Open Source Seed Initiative


OSSI flags april 17 2014 event

Photo by Jack Kloppenburg

Have you purchased a plant and found that the label says it is illegal to propagate the plant? Illegal to make cuttings, divisions, or to to save seed? Increasingly, when plant varieties are being patented, making it illegal for a customer to get them without purchasing them from a certain company.

A separate issue affecting gardeners who want to save seeds is the increase in the market of F1 hybrid varieties. These are bred to display a certain set of desirable traits in the first generation, but not in subsequent generations. There is no law against saving F1 hybrid seed to grow, but if you do so, the positive traits will break apart in the next generation (the F2), some appearing in some offspring, others in other offspring. A certain number of the plants that grow from the seed won't have any of the positive traits of the first generation.

Older plant varieties, the so-called "heirlooms," are not F1 hybrids. This is because throughout human history, farmers and gardeners didn't know how to breed plants to create those hybrids. They just saved seeds from their best plants from year to year. (Another word for these non-hybrids is open pollinated. So all heirloom seed is open-pollinated.) The heirloom seed movement has been finding these old varieties and selling them through their seed catalogs. 

Besides this salvaging of old varieties, certain plant breeders, university researchers or public-minded private individuals, have been breeding new open pollinated varieties with positive traits that rival the hybrids. They may "grow out" a hybrid, saving the best seed from several post-F1 hybrid generations until they obtain seed that will stably reproduce the best traits of that hybrid. Or they may make crosses themselves, transferring pollen of a plant onto the female part of the flower of another, hoping to create offspring with the best traits of both parents.

In my San Francisco Chronicle column of January, 2016, I reported on some open-pollinated sweet corn varieties that carry the supersweet gene of some hybrids. Then, in my July column, I reported on some new open-pollinated vegetable varieties that will be useful in cooler gardens near the coast. (You can access my column at, with a search for Pam Peirce.)

However, in my research to locate these new varieties, I came across a new initiative that gardeners should know about. This is the Open Source Seed Initiative. Some of the new breeders of open-pollinated varieties are registering them with this initiative. By doing so, they are stating that they will not patent the seed of the variety, nor can it, or other varieties that are bred from it to be patented. Here is their logo:



You will start to see this logo in seed catalogs. If you are viewing a catalog online, you will often have the option of sorting the offerings to just show the ones registered with the Open Source Seed Initiative. You can also read more about the organization that registers the varieties at

One of my favorite varieties covered by the initiative is 'Flashy Butter Oak' lettuce. It is a looseleaf lettuce with broad, oakleaf-type leaves, speckled with maroon. I find it to be sweet and nonbitter even when it is mature and about to form seed, and that it grows well in cold or warmer weather. (I garden in San Francisco, so my definition of warm is not what it would be inland.)

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Photo by Pam Peirce

This lettuce was selected or bred by Frank Morton of Lupine Knoll Farm at Grant's Pass Oregon. At my last reading of catalogs, you could buy seed at Bountiful Gardens (, Territorial Seed Company (, or Wild Garden Seed Company ( (I have also been saving seed to donate to the Seed Library at the Potrero Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, but they will not always have it, as my donations may not be large enough to meet the need.)

Frank Morton has released several other nice open-pollinated varieties, several of which are under the Open Source Seed Initiative, and you will see his name listed next to his  varieties in seed catalogs. So that you can have a face to associate with these varieties, I offer his photo, collecting lettuce seed. Thanks Frank!

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Photo by Karen Morton





A Shout Out for Nichols Garden Nursery Seed Company

               When I first arrived in San Francisco, many years ago, living in a rented flat, wanting to plant a few vegetables in a neighbor's yard. I discovered the Nichols Garden Nursery herb and rare seed catalog. They had everything I needed to try out my new climate and microclimate. They are still there, still carry old and new favorites, and now, of course, they are also on the web.  

