Seed, Seedling Or Rescue: Acquiring Plants For Your Garden

By Teo Spengler | October 8, 2020
by Teo Spengler
October 8, 2020

There is only one absolute rule for a garden: there must be plants. Most people plant from seed, from purchased seedlings or “make” new plants by sprouting cuttings. Many gardeners, including me, do all three. But I have to admit that most of the ornamental plants in the garden are rescues.

Planting Seeds or Seedlings

When it comes to garden vegetables, I admit to buying seedlings from the garden store, those little 6-packs of tiny kale, lettuce or beets. They are both more expensive and less likely to thrive than seeds are. I often go ahead and buy seeds, but then I procrastinate so long that it’s too late to plant them.

So I head to the store. Gardeners living in San Francisco have dozens of garden stores and hundreds of different species to pick among. I justify buying seedling six-packs by telling myself that it’s a good way to try out new varieties, six of this, six of that. And it is. Plus, you get the jolt of happiness the day after planting when you walk out to the garden with your morning coffee and find it full of happy little plants.

Does that mean I never use seeds? Well, “never” is too big a word. I sometimes do plant the seeds I buy. This year I sprinkled the pack of California poppy seeds I bought last year and they grew dramatically, taking over an entire garden bed that was supposed to be dedicated to summer squash.

And I bring baggies of nasturtium seeds from my San Francisco garden over to France to plant. But seeding is easier in France than California because it rains regularly and I have so much more space.

Foster Failing with Ornamentals

And then there’s growing rescued plants. As someone involved in dog rescue, I often think of picking up plants tossed out by neighbors as a rescue operation. Lots of brown-thumb individuals live in my neighborhood, and when their plants don’t thrive, they toss them. I stroll the neighborhood the night before our garbage is retrieved to see who is tossing out plants, then I circle back with my motorcycle to pick them up.

You wouldn’t believe how many plants in my backyard were rescues – many are small but some are huge, like the 6 foot (2 meter) potted princess tree that someone tossed out. Yes, it looked sick and sad on Geary Avenue, but two weeks later, planted near my compost, it showed its gratitude with the first purple flower.

And there is no shortage of succulents. As a gardener, you know that nearly any succulent can be propagated by cuttings. So when neighbors trim their jade plants and leave what they snipped on the sidewalk, I pass by with a basket. Although I often plan to simply “foster” the rescue plant until I find a new home, my rate of foster-fail is embarrassingly high. But my garden is truly beautiful!

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