increasing the zinnia palette, with siskiyou seeds’ don tipping

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE about zinnias? Natural seed farmer and breeder Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds and I each vote an emphatic “sure” in favor of creating zinnias part of each backyard yr.

However what goes into creating the variety of zinnia colours and types and sizes? And what are some new wanting ones that you just may wish to attempt in 2024?

Don Tipping based Siskiyou Seeds, a household run farm-based seed firm, in 1997. His farm with a view is positioned at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 forms of greens, herbs, and flowers in its assortment. As if that weren’t sufficient, Don creates a YouTube channel of how-to movies and a long-running weblog, and hosts a number of on-farm trainings for gardeners and farmers annually.

We talked about that beloved annual flower, the zinnia (that’s ‘Queeny Lime Orange,’ above), and extra.

Plus: Remark within the field close to the underside of the web page to enter to win a $25 present certificates for Siskiyou Seeds.

Learn alongside as you take heed to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

zinnias and extra, with don tipping



Margaret Roach: Winter! However I assume it’s seed-selling season, so in all probability not winter, not quiet, for you.

Don Tipping: Yeah.

Margaret: You and I lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me the way to do nearly a decade in the past, the way to develop them from seed. And so I’ll give a hyperlink to our former dialog, for individuals who wish to get began on these earlybird crops. However zinnias: We share this ardour, as I stated within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?

Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks like type of an apparent factor to love, like having vanilla ice cream be your, or I imply chocolate be your favourite sort of ice cream. However I believe as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to variety of flower types and colours, I simply preserve coming again to my intrigue with them.

Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve at all times recognized them since I first gardened, and but I by no means knew ones just like the sizes and shapes and no matter that I’m seeing nowadays. And so, I discover, I see on some catalog web sites that there are some hybrid zinnias, however all of yours, all the Siskiyou Seeds’ forms of every little thing, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I believe it’s troublesome; individuals wish to cut back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are consistently hybridizing, and that’s the place Dr. John Navazio taught me: to make use of the time period proprietary F1 hybrids when referring to these industrial ones. Whereas zinnias, specifically, as a result of they’ve what are referred to as leaping genes [laughter], they’re transposons, the molecular-biologist time period for them. However principally, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.

So, it’s actually troublesome to stabilize a few of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually need to develop hundreds of vegetation to see that one-in-a-thousand particular person. And simply since you save seed from it doesn’t essentially imply that you just’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to precise in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the guardian plant, all its infants received’t be equivalent, any greater than I don’t appear to be my mother and father [laughter].

Don: Yeah, precisely.

Margaret: To simplify issues. So, what number of years because you first tinkered with a zinnia, because you let an entire inhabitants develop out in a subject someplace at your home and stated, “Ooh, I actually like that one over there. I’m going to save lots of seed from that one.” How way back, do you suppose?

Don: Effectively, it was kind of an evolution. We used to develop zinnia seed yearly for Seeds of Change [catalog] in giant portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And once we are doing that, we’re usually rising a single shade. So something that deviated from that, we’d truly destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then ultimately, in about 2009, is after I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that may be one thing value saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that path, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate wherever.

However distinctive sorts, I believe that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard variety, however having distinctive sorts. Yeah, and it retains it attention-grabbing for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve bought to search out new methods to maintain it thrilling.

Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, a long time in the past, I don’t even keep in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] turned a factor. However recently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so beautiful, they usually type of appeared and everyone, lots of people began promoting them. I can’t discover any info on who bred them or the place they started. I see “the breeder” known as simply “the breeder” in numerous catalog descriptions in numerous locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been kind of one of many newest in ages.

However you’ve gone off in a path; yours, as you described, a few of them appear to be “undersea creatures,” and simply a few of them come off kind of cactus-shaped flowers and get even wilder and crazier. Yeah? [Below, a couple of flowers from his ‘Tidepool Mix.’]

Don: Effectively, I believe you’re truly shining a light-weight on, while you describe a few of these new varieties that present up within the massive mainstream catalogs, on a little bit of the underbelly of the largely Dutch flower-seed commerce. And I can’t confirm this, however I wish to begin wanting and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in a number of flower variants, as a result of florists are at all times searching for the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. The mutants have a tendency to not specific readily.

However by means of actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream trade has been tinkering with issues. So, it’s totally different than the normal GMO.

We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields searching for novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I truly use jewellery baggage which might be like breathable mesh.

So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation or extra, and I observed a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that sort of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, they usually have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And in case you’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you’ll be able to actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, as an illustration, up shut and see how the disc florets have little yellow flowers that in and of themselves are flowers, which have each female and male flower elements and may pollinate themselves or be cross-pollinated. Whereas the ray florets, what we take a look at as petals.

Margaret: Petals, proper.

Don: … are literally showy bracts, to make use of the botanical time period. These don’t have stamens, so that they don’t make pollen, however they will obtain pollen. So, while you take a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what appear to be little grey fishhooks, after which bigger buff-colored fishhooks. The little ones are from the disc florets, and the bigger ones are from the ray florets. This differentiation is much less pronounced in zinnias, however in case you rigorously kind out your zinnia seed, you’ll be able to determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-

Margaret: Wow.

