Favorite Heirloom Stories

heirloom on seed packet

One of the reasons I started Botanical Interests was to continue the tradition of passing down gardening and plant knowledge to future generations of gardeners. Heirloom varieties fall into that same romantic notion—knowing that the seeds I’m sowing today are the “children” of the seeds sown generations ago. Whenever we find a good story, we include it on the seed packet. Here are some of my favorites.

Walla Walla’ onion: Peter Pieri, a French soldier, brought Italian sweet onion seeds from the Island of Corsica to the Walla Walla Valley in Washington in the late 1800s, hoping to sell them as green onions. Unfortunately, Pieri wasn’t able to sell the whole crop, so much of the onion crop was left in the field over the winter. He was surprised that the onions survived the winter, growing into a robust, large, slicing onion, and reseeded the following summer, making ‘Walla Walla’ one of the most cold hardy onions!

‘Padrón’ chile pepper: The ‘Padrón’ pepper became well known as a Spanish pepper but it was actually brought from South America in the 1700s by Spanish monks who cultivated it at their monastery near Padrón. There is now an annual festival held on the first Saturday in August in the parish of Herbón, in Padrón, Spain where everyone can taste these famous peppers. There is a local saying, “Los pimientos de Herbón (Padrón), unos pican y otros no,” which means “Herbón (Padrón) peppers, some are hot, others not”.

Jimmy Nardello’ sweet pepper: Guiseppe and Angela Nardiello of Southern Italy grew this pepper each year in their homeland, and in 1887 they immigrated to Connecticut, bringing the seeds of their beloved pepper. Their son Jimmy continued to grow and preserve this unique variety, eventually sharing it with the public before his passing in 1983. Since its release, it has gained a big following of foodies, chefs, and gardeners alike. Over the years, the spelling of the Nardiello name changed, but the flavor of ‘Jimmy Nardello’ persists, gaining it an entry into Slow Foods USA® Ark of Taste catalog in 2005 as a cultivar to preserve due to its rich, unique flavor.

Miss Jekyll’ love-in-a-mist: Gertrude Jekyll was a 20th century, influential garden designer and botanical painter, who used her knowledge to experiment with garden designs, specifically with perspective and complementary colors. Maybe for this reason she preferred to call herself a “garden artist” rather than a “garden designer.” But it was in her younger years that she selected and bred plants, including the love-in-a-mist that bears her name, primroses, foxgloves, and lupines. And perhaps her name sounds familiar? Gertrude’s younger brother was friends with the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed their name for his famous novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Russell Blend lupine: This stately mix of lupines was developed after decades of breeding work by George Russell (1857–1951) of York, England. He grew several species of lupines and let the bees pollinate the flowers. At the end of each season, he saved seeds from the plants he liked, always removing the plants he felt were inferior. He did this year after year, keeping seeds from only those plants with denser, larger flowers in bright colors and fast maturity. Russell was rewarded for his work at the age of 80 with honors from the Royal Horticultural Society, and an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire certificate) at the age of 94. His breeding efforts made it possible for gardeners in mild climates to also enjoy lupines, as previously the available lupines needed a winter period to perform well.

‘American Legion’ flanders poppy: Long known as the corn poppy because it flourishes as a weed in the grain fields of Europe, the Flanders poppy as it is now often called, grew profusely in the trenches and craters of the WWI war zone of historical Flanders Field along the coast of Belgium and France. Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Army field surgeon was inspired to write the poem, “In Flanders Fields” after the burial of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer who was killed in battle. The corn poppy has since become a symbol of wartime remembrance. The significance results from the fact that on the World War I battlefields of the Flanders region, poppies sprang up in abundance to blanket the fields with a sea of red. The red poppy is symbolic of the blood that was shed there. (368 U.S. soldiers from World War I are buried in Flanders Field cemetery in Belgium.) In 1920, the American Legion adopted this red poppy as its memorial flower. This packet is dedicated to those men and women who fought for the Allies during the two World Wars; as time passes, the number of men and women from that unique generation dwindles. We must not forget the lessons they learned. We must strive to hear the stories they tell, and respect the price they paid for future generations to be free.

Which are you favorites? Share with us!

Online-Exclusive Varieties

‘Black Pearl’ ornamental pepper

Sometimes I find some really fun items that I just have to have, but that you will only find in our online store.