               Located in Western Oregon, the nursery is experienced with cool summers, especially with cool summer nights. In their catalog I discovered many varieties that were to become staples over the years. They had purple-podded bush beans, which are your best bet to grow regular garden beans in near-coastal microclimates because they germinate well in cold soil. If those worked in a particular location, then I tried 'Roma II', a bush romano bean, the kind with broad, flat pods and a buttery texture. If the garden was too chilly for the purple bush beans, then I knew I had better plant Scarlet Runner beans, because they are, as the Nichols catalog states, "an excellent cool weather variety." If I had great success with the Roma II beans, it was time to try some regular pole beans, like 'Goldmarie', a yellow-podded pole romano or old standby 'Kentucky Wonder Pole'.

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Left to right: Scarlet Runner climbing bean, 'Royalty Purple-Podded Bush Bean, and 'Goldmarie' yellow-podded pole Romano bean.

               Nichols still carries all of these bean varieties, all open pollinated, all heirlooms, and many more. And they still carry 'Early Sunglow' corn, a variety listed at 62 days to maturity. It succeeds in milder San Francisco neighborhoods, taking 90 days due to the cool microclimate, but still allowing two plantings a summer--one in May and another in July. That second planting comes out in mid-October, right before the usuals start of the rainy season. The stalks are short, but bear 2 ears. The ears are smaller than supermarket corn, but worth it for the chance to eat fresh, fresh, corn-on-the-cob.

               They also still carry overwintering cole crops like 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli, the beautiful and the delicious 'January King' cabbage. And many kinds of kale, including two packets of kale mixes that let you see the wonderful diversity of this nutritious leafy green.

               It was also the place I first found 'Stupice' tomatoes, early and tasty in cool summers. They carry 'Early Girl', 'Green Zebra', and 'Oregon Spring', all of which have borne fruit well in my Mission District community garden. And they have kept up with the times, now the sweet golden cherries 'Sungold', and offering late blight resistant 'Jasper' cherry and larger-fruited 'Mountain Magic'.

               There are many other choice varieties in this catalog that I discovered since I first saw it. They have sweet, orange cherry tomato 'Sungold', reliable and early 'Snow Crown' cauliflower, the choice color-mix 'Bright Lights' chard, striped and ribbed heirloom zucchini 'Costata Romanesco', red-splashed and long-bearing 'Flashy Butter Oak' lettuce, and 'Bull's Blood' beets, the red leaves of which seem not to interest leafminers in my garden.

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'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard

               They have also kept up with the issues of the day when it comes to garden seeds. They signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which promises they will not carry seed that is transgenic or genetically engineered. They have also joined the brand new Open Source Seed movement, offering many of the varieties that are pledged never to be patented, keeping seed these open-pollinated varieties available for seedsaving and further selection by gardeners and farmers.

               The first page that attracted me to Nichols was the "New and Unusual Vegetables" page. Here I found the uncommon crop, the surprises, unusual varieties and little-known crops. Many unusual crops are also in the rest of the catalog. They have 5 varieties of hops roots, 4 kinds of potato starts, walking onion bulbs, seed for the exquisitely flavored herb, Shiso, 'Lemon Gem' edible marigold, 3 varieties of Quinoa, miner's lettuce, magenta-leaved orach, and Tromboncino climbing summer squash.

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Walking Onion is a scallion (green onion) that propagates by stem-top bulblets.

I have only ordered seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, but they sell many other products, from essential herb oils, herbal teas, and 2 kinds of sourdough starters to ingredients and equipment for making beer cheese and wine.

               Nichols Garden Nursery is a family-owned business founded in 1950 by Nick and Edith Nichols and run currently by their daughter Rose Marie Nchols McGee. They are located at 1190  Old Salem Road, in Albany, Oregon. At their brick and mortar nursery, they sell herb plants and seasonal seedlings, including many specialty plants they don't sell through the mail. You just missed their annual Plant Day, with the traditional serving of Lavendar/Ginger ice cream, but it is the Saturday after Mother's Day, in case you are planning a trip through Oregon next spring.

