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 types and sizes? And what are some new trying ones that you just 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 positioned at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 types 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 take heed to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

zinnias and extra, with don tipping



Margaret Roach: Winter! However I suppose it’s seed-selling season, so most likely 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 way to do virtually a decade in the past, the 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 mentioned within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?

Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks like type of an apparent factor to love, like having vanilla ice cream be your, or I imply chocolate be your favourite kind of ice cream. However I feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential when it comes to variety of flower types and colours, I simply hold coming again to my intrigue with them.

Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve all the time 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 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’ types of all the things, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Right, yeah. And I feel it’s tough; individuals need to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the fact of the matter is, is that populations are continually hybridizing, and that’s the place Dr. John Navazio taught me: to make use of the time period proprietary F1 hybrids when referring to these industrial ones. Whereas zinnias, particularly, as a result of they’ve what are referred to as leaping genes [laughter], they’re transposons, the molecular-biologist time period for them. However principally, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.

So, it’s actually tough to stabilize among the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually must 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 precise in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the father or mother plant, all its infants gained’t be equivalent, any greater than I don’t appear to be my mother and father [laughter].

Don: Yeah, precisely.

Margaret: To simplify issues. So, what number of years because you first tinkered with a zinnia, because you let a complete inhabitants develop out in a discipline someplace at your house and mentioned, “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 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 once we are doing that, we’re sometimes rising a single colour. 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 once I started to comprehend that, oh, these distinctive ones, that could be one thing price saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you may get vanilla and chocolate wherever.

However distinctive sorts, I feel that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed corporations like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard form, 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 obtained to seek out new methods to maintain it thrilling.

Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, a long time in the past, I don’t even keep in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] grew to become a factor. However currently, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so 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 numerous catalog descriptions in numerous 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 route; yours, as you described, a few of them appear to be “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: Nicely, I feel you’re really shining a light-weight 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 trying and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in lots 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 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 normal 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 luggage which can be 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, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that kind of factor. And that they extensively open-pollinate, and so they have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And for those who’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 elements 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, while you take a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what appear to be 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 for those who rigorously type out your zinnia seed, you’ll be able to 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’ve gotten a complete 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 complete plant is self-pollinated, or that flower, and that’s assuming you bought to it earlier than the florets on the disc opened up. So, you must exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless type of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be just a little on the immature facet, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re drastically decreasing the quantity of viable seed while you do that, however it’s a option to start to slim down within the route you need to go.

Margaret: Oh, O.Okay. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery 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 type of steering the inhabitants, for those who can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve gotten some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a type of Queeny sorts, I neglect which one you’ve gotten. And one other combine that I’ve all the time preferred, 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’ve gotten one which I’ve by no means really grown, referred to 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 outdated, back-to-the-roots type of genetics. Yeah.

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

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

Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the 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 distinct colour. And so they don’t are inclined to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we reside within the mountains, so possibly it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a distinct 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 for those who take a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see type of the parental types 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’ve some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve gotten, 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. 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 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 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 buddy and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, test them out earlier than, I feel they’re inching in 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 pink. So I used to be like, “Nicely, I’ll do the yellow and pink.”

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

And I need to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and possibly you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection particularly tends to supply what are referred to as chimeras. And you may as well see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I await the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the vegetation that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear to be both yellow petals that any individual took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of pink on them, or indirectly.

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 discovered 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.

Margaret: Oh.

Don: Similar to we don’t appear to be our siblings, though 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 colour, 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 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 take a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You may hold going?

Don: Yeah. And this could’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 making an attempt to get my aim with that. And I feel gardeners like novelty, and I try to be clear in our catalog to not anticipate each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re certain to, it’s type of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a distinct shock in each field or one thing.

That my aim 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’ kind zinnias.

I need to get one which has that fascinating type 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 typically when you’ve gotten a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one method you study that’s via trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I really like the identify 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 type of cactusy…

Don: Nicely, 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 referred to as fimbriated, the place the petals don’t finish at a tidy level, however are extra splayed out.

After which I seen one the place the petals themselves, as a substitute 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 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. Nicely, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can hold monitor of all these items. So, I used to be like, “O.Okay., you’re going to be Frippertronic,” as a result of he invented the primary digital tape-loop music, simply one thing novel. So, ‘Loopy Legs’ was a extra descriptive 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 type of appears like undersea anemones, the ‘Tidepool Combine.’

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So, earlier than we take up on a regular basis with zinnias,  I need to simply ask you about what else are you enthusiastic about in the meanwhile? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless taking part in with zinnias. Are there different issues that you just’re…

Don: Nicely, yearly we decide 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 growth facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s a complete pattern beginning there and we simply need to study as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot variety. 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 may very well be one of many subsequent large 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 stunning flowers. And talking of issues that may come in numerous flower types, they’ll appear to be an enormous double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know the 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 pondering they’d 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 really like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a lot of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

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

Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor type of, much like the zinnias that I’ve been engaged on, is a striped kernel candy corn that I name ‘Starburst Choose.’ And also you see this trait in flour corn, some Native communities name it chin-mark corn, named after the cultural custom of tattooing ladies in among the Northwest tribes. However principally, 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 any individual took a small paintbrush and drew just a little starburst of pink on it.

And I’m 85 p.c of the best way 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 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 achieved loads through the years with flour corns, those as in you’ll 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 properly. And I feel it looks like you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as properly, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we now have what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to reply to the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve seen 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 new herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an incredible firm out of Washington referred to as Associates of the Timber Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s certainly one of our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. And so they develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Nicely, lots of enjoyable decisions. As I mentioned, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and possibly 700 in any given yr being provided. I’m so glad to talk to you; I all the time study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll hold the teachings going for extra years to come back. 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

enter to win a $25 siskiyou seeds present card

I’LL BUY A $25 present card to Siskiyou Seeds for one fortunate reader. All you must do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field under:

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

No reply, or feeling shy? Simply say one thing like “depend me in” and I’ll, however a reply is even higher. I’ll choose a random winner after entries shut Tuesday Feb. 13, 2024 at midnight. Good luck to all.

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