If you’re a daredevil looking for the next hot pepper, try the ‘Bhut Jolokia’ Ghost pepper for real heat intensity or the ‘Scotch Bonnet’ for Caribbean dishes. I really love to surprise people with the Rat Tail radish; a radish you grow for their flavorful seed pods that grow above ground! If you’re looking for impressive ornamentals, ‘Black Dragon’ coleus will definitely please, and it is one of my favorite shade plants. ‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet is also a show-stopper as the center of attention in containers, and kids love the fuzzy flower spikes.

We also have a few dozen, themed collections that I have hand-picked to speak to specific gardeners’ needs and wants. For example, the Frost-Tolerant Vegetables and Southern Kitchen collections are created for the cold-climate and warm-climate gardeners respectively, while the Children’s Garden collection features seeds that are easy to handle and/or grow, even for the youngest gardener. My personal favorite is the Moon Garden collection, which includes bright white and night-scented blooms that glow in the moonlight.

I hunted to bring you what I consider the best hand tools—Burgon & Ball tools.  They are endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society (one of the world’s leading horticultural organizations), and are functional with a classic design. I use them in my own garden, so I wanted to bring them to you. There are also soil thermometers to help you determine the best time to sow for maximum germination and a beautiful seed packet storage bin that comes in blue or burgundy.

So take a look around, experiment, I hope you find the perfect variety to make your garden, cuisine, or vase uniquely you!

Top 5 Reasons to Garden from Seed

Gardening from seedGardening from seed has big advantages

Even though I have gardened from seed since childhood, the experience of taking what looks like a tiny stone, sowing it, and watching it grow still seems magical; it is faith realized, and it nurtures me as I nurture it. While sometimes that inspiration is all I need to garden from seed, there are some other very important reasons, too.

  1. Know what you grow. Did you know that many of the conventionally-grown vegetables at the grocery store test positive for pesticide residue even after washing and peeling? Growing your own allows you to choose what goes into your family’s food. Here is a list of vegetables that are the worst offenders when it comes to pesticide residue.
  2. Save money. Growing from seed is much less expensive than buying plants or produce, especially organic choices. For example, most food gardeners I know grow green beans because the quality is so much better than the grocery store and they are a pretty easy crop (they also add nitrogen to the soil!). A seed packet of bush beans sows about 12 feet of bean plants which will yield about 5 lb. of beans. The cost of the packet is $2.39. A six pack of plants will run you $3-4 and plants 2′ (pssst green beans don’t transplant well so expect lower yields). Five pounds of (less than fresh) green beans at the grocery store will cost around $11. Did we mention the seeds in our example are certified organic?
  3. More choices. Grocery stores and garden centers offer only a fraction of available selections. Gardening from seed gives you the option to grow something unique, exotic, or rare.
  4. Reduce plant stress. In many cases sowing seeds in place versus transplanting from greenhouse-started plants leads to quick, stress-free growth, meaning faster, and often more flowers and more fruit, especially in the case of root crops of plants sensitive to root disturbance.
  5. Perfect timing. There are advantages to starting some crops early, usually vegetables that tolerate transplanting and take a long time to mature, like peppers, onions, or tomatoes. Starting these indoors gives me a head start in my shorter growing season, as I would never see a pepper if I sowed it directly outdoors.

I can’t tell you how many times I have wandered out to the garden saying, “Let’s see what’s for dinner.” I slow down from my busy day when I stroll out to the garden with a glass of wine and my favorite wooden bowl to see what peaks my culinary interest that evening. Such a personal reward for all my elbow grease in the garden!

What inspires you to grow from seed? Share your inspiration with our growing community in the comments below.

Choosing a Container

Container gardening is a growing trend as new gardeners start out, and veteran gardeners look to expand their growing opportunities. We answer a lot of questions on this topic, like which varieties to sow, or where to place them, but many gardeners want to know how to choose a container. There are a lot of factors that could inform one’s choice for a container. And really, almost anything can be a container. Upcycling buckets, watering cans, and wine barrels are great ideas. But I’ve seen some great containers made from tree stumps, baking pans, bags, and nylons! Just be sure they’re clean, have drainage, and are the right size and material for your needs.

growing containers

SIZE. Simply put, size matters. Bigger containers are often better. They hold more soil, and therefore, potentially more water and nutrients. This gives your plants more resources and room to grow. This also gives you a bigger margin for error…always a good idea when dealing with living things.

