Sunday, 16 September 2012

Field notes 7

To be honest, I thought I'd finished the series of posts about our wildflower border. Seems I forgot to ask the plants... 

As you sow so shall you reap.

The wet summer had prolonged the blooms of the floral experiment at the front of Tense Towers. Now, however, the season is drawing to a close, the petals have mostly gone, to be replaced by drying seed heads and garden spiders in their silken webs. As the stems lose their green hue and turn that tired straw colour, I am tempted to cut down the whole border.

But, I say "mostly", because the Cornflowers are still going strong, showing no inclination to give in to Autumnal urges and they are still providing a food supply for countless bees. The colours are still as vivid, so I don't feel like I can pick up the shears just yet.

It did occur to me this week, as I stood gazing at the jumble of brown stems and incongruous blue flowers, that here was a seed bank ready for the taking. Daft though it may seem, I hadn't even considered the end point of the experiment at all, the Summer colour had been my only goal. Yet given the possibility that the seed was viable, here was an opportunity for floral immortality.

To recap, seven of the nine species of seed sown had germinated. Only the Buttercup and Catchfly failed to put in an appearance, probably due to my lateness in committing the seed to the earth. The Field Forget-me-not was swamped by the other six species, and in the Summer,  I smiled wryly when I realised that this particular flower was growing in our garden anyway.

The most obvious seed heads, and the largest seed to boot, belonged to the Corn Cockle, so I began the harvest with these. Snipping off the heads as I worked my way along the border, I soon had a small basketful. Later, sat in the evening sun, I cracked open each head and flicked out the hard black seeds. I found a few Earwigs too, which made me jump, and I don't suppose the Earwigs were particularly happy either! I was left with a container of predominantly Corn Cockle seed with an amount of dried petal and sepal amongst it. By carefully shaking the container, then tipping it to one side and gently blowing across the top, I found that I was able to winnow away the unwanted material.


The same technique worked for the Corn Chamomile, Thorow-wax and Corn Marigold, though there were fewer seed heads of these.

I was now looking forward to the Poppies, with their pepperpot heads. By cutting off a few inches of dried stem with the head, I found that I could twirl the pepperpot around, flinging out the tiny black dots of Poppy seed into a lightweight plastic tray. This also had the added bonus of making a satisfying rattling sound. In hindsight, setting the tray down on the lawn, whilst I wandered off to the other end of the border to cut more heads, wasn't a great move. A gust of wind meant that the tray soon joined me, without its contents, and I had to start the Poppy process all over again. Next year, I predict a riot of colour in a small patch of lawn.

That just left the Cornflowers.

Though they were still in bloom, they had also been the first of the crop into flower, so where were all the seed heads? The growth from the whole border had fallen forward across the path that runs alongside the lawn, and by lifting up this mass of dying herbage, I discovered a veritable carpet of seeds, mostly Cornflower. I wasn't going to need the secateurs for this part of the task, so opted for the trusty dustpan and brush technique.

Emptying the sweepings into a large tray, I began to remove the obvious pieces of dried detritus that had also been collected: small stones, lumps of earth, abandoned snail shells, a cigarette butt dropped by the window cleaner, empty seed heads and sundry bits of vegetation. It will probably take me all Winter to sort through the harvestings. Indeed, Our Lass suggested that I simply plough the lot back into the border, but my concern is that it will lead to a too Cornflower-centric display, so my task continues.

Wake me up when it's Spring, please.


Katie (Nature ID) said...

Do you ever have problems with mold on seeds? I want to collect my columbine seeds, but the pods are moldy from all the summer fog we get.

Imperfect and tense said...

Truth be told, Katie, I don't know yet. We've not tried this before and I have wondered about storage problems from mold and pests.

After harvesting what I could, I chopped the remaining vegetation down to about 6" high, leaving the cut stems in situ. I'm hoping this will act as next year's crop, being subject to most of the Winter rigours that would be expected in Nature.

For the harvestings, I may split them between cool, dry storage and the freezer, to see if that makes a difference.

Hopefully, at least one of the three methods will produce results.