My petunias are blooming from seed dropped by plants of last summer, and to my sorrow they are fancy ones, dark purple with white margins. I had hoped they'd be the semiwild kind, off-white, off-pink and off-lavender, the kind you see blooming in alleys; from which I collected plenty of seed and sprinkled about.
Why it is so hard for me to get the nice weedy petunias going I have no idea, but some day success will come.
Poppies are other plants that never come from seed when I plant them. Usually if you have a clump of them growing well, the garden is full of seedlings in later years. Why they come up like mustard from self-sown seeds but not from seed packets, no matter when they are planted, is a mystery to me.
I am not sure I mentioned the great Bulgarian mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum, of which I have one plant that sprouted from self-sown seed. These mulleins last bloomed in the garden four years ago. The seed has been sitting around in the earth since then.
Often when the earth is disturbed (from digging) some surprising things sprout. The seeds have been there, dormant, sometimes for many years. You would think they would rot, but they abide patiently until conditions are right and they have a chance.
This mullein is the most beautiful I know; its flower stem can reach 10 feet or more, though mine were usually about 6 or 7. The flowers are not especially fine, just yellow dabs along the stalk, but the plant is silver-white. The bloom stalk is furry, white, like the rosette of basal leaves that are the glory of the plant. They are whiter than any other mullein, and in a reasonable winter (they will collapse and sulk in zero temperatures) they are agreeable to look at all through the cold season.
This plant seeds heavily and you can always rely on plenty of little mulleins the next year. Except once in a great while there are none, and you wish you had saved seeds. This year I shall save some in an envelope and sow them myself, not counting on the plant to perpetuate itself, even though it usually does.
I have a few lilies in bloom that were supposed to be the true 'George C. Creelman,' that were supposed to be raised virus-free, through one of those modern techniques. Unfortunately all six of the plants I bought are different, so they can hardly be the true clone. I suppose they are seedlings, which is not the same thing at all, as children are not the same thing as a famous parent.
The Potomac Lily Society will hold its yearly show 2 to 5 June 21 and 11 to 5 June 22, in the administration building of the National Arboretum. The show is free.
Most gardeners now grow hybrid lilies -- garden varieties derived from wild species. They are handsome enough, and fairly reliable garden plants. But I hope anyone beginning to go mad for lilies (it is a neurosis most gardeners go through at some point; I was much afflicted in the early 1950s and bought a number of bulbs from the late Jan DeGraaff, who did so much to make lilies popular in America) will grow as many of the wild species as he can. Often the more difficult lilies are easier for beginners than for old addicts, since diseases have not built up in the garden. I well remember my triumph with Lilium langkongense, a superb clump in front of Rosa glauca. Until it died out it was a great ornament.
An extremely easy lily, as foolproof as any, that I do not see very often nowadays is Lilium henryii, an orange-apricot robust sort of beast that reaches 7 feet or so and is a mass of bloom from many stems. It is a parent or great-grandparent of many hybrid lilies.
I see the old variety 'Bright Star' is back in commerce. It is one of the descendants of Henryi that I grew a few decades ago when it was new. Very robust, white with a yellow-apricot center, rather gappy in the petals as the name suggests. I used to grow 'Theodore A. Havemeyer,' which liked iron poles to hold it up, since it reached 10 or 12 feet and had scores of apricot blooms like a rocket shower. It died away completely in the space of two years, though for some years it grew like a weed and provided quarts of bulbs to give away. These Aurelian hybrids agree in having robust constitutions. At least as long as they live at all, they are vigorous.
One of the best yellow trumpet lilies I ever grew was an unnamed seedling in the old Golden Clarion strain. In a strain (raised from seeds, not propagated from scales) there can be much variation among individuals, and this one was glorious. It was overgrown by an unduly vigorous plant of the floribunda rose 'The Fairy,' which I did not cut back, since I noticed the lily increased in vigor every year and rammed its way through the thorny growth.
I am not much of a lily type now, but my hunch is that almost all lilies like more shade than we usually give them.