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Do you still purchase your annuals from the big box store? I no longer do + it is well worth all the mistakes along the way!

China Aster blooming wiht marigolds and Kale

China Aster blooming with  marigolds and Kale

I no longer purchase any annuals for our garden. I remember the days, I would go to the store and purchase trays of annuals to put in my garden. I grow all mine from seed since I learned how simple it is to grow your annuals at home. I can’t imagine doing it any other way, but for those of you with small children at home or busy schedules, it may not be possible to grow everything. In the early years of our garden back in 2000, I did not have time with a house filled with activity to do all that I am doing now. I spent more time in my car than I did in my garden!


Heirloom Black Prince Snapdragon Seedlings

I don’t have a greenhouse since there is not enough room on my lot for one to permanently stay year round. I do have, a wonderful south-facing office that is perfect to transition my potager annuals to the garden. I practice “succession planting” that is part of the Biointensive growing method (read more). I have been thinking about what is it that I do; I don’t follow one system. I take from them all what I need to achieve my goals, in my space. I enjoy reading about Biointensive French Methods, Permaculture/ Food Forests systems, Native plants, edible landscapes, year-round food growing on city lots, etc. I read it ALL + I take what is useful for my space.


If you save your own seed germination is usually great! The only work is thinning them out to a single one. I use to hate not growing them all out, but now I take the best looking one and compost my seedlings.

There are few books about growing in a 4 season climate, with winters as cold as ours in the Midwest. I don’t have a huge lot so what space, I do have has to be well thought out and planned. I don’t have space to waste. I grow a lot in containers, vertically and each season is an adventure. I am always exploring new plants to grow, and the list is endless and takes a bit of time to sort through.


few day old seedlings

I am adding a lot more perennial vegetables again this year. When I trial a new perennial vegetable they have to fit my Urban Potager criteria, for example, taste good, look good + not have the potential to escape and be invasive.


This past season, I found Leaf Celery(cultivar) Parcel was the perfect plant to grow in our zone 5 climate. I wrote about it in a previous post this past fall (read my post here on Leaf celery). It is difficult to grow celery in our climate, and I am tired of paying $6.00 for a bunch of “organic” celery in the local store. Last spring(2014) I started my Parcel from seed and placed it in the garden in April. We enjoyed this celery from April till early December. It kept green until our temps dipped below freezing.


It has survived, under cover in below zero weather + wind in the -30’s. I found the cover has to be one without holes. If it has holes the plant will die.


I left the cover off to get some light to it since it has been under 14 inches of snow the past week and below zero weather for months.

I see  pale green growth which means it is surviving under my plastic containers. The parcel will now stay in this bed permanently which is right next to my purple passion asparagus that went in last spring. On Monday, I left the lid off a bit to get some light on the Parcel  since  it was sunny + 29 degrees. I covered it later in the afternoon. I feel it is behaving as a perennial plant with protection. I will dedicate this area under my Stella Cherry for Leaf Celery + asparagus. We shall see what it does in 2015.It ALL is an adventure


I talk a lot about growing natives and biodiversity, but I have to share that I enjoy my FUN plants. I am not a purist and include two plants every year; I have been saving seed from for my enjoyment. The first one is  Antirrhinum majus ‘Black Prince.‘ (read my post here about Black Prince)


I have been trying to establish permanent beds over the years, but working this out has meant sometimes having to replant some of my heirloom flowers, I started from seed. I love this blood-red heirloom snapdragon. I had this growing near my blueberries one year.

aug 29th backyard planning 2012 china aster, hawai marigold 150

I also love my “single” purple Callistephus chinenesis annual aster (read about this purple aster in my garden here).

aug 29th backyard planning 2012 china aster, hawai marigold 080

It is such a lovely plant, and it is hard to find a “single” Purple annual aster. Once you get over the fear of starting from seed, you will never want to “not” grow your annual vegetable, flowers and herbs from seed. It is addictive!

45 replies »

  1. I grow almost all of my annuals, except for my shade loving begonias, etc. The ones at the nursery are full of pesticides so I refuse to buy them. I do have a grow light set up that you can see on my Sow Seedy page on my blog. Do you ever winter sow? It’s the perfect way to grow a lot of plants with almost zero effort. Your garden really looks beautiful. I do love those asters. Do they attract pollinators?