               The website of Nichols Garden Nursery is Pay it a visit and discover a treasure for our west coast gardens.

A New Protector Against Burrowing Animals

This spring I found that a burrowing animal was eating plants, roots and tops, in my small front garden. I know it was not a mole, because moles don't eat plants, just insects and earthworms. Could have been a gopher, but by the amount it ate in a night, I thought maybe something smaller, maybe a RAT! (The rats that burrow are called sewer rats; the ones that don't, roof rats. Rats have burrowed in my backyard before so this seemed a good guess.)

Whatever it was, my Chinese forget-me-nots, the ones I grew lovingly from seed and transplanted into the garden, were disappearing night by night. Then whatever it was started in on the primroses I just bought and set out, and the large 'Moonglow' yellow yarrow was losing branches, then roots. Then it ate most of the tops off of two x kellereri yarrows!  These were divisions of my original plant-which is one of my favorites. Something had to happen.

I dug out all of the yarrow, both 'Moonglow' and  Kellereri, and what was left of the primroses and put them all in pots on the back porch. Then I cleared away and found the place the varmint had blocked up the opening of its burrow. I dug it out, exposing the hole. The varmint had replugged it the next morning. I repeated. It repeated. I repeated. After many repeats, over several days, I decided I had to escalate. I have heard that water down the burrow can discourage a burrowing pest, but doubted it in a large garden, but in my 10 x 12 foot front garden, maybe it would work. I wanted to tell the varmint that this was not a good place for a home, before it ate everything left there. At this point about a quarter of the tiny space was a wreck. My husband was beginning to ask whether maybe I should be looking for a trap. I said hold on, let's see if this works.

So, the next day, I dug the plug out again, got the hose, attached a jet nozzle, and put it down the hole. Turned on the water. Most of it stayed in the hole. But the next say, the plug was back.

Over the course of a week or so, I dug out the burrow plug 8 or 10 times, used the hose 3 times. And then the varmint stopped replugging the hole. 

During the battle, I decided to replant a couple of plants in gopher baskets. And here is where my problem led to a discovery that will be useful to other gardeners. When I went over to San Francisco's Flowercraft nursery, they offered me a new kind of basket, made of a soft stainless steel wire mesh. So this is what I have used, and have written about it in my May 8th, 2016 SF Chronicle column.They are called Grow Master Baskets. To learn more about them and see who sells them, see or call 530-751-3366.

These baskets are less expensive than the old kind, easier to handle, and come in many sizes.  The company suggests fitting a basket over the rootball like a glove, but I have used baskets that are a bit larger than present rootballs, spreading the baskets in a wider planting hole, and putting some soil in them, then setting the plants in the soil.That way the plant has room to grow more roots and still be protected.

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'Moonglow' yarrow plant in a Grow Master anti-gopher basket

When I first used the basket, the varmint was still active. Because I had used a somewhat larger basket than the rootball, there was enough of it to roll up over the plant and secure with some plant-tie that I ran through some of the openings in the mesh. This protected the top of the plant as well as the roots while it got re-established, and while I figured out what to do next.

But now I have uncovered all of the protected plants. The 'Moonglow' yarrow is about to bloom. The x kellereri yarrows are still recovering in pots, but they shall return. And one Chinese forget-me-not survived to bloom beautifully!



Peppers Leafing Out After Winter

In the post I wrote about Peridot pepper, I said it was not leafing out again in spring, and that I thought it would not be a perennial plant in San Francisco. But perhaps I spoke too soon.

As background, I should say that even common garden peppers, the ones in the species Capsicum annuum, are perennials in a tropical enough climate. I have overwintered them in San Francisco. They lost their leaves, but did leaf out moderately well and bore a small crop the second summer. They were not as productive as in the first summer, and since in San Francisco, they weren't hugely productive the first year, I decided overwintering them wasn't worth the trouble.

