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 kinds 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 situated 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 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 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 Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me the right way to do virtually a decade in the past, the right 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 form 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 feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to range of flower kinds 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 styles and sizes and no matter that I’m seeing today. And so, I discover, I see on some catalog web sites that there are some hybrid zinnias, however all of yours, the entire Siskiyou Seeds’ styles of every little thing, are open-pollinated, sure?
Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s troublesome; folks wish to cut back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality 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 industrial 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 mainly, 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 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 dad or mum plant, all its infants received’t be equivalent, 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 an entire inhabitants develop out in a area someplace at your house and stated, “Ooh, I actually like that one over there. I’m going to avoid wasting seed from that one.” How way back, do you suppose?
Don: Nicely, 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 might really destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is after I started to understand that, oh, these distinctive ones, that is perhaps one thing price saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you will get vanilla and chocolate anyplace.
However distinctive sorts, I feel that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the same old sort, 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 obtained 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 keep in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] turned a factor. However these days, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-
Margaret: … are simply so beautiful, and so they form 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 kind 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 kind of cactus-shaped flowers and get even wilder and crazier. Yeah? [Below, a couple of flowers from his ‘Tidepool Mix.’]
Don: Nicely, I feel you’re really shining a lightweight 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 trying 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 in search of the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. 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 business has been tinkering with issues. So, it’s completely different than the standard 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 luggage 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 kind of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, and so they have two forms of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And if you happen to’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you’ll be able to 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 components and might 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, while you have 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 if you happen to fastidiously type out your zinnia seed, you’ll be able to determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-
Don: … whereas those who got here from the ray florets.
Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you have got an entire 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 understand 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 important to exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless form of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be slightly on the immature facet, 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 option to start to slender down within the route you wish to go.
Margaret: Oh, O.Ok. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery luggage on it.
Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery luggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and form of steering the inhabitants, if you happen to can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you have got some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a kind of Queeny sorts, I overlook which one you have got. 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 obtained such enjoyable kind of colours in it. However you have got one which I’ve by no means really grown, known as ‘Purple 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 form of genetics. Yeah.
Don: Nicely, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s really a unique species from the standard zinnias that folks develop. So, the standard zinnia that most individuals are accustomed to, 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 really a unique species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was mainly a wildflower. And so, the ‘Purple 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 pink. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a unique shade. And so they don’t are likely to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we dwell within the mountains, so possibly it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a unique 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’ll be able to consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And if you happen to have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see kind of the parental kinds that gave beginning to all of the completely different trendy ones that have been in the end hybrids, after which folks went to tuber copy.
Margaret: Yeah. You’ve gotten some enjoyable with them. I imply, you have got, talking of ones which can be within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent 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. Nicely, 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 should always say Frank is a seed farmer, Wild Backyard Seed. Sure, yeah.
Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s undoubtedly a pricey 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 the direction of retirement, so form 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, “Nicely, I’ll do the yellow and pink.”
So, we use greenhouses generally if we wish to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the considering that we are able to management pollination slightly bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is basically simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and pink 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 known 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 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 can be white and pink, after which I minimize 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 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 minimize 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 development hormones and its genetic potential equally.
Don: Identical to we don’t appear 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 mainly half pink and half one other shade, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t suppose 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,’ for example. And that was already a cross of elegans, and haageana.
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 could’t… Possibly you might 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 sure to, it’s form of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a unique 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 wish to get one which has that attention-grabbing form 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 have got a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one approach you be taught that’s via trial and error.
Margaret: Yeah. I like the identify 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: Nicely, 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 really 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 observed one the place the petals themselves, as a substitute 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 form 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. Nicely, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can preserve monitor 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 growth and an orange one in growth and a yellow one. However these aren’t stabilized but.
Margaret: Nicely, 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.’
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: Nicely, 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 12 months are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire pattern beginning there and we simply wish to be taught as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot range. 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 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 could possibly be one of many subsequent massive issues for residence gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.
Margaret: I feel these are, what Callistephus, is that the genus? Callistephus, I feel.
Margaret: Yeah. And so they’re lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower kinds, they’ll appear like an enormous double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know the right way to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.
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 possibly 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].
Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ A lot of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Ok. So, these are three issues: radicchio, carrots, China asters.
Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor form 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 mainly, 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 someone took a small paintbrush and drew slightly 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 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 lots over time with flour corns, those as in you’d make meal or flour out of them, not flower corns.
Margaret: Very colourful, a few of them have been very colourful, that are simply lovely as effectively. And I feel it looks like you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as effectively, yeah?
Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we have now what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to answer the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve observed an enormous resurgence in curiosity in folks 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 Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify 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: Nicely, a number of enjoyable selections. As I stated, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and possibly 700 in any given 12 months being provided. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times be taught from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll preserve the teachings going for extra years to return. So, thanks, thanks, and have an excellent seed-selling season, huh
Don: Thanks a lot.
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