What’s the right size? When is it big enough? I like to use some common comparisons to help answer this. Most people are familiar with a ½ wine barrel. This is big enough for 1 large, or 2 small tomato plants, or about 10 bush bean plants, or 6-8 heads of lettuce, or about 3 pepper plants. Flowers are another story. There are so many types of flowers that grow to so many different sizes, that it’s hard to say. Look at the final size of the plants to start. If you want an airy look, give them a little more space. If you want your container more or less overflowing, then give them a little less space. I tend to over-ambitiously jam them in, fertilize, and let them fight it out.

Lastly, size has two dimensions—volume and depth. If you are growing long- or deep-rooted things, like carrots or Echinacea, in a container, then your plants will be better served by a deep pot than a wide, shallow one.

DRAINAGE. Let me say it again, DRAINAGE. Make sure that your containers have a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Containers that don’t drain lead to soggy soil that suffocates plants’ roots. If your container is watertight (and it’s not a water garden) put some holes in it. If your container sits very close to the ground or some other surface, you may want to raise the container up slightly or add some holes to the side of the container very near the bottom. I drilled some holes in the side of the bottom of a huge pot I had that I couldn’t put on risers and it made a big difference.

MATERIAL. Almost anything can be a container. That being said, you need to consider how what it’s made of will affect its performance. Porous containers, like terra cotta, allow water to escape through the side of the container. This may be good if you live in a wet area or tend to over-water. This may be challenging if your containers are small or you live in a windy or dry area. You can line the inside of porous containers with a layer of plastic and reduce water loss. Just remember to maintain drainage.

growing containers

Think about whether you plan to move your container in case of frost. If not, make sure it is made of a frost-proof material.

If you are choosing wood, remember to use a rot-resistant wood like cedar or oak. Just be sure not to use pressure-treated wood if you are growing edibles. You don’t want the chemicals to affect the quality of your food.

CLEANLINESS. If you are reusing or repurposing a container, be sure to clean it thoroughly. Scrub away all dirt and debris. Wash it well and if you want to get it really clean, rinse it with hydrogen peroxide or a 1:10 bleach solution. One of the best sanitizing agents is the sun. If you have the time, let your clean containers bake in the sun for a week before filling them with soil.

 Once you’re set up, you’ll be a container gardener in no time!


5 Gardening Resolutions for 2018

Garden planning and resolutions 2018

2018 is knocking at the door, and seed starting is right around the corner. Our holiday break gave me some time to reflect on how I can improve my gardening practices this coming year, in other words, resolutions!

  1. Get Organized

When it comes to getting organized, I always start out with a shopping list and a calendar. When I first started planning my garden years ago, these sowing guides helped me create my first planting calendar, and from there, I make tiny changes year to year based on my notes, like, “Sowed beans too soon; wait another week or use a soil thermometer to be sure.” I also record what I started and when in my garden journal, but where I need improvement is remembering to write down my gardening whims. The best part about gardening is the delight and creativity in doing the unplanned, but I typically forget to record it. The same goes for recording things like first blooms, butterflies, and harvests. Recording my garden observations will give me a fun goal for improvement in the following year and will slow me down and make me take time to observe the garden. So I don’t forget, I am putting my garden journal right by the back door next to my gloves and dirt-covered garden boots—voilá!

  1. Discover Something New

I have been gardening so long, I admittedly have a list of favorites. I love my tried-and-true varieties, but each year, I reserve some space to experiment so that I may find some brand-new loves! Keeping notes on these newbies will be especially important, too. Last year, I tried popcorn, but this year it may be our new Utrecht Blue wheat, Parisian Gherkin cucumbers, or a giant pumpkin! Just thinking about them makes me excited!

  1. Grow Natives

In the West (and everywhere), pollinator habitats and water resources are big issues. By adding natives to my garden collection, I am providing pollinators with high-quality habitat and food, while adding beautiful but tough plants that need less care and often, less water. Natives are a “win-win” for your home garden.

  1. Share More Veggies

This year, one of my resolutions is to grow more so I can share more of my vegetable and herb garden bounty with friends and the community. Fresh vegetables are sparse in the food banks, and since I have such a full, edible garden, it’s a no-brainer to give. Successive sowing of vegetables and herbs, keeps the harvest going strong all season, too. More to give! So, whether you grow extra veggies to give to food banks, practice Meatless Mondays, or just for the peace of mind of knowing where and how your food is grown, we can all benefit from making the edible portion of our gardens bigger. Check our Seed to Saucepan blog for some fresh recipe ideas, too!