One species pepper is fully perennial here. That is the rocata pepper, in the species Capsicum pubescens. It keeps almost all of its leaves over the winter, and, with moderate pruning of damaged branches, keeps right on going in the spring. The peppers are usually very hot, though some varieties have fruit that is milder when it is green. Plants are  shrubs, up to 6 feet tall in milder parts of SF.

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This is what Rocata pepper looks like. It keeps most of its leaves all winter, just needs light pruning in spring.

Peridot peppers are in the species Capsicum baccatum. They grow in the lower elevations of the Andes, where nights are cool, so they can bear a crop in cooler Bay Area sites. And they are a sweet pepper, with only a flash of heat now and then. (See earlier post on Peridot pepper for more photos and details.)

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Peridot Peppers bear in September and October then lose most of their leaves in winter.

I also grew a second variety of C. baccatum last year, which had long fruit, similarly mild, that ripened to orange. I thought it might be Aji Amarillo, the hot pepper often used in ceviche in South America, but apparently not. (Aji Amarillo seems to be a shorter pepper, in addition to being fiery hot.) From looking at web descriptions of C. baccatum varieties, I think I grew Peru Long Orange. The fruit reached 7 inches long, the plant was five feet tall, and it bore very late, into November and December. (It was great to have peppers in winter.)

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This is the one I call Peru Long Orange, before the fruit turns orange.

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Here is how it looks in winter if you leave it on to ripen. Notice the leaves are becoming yellowish.

So now its spring. I left the plants in, to see what would happen. First, a fine, deep green shoot emerged at the base of the Long Orange plant. Then little shoots appeared here and there on that plant as well as on the Peridot. The best, most vigorous, shoots were often lower on the branches, not at their ends. I began a careful pruning program, cutting branches back just above strong shoots. That is, I was letting the plant leaf out first, to guide me as to where to cut. I also worked some aged manure into the soil near the plants (I had turkey manure.) to give them a boost.

By May the Peru Long Orange plant has become quite leafy, lots of big, dark green leaves. It is a foot or two shorter than it was, due to my pruning, but growing nicely. The Peridot shoots are not quite as vigorous (and I don't have a good photo of it yet). Perhaps the fact that Peridot bears fruit earlier in the season is related to its being slightly less able to recover from winter. However, it is too soon to tell whether either plant will bear a good crop this year. I'll let you know.

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Peru Long Orange leafing out in the second year, shown in late April.

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Close-up shot of Peru Long Orange leaves in second year, showing their healthy size and color, and a pruning cut (center)

I must say, however, that plants in a friend's garden are not leafing out as well. The Long Orange in that garden was cut back heavily, before it began to grow new leaves, so perhaps this was an error. The Peridot in that garden was allowed to hold onto much of its ripe fruit through the winter, so perhaps it used up too much energy ripening seeds to have much left for regrowing. (I ate most of my Peridot peppers green, finding the flavor nicer than when it was red, and took off the last fruits in about December.)

I have put in new plants of each, next to the old plants, and will be comparing their performance, to try to decide it is worthwhile to overwinter these plants.

Annie's Annuals, grew both kinds of C. baccatum this spring, and even offer Aji Amarillo. If anyone grows any of these plants and has new info to impart, please send a comment.

I'm Still in the Chronicle Once a Month

If you are a reader of my column in the SF Chronicle, you will have noticed that it has not been running on the first Sunday of each month. Since the start of the year, in some months it has been postponed until the second Sunday. They hope to return to more predicatability. I hope for it as well.

I have curtailed material on one-day gardening events, in fear that the event will be over before the column appears, but am still writing timely gardening tips, book reviews, and Q&A segments that will appear in the Chronicle once a month. This month I am told that the column will appear on May 8th.

At the end of this week, I will be posting more information here on the battle I just won with some burrowing, plant-eating animal--a gopher or a rat. It was during this battle that I discovered the new solution for protecting plant roots I described in the upcoming column.