    • I am winter sowing some right now:-) I believe you are right about it being a great way to grow a lot of plants. My first year to try it:-) Hope it works for me:-) I am CS some in the fridge for 10-30-60 days. My lupines were sprouting in the bag-so much fun! I am running out of room, so I need to winter sow as you suggested!

      Those asters are annuals and not native to our area. I believe the original “type” purple single was brought over in the late 1700’s -1800’s from China. You can’t find the single purple seed. I got the seed from Monticello(on line). I save my own now.
      I have found “insects” on them. The bees in my yard have many choices but I do not feel they are as much of a favorite as the native aster-they LOVE that plant! I will take a closer look at these annual asters- this year to identify what insects are landing on them.
      I’ll check out your “Sow Seedy Page.” sounds like something I would enjoy reading!
      I put your blogger blog in my word press reader, but it does not show up. I wish blogger and word press were better connected! I enjoy visiting your blog:-)

      I like some of the gadgets on blogger a bit better than on wordpress. I like some things better on wordpress than blogger.
      I tried loading your blog to my reader on wordpress but it does not show up-thing I wish the two would work out since I enjoy visting your blog:-(

  2. I love growing my veggies from seed! I never had the space or money to get into flowers before really, and only just started dabbling three years ago with a few wild flower varieties and the occasional nursery impulse buy. Do you start most flowers just like veggies?

    • Well, I am learning that vegetable seed is a lot easier than some of the “native” perennials or other perennials. I have made so many mistakes. I found this book helpful when learning how to start some plants from seed. For example, pansies and calendula are best started in the dark. No light. Some seeds need no cover others need to be in the fridge for so many days.

      This book is a great place to start. That is where I learned that calendula germinates in the dark. I also found pansy seed needs to germinate in the dark,too:-) Each seed has it’s own rules. Vegetables are pretty straight forward:-)

      This book is well worth the investment:-) Check out used on Amazon:-)

      • Thank you! I’ve had minimal luck with flowers and hopefully this will get me off to a better start. My best luck has been tossing seeds in random places during random seasons and seeing what sprouts 😉

      • Oh-that was me in my early days-I totally can relate to the toss and see approach! Been there + done that:-) I have found each year, I learn a bit more + through a lot of mistakes and success, I understand my plants I have selected, to grow out our door-it is a blast! All those little tricks ( learning to start in the dark or not cover) really help you to be successful raising plants!

  3. Another highly informative post suffused with your gorgeous photos! There really needs to be a book out of this blog!! [There I go with the exclamation marks again] !!

    I started out buying from the plant nursery, and ended buying organically grown seedlings – many of which did very little in my tiny space. I have to rethink for next year. I have a very narrow window of full sun here – have lost it already – and our sudden seque from a perfect summer to a sub-tropical cloudy affair did not help! I’ve let a number of plants seed in the hopes of gathering some seed and letting the other fall where it will and hopefully come up again. We will see!

    • You know-Pauline, I have a simple light (T5s) and a shelf. You can also use lights from the hardware store- shop lights. Very inexpensive. I also found out this year, Kale, Swiss Chard, Tatsoi, Purple scallions, parsley, cilantro, all do fine if you start them under lights to germinate. I started them in November 2014 up to December 23 2014. The lights helped with germination and kept them until they got their first true leaves. Moved them after that,I took them out from under the lights the first of the year + put them in a south facing window on a table. They are ALL doing great. They all do fine with daily light from my windows. I am wondering??? if this approach would work with ALL plants that just require partial shade outside. I doubt tomatoes would do well with this system. Just get them past the “spindly” stage until they get their true leaves. It really helps keep the cost down.
      Saving your own seed means your future plants- will do better! They will be acclimated to your unique growing area:-)
      A book( maybe down the road), I am helping some people learn to grow some on their property this year-maybe down the road. It is exciting seeing people enjoy their plants growing:-)

  4. I don’t buy annuals either; I just sow seeds…sometimes there are mixed results, but the wins certainly outweigh the failures (emotionally and financially). I love that you grow flowers around your blueberries – it’s exactly what I do and it means I don’t have to net the plant as the flowers often confuse the birds and hide the berries 🙂