  1. Container Gardening

I’m also going to add more containers to my gardening plan. I plan on mixing form and function by combining container-friendly vegetables, herbs, and flowers, celebrating the senses with scented herbs and blossoms that call in the pollinators for the veggies.  Containers also keep plants warmer in the summer, something peppers and other heat-loving vegetables will appreciate with our cool nights in Colorado, not to mention they creating cozy outdoor rooms, perfect for entertaining or just relaxing with family.

Phew! That’s a tall order of gardening resolutions, but I’m certainly up for the challenge. Our faithful customers inspire us, too! What are your gardening resolutions? Please share in the comments below.

2018 New Seed Varieties!

Judy Seaborn 2018 catalog

Another year of gardening inspiration is just around the corner (I choose to ignore the cold weather that is coming), and I am so excited to share our 2018 new seed varieties with you! The new catalog should be turning up in mailboxes soon, but I can’t wait to give you a sneak peek at my new loves.

Chocolate! Well, chocolate isn’t a new love of mine, but some of our new “chocolate” varieties are. We’re excited for you to find a spot in your garden for Chocolate and Cream Love-in-a-Mist with its pure white petals and cocoa-colored stamens, breathe in the chocolate aroma of Chocolate flower, savor the Chocolate Cherry tomato (it’s gracing the catalog cover this year) that you won’t be able to resist eating right from the garden, and revel in the Chocolate Gardener’s Scrubbing Soap.

We strive to add varieties that are not only successful for home gardeners like you, but that are also unique. Two new heirloom peppers have us dreaming up new recipes–Shishito’ chile pepper and Jimmy Nardello’ sweet pepper–while rich and dramatic flowers have us craving the boldness of color–Black Velvet Nasturtium and Shock-O-Lat Sunflower. The three new sprouts, Purple Kohlrabi, Ancient Grains Mix, and Red Clover keep my Botanical Interests Seed Sprouter very busy!

I’m so happy to share the catalog, because we couldn’t do any of this without you! Throughout the catalog, you’ll read customer testimonials about their favorite variety that inspires them–the color and dimension of sunflowers, the majesty of amaranth, and the incredible length of squash and tomato vines. The catalog also has new tips and growing information! You’ll find how to successively sow lettuce for salads all season, the best way to transplant tomato seedlings, and a little trick to sowing flower mixes (you’ll have to read the catalog!) We also added some fun facts, like the history of sweet peas, how cosmos got its name, and why some peppers are spicier than others.

We know you’ll find something you’ll love to grow this year!

Stop and Enjoy the Wildflowers

In the words of the late, great Tom Petty, “You belong among the wildflowers… Far away from your trouble and worries / You belong somewhere you feel free.” Whenever I hear this song, I picture myself among gently swaying blooms that form a new, unique tapestry, every day, without fail. Wildflowers are the details along a well-beaten path that make it seem somehow different and interesting every time you visit, not only by their blossoms, but through the rainbow of pollinators and other wildlife visitors they call in and sustain.

I have been reflecting on how our lives have become so busy, and I wish I could slow us all down so we could experience the wildflowers hitting that reset button in our brains. I may not have figured out how to slow down the entire world, but what I can do is provide native wildflower seeds (and easy growing instructions) so you can create a little retreat of your own.

Native plants are among the most care-free of any blooms you can grow. They are tough and able to grow without much attention, including being drought tolerant, which gives you more time to enjoy them. Natives provide pollinators with high-quality pollen and nectar too, so a native garden bed is also a pollinator garden.

For me, fall is naturally the time to think about revamping an area or filling in an empty space. Wildflowers are inherently adapted to being sown now—how convenient for me! Plants in their native habitat bloom, form seeds, drop those seeds sometime from summer to fall (depending on the species), and then the seeds rest until spring when conditions are just right for germination. Fall sowing is done!

When prepping your own, native retreat, do thoroughly weed and loosen the soil surface and place or rake seeds in. Winter snow and rain will work the seeds into the soil, so no need to work the soil too deeply. Our late spring storms are usually enough so I don’t have to water, but if you have a dry spell in spring keep an eye on the soil moisture and water as needed. Natives wildflowers grow well in average or even poor soils, so there is no need to amend most soils. You can choose a number of species with different bloom times so your space is always colorful, but be sure to put full-sun varieties in 6 or more hours of sun so they stand tall, rather than reaching for more light.  Once seedlings are all up and have put on some growth, say the end of June, I like to toss some mulch around the sprouted plants to help keep weeds down.

After that, I add a chair, and give myself some time to stop and smell the wildflowers.

Do you have any native garden tips? Please share them in the comments!

