Seeds always make me nervous, but I occasionally plant them all the same. It is always a great surprise when they sprout.
This year, feeling I have wrongly ignored annuals for too long, I got out the Thompson and Morgan catalogue, which is a dreadful temptation since they seem to have seeds of everything in the world.
After prayerful thought I have limited myself to a scant handful of annuals, but I really do like moonflowers and never have any confidence that my home-saved seeds will germinate. This dandy tropical vine (listed sometimes as Calonyction and sometimes as Ipomea) has great white saucers that open at night on hot summer days, fading soon after sunrise. They remind me of the Tennessee-Mississippi border country where I grew up, and although the summers up here are not so warm as there, still they are warm enough for the moonflowers. You plant the seeds about May 1, since the plants refuse to budge until warm settled weather comes.
Another white flower I hate to be without is the cleome called 'Helen Campbell.' The cleome or spider flower is a good sturdy weed with showy flowers and it grows easily from seed -- you don't have to be a very good gardener to raise a fine crop. The typical cleome is light magenta in two or three tints, but the white one is solid white and extremely handsome.
It is coarse, but reliable, and when well grown (that is, full sun and plenty of water) it reaches shoulder height and provides great masses of white the second half of the summer. If one has ground to cover, the cleome will do it.
Nothing is more annoying than looking in a seed catalogue and discovering the wretched firm does not list the white cleome, but only the ordinary magenta one, or "mixed." Which means growing a whole batch of different off-colors to find, eventually, a few whites among them.
So as I say this year I am quite ahead of the game and have ordered the white Helen from Thompson and Morgan, not wishing to face the annual spring disappointment of not finding it on the local seed racks.
Another annual I ordered is Limnanthes douglasii, which has the elegant common name of Fried Eggs. The plant hugs the ground, only a couple of inches high, making a nice little mat, dotted all over with flowers about the size of a nickel, maybe even a quarter, which are bright full yellow with a white rim.
Nothing is prettier than yellow and white together, and I am assured by someone who grows this pretty annual very well that any fool can grow it.
So I have hope.
One of the prettiest trouble-free combinations I ever saw was also of mat-formers, the blue Convolvulus mauritanicus and the pinkish Erigeron mucronatus. They tangle together nicely and bloom week after week. The handsomest examples I ever saw were on stone walls on the island of Jersey and in the Scilly Isles of southwestern England.
Well thus far I have not found plants or seeds of the little blue morning glory (flowers the size of nickels) so I have hit on a more brilliant blue flower, Anagallis linifolia. Any fool is supposed to be able to grow it, though I never have. It is probably too intense a blue -- rather like an electric gentian, instead of the soft gray-blue of the morning glory -- but I shall give it a try and see if it does well with the Erigeron. The common name for the little Erigeron is fleabane, and I might add it did nothing for the hound's fleas, though perhaps I didn't know how to apply it. In any case, of course I have always grown it for its flowers, not its flea-dispelling properties anyway.
The fleabane grows in narrow cracks in massive stone walls, so I sowed it (in past years) in poor shallow soil, and it grew and bloomed, but I now see I did this wrong. I have read the plant has a tap root, so that although it grows in cracks among stones, it does like a good depth. It comes from Mexico and is not very hardy, but theoretically it sows itself about and you never have to worry about it. Mine, however, dies out every year -- I have not yet found the right place where it can wedge itself down and establish good deep roots.
Over the years people keep telling me good tidings of a particular toadflax called Kenilworth Ivy. You find it listed under Linaria in seed catalogues. I have grown a good many linarias but never this particular one. It hangs over the edge of tubs, or grows out of cracks in walls, like the fleabane and morning glory mentioned earlier. The linaria has tiny lavender flowers over a long period in summer, and it too seeds itself freely once you have it.
Since these are all foolproof annuals -- though one learns to distrust the assurances of other gardeners that absolutely anybody can grow this or that -- I expect to have a few flowers this summer.