Autumn seeds

by Kay Maguire

I have just braced myself for a long wait by sowing the seed of a tree peony, from a plant which took 2 years to germinate and another 5 to flower.

Liquidambar styracifluaI'm off to Writtle College in Essex this week, where they run horticultural courses, among other subjects, and where I'll be meeting up with Michael Lavelle, one of their Senior Lecturers. Michael and his wife Christine have just written a brilliantly practical book - How To Create a Wildife Garden and we'll be spending the day making step-by-step projects for the wildlife section for 2008.

We always have to plan ahead on the magazine, so as well as currently working on the January issue, we also need to be thinking about what we will be doing in January 2009 as well as throughout 2008! It can get quite confusing. On shoots at this time of year we have to make the most of every minute as the light goes so early. I love this time of year though, and have been waiting to see what the autumn colour would be like after all the weird weather.

Paeonia ludlowii, photo Paul DeboisI know the National Trust reported back in September that the leaves were turning already and a lot of the autumn fruit harvest was in the shops at the beginning of September for the first time in 20 years. I had a first too this autumn when I spotted this seed of the gorgeous Liquidambar styraciflua. I have always known it for its stunning foliage colour but I've never seen their spiky seed pods before. Apparently they form on the female flowers and seeds can be sown now when they are ripe. I'm very tempted, I love these trees, but germination can be poor and when it does happen can take up to two years.

I have just braced myself for a long wait by sowing the seed of a tree peony, Paeonia ludlowii brought in from Lucy, our Deputy Editor. It is a seed from a plant Lucy grew from seed and which took 2 years to germinate and another 5 to flower. Imagine the satisfaction though! I think they're both worth it!

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Gardeners' World Web User 29/10/2007 at 20:11

The tree peony will definitely be worth the wait! I moved into my current house here in Surrey last Autumn and directly by our front decking was a large shrub I'd not seen before, with a lovely red stems and big, bold, beautifully textured leaves - I had no idea what it was (being new to this gardening lark). This Spring of course, the magnificent yellow flowers sprang to life and I found out what the plant was - couldn't believe the stems would actually hold the flowers up they were so large!

Gardeners' World Web User 31/10/2007 at 16:27

Four years ago, I planted a foot high tree peony in my London clay soil, against a south facing wall; it flowered the following year. White double flowers with pink tinged petals so thickly bunched they required prising open for a peek inside. Each flower head was the size of a small cauliflower. In the past two years it has grown three buds but one of them was half eaten overnight by slugs, and this year the third bud looked promising but didn't manage to flower. I wonder if I should feed it; when and what with?

Gardeners' World Web User 02/11/2007 at 13:35

I too have harvested some of the wonderful seeds from my tree peony. What do I now do with them please HELP?

Gardeners' World Web User 02/11/2007 at 21:47

I had a tree peony in my garden but it got very big so i cut it down to half and took it to my allotment and planted it along the fence it is growing quite well and i hope it will flower again next spring.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/11/2007 at 21:18

Maggie, here's how I'm planning to sow the seed I've taken from my tree peony (the same seed that I've given to Kay and others in the GW office - nothing like a bit of competitive gardening!).

Sow the seed now, individually into pots, using a soil-less seed compost (peat or peat substitute) mixed equally with coarse horticultural sand. Cover with coarse grit, and place outdoors. The cold weather will kickstart the process because this seed has a double dormancy - producing roots in its first year and top growth/leaves in the second. It needs two cold periods with warmth in between. So you definitely have to be patient! The first time I grew these I chucked out the pots after the first winter, not realising what a slow process it was.

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