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 would possibly need to strive 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 ft of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 sorts 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 under. You may 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 not too long ago collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me easy methods to do nearly a decade in the past, easy methods to develop them from seed. And so I’ll give a hyperlink to our former dialog, for individuals who need 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 kind of ice cream. However I believe as a result of they’ve a lot potential by way of variety of flower types and colours, I simply maintain coming again to my intrigue with them.

Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve all the time recognized them since I first gardened, and but I by no means knew ones just like the sizes and styles and no matter that I’m seeing as of late. 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’ sorts of every thing, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I believe it’s troublesome; individuals need to cut back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are continually 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, particularly, 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 among the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually must develop hundreds of crops 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 dad or mum plant, all its infants received’t be similar, any greater than I don’t appear like 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 a complete inhabitants develop out in a discipline 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: Properly, it was form of an evolution. We used to develop zinnia seed yearly for Seeds of Change [catalog] in massive portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And once we are doing that, we’re usually rising a single coloration. So something that deviated from that, we’d truly destroy these crops, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is once I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that may be one thing price saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate wherever.

However distinctive varieties, I believe that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed corporations like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard sort, however having distinctive varieties. Yeah, and it retains it attention-grabbing for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve received to seek 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] grew to become a factor. However currently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so attractive, they usually type of appeared and all people, 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 varied catalog descriptions in varied locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been form of one of many newest in ages.

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

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

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

We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields in search of 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 crops or extra, and I seen a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that kind of factor. And that they extensively open-pollinate, they usually have two kinds 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 components 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, once you take a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what appear like 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 people who got here from the ray florets.

Margaret: Cool.

Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you’ve got a complete myriad of, it could possibly 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, you need 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 tremendously decreasing the quantity of viable seed once you do that, however it’s a option to start to slim down within the route you need 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 route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve got some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny varieties, I overlook which one you’ve got. And one other combine that I’ve all the time appreciated, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I believe is so well-named as a result of it’s received such enjoyable form of colours in it. However you’ve got one which I’ve by no means truly grown, referred to as ‘Pink Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly completely different. It appears like a species plant to me, that one. Have you learnt what I imply? It looks-

Don: Oh, completely.

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

Don: Properly, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s truly a special species from the normal zinnias that individuals develop. So, the normal zinnia that most individuals are acquainted with, 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 special species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was principally a wildflower. And so, the ‘Pink Spider’ is, I believe, actually extra of a progenitor of recent zinnias.

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

Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the crops are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all crimson. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a special coloration. And so they don’t are inclined to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we reside within the mountains, so perhaps it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a special 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 may 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 form of the parental types that gave delivery to all of the completely different trendy ones that have been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber replica.

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

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

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

Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s positively an expensive good friend and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, examine 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 crimson. So I used to be like, “Properly, I’ll do the yellow and crimson.”

So, we use greenhouses typically if we need to stabilize one thing that’s actually engaging to pollinators, with the considering that we will management pollination a bit of bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is absolutely simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and crimson ones.

And I need to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to provide what are referred to as chimeras. And you too can see leaping genes in motion. So, in my choice of that selection, I anticipate the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the crops that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear like both yellow petals that anyone took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of crimson on them, or ultimately.

So then, I rip out all those which might be white and crimson, after which I lower 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 crimson ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all crimson flowers. And earlier than I realized this, I might lower these off or rip these crops out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they will produce all crimson 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 like our siblings, although 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 crimson and half one other coloration, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t assume chimeras is one thing you can 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 typically name them remixes. You have got 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 would possibly maintain going?

Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Possibly 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 attempting to get my purpose with that. And I believe gardeners like novelty, and I attempt 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 special shock in each field or one thing.

That my purpose is to provide one that appears just like the ‘Dreamin’ Combine,’ that Dylana took over from her father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, of that cross. And so they’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’ kind zinnias.

I need 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 varieties. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I believe typically when you’ve got a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one approach you study that’s via trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I 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 form of cactusy…

Don: Properly, in order that began by rising massive 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 seen one the place the petals themselves, as an alternative of rising straight, have been form 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 employees, who’re all underneath 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”

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

Don: Yeah, completely. Properly, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can maintain monitor of all these items. 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: Properly, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which form of appears like undersea anemones, the ‘Tidepool Combine.’

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So, earlier than we take up on a regular basis with zinnias,  I need 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: Properly, yearly we decide three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that enables 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 a complete development beginning there and we simply need to study as a lot as we will to develop as a lot variety. After which we’ll supply that blend as a seed crop for 2025, which feels bizarre to say that.

After which, we’re additionally doing carrots, however much like zinnias, not many individuals develop China asters, however they’re simply as simple to develop and I believe simply as spectacular. And I believe it could possibly be one of many subsequent huge issues for residence gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.

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

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. And so they’re lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower types, they will appear like a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they will look ethereal and, I don’t even know easy methods 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 completely different.

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

Margaret: Oh, I like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a number 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, much 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 girls in among the Northwest tribes. However principally, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in growth that may be a candy corn, and once you eat it, every kernel appears like anyone took a small paintbrush and drew a bit of starburst of crimson on it.

And I’m 85 % 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 onerous to create. So, that’s thrilling. And we provide seed of that. We all the time promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.

Margaret: Huh. Attention-grabbing. You’ve carried out loads through the years 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 properly. And I believe it looks like you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as properly, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we now have what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to answer the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve seen 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 an amazing firm out of Washington referred to as Mates of the Timber Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the title Skeeter, who’s one among our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. And so they develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Properly, loads of enjoyable selections. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given yr being provided. I’m so glad to talk to you; I all the time study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll maintain 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 you need to do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field under:

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

No reply, or feeling shy? Simply say one thing like “rely 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.

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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. Hear regionally 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 may subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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