    • That is brilliant! I mix flowers with all my edibles, so to hear it confuses the bird with blueberries.I never realized that-I know it confuses bug like pests,but never thought the birds:-) I wish it confused the rabbit-grrrr:-( I had the start of a lovely blueberry patch until the resident rabbits decided to chew the bushes to the ground in our record cold snap in 2014 spring. I put chicken wire around my small blueberry bushes to help them come back to life. They leave them alone once the yards green up in the spring or the bushes get large enough.
      It is so much easier now that I don’t purchase annuals. I no longer am dependent on the local market for “what they offer” each season. It can get quite expensive if you grow a lot of annuals. With our winters, I will have to grow some annuals each season. As you, I have mixed results but so worth the effort:-)

    • I have worked out the “bumps” in this system over the years. Through my mistakes, I have found the way to do it in my area:-)We have such cold winters. Our zone 5 “extremes” are unpredictable:( You never know what (plants) will make it through or if it is too short (growing season) they don’t bloom until the last month. I want
      mine to bloom a bit earlier, so I start a lot of my first year blooming perennials + annuals inside under lights. Having a south-facing window works well for me- I just can’t find a place
      to put a green house. My growing spaces are limited:-) You become more resourceful the smaller area you have to grow in:-)

  5. I always grow my annuals from seed, over here boxed annuals are known as ‘bedding plants’, but they are not organically grown and are mass produced using peat as the soil source. Violas and Pansies are easy to grow from seed and the plant I use most in the winter to add colour to pots and planters. The rest of the year I fill pots with perennials and grasses. I sow directly to the soil, annuals such as Nigella. Celery is something I’ve not grown before Robbie, you make that look very achievable.

    • Julie-you are so right they do not grow our “bedding plants” organically. If they are organic you pay a bit more for the plants. The selection is limited. I grow historical pansies from seed. I can’t even get those in the store. I have to sow them from seed inside ( start in the dark) since our winters are too cold for the seed to survive. They may survive and they may not-it all depends.
      I can keep my “blue scotch” kale going through the winter for it is taller than the snow-lol. I sow cosmos directly outside. I do start my red zinnias inside a 6 weeks earlier for I want to have the red zinnias blooming longer-for me + the butterflies:-)
      Check out Seedaholic they have a nice selection of Leaf Celery. Cultivar Parcel is the one, I grow + the one I have wintered over in my garden(so far!). I use it in all my dishes that require a celery flavor. I do have lovage in the garden, but I really enjoy the flavor of the parcel. It has a “moss parsley” head which is lovely. It is cut-and-come-again which is always my favorite! Your climate is a bit milder than ours, I assume you would be able to winter it over without cover. It kept green until our temps got in the teens.
      That red one looks interesting they have at Seedaholic. I go to their site for the “rare” types, I can’t find in the USA.
      I sure hope it acts as a perennial-I love not having to pay for those organic celery bunches + our growing season is not right for the other celery.

  6. It’s interesting to see how your Parcel has come through your cold winter. We’re still harvesting ours. Some plants look pretty battered now (rain more than snow or frost) but I can still find enough to add to stews etc. Definitely a keeper! Wonderful post as always. Love those purple asters!

    • Oh, how I envy you being able to add to stews:-) YUM:-) It is interesting that we can have some food crops survive:-) if we offer some protection. You can see in the picture mine are looking battered. They were especially towards the end of early winter in December. I covered them to see if it would work. I took the cover off last week + let them get some light. There was a light green, so I have my fingers crossed they will be growing again. I don’t know what they will do next season. It is always an adventure!
      Those asters are lovely + single blooms so easier for “insects” to land on them + I have seen some interesting bugs on them, but my native bees do prefer our native asters. But I feel a gardner has to have a few fun plants! Those are for me:-)

  7. What a great post! I need to order some seeds and get cracking!!! Spring is just around the corner. (Note: I feel like if I say that enough, maybe it’ll come true!) 😀

  8. “succession planting” as part of a Biointensive growing method seems to provide you remarkable benefits, dear Robbie… Your garden is absolutely gorgeous… By the way the puple Callistephus chinenesis is lovely… I will check out the links you suggested above… Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana 🙂

    • Hi BB-Lori:-) I totally agree! if we click our heels together maybe it will happen! I want spring to come-I want spring to come-click-click!!!