Also, later this week, I will post photos of my overwintered Capsicum baccatum pepper plants. They are leafing out pretty well, but I have put in new plants as backup and for comparison. I will compare crop size and earliness this fall and see if it was worth it to overwinter the plants. In the meantime, see the post on Peridot peppers and be aware that Annie's Annuals has Peridot Pepper plants this spring in case you want to try them.

Happy Gardening!

Bay Area Citrus in Great Danger

If you have citrus trees in your garden, or know someone who does, listen up. A pest insect that has wiped out half of the citrus crop in Florida is spreading in California and has reached the Bay Area. Last year, a new quarantine area was created in the San Jose region, because the pest was found in trees there. Now the most recent quarantine area covers the northern peninsula and a swath of the southern part of San Francisco.

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Lemons on a Healthy Lemon Tree in San Francisco

The insect itself will not kill the tree, but it often carries a deadly disease, and if a particular individual insect is carrying that disease, it will infect the tree while it is feeding. And then there is no cure. Other Asian citrus psyllids will pick up the disease from that infected tree, and will spread it.

So far, none of the insects found in our region have been carrying the disease, but it seems like only a matter of time till one does. Scientists are looking for a cure, or a way to breed resistance to the disease into citrus trees, and would like to buy as much time as they can by keeping the problem in as small an area as possible.

What to do? Inspect your trees. Spring is a good time to do it, since it is a time when there is much active growth on citrus. Look carefully at as many of the growing tips, with their small, new leaves, as you can. The insect, which is called the Asian Citrus Psyllid, or ACP, lays very small yellow-orange eggs in new growth. They will be easier to see with a magnifying glass. The eggs hatch into yellow nymphs that average sesame seed-sized. They are also distinctive in having long, white "tubules" with bulbous ends that extend from their bodies. The adults are aphid-like, mottled browns, and stand with their rear in the air, heads down, sucking sap.

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Nymphs

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Adult Feeding on Citrus Leaf

If you find the insect on your tree, and are not in an area already quarantined, you should call the California Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Exotic Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899. If you are within  the quarantine area already, you should try to kill the pest.

To see an interactive map of the quarantined areas and more photos and learn the best ways to control the pest, see the following UC  website:

Also, be sure to buy citrus only from responsible sources. (Major citrus tree growers are now growing trees for the market only in covered production areas that the pest can't get into.) Don't accept plants, cuttings, or grafting material from other gardeners.

And if you are in a quarantined area, don't take any leafy branches outside of it. (You can share your fruit outside of the quarantined area if it doesn't have any stems or leaves attached.)

The insect can also infest some plants that are related to edible citrus, like calamondin (xCitrofortunella microcarpa), box orange (Severinia buxifolia), orange jessamine or orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), and Indian curry leaf (Murraya koenigii). They should also be inspected and are subject to the same quarantine rules.

The disease we are trying to avoid, and that I hope we never see, is Huanglongbing, or HLB. It is also known as yellow shoot or yellow dragon disease. The leaves of infected trees have yellow blotches, usually starting in one section of the tree. The blotches don't look like most nutritional deficiencies in that they cross the leaf veins, and are often arranged asymmetrically on the leaf. Fruit develops unevenly, asymmetrically, ripens poorly, with little juice and a bitter flavor. The disease will kill the tree. If it appears, the only recourse at this time is to remove the infected tree before the disease spreads to other ones.

So let's get out there and look now, before it's too late!

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Yellow-blotched Leaves of a Citrus Tree Infected with HLB Disease.

Peridot Pepper--A Mild Pepper for Coastal Gardens

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This week's Chronicle column, the one that ran on February 6, 2016, introduced Peridot peppers, a different species of peppers than the common garden peppers. Most of our peppers are Capsicum annuum, but Peridot peppers are Capsicum baccatum. These are South American peppers, and some of them are from higher elevations, in the Andes. At these elevations, the day and night-time temperatures are lower, so the plants are better adapted to our region's cooler summer temperatures. Peppers in this species range from mild to very hot, and share a flavor that is called "fruity, almost citrusy."

