpkin for weaving into mats, they also invented a form of 'fast food' by roasting long strips of pumpkin on open fires.

When the first white settlers arrived, they witnessed this versatile plant and it soon became part of their diets too. They used them in a wide variety of recipes from desserts to stews and soups, although the origin of pumpkin pie is thought to have come from the practice of early colonists who cooked de-seeded pumpkins filled with milk, spices and honey on the hot ashes of a dying fire.
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THE LEGEND OF THE 'JACK O LANTERN'


The carved pumpkin used to ward off evil spirits comes from the centuries old tradition of the Halloween 'Jack O'Lantern'. The practice comes from Ireland and originates from an old Irish myth about a man nicknamed 'Stingy Jack'.
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According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, and true to his name Stingy Jack didn't want to pay. Somehow, he managed to convince the Devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack could use it to buy his round. However, as soon as the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money for himself and put it into his pocket next to a silver crucifix. This had the effect of preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form.
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Jack eventually freed the Devil, but he imposed several conditions beforehand. The first was that the devil would not bother Jack for one year and that - should Jack die - he would not be able to claim his soul. The Devil agreed and Jack let him go.

The following year, Jack tricked the Devil again, fooling him into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil was unable to make his way back down again. Once again the Devil had to remain there until he promised Jack that he would not to bother him for a further ten years.

Soon after, Jack died, and as the legend goes God refused him entry into heaven because of the unsavoury tricks he played. However the Devil would not allow him into Hell either as he had already promised not to claim his soul. The Devil sent Jack back to the living, but he was only to appear at night with a piece of burning coal to light his way. The story goes that Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has roamed the Earth with it ever since. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure as 'Jack of the Lantern'', but as the centuries passed it was eventually shortened to Jack O'Lantern'.

In the Celtic lands of Ireland and Scotland it became tradition for people to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes. However, England it became commonplace to use large beets instead. These would be placed in windows or by their doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.

As immigrants from these countries settles in area of the United States, they brought the 'Jack O'Lantern' tradition with them. Together with the popularity for eating the native pumpkin they soon found that it make the perfect Jack O’Lanterns. From that time the tradition of a carved pumpkin over the Halloween period has remained ever since.

Main image credit - By John Phelan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29175540

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HISTORY CHANNEL - Jack-O-Lantern
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HOW TO CURE AND STORE PUMPKINS
HOW TO GROW GIANT PUMPKINS
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OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Absalom'

maroon and yellow stripped flowers of  Tulip 'Absalom'
Tulip 'Absalom'
WANT TO BUY RARE AND UNUSUAL SEEDS? THEN CLICK HERE FOR THE 'SEEDS OF EADEN' SEED SHOP

With regards to bulbs that survived the heady days of old Dutch 'Tulipmania, Tulip 'Absalom' really shouldn't be among them. Arriving on the scene in 1780, its rich patterns combined swirling flames of dark chocolate against a pure golden foil caused a sensation. Even today, most people have never even seen a brown tulip, let alone one as superbly decorated as this.
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Absalom is what is known as a true 'broken' Tulip, that is to say that the tulips lock on its single bold colour was broken, now known to be caused by the Tulip Breaking Virus.

To be more specific, 'Absalom' comes from a group of tulips known as the “Dutch Bazaars”, and as a broken Bizarre it has been bred from a 'bizarre' breeder parent which is identified by its flower having a yellow base with petal colours of either an orange, scarlet, brown or black coloration.

As mentioned previously, the unusual colour striations have been brought about by the 'Tulip Breaking Virus', an almost a mythical disease that had confounded tulip breeders for centuries. Responsible for the stunning colour breaks in single, block coloured tulips these 'broken' colour tulips were a major factor in the financial madness that occurred during the Tulip mania period of 1636-1637. During this time, ownership of these rare specimens was a reflection of your wealth and standing within society, and for a short period at least, they also made good business sense.

For centuries, generations of Europe's top Tulip breeders believed that it was environmental conditions that cause these single colour tulips to break. The general consensus was that these unique coloration's could be induced by either frequently changing the soil, allowing the bulb to weaken by allowing it to seed, or storage on exposed conditions so that the bulb would be 'acted' upon by the rain wind frost or sun. Eventually it was series of experiments by Dorothy Cayley that led to the discovery of the 'Tulip Breaking Virus' in 1928. Working at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, She discovered that by transferring infected tissue from broken to healthy bulbs during their dormant state, the infective agent that caused the break in color would also be transferred. These experiments were further refined to include the tiny amounts of genetic material that could be transferred by an insect, which became her final deduction.

Unfortunately there is a serious downside with this virus as it has a detrimental effect on the bulb itself. Infected bulbs will often grow stunted and weak, and as the virus progresses through each generation of plant the bulbs, it reduces their vigour, making them difficult to propagate. Eventually the bulb has no strength left to flower, eventually withering to nothing and ending the genetic line. It's for this reason alone that some of the most famous examples of colour broken bulbs - the 'Semper August'' and the 'Viceroy' - are no longer in existence.

