Cosmos: worth the wait?

It has been a challenging year all round. I am not sure why but the veg have been disappointing this year with lettuce bolting in the hot weather, turnips refusing to make good roots and even beetroot struggling. Only kale and beans have done well, and the tomatoes which, although late to ripen, look like producing a great crop.

One of the biggest surprises was the lack of germination of cosmos. I usually rely on these as fillers because they are so easy but, as well as the total lack of squashes this year because of hungry mice eating every seed I sowed, I have very few cosmos.

As I have mentioned before, the usual disappointment with cosmos is from cheap mixed packs where lots of the plants, especially the whites, fail to flower until very late in the season. Repeating myself, this is because the wild Cosmos bipinnatus, from which most cosmos are bred, are short day plants and just keep growing bigger until late in the season when they finally bloom. The ‘Sensation’ strains were bred and named because they flower much earlier but it seems that some seed companies are not too picky when it comes to maintaining good seed strains so you get a proportion that just won’t play ball.

On a similar note I have to say that quite a few seeds have been a let down this year, and not because of my stupidity. Packets of mixed sweet peas produced a fair proportion of vetch seedlings which is really unacceptable. Sometimes stray weeds in seed trays can be put down to blown in seeds and compost being contaminated but not in this case. I usually buy named sweet peas from a specialist but was caught out this year. I won’t again.

But back to cosmos. Somehow I found this in an old gardening book. It is from ‘The Garden, You and I’ entitled ‘Annuals – Worthy and Unworthy’ from 1906 and illustrates the cosmos problem perfectly, if at length!

‘The cosmos is counted by catalogues and culturists one of the most worthy of the newer annuals, and so it is when it takes heed to its ways and behaves its best, but otherwise it has all the terrible uncertainty of action common to human and garden parvenues. From the very beginning of its career it is a conspicuous person, demanding room and abundance of food. Thinking that its failure to bloom until frost threatened was because I had sown the seed out of doors in May, I gave it a front room in my very best hotbed early in March, where, long before the other occupants of the place were big enough to be transplanted, Mrs. Cosmos and family pushed their heads against the sash and insisted upon seeing the world. Once in the garden, they throve mightily, and early in July, at a time when I had more flowers than I needed, the entire row threatened to bloom. After two weeks of coquettish showing of colour here and there, up and down the line, they concluded that midsummer sun did not agree with any of the shades of pink, carmine, or crimson of which their clothes were fashioned, and as for white, the memory of recent acres of field daisies made it too common, so they changed their minds and proceeded to grow steadily for two months. When they were pinched in on top, they simply expanded sidewise; ordinary and inconspicuous staking failed to restrain them, and they even pulled away at different angles from poles of silver birch with stout rope between, like a festive company of bacchantes eluding the embraces of the police. A heavy wind storm in late September snapped and twisted their hollow trunks and branches. Were they discouraged? Not a particle; they simply rested comfortably upon whatever they had chanced to fall and grew again from this new basis. Meanwhile the plants in front of them and on the opposite side of the way began to feel discouraged, and a fine lot of asters, now within the shadow, were attacked by facial paralysis and developed their blossoms only on one side.

The middle of October, the week before the coming of Black Frost, the garden executioner, the cosmos, now heavy with buds, settled down to bloom. Two large jars were filled with them, after much difficulty in the gathering, and then the axe fell. Sometimes, of course, they behave quite differently, and those who can spare ground for a great hedge backed by wall or fence and supported in front by pea brush deftly insinuated betwixt and between ground and plants, so that it restrains, but is at the same time invisible, may feast their eyes upon a spectacle of billows of white and pink that, at a little distance, are reminiscent of the orchards of May.

But if you, Mary Penrose, are leaning toward cosmos and reading in the seed catalogue of their size and wonderful dawn-like tints, remember that the best of highly hybridized things revert unexpectedly to the commonest type, and somewhere in this family of lofty Mexicans there must have been a totally irresponsible wayside weed. Then turn backward toward the front of the catalogue, find the letter A, and buy, in place of cosmos, aster seeds of every variety and colour that your pocket will allow.’


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2 Comments on “Cosmos: worth the wait?”

  1. derrickjknight
    September 3, 2019 at 10:29 am #

    Jackie’s sister had the same problem. Interesting explanation

  2. tonytomeo
    September 9, 2019 at 5:15 am #

    Reversion is to be expected, and some do it right away in the next generation, but I would sort of expect them to be more reliable. I mean, they can be too prolific if they get the chance.

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