A famous Capsicum baccatum variety is the Aji Amarillo. a very hot pepper that matures to an orange color. Annie's Annuals offers plants of this variety. It is traditionally used in ceviche, a raw fish salad.

Peridot is not so hot, in fact it is quite mild if you remove the seeds and internal white ribs. Though I use hot peppers, I was delighted to be able to grow a mild one in SF. I enjoyed the flavor they added to a mixed salad and also used them in a Southwestern corn salad.

The fruits of Peridot are of an interesting shape, oval, but with several wide wings that make the pepper wider than long. The plants reach four feet tall, are V-shaped, or flaring, with 30 to 50 peppers per plant. They set late and ripen into fall. Because the plant is so large, it would be stunted by all but a very large pot, say 18" deep. My plant has survived into February, but does not look as though it will be able to recover and bear fruit a second year. That is, unlike Rocata pepper, Capsicum pubescens, I don't think it will be perennial here.

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 Annie's Annuals should have plenty of Peridot pepper plants this spring (2016). They sell at their nursery as well as by mail order from

I didn't locate any commercial seed source for Perido peppers. I found seed for two varieties that are C. baccatum, and have similar-looking fruit, but both are probably hotter and they seem to grow on plants with different habits than Peridot. The seed I found was for Christmas Bell Hot Pepper, from Reimer Seeds (they say the plants grow to 20 inches tall) and Brazilian Starfish, from Baker Creek Seeds (said to grow on a weeping, almost vine-like plant).

Bay Area Rose Pruning Clases January 2016

    I prepared the following list of rose pruning workshops for my January, 2016 column, which was to run on January 3, but it did not. Then it was to run on January 10, too late for Jan. 9-10 workshops, but at least helpful for the rest of the month. But it was dropped from my column. So here it is, in hopes that it might help at least a few people learn to prune their roses. While any pruning demonstration will help you learn the techniques you need, if you want some first-hand experience, note especially the hands-on pruning experiences, in San Mateo's Central Park January 16, and in the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden every Saturday for the rest of January and the first half of February.

Is Your Future Rosy?

Love roses? Learn rose pruning and care at classes or hands-on workshops taking place in January around our region. Free unless otherwise noted.

Berkeley: Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Ave.,, 510-526-4704; Rose Pruning Classes: Saturdays, January 9 and 23 at 10 AM.

Cupertino: Yamigami Nursery, 1361 S. DeAnza Blvd.,, 408-252-3347; Winter Rose Care Classes: Saturday, January 9 at 10 AM, Sunday January 17 at 11 AM. (20% off coupon for day of class included)

Marin: Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Marin Rose Society,, 415-457-6045; Annual Pruning Demonstration: Tuesday, January 12, 7:30 PM. (nonmembers $5.00)

San Jose: Guadalupe River Park Heritage Rose Garden, 412 Seymour St.,, 510-526-4704 (Volunteer Coordinator Jessica Gonzales); Supervised Pruning: Wednesdays and Saturdays, January to mid-February, 8:30-11:30 AM. (Bypass shears and leather gloves provided.)

San Mateo: Central Park Arboretum, 50 East 5th Ave.,, 650-579-0536 x3; Rose Pruning Symposium: Sunday January 10, 1-3 PM, $15 ($10 for members, reservation required)

Help Prune Central Park's Rose Garden: Saturday, January 16, 10-Noon. (Instruction included--bring shears and gloves.)

San Francisco:

Rose Garden, Golden Gate Park, Pruning Demonstration by the S.F. Rose Society: Jan 9, 10 AM-1 PM (or January 16 in case of rain).  

Flowercraft Garden Center, 550 Bayshore Blvd,, 415-824-1900; Rose Clinics: January 16 and 17, 11 AM-Noon, February 13 and 14, 11 AM -Noon.

