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 constructing zinnias part of each backyard 12 months.

However what goes into creating the range of zinnia colours and types and sizes? And what are some new wanting ones that you simply 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 situated at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 styles 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 reward 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 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 suppose 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 Instances,” 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 as if sort 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 feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential by way of variety of flower types and colours, I simply hold coming again to my intrigue with them.

Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve at all times identified 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 lately. 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’ styles of all the pieces, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s troublesome; individuals need to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are continuously 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 known 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 number of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually should 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 simply’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 similar, any greater than I don’t seem like my dad and mom [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 discipline someplace at your house 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 massive portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And once we are doing that, we’re sometimes rising a single coloration. So something that deviated from that, we might 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 is perhaps one thing value saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate wherever.

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

Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, many years in the past, I don’t even bear 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 sort of appeared and all people, lots of people began promoting them. I can’t discover any data 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 route; yours, as you described, a few of them seem like “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 feel you’re truly shining a lightweight on, while you describe a few of these new varieties that present up within the large 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 quite a lot 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 categorical readily.

However by way of actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream business 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 searching for novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I truly use jewellery luggage which are like breathable mesh.

So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation or extra, and I seen a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, in order 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 should you’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you’ll be able to actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, as an example, 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 have 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, in order that they don’t make pollen, however they’ll obtain pollen. So, while you have a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what seem 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 should 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 may have an entire myriad of, it may very well be self-pollinating. So, I’m explaining this to explain the jewellery bag. Why use that? As a result of then you understand that entire 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 important to exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless sort of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which are a little bit on the immature facet, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re vastly lowering the quantity of viable seed while you do that, however it’s a method to start to slim down within the route you need to go.

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

Don: Yeah.

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

Don: Oh, completely.

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

Don: Effectively, 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 aware of, the Latin identify 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 identify 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 ‘Crimson Spider’ is, I feel, actually extra of a progenitor of recent 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 pink. 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 stay 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 feel that’s the place the identify spider comes from.

You may consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And should you have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see kind of the parental types that gave beginning to all of the completely different trendy ones that have been in the end hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber replica.

Margaret: Yeah. You’ve some enjoyable with them. I imply, you may have, talking of ones which are within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that individuals might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you simply name, I feel ‘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 completely different colours.” And actually three, there’s kind of yellow and pink, after which white and pink, however there’s additionally kind of a cream and pink in there, which I feel 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 an expensive good friend and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s superb. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, examine them out earlier than, I feel they’re inching in direction of retirement, so sort 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 pink. So I used to be like, “Effectively, I’ll do the yellow and pink.”

So, we use greenhouses generally if we need to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the pondering that we will management pollination a little bit bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is basically simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and pink ones.

And I need to point out a very enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to provide what are known as chimeras. And you may also see leaping genes in motion. So, in my number of that selection, I watch for the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the vegetation that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually seem like both yellow petals that someone took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of pink on them, or in a roundabout way.

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

Margaret: Oh.

Don: Similar to we don’t seem like 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 pink 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 that you may pin down genetically. It simply has to do with progress 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 one that you simply name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ as an example. 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 have a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You would possibly hold going?

Don: Yeah. And this may’t… Perhaps you 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 purpose with that. And I feel gardeners like novelty, and I try to be clear in our catalog to not count on each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re certain to, it’s sort 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 simply see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ sort zinnias.

I need to get one which has that fascinating sort 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 feel generally when you may have a breeding goal, it’s truly counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one method you study that’s by way of trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I like the identify of 1 that you’ve your providing that you simply 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 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 identify known 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 kind of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s identify for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the sort of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed employees, who’re all below 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 hold observe of all these items. So, I used to be like, “O.Ok., 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 identify. ‘Loopy Legs’ is a fuchsia one. I’ve cream-colored model in improvement and an orange one in improvement 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 seems 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 simply’re…

Don: Effectively, yearly we choose three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that enables us right here on the farm to essentially use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but in addition as a analysis and improvement facility. So, those we’re doing for that this 12 months are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire 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 provide 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 straightforward to develop and I feel simply as spectacular. And I feel it may very well be one of many subsequent large issues for house gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.

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

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. And so they’re stunning flowers. And talking of issues that may come in numerous flower types, they’ll seem like a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll 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 pondering 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, plenty of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

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

Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor sort 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 a number of the Northwest tribes. However principally, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in improvement that may be a candy corn, and while you eat it, every kernel seems like someone took a small paintbrush and drew a little bit starburst of pink on it.

And I’m 85 p.c of the best way 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 arduous 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 quite a bit 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 stunning as nicely. And I feel it looks as if you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as nicely, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, now we have what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to reply to 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 important firm out of Washington known as Buddies of the Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s one in every of our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. And so they develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Effectively, quite a lot of enjoyable decisions. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given 12 months being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll hold the teachings going for extra years to return. So, thanks, thanks, and have 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

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