Sunday, May 31, 2015

To Buy or Not To Buy - That Is The Question

With all this talk of buying plants, you may wonder what I am buying.  Aren't true Gardeners supposed to grow everything themselves?  Well, yes and no.  There are only so many hours in the day, so spend accordingly.  There are also only so many dollars in the budget.

1.  Perennials:  We always seem to be adding landscape space.  While I am generally happy to admire a well mulched, freshly edged, EMPTY landscape space, Tim is automatically compelled to fill it with something.  Well, for ME to fill it with something.   Some of my existing plantings may become unbalance because of plants dying out and not growing well.  

Once Upon a Time I bought some Black Eyed Susans....
And maybe a Hosta... or two
You can easily propagate your own perennials by Dividing or re-Seeding.  About 12 years ago I bought some Black Eyed Susans.  I now have BES in several places, have given some away, and on occasion will wheel a barrow out to the compost pile and murder them.  

And now they are every where

Same with Hosta and Phlox.  One well established and thriving planting can supply a neighborhood for generations to come.   But sometimes you just need something new.  Or something Right Now. So you pay for something that, with a little diligence, you probably could have gotten for free.

The simplest way to make sure you are matching your existing plantings
without remembering what variety they were is to divide or seed from what you already have.

2.  Vegetables:  Yes I do buy some vegetable starts.  A gal can't do everything.  There is an excellent blog here on Northwest Edible Life that perfectly explains what seedlings to buy or not to buy and why.  I plan my spring cold frame real estate carefully for early Lettuce, hardening off indoor starts, successive plantings of Summer Squash, Cucumbers, and Cantaloupes etc.  I have room for 8 flats at any given time plus a little edge space for keeping warm watering cans and a tub of potting mix.  Sometimes I feel I have room to plant Herbs or a certain variety of annual flower.  But they have to fit into the timing and space provided by the frame. 

I try to stick with a "hot" color pallet in the vegetable garden.  I only use red, orange and yellow.
Some years I buy Profusion Zinnia seeds by color so I know I will have only those colors.

I have two grow lights and heat mats (and space to put them in) to start seedlings indoors.  These are devoted to my Tomatoes, Eggplants and Peppers.  Sometimes I like to try new things like Jalapenos and I don’t have a preference for the variety so I will pick up a likely candidate at the nursery just to get me started.  The biggest problem with buying vegetables commercially is the limited selection and generic labeling (or miss-labeling).  Tag says Red Bell Pepper.  Yes but what KIND of Red Bell Pepper?  If I really like it will I ever be able to find the same variety again?  Or next year will you sell me another Red Bell Pepper variety with the same generic tag?  I am a self-professed Tomato Snob.  I want what I want when I want it.  I am also a well-rooted Eggplant Snob.  I don’t want to grow Black Beauty Eggplant every year.    And I am fast becoming a Pepper Snob.

Not everyone grows Purple Beauty bell peppers, and certainly not
people who buy their transplants around here.

There are some other vegetables that just don’t transplant well, but that doesn’t stop greenhouses from selling them to the unsuspecting public.  My neighbors routinely plant a couple of packs of Bush Bean transplants.  Hmmm… interesting.  Four plants for the price of 30 seeds.  To each his own.  The Beans transplant and produce well and they routinely have beans weeks before I do. But when they brought out the four packs of Carrots!  Now this was an experiment worth watching.  Carrots!  I kept mum but my eyes peeled.  I happened to be present the day the Carrot crop was harvested.  Neighbor Mike began pulling first one, and then a half dozen of the most fascinating Carrot Knots I’ve ever seen.  He was perplexed.  “What is WRONG with my carrots?!?”   Pest damage?  Some strange disease?  I couldn’t help but chuckle as I walked over to inspect.  “Didn’t get your roots plumbed when you transplanted them huh?”  After all, a Carrot is merely a root.  Even he managed to find the humor in it.

3.  Herbs: This seems like one of the most obvious grow your own projects in the garden.  Every housewife in America can grow that stuff on her kitchen windowsill.  With the cost and variety of seeds available only a dummy would buy a Basil plant.  Well count me in.  I don’t have the inclination to fiddle with Basil anymore.  Or Cilantro.  Just give me a couple of pots and I’ll be on my way, thankyouverymuch.  

One Red Rubin Basil seedling will soon become a shrub

I do have well established crops of the hardy, woody stemmed Herbs planted in permanent locations.  The Catnip shows up here and there in the garden each spring and I rip the little buggers out by the roots and put them in a large planter where they belong.  But they will wander off… they always do.  I doubt I will ever have to buy Catnip ever again.  I am helplessly drawn to the Herb selection at every greenhouse.  An unusual variegated variety will get me all excited.  I just can’t resist them.  I really don’t use them, not as much as they deserve to be.  So they grow happily and un-harvested to shrub size, attracting pollinators with their blossoms and self-seeding themselves all over the place willy nilly.

Large rocks shelter and warm these herbs and keep them alive through harsh winters

4.  Annuals: There are plenty of annual plants that can be started from seed, cuttings, or even wintered over.  My grandfather and mother-in-law had Geraniums as old as I am.  They would just bring the pots in every winter, put them in the barn or the basement, and haul them back out in the spring.  My mother had Petunia plant (maybe still does. ) that we picked up at my PaPaw’s greenhouse back in the early years when the Wave Petunias first came out. That was back around 1998 or 99 and I know I saw it in the dining room last year, rambling up towards the drapery rod.  I could keep a “seed” Geranium over each year and start my own cuttings in January and save myself $60 every year.  If I were so inclined.  But I’m not.  I’ve considered pulling the Marigold volunteers each spring and potting them up alongside the Catnip.  That project interests me a bit more.

A tub of Calibrocha "Million Bells" Petunias can add color to any corner

So each year I adjust my shopping list keeping old favorites and adding new novelties.  I lurk about the local nurseries and scatter color all over our acreage.  Shades of pink and white around the house, hot red orange and yellow for the garden, and on to the side yard whose remoteness enables me to play with the color pallet each year.  I don't have a "flower garden" and yet I still manage to plant almost 100 Marigolds, 20 Geraniums, a few dozen Petunias, Portulaca, Alysum and various and sundry Spike and Vinca and other fillers.  I find volunteer Petunias and Portulaca in the midst of Sweet Potatoes and Cucumbers.  I don't pull them.  They're not really weeds.  They're just trying to give me my money's worth.

What's that peaking thru the carrot tops?  A Petunia!


  1. I've gone both ways in plant buying. From buying a lot of my starts from the store to growing most of my own. And back and forth. I'm currently at the grow most of my own. I like the control I have over what I grow.

  2. I know, I get hooked on certain varieties and hate to have to go with whatever is popular this year. I mean, who decided that? LOL! Also you have the risk of bringing disease home.