Don: … whereas those who got here from the ray florets.

Margaret: Cool.

Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you’ve gotten an entire myriad of, it might be self-pollinating. So, I’m explaining this to explain the jewellery bag. Why use that? As a result of then you already know that complete plant is self-pollinated, or that flower, and that’s assuming you bought to it earlier than the florets on the disc opened up. So, it’s a must to exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless type of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which might be a bit of on the immature aspect, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re enormously lowering the quantity of viable seed while you do that, however it’s a solution to start to slim down within the path you wish to go.

Margaret: Oh, O.Okay. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery baggage on it.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery baggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and type of steering the inhabitants, in case you can, in a path that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve gotten some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny sorts, I neglect which one you’ve gotten. And one other combine that I’ve at all times preferred, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I believe is so well-named as a result of it’s bought such enjoyable kind of colours in it. However you’ve gotten one which I’ve by no means truly grown, referred to as ‘Crimson Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly totally different. It appears like a species plant to me, that one. Are you aware what I imply? It looks-

Don: Oh, completely.

Margaret: …very outdated, back-to-the-roots type of genetics. Yeah.

Don: Effectively, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s truly a distinct species from the normal zinnias that individuals develop. So, the normal zinnia that most individuals are accustomed to, the Latin title is Zinnia, the genus, and elegans is the species.

Whereas the genus for the ‘Jazzy Combine’ is Zinnia, as soon as once more, the species title is haageana, so it’s truly a distinct species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was principally a wildflower. And so, the ‘Crimson Spider’ is, I believe, actually extra of a progenitor of contemporary zinnias.

Margaret: Isn’t it like tenuifolia or one thing? It’s like an entire species into itself.

Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the vegetation are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all purple. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a distinct shade. They usually don’t are inclined to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we reside within the mountains, so possibly it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a distinct local weather than Oregon. However nonetheless, I like rising them only for their novelty. And the petals are typically thinner, so I believe that’s the place the title spider comes from.

You’ll be able to consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And in case you take a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see kind of the parental types that gave start to all of the totally different trendy ones that have been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber copy.

Margaret: Yeah. You’ve gotten some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve gotten, talking of ones which might be within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that individuals could know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just name, I believe ‘Firestarter?’ Is that proper?

Don: Yeah. Effectively, this began, Frank Morton and I, we had a dialog of, I simply requested him like, “Hey, the ‘Peppermint Stick’ is 2 totally different colours.” And actually three, there’s kind of yellow and purple, after which white and purple, however there’s additionally kind of a cream and purple in there, which I believe is an middleman one.

Margaret: Yeah, and we must always say Frank is a seed farmer, Wild Backyard Seed. Sure, yeah.

Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s undoubtedly a pricey pal and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, test them out earlier than, I believe they’re inching in the direction of retirement, so type of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we have been joking round. I used to be like, “Hey, have you ever ever considered stabilizing one of many colours?” And he was doing the white and purple. So I used to be like, “Effectively, I’ll do the yellow and purple.”

So, we use greenhouses generally if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually engaging to pollinators, with the pondering that we are able to management pollination a bit of bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is actually simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and purple ones.

And I wish to point out a very enjoyable factor, and possibly you’ve observed this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection specifically tends to provide what are referred to as chimeras. And it’s also possible to see leaping genes in motion. So, in my choice of that selection, I watch for the primary flower to occur, and I solely wish to save the vegetation that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear to be both yellow petals that any individual took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of purple on them, or not directly.

So then, I rip out all those which might be white and purple, after which I reduce off all of the flowers of the yellow-red ones, that first flower, as a result of it might have cross pollinated with the white and purple ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all purple flowers. And earlier than I discovered this, I’d reduce these off or rip these vegetation out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they will produce all purple and yellow-and-red-striped. And what that’s, is the plant doesn’t distribute development hormones and its genetic potential equally.

Margaret: Oh.

Don: Identical to we don’t appear to be our siblings, despite the fact that we technically have the identical genetics. And the opposite factor it’ll do is chimeras, which is, I don’t know if that’s a botanical time period or simply within the flower commerce, one the place the flower is principally half purple and half one other shade, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t assume chimeras is one thing which you could pin down genetically. It simply has to do with development hormones and transposons, and the way genetic potential is distributed in a given plant relying on environmental stresses.

Margaret: Yeah, it’s fairly cool. So, that’s a enjoyable one, ‘Firestarter.’

A few of yours are these mixes, otherwise you generally name them remixes. You’ve gotten one that you just name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ as an illustration. And that was already a cross of elegans, and haageana.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: That was already a cross of elegans and haageana, that another person did, at Peace Seedlings, Dylana Kapuler. So that you then take a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You may preserve going?

Don: Yeah. And this could’t… Perhaps you possibly can describe it as a backcross, so it’s a hybrid between these two zinnia species, then backcross to the ‘Cactus Combine,’ and making an attempt to get my aim with that. And I believe gardeners like novelty, and I try to be clear in our catalog to not anticipate each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re sure to, it’s type of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a distinct shock in each field or one thing.