However, and rather surprising, there are a few varieties of 'broken' bulbs whose worst aspects of the viral infections have remained benign, one of which is of course the rare Tulip 'Absalom'. It's an eye-catching beauty with a uniform habit, growing to a height 12-14 inches in its first year - increasing to 16 in subsequent years. It has resilient and long lasting flowers which open later than most other tulips. You can expect to see them coming into bud during the beginning of April and flowering through to the middle of May.

If you wish to purchase Tulip 'Absalom' bulbs then they become available in the autumn from several reputable online retailers.

Main image credit - Simon Eade gardenofeaden@gmail.com

For related article click onto the following links:
How to Grow Species Tulips from Seed
HOW TO PLANT TULIPS
OLD, BROKEN, AND UNUSUAL DUTCH TULIP VARIETIES
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'
SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana
Telegraph Tulip
TULIP HISTORY AND POPULAR VARIETIES
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WHAT IS THE TULIP BREAKING VIRUS?

OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'

botanical illustration of Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'
Tulipa 'Lac van Rign'

The tulip variety 'Lac van Rijn' is truly a living antique which dates back almost 4 centuries to the year 1620.

Standing barely a foot tall and supporting dramatic purple-red, ivory-edged petals in April, ‘Lac van Rijn’ still remains remarkably colour stable and virtually unchanged - unlike many of the old varieties.

Written in the seventeenth century as ‘Lack van Rijn’, the botanical drawing - see left - is a leaf from Cos's 'Tulipenboek'. It shows the cultivar as it was witnessed by Mr P. Cos who was a florist and tulip grower by trade who worked in the Dutch city of Haarlem in 1637.

This was during the heydays of the tulip mania period, a time when a few bulbs could be valued as much as the prize of a stately canal house in the city of Hoorn, one of the more prosperous cities of the Dutch East India Company. In fact there is still a house in this once wealthy area which displays a fa├žade stone depicting three tulips - the price at which the house was bought for at that time.

Like many bulbs during the Tulip mania period prices were high for even a single ‘Lac van Rijn’ bulb. Records say that one bulb - weighing approximately 5 grams at planting - was priced at an exorbitant 175 Dutch guilders - this was roughly equivalent to eight month wages for an average hand labourer!

Today ‘Lac van Rijn’ is one of the oldest of the 'tulip mania' bulbs that is still in production, however it is available at a far more modest price - although stock is extremely limited for this rare and beautiful plant. You are unlikely to find Tulip ‘Lac van Rijn’ bulbs in garden centers during their seasonal availability in the spring however they can be found online from a number of reliable retailers.

Main image credit - public domain

For related article click onto the following links:
How to Grow Species Tulips from Seed
HOW TO PLANT TULIPS
OLD, BROKEN, AND UNUSUAL DUTCH TULIP VARIETIES
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Absalom'
SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana
TULIP HISTORY AND POPULAR VARIETIES
TULIP 'Ice Cream'
Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'
WHAT IS THE TULIP BREAKING VIRUS?

DAHLIA WAR OF THE 'ROSES'


Dahlia 'War of the Roses'
Dahlia 'War of the Roses'


This is a rare and very beautiful dahlia whose origins in history have been lost centuries ago. As well as being somewhat unique in appearance, it is a cultivar that most dahlia experts have never heard of, while for others it's a genetic conundrum that shouldn't really exist.

Luckily there is one story that can give us a clue about its history and despite its very English sounding name it's cultivated 'roots' appear to have come from France.

The story dates back to the 1850's when, after their wealthy parents died, the five remaining brothers and sisters inherited a French Chateau. After a number of heated arguments they were unable to agree as to who should occupy it and subsequently it remained empty, then became derelict and the once fabulous garden deteriorated into an unkempt wilderness. Without proper maintenance, many of the precious ornamental plants became either overgrown or died due to lack of proper care - except for one. A lone Dahlia which managed to survive and flourish amongst the borders. Unfortunately the original French name appears to be lost, although it may sometimes be known as Dahlia 'York and Lancaster'.

For a Dahlia it is surprisingly tough, almost hardy in light soils. Standing approximately 2'6'' tall it produces large amounts of ball shaped flower heads. If it does throw up an occasional pure white flower it will always be followed by a brilliant white and carmine red bi-colour flower.

The French connection is certainly something that I can confirm. The first time that I encountered this stunning variety it was growing just off a verge in Saint-Junien, Limoge, a rural hamlet somewhere in the middle of France. I will confess that, for a time, I stood looking at it with a confused expression on my face as I had never before seen a dahlia like it.

I would advise anyone wishing to purchase one to grab the first specimen they come across with both hands because the word 'rarity' is an understatement.

