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The delight of growing from seed

gARTOne of the girls that lives next door came over the other night to share some of the peas she has been growing in her little garden.

While she was here, she picked up a small spike ball of wood, wondering what it was but she quickly worked out it was a seedhead from the liquidambars that line our street. She recognised it because the street becomes littered with seedheads when they form in the autumn.

Then she wanted to know why I had one on the kitchen table. I told her it was because I was saving the seeds from the trees, although I did not admit that I often pick the seed heads up because they are just fun to look at.

They are odd-looking things, about 2.5 cm across, studded with little spikes. My four-year-old grandson, who is very scientifically minded, told me they remind him of the visual representations of the covid-19 virus, and that’s an accurate observation.

I convinced her that I had sown the seed and that I had a couple of little seedlings growing in the glasshouse. She then asked the obvious question – what was I going to do with the little plants?

I had to admit that I really did not know what was going to happen to the plants, but for the time being, I was just happy to grow them on.

Oddly, I had been researching a different subject in the Wairarapa Archive, going through some old Masterton Borough Council files, when I accidentally stumbled on some news as to when the trees were planted. The Masterton Beautifying Society, who were responsible for many of the street trees in Masterton [and whose secretary lived on the corner of Michael Street] wrote to the Council in 1969, asking for permission to remove the prunus and flowering crab apples that lined the street and replace them with liquidambars, permission that was granted.

It has to be said they are probably not the best street tree for a suburban area, as they can grow to an enormous size. The Michael Street samples are not too bad [although the ones with power lines above them had a short back and sides each year] but those in Pownall street have played havoc with the footpaths in the past.

I had to admit that I had some other harvested seeds growing in the glasshouse. At the northern end of Queen Elizabeth Park, there is a nice Italian Pencil Pine, Cupressus sempervirens, which has many of the small round seed cones that cypresses use for seed dispersal. I gathered one or two of them last autumn, and have a few seedlings of this nice, upright-growing cypress in the glasshouse as well. Once again, I am not quite sure what I will do with them as they grow taller.

Oddly we have a self-sown very upright growing seedling conifer in the garden. We get lots of self-sown trees and shrubs, mainly from birds that have ingested seeds and then defecated them out while sitting in the trees and shrubs in our garden. We get hundreds of ivy plants [which need immediate cleaning out] as well as quite a few totara, which I am generally happy to let grow on. Along with many of our neighbours, we also get a few yew trees popping up, which are usually pulled out.

However, we have discovered one growing under the cover of a big Magnolia figo – it is growing in a very upright manner, so I will let it grow up a little and see if it continues with that growth habit.

The first time I ever harvested seed was at my grandparents when I assisted a cousin who was working for Harrison’s nursery in Palmerston North in harvesting bags of seed from wintersweet trees. When I started gardening for myself, I was instantly interested in growing plants from seed, importing seeds and gathering what I could from other gardens. I have never lost the delight of raising new plants from seed, either from planned crosses I have made, or from naturally pollinated seed pods.

The glasshouse contains seed-raised plants from Chilean bellflowers, Lapageria rosea; the giant lachenalia-like South African bulb Velthemia bracteata, the rare Camelia granthamiana from gathered seed; quite a few cyclamen species; both pink and deep red angels fishing rods, Dierama; some autumn-flowering “naked boys” – Colchicum species; some unusual jockey’s caps, Tigridium; an unidentified fern, and [of course] some iris plants.

I’ve been busy harvesting seed from some of the garden sweet peas for next year’s flowering, and there’s some seed set on one of the spuria irises that my uncle bred. There’s also some seed on the many Kalmia cultivars we grow, so that needs looking after.

The problem is to find garden room for them all as they grow!

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