That my aim is to provide one that appears just like the ‘Dreamin’ Combine,’ that Dylana took over from her father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, of that cross. They usually’ve by no means disclosed it’s a cross, however I’ve grown sufficient zinnias the place that’s my hunch, due to that trait that you just see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ sort zinnias.

I wish to get one which has that attention-grabbing type of bullseye sample of various colours on each petal, however with the quilled petal form of the cactus sorts. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I believe generally when you’ve gotten a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one manner you study that’s by means of trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I really like the title of 1 that you’ve got your providing that you just bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this kind of cactusy…

Don: Effectively, in order that began by rising giant quantities of the ‘Cactus Combine,’ which has a quilled petal form, which the botanical time period would both be revolute, like rolled outwards on itself, or rolled inwards on itself (which is involute).

And I started to note ones that had these different traits. One truly has a botanical title referred to as fimbriated, the place the petals don’t finish at a tidy level, however are extra splayed out.

After which I observed one the place the petals themselves, as an alternative of rising straight, have been kind of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s title for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the type of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed workers, who’re all underneath 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”

Margaret: “No, Grandpa.” They stated, “No. Grandpa.” Proper? [Laughter.]

Don: Yeah, completely. Effectively, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can preserve observe of all these things. So, I used to be like, “O.Okay., you’re going to be Frippertronic,” as a result of he invented the primary digital tape-loop music, simply one thing novel. So, ‘Loopy Legs’ was a extra descriptive title. ‘Loopy Legs’ is a fuchsia one. I’ve cream-colored model in growth and an orange one in growth and a yellow one. However these aren’t stabilized but.

Margaret: Effectively, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which kind of appears like undersea anemones, the ‘Tidepool Combine.’

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So, earlier than we take up on a regular basis with zinnias,  I wish to simply ask you about what else are you enthusiastic about for the time being? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless enjoying with zinnias. Are there different issues that you just’re…

Don: Effectively, yearly we choose three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that permits us right here on the farm to actually use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but additionally as a analysis and growth facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire pattern beginning there and we simply wish to study as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot variety. After which we are going to supply that blend as a seed crop for 2025, which feels bizarre to say that.

After which, we’re additionally doing carrots, however just like zinnias, not many individuals develop China asters, however they’re simply as straightforward to develop and I believe simply as spectacular. And I believe it might be one of many subsequent massive issues for dwelling gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.

Margaret: I believe these are, what Callistephus, is that the genus? Callistephus, I believe.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. They usually’re lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower types, they will appear to be a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they will look ethereal and, I don’t even know the way to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: So that they actually, they are often fairly totally different.

Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now pondering they might make a superb companion, like some cool variant combine with the ‘Tidepool Combine’ zinnia. And possibly for some future Octopus’ Backyard assortment or one thing.

Margaret: Oh, I really like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, plenty of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ Plenty of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Okay. So, these are three issues: radicchio, carrots, China asters.

Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor type of, just like the zinnias that I’ve been engaged on, is a striped kernel candy corn that I name ‘Starburst Choose.’ And also you see this trait in flour corn, some Native communities name it chin-mark corn, named after the cultural custom of tattooing ladies in a few of the Northwest tribes. However principally, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in growth that could be a candy corn, and while you eat it, every kernel appears like any individual took a small paintbrush and drew a bit of starburst of purple on it.

And I’m 85 p.c of the way in which there of getting a spread that, so far as I do know, has by no means existed earlier than, and I don’t know why, as a result of it wasn’t that tough to create. So, that’s thrilling. And we provide seed of that. We at all times promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.

Margaret: Huh. Fascinating. You’ve accomplished rather a lot over time with flour corns, those as in you’d make meal or flour out of them, not flower corns.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Very colourful, a few of them have been very colourful, that are simply lovely as nicely. And I believe it looks like you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as nicely, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we’ve got what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to answer the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve observed a giant resurgence in curiosity in individuals rising their very own medicinal herbs. So I’ve an worker who has some expertise with that, Taryn Hunter, who I’ve actually simply tasked with determining what’s the new herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with a fantastic firm out of Washington referred to as Pals of the Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the title Skeeter, who’s considered one of our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. They usually develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Effectively, a number of enjoyable selections. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and possibly 700 in any given yr being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll preserve the teachings going for extra years to return. So, thanks, thanks, and have a great seed-selling season, huh

Don: Thanks a lot.

extra from don tipping

The Siskiyou web site

Our earlier dialog about rising onions (and leeks) from seed

enter to win a $25 siskiyou seeds present card

I’LL BUY A $25 present card to Siskiyou Seeds for one fortunate reader. All it’s a must to do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field beneath:

Are zinnias an everyday in your backyard? Any favourite varieties?

No reply, or feeling shy? Simply say one thing like “depend me in” and I’ll, however a reply is even higher. I’ll choose a random winner after entries shut Tuesday Feb. 13, 2024 at midnight. Good luck to all.

favor the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its 14th yr in March 2023. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention domestically within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Japanese, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Feb. 5, 2024 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles