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 range of zinnia colours and varieties and sizes? And what are some new trying ones that you simply may 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 forms of greens, herbs, and flowers in its assortment. As if that weren’t sufficient, Don creates a YouTube channel of how-to movies and a long-running weblog, and hosts a number of on-farm trainings for gardeners and farmers annually.

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

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

Learn alongside as you hearken 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 most likely not winter, not quiet, for you.

Don Tipping: Yeah.

Margaret: You and I just lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me the best way to do virtually a decade in the past, the best way 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 kind of ice cream. However I feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to range of flower varieties and colours, I simply preserve 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, the entire Siskiyou Seeds’ forms of every thing, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s tough; 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 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, 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 tough to stabilize a number of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually need to develop hundreds of vegetation to see that one-in-a-thousand particular person. And simply since you save seed from it doesn’t essentially imply that you simply’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to specific in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the guardian plant, all its infants gained’t be equivalent, any greater than I don’t seem 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 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 type 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 after we are doing that, we’re sometimes rising a single shade. So something that deviated from that, we’d really destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is after I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that is perhaps one thing value saving seed from and really starting to nudge it in that course, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you will 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 same old variety, 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 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 currently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so attractive, and so they sort 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 type of one of many newest in ages.

However you’ve gone off in a course; yours, as you described, a few of them seem like “undersea creatures,” and simply a few of them come off type 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, once 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 need 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 all the time on the lookout for the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off varieties. The mutants have a tendency to not categorical readily.

However by 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 standard GMO.

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

So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation or extra, and I observed a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that kind of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, and so they have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And in the event you’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you possibly can 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 might 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’ll obtain pollen. So, once you take 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 in the event you fastidiously kind out your zinnia seed, you possibly can work out 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 will have 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 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 sort of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which might be slightly on the immature facet, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re vastly decreasing the quantity of viable seed once you do that, however it’s a solution to start to slender down within the course you need 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 sort of steering the inhabitants, in the event you can, in a course that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you simply promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you will have some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny varieties, I overlook which one you will have. And one other combine that I’ve all the time favored, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I feel is so well-named as a result of it’s obtained such enjoyable type of colours in it. However you will 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. Have you learnt 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 really a unique species from the standard zinnias that folks develop. So, the standard 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 really a unique 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 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 unique shade. And so they don’t are likely to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we dwell within the mountains, so perhaps 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 in the event you take a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see type 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 replica.

Margaret: Yeah. You could have some enjoyable with them. I imply, you will have, talking of ones which might 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 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 type of yellow and pink, after which white and pink, however there’s additionally type 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 positively 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, test 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 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 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 considering that we are able to management pollination slightly bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is absolutely simply saving seed from essentially the most yellow and pink ones.

And I need to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve observed this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to supply what are known as chimeras. And you can even see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I look forward to 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 anyone took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of pink on them, or indirectly.

So then, I rip out all those which might 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 might 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.

Margaret: Oh.

Don: Identical 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 shade, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t assume chimeras is one thing which you could pin down genetically. It simply has to do with development hormones and transposons, and the way genetic potential is distributed in a given plant relying on environmental stresses.

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

A few of yours are these mixes, otherwise you generally name them remixes. You could have 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 take a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You may preserve going?

Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Perhaps you could possibly 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 objective with that. And I feel 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 sort of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a unique shock in each field or one thing.

That my objective 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 simply see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ kind zinnias.

I need to get one which has that attention-grabbing sort 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 generally when you will have a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one approach you study that’s by trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I like the identify of 1 that you’ve got your providing that you simply bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this type 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 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 an alternative of rising straight, had been type 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 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: Effectively, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which type 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 taking part in 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 actually use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but in addition as a analysis and growth facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire pattern beginning there and we simply need to study as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot range. After which we are going to 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 could possibly be one of many subsequent massive issues for dwelling 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 varieties, they’ll seem like an enormous double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know the best way to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: So that they actually, they are often fairly 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 like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a number of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

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 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 ladies in a number of 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 seems like anyone 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 arduous 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. Fascinating. You’ve executed 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 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, 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 observed an enormous 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 Mates of the Timber 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 selections. As I stated, 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 all the time study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll preserve the teachings going for extra years to come back. So, thanks, thanks, and have a superb 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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