Plentiful Pleasing Poppies Next Spring

‘Black Swan’ Poppy

Fall is a great time of the year to reflect on your garden and write down some new ideas for next year. And I have poppies on the brain! What’s great about poppies is their diversity—all shapes, colors, sizes, perennial, annual— I love them all! Regardless of their annual or perennial status, they do best when sown in place, and by sowing this fall, seeds are primed for the earliest possible germination next spring. Poppies are quite cold tolerant and you may be surprised how early they come up.

Mission Bells Poppy Blend

Sowing Poppies
Choose a full-sun to part-sun area and consider the height of the poppies and any neighboring plants so none of the flowers get overshadowed. All I really need to do for soil prep is to get rid of weeds, dig out rooted perennials, and scrape away wimpy annuals. Poppies are happy with near neglect; they are drought tolerant, and do fine in poor soils but need good drainage. I scratch the surface of the soil with a hard rake to loosen the top ½”–1″, leaving the surface fluffy but level. Then I’m ready to sow! Poppy seeds need light to germinate, which means they need to be close to or on the soil surface. I usually just broadcast the seeds (adding a few extra in case birds find them), rake them in very lightly, and I’m done! Late winter and spring precipitation usually provides enough moisture to germinate seeds next year, but if I have a dry winter I will water these seeds come spring. (P.S. You can also sow in raised beds to improve the drainage of your soil.)

Oriental Blend Poppy

I am already imagining all the beautiful blooms I will be seeing next spring and summer! Poppies aren’t the only flowers that germinate best after the chill of winter. Read more about Fall Sown Flowers for ideas on what you can sow now.

Endless Harvests: Inspiration for All Those Veggies

It happens every year. Each spring I am so excited to garden that I grow more than my family could ever eat. I realize this is a bonus, so I try to make the absolute most out of every single vegetable I harvest. If you are also fortunate enough to have too many veggies, try these preparing and sharing ideas.

  1. Freezing. Greens (kale, spinach, collards), onions, peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash can be frozen without blanching (boiled quickly and then cooled in ice water to preserve nutrients and color). Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans maintain a better quality when blanched before freezing.
  1. Batch meals. Cook up a big batch of tomato sauce, eggplant cutlets, or even a whole casserole and freeze the extra portions in well-marked, freezer-safe containers.
  1. Canning. Preserve the bounty by canning. Be sure to follow a tested recipe (like these from the USDA) to avoid any chance of food-borne illness.
  1. Meet your neighbors. You’ll not only make new friends (or delight the old ones), but you may even turn some into gardeners! The more gardens in a neighborhood, the higher everyone’s sense of pride, too. So bring over that extra zucchini, flower bouquet, or basil.
  1. Donate. Do you know that food banks around our nation find it difficult to consistently provide fresh vegetables to their communities? Find your local food bank and share the harvest.

For more ideas see our article Preserve the Harvest. Share your creative uses for extra garden goodies in the comments!

Summer Fun in the Trial Garden

Every year we go to garden shows where we “ooh” and “aah” at the gorgeous, the unusual, and the unique, and yearn for a big enough space to grow them all. Alas, we must choose only those that most capture our attention, and bring back the seed with growing anticipation. Then, when the time is right, we sow them in our trial gardens, to see for ourselves how they perform.

Our seed buyer, Alex, has a rich history of market farming, so he is our guy for our on-site trial garden. He “fixes” the soil, sows the seeds, and tends the plot, with a little help from other staff members. We all provide encouragement, of course! And there is no shortage of volunteers to test out that new tomato, or corn, or pepper.

We’re growing some of our new varieties this year to make sure we deliver the high-quality product we promise. These can be found in our 2017 catalog, or on our website:

Hollyhock Outhouse Several of us couldn’t run fast enough for the seed after seeing this glorious display of old-fashioned hollyhocks.

Pea Sugar Magnolia What a beautiful color in a snap pea, and the blossoms are equally as appealing.

Sunflower Schock O Lat Shockingly beautiful, isn’t it? And sunflowers are so easy to grow, everyone should!

This summer we are also trialing some special things that look very promising for a future season. Color and form are catching our attention in a mix of burgundy and lime green celosia with red and golden plumes bursting forth; a small, adorable zinnia with quite bold colors; gomphrena in hot pink and creamy white; an interesting grass that is reminiscent of fireworks; and a stunning sweet corn that has striking, deep burgundy stems, tassels and husks, with contrasting white kernels!

Stay tuned!