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A winter meadow in a sprinkling

Canned seed mixes actually offer an easy way to grow "northern'' annuals if you don't mind an informal garden.

By JOHN A. STARNES JR.

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


Have you ever bought a "flower meadow in a can?" The idea is to sprinkle the seeds in your garden and await the appearance of dozens of blooms.

Chances are very good that the can that holds the seeds is more colorful than the resultant "meadow" because the seeds are better suited for summer growth up north, not here in Central Florida. It's likely that the contents are mostly filler and that the few seeds mixed in need a climate with winter dormancy and fertile, non-acidic, claylike soil. Finally, canned meadows don't advise Floridians to plant the seeds in winter, when they might sprout and grow in the cooler temperatures.

Here's a cheap, easy and reliable way to grow "northern" annuals in an informal meadowlike flower garden. The months of November through early February are cool enough to sow your seeds.

Each fall choose a full-sun spot and improve and feed the soil. I am fond of a liberal sprinkling of dolomite in most gardens because the soil in Central Florida is very acid except in coastal areas, where visible bits of seashell supply enough calcium to act as an "antacid." Then sprinkle a half-inch layer of dried sheep or poultry manure, a generous sprinkling of cheap dry dog food nuggets (about 2 cups per square foot; as they decay, they release many plant nutrients, and they feed earthworms), a 1-inch deep layer of cheap clay cat litter (about $2 per 25-pound bag) and a 1-inch-thick layer of humus (about $1 per 40-pound bag).

Turn all this under with a shovel as you would a vegetable garden, then begin sprinkling your seeds directly from their packets onto the roughly turned soil.

Don't worry. Lots of people say they have bad luck with seeds, but now you have fertile soil and are planting in the cooler months, when the seeds want to sprout and grow.

Many people let their soil dry out and plant the seeds meticulously by hand and too deeply. Scattered onto rough soil then lightly raked in with a leaf rake or old broom, they will be barely buried, just as nature would plant them.

Hand-water the garden for 5 minutes daily for two weeks.

Don't sweat freezes and frosts, which will only duplicate a late northern spring, when the seeds would be sprouting for gardeners in snowy, icy climates.

Since the 1970s I've had great results from the seeds listed here. For a sense of casual order, scatter each variety in its own area in the garden so you'll end up with "pockets" of each variety. For psychedelic splendor, scatter them in a wild mix, remembering that most packets will thickly sow an area measuring only 2 feet by 2 feet.

Don't apply a mulch layer to this garden, since it would smother the seeds. A -inch-thick scattering of herbicide-free fresh grass clippings would be a wonderful way to help keep the soil damp between your daily hand-waterings. After two weeks, progress to 1-hour-long weekly deep watering using a dial-type sprinkler for small garden areas.

Here are the recommended seeds:

Sweet Alyssum: white.

Anchusa (Cape Forget-Me-Not): sapphire blue.

Cosmos sulphurea: yellow, orange; heat-tolerant.

California poppie: silky tangerine-gold.

Calendula: yellow and orange.

Larkspur: deep blue and purple.

Shirley poppie: pastel pink and white.

Bachelor's button: blue and purple.

Cleome: white, pink and purple; very tall.

Edible flax seed (from a health-food store): sky blue.

Scarlet flax: crimson red.

Lavatera: shell pink.

Annual baby's breath: white.

"Blue Ensign" bush morning glory: deep blue.

Dwarf sunflower: burnt orange and yellow.

Four o'clock: white, red, yellow, magenta; tall-growing, heat-tolerant.

Annual phlox: pink, mauve, red and white.

Black-eyed Susan: yellow and dark brown.

Corn poppie: bright red.

Gaillardia: deep orange and rusty red.

You'll see your first blooms about 6 weeks after sowing the seeds, and you'll have steady color until summer heat and humidity nuke nearly all of them.

Next fall and winter, revitalize your soil and plant a new cool-weather flower meadow for months of old-fashioned charm and hassle-free color. Just imagine the bouquets awaiting you!

- John A. Starnes Jr. is an avid gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for the diverse regions of Florida and Colorado. He can be reached at the.garden-doctor@worldnet.att.net.

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