    • aww-Aquileana-always a joy when you stop by:-) Yes, it does:-) with small space only way to grow to get maximum yield:-) It truly is amazing what we can grow in our small gardens to make a difference for ourselves, nature + others:-)

  9. Robbie, I find I am starting more and more annuals from seed both for my garden and my gardening job at TI Park. I will start seed as soon as I get home mid-March in my new/used greenhouse (if it is still standing). I have been planning and ordering the past few weeks. I also ordered some fun plants – I ordered plants because I tried the seed and didn’t have the patience. I look forward to corkscrew vine and passion flower! I cannot WAIT! I am going to try to grow coleus from seed for the first time, too. I’m sure we’ll have many adventures to share. I also ordered Casper eggplant thanks to you! Yay! I’m going to grow it next to Early Black Egg – should be pretty! I couldn’t find the hibiscus seed but I found another kind to make tea from. I cannot wait to get back to my garden. Oh wait, my good neighbor sent me a picture of my car – I CAN wait. It’s important not to buy from the big box stores for many reasons – of most importance for the bees. I usually buy from our local nurseries even though some of them order their plants in – I suppose they have to in order to compete with the big box stores. But growing from seed is nice because you can grow stuff no one sells! Last year I had much success with lime nicotiana, shrimp plant, purple majesty and amaranth.

    • Hi Kathy:-)
      When you say “neighbor sent you picture of car” + you can wait-YIKES. You are getting blasted with the winter out there BUT:-) you are sitting nicely in your paradise:-) Our weather man said yesterday, the temps should be warming up slowly and we won’t be seeing the “extreme” colds down the road! YIPEE! We still are lower than our normal highs for this time of year:-( I am eager to get out there! I will start hardening off my kale in a few weeks when the temps hit 35 degrees. I made sure this year, my kale was much larger so the critters would not be able to nibble on my
      I forgot to mention in my post-growing from seed is FUN!It is living magic:-)

  10. I love starting my own seeds! I really didn’t NEED any more seeds this spring, but I just couldn’t resist a packet of ‘Violet Queen’ zinnias! Here in North Florida, I am harvesting greens and root vegetables, but also planning my spring/summer layout and starting seeds. I just found your blog and am looking forward to reading more!

    • Hi Sarah:-)I can relate! I don’t NEED anymore anything on my lot-LOL. To me, seeds are addictive!I figure it is an inexpensive obsession + they don’t take up much space!

  11. I agree about not being a native plant purist, as much as I love my native plants. There are some exotics I just don’t want to do without. Unfortunately I cannot grow plants from seed as I am out of town most days in March, April, and May.

  12. Lovely pictures, especially those of the seedlings… starting from seeds is most satisfying, even with the ‘failures’ that come with it… 🙂

    • Hi Lrong:-)
      I totally agree:-) I enjoy staring my plants from seed. It is such a delight to see them emerge. As the season ends, I feel “joy”:-) A feeling- I made a difference in the world with my sowing:-)

  13. Your flowers are killing me! So pretty. I have been trying to start my flowers from seed but it’s not going very well. I’ll keep trying though, I’m determined not to buy them when I have so many great seeds! Thx for the inspiration as always 🙂

    • awww..let me tell you how many times I failed—then it starts clicking. I believe you have to fail before you can succeed! Now, I have a schedule and routine since I have been doing it for about 7 yrs from seed. The first few years, OH MY-LOL…it does work and it all makes sense, just don’t give up!

      • Okay, I will keep trying! We are planning to move this year so I’m not doing much at the moment but keeping a few edibles growing. Once we get resituated on our homestead up north (I hope) I’ll be picking your brain. I want lots of butterflies and pretty flowers. And I will finally plant those blueberries you recommended!

      • Sheri that is exciting!!!! I can’t wait to read all about it:-) You can pick my brain anytime + I look forward to all the green beauty you will create:-)

      • Thanks Robbie, we are SO excited!! It’s so overwhelming but I just know it’s the right move and I want to go as fast as possible! I think I really miss northern Ca, it’s time to go home. ~

      • Oh my gosh, I hate that side bar for answering comments…you must be wondering-okay, Robbie you just said that-LOL
        What I meant, I can’t wait to read about what you create to go in the garden-scuptures!

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