Category: Seeds

Putting Our Gardens to Bed

Putting Our Gardens to Bed

This is a beautiful time of year – leaves falling to the ground in colors of orange, red and yellow. Birds and other little critters running around doing their last minute preparations for winter, our greenhouse doors are closed and life begins to slow down just a little.



Herb Fraser, long time member and experienced gardener in many parts of the world reminded us that each zone and each garden is individually different and requires a plan. When we get our Zone 6a Chester Gardens gardens ready for winter they are prepared for an even more productive spring.



Herb suggested this is a good time to take advantage of sales at local nurseries. The root bound plants can be teased and trimmed, possibly divided, watered well and planted for next seasons show.

We were reminded not to fertilize after mid August or cut back perennials too early as even though plants may appear dormant as fluctuating temperatures may stimulate the below surface activity and plants will produce new growth which will not be winter hardy. It is possible to divide and transplant perennials before the first heavy frost remembering they usually require about 4 to 6 weeks to settle in.

Following a couple of hard frosts, usually late October, early November in the Chester area, ensure that plants are well watered, especially evergreens which provide not only backdrop for our summer show but seasonal distinction and wind protection for our properties.

Thinking about our own gardens, Herb encouraged us to concentrate on clearing debris, checking for pests, damage and disease. It is a good time to weed, pull annuals, to compost any plants without disease, to save seeds such as Marigold, Zinnia, Sweet Peas, Morning Glory, Scarlet runner and to cut back to three or four inches perennials such as Siberian and Bearded Iris, Sweet Peas, Crocosmia, Bee balm. If you don’t cut your plants right to the ground, their stalks will hold new spring growth straighter.

Some gardeners choose plants to add visual interest to their gardens in winter and so leave some standing. Plants, including perennial grasses,ferns and sedems have a neat look, and the seeds of Joe Pye, echinacea and rudbeckia will attract and feed birds all winter.

We were reminded not to cut hardy geraniums or Hellebore.

Plant bulbs like daffodils and garlic now according to directions. The general rule of thumb for planting spring bulbs is to plant two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall.

One thing to always keep in mind is to remember it is all about soil. After the first hard frost, make big efforts to increase soil fertility by providing a fresh layer of mulch. Feeding and amending your soil with organic matter through the use of mulch, compost and other available materials (shredded leaves or seaweed, which is full of micronutrients that enrich the soil and feed the plants. And it’s free!) to increase the availability of the minerals in the soil and create more spaces for air and water will benefit next season’s production & show. Don’t put all those leaves in bags. Instead, run the lawn mower over them and use them as mulch or in your compost and the worms will help them enrich the soil. Also, now is the time to spread lime on lawns and gardens.

What about garden ponds/pools? Herb asked Joan C. to help members understand the winter care needed for garden pools. Joan reminded us that Goldfish and Koi are very hardy and can handle winter water temperatures which means they can survive in the pond during the winter as long as the pond is three feet or more deep, it doesn’t freeze solid and they have adequate water quality and oxygen.

Herb advised us to clean and service our gardening tools so they are in good condition for storage and to begin using next season, especially if we run out of time or the weather becomes challenging.

As a final note, we were encouraged to remember winter brings opportunities to enjoy warmth in front of our wood stoves or fireplaces planning for next gardening season.

Following the presentation and before the regular meeting there was time to view the artistic fall displays, for conversation and a snack.



The Skinny on Saving Seeds

The Skinny on Saving Seeds

Joanne Jellett
Joanne Jellett

The need to preserve genetic diversity came through as a major theme in Joanne Jellett’s presentation at the September meeting of Chester Garden Club. As a master gardener with experience in cross-breeding lilies, Joanne pointed out that seeds from hybrids do not produce the same quality or quantity of seeds as those from the original plants.  Hybrids are cultivars that have been cloned to produce particular traits that create a new plant with hybrid vigor, but the in-breeding tends to render the male plant sterile.  As a result, genetic engineering is required to make it fertile again.

Unlike natural heritage plants, these cultivars lack an adequate supply of seeds and berries to feed birds and insects, so gardeners who rely solely on the hybrids found at most nurseries will inadvertently be reducing the food supply for pollinators and other species that visit their gardens.  Joanne noted that a lack of genetic diversity impoverishes the natural world, and she encouraged members of the club to be aware of the need to grow heritage plants wherever possible, and to begin collecting seeds of those plants so as to preserve them for future generations as their mothers and grandmothers did in years past.

DSCF7545Much of her discussion on seed collections was focused on vegetables. She indicated that self-pollinating plants such as peas, beans, lettuce and tomatoes were good candidates for seed selection because the seeds would produce plants like the original variety. Many other plants are subject to cross-pollination, producing seeds that are therefore not true to the original. The  next generation of plants from those seeds would display variation in colour and other characteristics from that of the original.

seed pods of perennial sweet peasIt is important to wait until seeds have matured on the plant before harvesting.  As a rule of thumb, seeds turn from white to cream or brown when ripe for picking.  Individual seeds should be allowed to dry, spread out on paper towels laid over a screen. Experienced seed collectors do not place wet seeds on newspaper to dry because the seeds will stick to the paper and are then difficult to lift off.  Seeds that are still attached to a flower stalk should be placed in an open paper bag to dry.  Once seeds are dry they can be stored in a closed paper bag or in a jar along with a few grains of rice that act as a drying agent.  Joanne cautioned against storing seeds in a plastic bag because of the danger that mould and pathogens would grow in such an environment.