Controlled Chaos: Welcoming Self-Seeded Plants Into Your Garden

In this month's SF Chronicle column (which will appear December 13, 2015) I reviewed a book called Cultivating Chaos: How to Enrich Landscapes with Self-seeding Plants. Every vegetable gardener knows that some vegetables self-seed in gardens. The mustard or arugula we didn't pull out before they set seed, the last beans, hiding in the foliage until they ripen and drop, the parsnip we let bloom to attract beneficial insects. These all will result in little surprises in the following year. With our long California seasons, with plenty of time for seeds to ripen, we probably see more volunteer crop seedlings than would gardeners in short-summer climates.

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(Self-seeded arugula with Daffodils, in February. A free salad green that decorates the garden until you eat it up.)

               What do we do about it? Depending on our needs, we may let the volunteer grow and eat it. Or, if it is in the way, we may move it, or if that isn't possible, because it will not transplant well, or if we have too many seedlings of it, we pull it out. No problem. We usually kind of like it that nature has given us something we might eat without having to sow the seed. So it is a short leap to enjoying volunteers in our flower gardens.

               The Cultivating Chaosbook is a celebration of ornamental plants that grow from naturally dropped seed, as opposed to seed we replant each year. It will be an inspiration to those who want to have a truly beautiful ornamental garden that embraces some of these plants. It includes many photos of handsome gardens or parts of gardens using self-sowing plants, tips on using them well in gardens, and a plant encyclopedia to illustrate and discuss the merits of a number of plant candidates.

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(I shot this image at Annie's Annuals. This nursery, in Richmond, CA, is a good source of plants that will reseed, such as these red poppies. They are at

                Here I must acknowledge that some gardeners are afraid of self-seeding plants. It has been a fashion recently to plant home gardens that are like the gardens of a commercial establishment in that the plants have been chosen to grow slowly, need little pruning, and stay put. A thick mulch is applied to keep weeds down, and any wayward seeds usually perish in the mulch. It's called low-maintenance gardening, and I suppose it is, but oh, how I would miss the serendipity of an old-fashioned garden flower bed.

               The authors of Cultivating Chaos understand that one does not want a garden to be 100% chaos. They say the trick to creating a pleasing garden design with self-seeding flowers is to contrast their relative chaos with "clearly defined architectural forms and areas of quiet that are the result of traditional garden planning."

               Yes! I knew this when I decided what I wanted in my own garden. It needed enough structure created by hardscape that some of the planted areas could be more random (or chaotic), with only an occasional formal row of some plant to add a modicum of order. Broken concrete and used bricks create low retaining walls and a patio, with some paths made of concrete pavers or decomposed granite. Now I have to decide how much self-sowing to allow. I have learned, as did the authors of Cultivating Chaos, that much of what goes on to manage the potential chaos is removal of unwanted seedlings.

               Removing self-seeding plants is weeding, really, but what you remove is often, and, as the process continues, more often, a flower rather than a true weed. (If there is bare earth, and even if there is a mulch, really, there will be weeds. So one might as well be weeding out flower seedlilngs as weedy plants with no ornamental value.)

               I must say here that my book, Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, features a number of self-seeding ornamentals that thrive in our regional microclimates. I grow many of these in my own garden--including columbine, blue nigella Kenilworth ivy, feverfew, linaria, cineraria, nasturtium, Johnny-jump-up, and California poppy. I do buy plants and seed, but I depend on self-sowers to fill in between them and bloom each year without having to be purchased or sown.(And I also have volunteer parsley, chervil, arugula, potatoes, an occasional parsnip.)

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(A self-seeded Alpine strawberry, golden feverfew, purple cineraria, and columbine fill in this corner of my garden.)

               And, as I said earlier, many gardeners are afraid of self-sowers, so they are afraid of my book. A sad fact, since they are losing access to so much useful information, including information on which of the featured plants are deer tolerant, snail tolerant, drought tolerant (most), or attractive to humming birds.