Further research into this variety has returned the following:

From Dr Virginia Walbot - Stanford University, USA


Dr Virginia Walbot
Dr Virginia Walbot
Hello. I've never seen anything quite like these either. As you probably know, "patterned" varieties are relatively regular (like your flowers with a red base and white majority). Some of the these are light dependent -- when the bud is just beginning to open the outer petals receive light and darken, while the center (later opening part of the flower) receives little or no light and remains colorless or pale. It would be very unusual to have such crisp boundaries as the flowers you saw.

Varieties with transposons typically have sectors of all sizes: when the transposon is sitting in the gene, the flower is white, and where it has hopped out of the pigment gene, there is red pigment restored. These agents can cause specks of colour up to whole flowers. It's striking that there are no small sectors. There are transposons in other plant species that hop at specific stages of development preferentially.... but the patterns here are not correct. All the cells derived from a single "hop" form a coherent sector, and large sectors are pie-shaped and run from the center of the flower to the base. I've never seen stratification with a white center and red base. So, you've found something very odd and I don't have an explanation for it.

From Louis Paradise - Chairman of the Classification Committee, American Dahlia Society


Louis Paradise
Louis Paradise
I have not seen this particular variety before but I have seen one that is similar. Many years ago, the president of the Dahlia Society of California, Ira Neville, hybridized a red floral decorative with the same characteristics. This cultivar would throw out white ray florets randomly throughout the bloom and sometimes one side or the back or the center ray florets would be totally white.

There was no way of telling how many white florets any one bloom would have. No 2 blooms were ever the same and consequently he named this cultivar “Confusion”. Without consistency and uniformity, this cultivar went by the wayside even though it was unusual.

For related article click onto the following links:
RHS Dahlia
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DAHLIA PESTS AND DISEASES
HOW TO GROW DAHLIAS
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THE HISTORY OF THE DAHLIA

POINSETTIA PESTS AND DISEASES


Purchasing a pot grown Poinsettia is as much a part of modern Christmas celebrations as it is to buy a trimmed fir tree. However, as a native to Mexico they can struggle to survive as a houseplant as it can be difficult to provide the right environmental conditions. If poinsettias become subject to environmental stress they are at risk from a wide range of common greenhouse pests and diseases. Below are the most common you are like to come across.

SCALE INSECTS

Cause: This is a very common greenhouse pest easily be transferred from the grower, to the retailer, and eventually to your home. Over the years, hundreds of varieties of scale insect has been introduced into the glasshouse eco-system including many tropical and subtropical species. Its success within the glasshouse environment is down to the speed at which it can multiply, in fact the female scale insect can easily produce 100's of eggs, protecting them either under waxy scales or coverings of 'woolly' wax.

Symptoms: Like aphids, they can quickly colonize the soft tissue parts, feeding on the plants nutritious sap by using specialized mouth parts. Colonies of young and adults alike can quickly colonize areas of the plant such as the underside of leaves or young stems. They will also excrete sugary 'honeydew' which will make the lower parts of the plant sticky. In extreme cases you may see sooty mildew growing on this residue.

Treatment: Due to increase chemical resistance with scale insects it has become difficult to treat them effectively with insecticides. Instead they can be physically removed by carefully wiping them off the leaves and stems with a damp cloth or a soft brush dipped in soapy water.

APHIDS

Cause: Aphids are a well known pest insect that can quickly colonize the soft tissue parts of your plant. They damage and weaken the plant by sucking the sap out of pressurized parenchymal cells just below the leaf cuticle.

Symptoms: Clusters of these small insects are readily identifiable, normally at the plants tips or on the underside of their leaves. In severe cases, the infected parts can begin to wither due to the quantity of sap being removed from the area.

Treatment: There are many chemical treatments available including a number of organic, but all of these must be applied at the first signs of infection to achieve the best result. For further information click onto:


FOOT ROT, and ROOT ROT

Cause: These rots are caused by a wide range of fungal attacks making exact identification almost impossible. However their action and treatment are very similar.

Symptoms: The earliest signs of this fast acting rot are indicated by the production of smaller leaves which turn yellow before wilting. Flowering will be reduced and the plant will be loose in the pot or ground due to its decaying root system.

Treatment: Any infected plants should be removed and destroyed. Sometimes, improvements in drainage, nutrient availability and changes in the composts pH can indirectly improve the situation but there are no effective chemical cures.

GREY MOULD and POWDERY MILDEW

Cause: This group of fungi can affects many plants and unfortunately they are not host specific. This means that they are able to cross infect plants from a variety of different host plant families.

Symptoms: These moulds can easily be identified by a white or grey powdery coating that can appears on the leaves, stems or flowers of your plant. As the infection progresses this coating will spread to envelope the rest of the plant, eventually killing it.

Treatment: There are a number of effective chemical treatments that can be applied here, but infected plants will need fortnightly applications of a general systemic fungicide.

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