Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Cottage Conservatory

Black Eyed Angels - Delphinium

When I first started gardening on my own as an adult (especially with heirloom varieties) I was interested in seed saving, but kept coming up low on info, and images to walk me through the process for some of my favorite plants.  I mean, I know it's all pretty straight forward; wait for the petals to fall off, pods of some sort to form, and eventually dry out, but I wanted to know what I should be looking for, and when to clip & collect seed pods - whether to wait for them to open on their own, or catch them right before.  So.  Necessity being the mother of invention, I patiently observed what was happening in my garden, and found a method for a couple of my early bloomers that has been successful thus far.

After noticing my store-bought plants (sold as "annuals") were reseeding themselves around my garden, it became clear that I should be collecting the seeds instead of letting the breeze carry the bulk of them away.  Once I really started paying attention to how many seeds per stalk can develop on one plant, versus how many new plants I was getting by letting them reseed naturally, I felt a little short-changed.  It was clear I wasn't getting the best return possible, and thought I might be able to assist in the process.
Delphinium / Larkspur Seed Pods

By the middle of July, these cottage garden staples are already bloomed out, and well on their way to producing viable seeds in their swelling pods.  Each flower on the Delphinium will drop its petals to reveal a cluster of 4 seed pods.  Within each of those pods anywhere from 7 to 12 seeds will develop, and mature.

Your seeds are ready to collect when the pods begin to brown, turn brittle, and split.  It's at this point that I clip the clusters as they turn instead of waiting for entire stems, or even the whole plant to dry - there can be a number of days between when seed pods at the base of the stem, and pods at the tip are ready for collection, and I've lived in the PNW long enough to know that one good Summer storm will disperse the seeds that are currently ready while you're holding out for the rest of the plant to turn.   
Delphinium / Larkspur Dried Pods
So, I snip and collect the pod clusters in a small dish where I can leave them to dry further until their pods easily crunch open with a small pinch, and spill out a cache of little brown / black seeds.  After separating out any chaff, I allow the seeds themselves a few days of air exposure before bagging them up for next season.  Look, whether mold will ruin the viability of certain seeds or not, is beside the point to me.  It's a completely unnecessary addition to my seed vault, and would bring nothing beneficial to my storage system, therefore I will always go out of my way to avoid creating an environment where it is welcome.
Photograph by: Larry Jacobsen

Then ... I turn around and do it all the same for my Columbine plants whose seed pods are remarkably similar to those of the Delphinium, and also mature right around the same time.  I will say, Columbine does have a stickiness to the seed pods that keeps the seeds from being blown from one end of your garden to the other once the pods have browned, and begun to open at the top, but I still prefer to collect them by hand as they become ready, just like the Delphinium, before the pods have the chance to be obliterated by inclement weather.  Once again, but in a separate container, I snip, and collect the pod clusters, and allow them to dry a bit before attempting to extract the seeds.  Remove any chaff that accumulates in the seed dish - which is decidedly less than other plants I've saved seeds from - and allow the seeds a moment to dry before packing them up for storage.

Columbine Dried Pod
If you're growing more than one type, or color of Columbine in your garden at any given time, don't be surprised if you end up with a completely new color showing up next season after you've planted your saved seeds.  The ease with which Columbine hybridizes is no joke, so if you're a not-so-closeted plant nerd like me, you may enjoy clumping a couple different colors of Columbine plants together throughout your garden to see what happens!  You're also likely to end up with quite a stash of seeds once you start saving, and if you're developing new varieties in your home garden, it might be exciting to join (or start up your own) seed exchange with other green-thumbed folks, and share your creations.

Happy saving!