             The book Cultivating Chaos skips lightly over potential problems and over the chance of plants escaping into wildlands. However, in Wildly Successful Plants, I don't skip these hard parts, but have delved into them thoroughly so that a gardener can make decisions that are responsible for our region and for an individual garden.

               One of the main principles of responsibility is that plants act differently in different regions. I was surprised to find lady's mantle (Alchimella mollis) listed in Cultivating Chaos as a self-seeder, as it has never done that in my garden. Nor has blanket flower (Gaillardia). On the other hand, they say that Mexican daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) can be expected to self-sow only in dry locations with sandy soil. Here, in a dry summer Mediterranean climate, that plant reproduces like crazy (though the variety 'Spindrift', mentioned in Wildly Successful Plants, is said not to produce seed.)

               There is also a question of whether a plant could become a wildland weed. Again, only a paragraph of warning in Cultivating Chaos, but a careful analysis in Wildly Successful Plants. My analysis is possible in part because I am writing about a specific region, whereas Cultivating Chaos, which was written by Germans and which tries to be more universal in coverage, can't deal with the fact that fennel and ox-eye daisy, which they recommend, are nasty weeds here, while lady's mantle, as I mentioned, doesn’t seem to self sow at all.

BY Coast poppies IMG_1724 copy

(California poppies are featured in both Cultivating Chaos and Wildly Successful Plants, but I've explained in Wildly Successful Plants that the native in the Central California Coast region is this two-toned variety.

               To be a wildland weed, incidentally, a plant needs not only to self-sow, but to be able to compete in regional undisturbed or lightly disturbed wildland habitats. This ability varies by plant and by region, and I've analyzed it carefully before suggesting each plant in Wildly Successful Plants.

               The strength of the book Cultivating Chaos lies not in its analysis of using self-sowing plants responsibly, but in its photos. They give design ideas that will inspire you to want a bit of chaos in your garden. There are all-the-same-color flower plantings and ones with bold contrasting color schemes; informal gardens with only paths through the self-sown beds; and gardens in which chaos plays against formal hedges and hardscape. There are self-sowers peeking up through pavers and ornamenting dry-stone walls. There are photos of plants that have formed handsome seedpods, backlit to show their edges. The photos make me want to create ever more lovely self-seeded chaos in my garden.

Full bibliographic Info:

Cultivating Chaos: How to Enrich Landscapes with Self-Seeding Plants, Jonas Reif, Christian Kress, with photos by Jürgen Becker, Timber Press, 2015.

Wildly Successful Plants Northern California, Pam Peirce, with photos by David Goldberg, Sasquatch Books, 2004.

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(Seedpods of some common self-seeding flowers.)

Overwintering Vegetable Crops: Seed Sources

California gardeners who live in mild winter climates (all but the Sierra foothills and mountains), can grow overwintering types of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. We may also be looking for varieties of some other crops that grow well in our winter months. For example, some lettuce varieties handle cold better than others. In addition, if you live in a coastal part of California, you will want to locate vegetable varieties that will thrive in cool summers. For the widest choice of varieties, you can start them from seed.  In my book Golden Gate Gardening, I have described many of the best overwintering and cool-tolerant varieties, given sources for seed, and included a chapter explaining when and how to start seedlings. Following is a short list of some of our best mail order seed companies for regionally adapted varieties, and two local stores that sell seed from some of these otherwise mail order companies.

Yr frost 0299697-R01-008 copyOverwintering 'Purple Sprouting' Broccoli

Bountiful Gardens  Bountiful Gardens Web Site

Kitazawa Seed Company  Kitazawa Web Site

Niichols Garden Nursery   Nichols Web Site

Territorial Seed Company  Territorial Web Site

Two East Bay stores offer seeds from some of these seed companies:

Pollinate Farm and Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, 510-686-3493

Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, 1310 McGee Avenue, Berkeley, 510-526-4704