I am frequently asked about how long packets of seeds will last. Of course, since this is gardening, the answer is not simple. Whether an old packet of seeds will actually produce plants depends on a wide range of factors including the type of seed (tomatoes can last a decade but parsnips will not) how cool or warm they have been kept and whether the packet has been opened. But, at the end of the day, the best way to find out is to sow them! They won’t grow if you don’t sow them.
But I fell prey to ‘planting fear’ this spring with my acidantheras. I grew some in pots last year and kept them free of frost over winter. When I came to examine them this spring I had masses of cormlets, as expected, but the main corms, which replaced the ones I planted, were huge. They were not the conical shape I planted but massive and broad and flat, more like large-flowered gladioli.
Of course we are usually told to chuck the old acidanthera corms after flowering and I always understood that it was because they would not get the summer baking they need to form flowers. There is also the issue that the numerous cormlets will not flower the following year because they are so small and, unless dug and separated, they won’t reach flowering size. I don’t know why I thought the large corms would not grow or bloom but they were so wide and flat and I could not see a growing point. So I hesitated for months to plant them. It was stupid – what did I have to lose? It was, I am ashamed to say, July before I finally got tired of looking at the dry corms and planted them. I was only going to plant the large corms but, in the end, could not bear to discard the cormlets so they were al planted!
Of course, they responded by leaping into growth and, in the greenhouse, are now in bloom – what else? The pea-sized cormlets are leafy and growing well and the large corms have all produced flowers. What is odd, since the corms were so huge, is that the flower scapes only have two or three flowers. Is this typical of the large corms, or is it because of the late planting. I will have to try next year now I am more confident. I have never bothered to keep the corms after the first year because received wisdom is that they won’t flower again. Because I like them so much I am going to experiment more.
Not everything goes so well and my polianthes are bloomless after flowering last year. Of course they are very different creatures, related to agaves, and don’t really go dormant or form a true bulb or corm. I kept them just moist over winter and they have grown plenty of foliage this year but the basal sideshoots have not reached flowering size yet. I think I need to divide them and treat them better next year.
More optimism is needed for the next plant . In spring, among the cosmos I grew, there was one seedling with yellow foliage. The strain was ‘Purity Superior’ which I assumed was ‘Purity’ but without the annoying plants that don’t flower till November and think they are redwoods rather than cosmos. Anyway I planted my yellow-leaved cosmos in the beds with yellow and white plants and waited to see how it would do. It hated the dry, hot spell and I thought that perhaps it was too beautiful to live. But it has enjoyed the recent weather. There are now flower buds. Will the flowers be white? Will it set seed? Er, probably not. It is too late in the season to mature seeds. So I am going to have to lift it, pot it, keep it in the greenhouse and hope it is perennial. Some cosmos are perennial and there is a (small) chance I can keep this alive. Where cosmos flop and touch the ground they often produce roots so, if I can keep it alive, I may be able to take cuttings. If I can keep it, perhaps it will produce seeds next year. Lots of ifs. And will the flowers be white? If they are pink, will I be able to cope? Probably not!
Meanwhile, and again a sign of optimism, the mini-greenhouse, inside the greenhouse, is filled with cuttings. I can close the zipped door and the whole thing is a propagator at this time of year so no plastic lids are needed. So far everything is looking good and looks to be rooting. The main exception is the wallflower ‘Bloody Warrior’ which have a low rooting rate but that is because the cuttings were of rather tired, hard shoots because of the hot summer. I should have taken them in spring. I have a few rooted, which will help me sleep at night, and will take more in April.