This morning I sowed the seeds of Ricinus communis, Ipomoea and Mina lobata that I remembered to put to soak yesterday morning before setting off for London. I had a session in the greenhouse sowing other things on Wednesday, but when I looked at the seed packets of these three I found I was supposed to soak them for twenty-four hours first, and of course there was no point in putting them on to soak straight away because I was going to be out on Thursday.
Ricinus communis is the castor oil plant, source of the poison ricin, as used by the KGB to murder Georgi Markov, and also of castor oil, as spooned down generations of children and used as an engine lubricant. How you end up with either a deadly poison or a medicine from the same plant I have not understood. It makes a very fine foliage plant for the summer, and may produce fluffy flowers which may be followed by viable seeds. I know they can ripen adequately in this country because I have had them germinate in other pots that had been standing close by, and a gardening friend has had them come up in her compost heap. Last summer I saved a few to sow and put the others carefully into the dustbin, since the kittens were still at the chew anything stage and I didn't know quite how poisonous the raw seeds were*. I therefore had two sets to sow this morning, a fine purple leaved variety called 'New Zealand Purple' which came from Chiltern Seeds and my own home saved seeds from a variety called 'Implala'. 'Impala' has beautiful lead coloured leaves and pink flowers, and it remains to be seen what its offspring will be like. I must admit I never bothered with soaking Ricinus seeds before, but that is what the packet said and I'm not sure I got one hundred per cent germination last time. They went into the heated propagator to encourage them, and I washed my hands carefully afterwards.
The Ipomoea or Morning Glory was the variety 'Heavenly Blue' which came free with a gardening magazine. The seed packet contained more seeds than one could possibly want, unless raising in bulk for a plant sale or unless the seed company anticipated a very low germination rate. I compromised and soaked eight or ten seeds, and when I looked at them this morning they were already sprouting. I've never grown it before so am not planning how to dispose of my surplus just yet, in case it is one of those species that starts promisingly and then starts falling by the wayside with seedlings collapsing for no particular reason that you can fathom. If they grow they will make rapid, tender annual climbers with blue (naturally) saucer shaped flowers. I have space for one in a pot on the patio, and I end up with several then perhaps my garden club plant sale in May would like one.
The Mina lobata was another freebie. Its common name is Spanish Flag and I have grown it before in the distant past. It is another tender climber, producing upright spikes of yellow and orange two tone flowers which look vaguely as if they might be in the pea family, though it is actually a member of the Convolvulaceae and is now properly called Ipomoea lobata. It flowers late in the summer and according to an old Telegraph article by Val Bourne does not mind a bit of shade. She cautions that it doesn't do to give them too rich a soil or they will be all leaf and no flower, but that is not generally a problem in this garden. If I have any success with my seeds I shall use the plants in pots alongside dahlias, and if I have any left over they could slot into gaps in the dahlia bed, or go to the plant sale.
The Cosmos seeds I sowed only a couple of days ago were already germinating in their clean and shiny new propagating cases. I am trying a new (to me) pale yellow form I bought from Derry Watkins, and which I think I thought I was buying last year when I ended up with a vivid shade of yellow half way to orange. In my head I'm already there with a tasteful pale yellow and blue colour scheme, using a pale yellow single dahlia (on order from Halls of Heddon), a pot of the tender blue Convolvulus sabiatus (available from Cottage Nurseries in Lincolnshire), and the Cosmos. All I actually have as of this minute is some seedlings not even on to the first true leaf stage and a rather scruffy cutting of a yellow flowered Argyranthemum.
I'm also growing two sorts of pink, red and white Cosmos, both free with magazines, and these will be combined with dahlias in various shades of pink and mauve and the Ricinus, if they work out. After last year when I sowed far too much Cosmos 'Sensation Mixed' and then pricked out far too many seedlings because they were there and I hated to throw them away, then lacked the space in the greenhouse to look after them properly, this year I counted out the seeds individually and limited myself to twelve from each packet.
I'm using Westland's John Innes number one seed compost this year and am pleased with it so far. I was taken aback at how deeply it settled in the pots when I watered them before sowing, but so far it has been retaining sufficient moisture without staying soggy, none of the emerging seedlings have gone yellow, sulked and died, and the surface of the compost has not gone green even on the first sowings I made over a month ago. As all of these disasters have befallen my attempts at growing from seed at various points in the past, things are going pretty well in comparison. So far. One unseasonably baking hot sunny day when I'm out and not there to damp the floor down, or worse still have left the door shut, and the whole lot could still cook.
*Very, according to Wikipedia, but not especially digestible unless you chew them well, in which case four or five could kill you, unless you are a duck, which for some reason are highly resistant to ricin.