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 yr.

However what goes into creating the variety of zinnia colours and varieties and sizes? And what are some new trying ones that you just would possibly wish 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 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 every year.

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 hearken 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 not too long ago collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Instances,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me how one can do nearly a decade in the past, how one can 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 mentioned within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?

Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks as if 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 feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to variety of flower varieties 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 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’ styles of every thing, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s tough; individuals wish to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the fact of the matter is, is that populations are always 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 business ones. Whereas zinnias, specifically, 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 tough to stabilize a number of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually should develop 1000’s 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 specific in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the mum or dad plant, all its infants received’t be equivalent, 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 subject someplace at your house and mentioned, “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 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 might really destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then ultimately, in about 2009, is once I started to comprehend that, oh, these distinctive ones, that is perhaps one thing price saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that path, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you may get vanilla and chocolate wherever.

However distinctive varieties, I feel that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard type, 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 acquired 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 bear in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] turned a factor. However currently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so beautiful, and so they 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 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 path; yours, as you described, a few of them seem 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: Effectively, I feel you’re really shining a light-weight on, if 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 wish to begin trying 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 in search of the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off varieties. 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 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 really use jewellery baggage which can 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 extensively open-pollinate, and so they have two kinds of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And should you’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you possibly can actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, for 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 elements 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, so that they don’t make pollen, however they’ll obtain pollen. So, if 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 fastidiously type out your zinnia seed, you possibly can 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 could have 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 realize 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, you must exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless type of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be slightly 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 if you do that, however it’s a option to start to slender down within the path you wish to go.

Margaret: Oh, O.Ok. 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, should 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 could have some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a kind of Queeny varieties, I neglect which one you could have. And one other combine that I’ve at all times preferred, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I feel is so well-named as a result of it’s acquired such enjoyable form of colours in it. However you could have one which I’ve by no means really grown, known as ‘Pink 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 outdated, back-to-the-roots type of genetics. Yeah.

Don: Effectively, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s really a special species from the normal zinnias that folks 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 really a special species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was principally a wildflower. And so, the ‘Pink Spider’ is, I feel, 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 special coloration. And so they don’t are likely 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 usually thinner, so I feel that’s the place the title 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 form of the parental varieties that gave beginning to all of the completely different trendy ones that had been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber copy.

Margaret: Yeah. You’ve gotten some enjoyable with them. I imply, you could have, talking of ones which can be within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra widespread species, you chose from one that folks might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just 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 form of yellow and purple, after which white and purple, however there’s additionally form of a cream and purple 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 a pricey pal 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 feel they’re inching in the direction of retirement, so type of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we had 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 typically if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the considering that we will management pollination slightly bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is admittedly simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and purple ones.

And I wish to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve observed this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection specifically tends to supply what are known as chimeras. And you too can 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 seem like both yellow petals that any individual took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of purple on them, or indirectly.

So then, I rip out all those which can 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 may 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’ll 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: 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 purple 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 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 typically name them remixes. You’ve gotten one that you just name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ for 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 preserve going?

Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Possibly you would 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 feel gardeners like novelty, and I attempt to be clear in our catalog to not count on 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 supply 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’ 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 varieties. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I feel typically when you could have a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one means you study that’s by means of trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I really like the title of 1 that you’ve your providing that you just bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this form 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 really has a botanical title known 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 a substitute of rising straight, had 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 mentioned, “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 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 title. ‘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 form of seems 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 in the intervening time? 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 in addition as a analysis and improvement 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 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 simple to develop and I feel simply as spectacular. And I feel it might be one of many subsequent huge issues for residence 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 lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower varieties, they’ll seem like a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know how one can say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: In order that they actually, they are often fairly completely different.

Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now considering they’d 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 really like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, numerous tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ Plenty of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Ok. 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 ladies 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 if you eat it, every kernel seems like any individual took a small paintbrush and drew slightly starburst of purple on it.

And I’m 85 % of the way in which there of getting a range 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 at all times promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.

Margaret: Huh. Attention-grabbing. You’ve executed quite a bit 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 effectively. And I feel it looks as if you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as effectively, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we now 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 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 recent herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an excellent firm out of Washington known as Pals of the Timber Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the title Skeeter, who’s one in all 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 mentioned, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 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

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