Some plants, like Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables, produce seeds that must be pasteurized before storing.  This can be done by immersing the seeds in water at a temperature of 48º C for about 15 to 25 minutes. That treatment kills all pathogens.

rose hipsThe “wet method” of saving seeds involves a messy method that does in fact produce good results. After scooping out the seeds, place the mushy mix in a glass container with water. Stir it every day and allow the fermentation to kill viruses. The viable seeds descend to the bottom of the jar and the mushy mix on top can then be thrown away.  The seeds can then be rinsed off, dried and stored in the usual way.

When storing any seeds, it is useful to remove any related chaff that could attract fungus or mould. To get rid of the tiny insects that sometimes are found on seeds or seed pods, place the seeds in a freezer for a few days before storing.  Two last tips from Joanne for gardeners to consider next spring:  the need to remember vernalization – the process whereby many seeds need to experience a cold spell before they will germinate, and scarification – the technique of grating or nicking the protective “armour” of the seed coat to enable the living embryo within to emerge.

milkweed seeds closeupflopwers and seeds Ligularia

Native vs. Cultivar: a Plant Quiz

Native vs. Cultivar: a Plant Quiz

Trout lily

When looking at photographs of plants, the size or even the angle at which the subject was photographed can deceive the viewer.  At the November meeting of Chester Garden Club, members were presented with a series of photographs and then challenged to identify the native plants and distinguish  them from common cultivars. The interactive presentation was handled by Brenda Hiltz, a Master Gardener, who provided all participants with paper and pencil and then showed them a series of over 40 slides of plants, some in flower and some with fruit. Participants were asked to write down the name of each plant shown and to specify whether it was a native species or a cultivar.  On completion of that task, to help everyone mark their scores, Brenda showed the crowd the same photos in the same sequence but with the botanical and common name of each plant added to the image. As each name was revealed, gasps of surprise (or delight, if a plant had been correctly identified) could be heard throughout the room.  After tallying their scores,  most members were quite chagrined to realize how many plants they had misidentified but all agreed that, in future, they would be more aware of the native plants that add a significant decorative element to the natural landscape.  A small selection of Brenda’s floral mystery photos and relevant information is included in this post.

trout lily colony
A trout lily colony

As an inveterate hiker and canoeist, Brenda has been photographing native plants throughout the province for many years.  The trout lily [Erythronium americanum] is a herbaceous flowering plant that blooms in early spring.  The plants grow in colonies, some of which have survived as long as 300 years.

Anemone canadensis

Another native species is the Meadow Anemone above,  commonly known as Crowfoot.  It blooms from late spring to summer and its seeds are borne in achenes (which are small, dry, hard one-seeded fruit). It was used by North American indigenous peoples as an astringent and as a styptic for wounds, sores, nosebleeds and as an eye-wash.

Jack-in-the-pulpit berries

This herbaceous perennial is native to eastern North America and is found in  moist woodlands. In contrast to the medicinal properties of Crowfoot, Jack-in-the-pulpit contains oxalic acid, which is poisonous if ingested.  Even if only handling the seeds and pulp, it is advisable to wear gloves.  The plant’s flowers are contained in a spadix, which is covered by a hood, giving the plant its distinctive appearance.


Although the fruit of  the Daphne mezereum is poisonous to humans, many birds eat them and then spread their seeds via their droppings. The scented flowers of this Eurasian shrub are produced in early spring on bare stems before the leaves appear.

Firethorne blossoms
Firethorne berries

Pyracantha angustifolia, a species of shrub in the rose family, commonly known as Firethorne, is native to China but has been introduced to North America  as an ornamental plant that also serves as a prickly hedge because of its sharp spines.  The small orange or red pomes (fleshy fruit) are astringent and bitter-tasting to humans but a good food source for birds.

Another imported plant that is widely used in North American gardens is the Gerbera daisy, or African daisy. This tender perennial is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds but resistant to deer – an important feature for many Chester gardeners!  This genus from the sunflower family, with about 30 species in the wild, is found in South America and tropical Asia as well as Africa.  It has thousands of cultivars, which come in many colours and sizes,  and it is a popular cut flower (being the fifth most-used cut flower in the world, after the rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip).

African daisy
Out-of-Season Blooms

Out-of-Season Blooms

Virginia creeper on birch tree A mild September has meant that a few plants in the Chester area have been tricked into re-blooming.  Although occasional glimpses of red leaves have shown up on selected maples, most gardens are still green. One of the first plants to change colour is the Virginia Creeper, seen here winding around the trunk of  a white birch and offset by the fresh green branches of a pine. Such a scene could tempt a Sunday painter to reach for her acrylic paints and brushes.  That is, if you squint hard enough, it’s almost like looking at a  splendid splash of abstract art.

But on to the out-of-season blooms. Having enjoyed the usual array of rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring, we were pleasantly surprised to find a few of those plants setting out new blooms in the fall.  The next few images (contributed by Sandy) were taken mid to late September.

rhodo rampao
Rhododendron Ramapo
Rhododendron (variety unknown)
Actea Hillside Black Beauty
Silver Lace vine

The Kerria japonica (below),  found in another Chester garden, usually puts out its floral display in May. Although it has produced fewer blooms in September, the out-of-season  display makes a welcome bright addition to the duller colours of the spent blooms and foliage of its neighbours.

Kerria japonica

A honeysuckle vine that was a favourite source of nectar for hummingbirds all summer continues to put forth a few blossoms even though the birds have long since departed for southern climes. Adding their own dash of colour and interesting shapes at this time of year are the various fruits and seeds that appear on trees and shrubs.

Ornamental crab apples
Holly berries
Wisteria seed pods
Asclepia seed pods

The ascelpia photo is included as a nod to our previous posts devoted to Monarch butterflies and their reliance on asclepias (milkweeds).  The thousands of delicate wispy  seeds are released when the hard pod opens.  They drift away on the breeze and those that find fertile ground will be the source of new milkweeds that will nourish and provide egg-laying bases for future Monarch butterflies.