We wanted it all: beauty, biodiversity, character development and learning. That’s why I’ve been growing native flowers from seed for the last five years. With the right seeds, equipment and method, it can be very easy, very rewarding and work toward many of my most important class/school goals all at once. We’ll also be doing important work to support our local monarchs and other pollinators.
The Learning: Students learn curriculum and build character. I use growing native flowers from seed as an opportunity to talk about eco systems, invasive species and biodiversity in general as well as landscaping and horticulture professions. Sometimes we measure and graph the growth of our species. And, as a teacher working with students at-risk, I am always grateful for this activity as a chance for students to practice caring for something living, practicing being nurturing and thus working on their capacity for empathy. Watching this in action with my students has been a really rewarding experience.
The Equipment: You do not need a grow light stand, although it helps. For years I grew seeds only using a window ledge, I just had to start the seeds a bit earlier and choose the right plants. What you do need:
- A self-watering seed tray from Lee Valley Tools. This is your best friend because it survives through March Break and it’s hard to overwater your plants. Thin versions are available that can perch on smaller windowsills.
- Soil. Even cheap potting soil will be just fine.
- A spray bottle with a gentle mist setting for watering young Hyssop (see below)
- A few trowels
Choosing the right seeds: Go native or go home! Native plants have vastly greater eco-system benefits and will survive better. Non-natives may actually be hurting your ecosystem. For Ontario schools, I recommend ordering seeds from Wild Flower Farm near Orillia. They have a variety of fantastic native Ontario seeds. However, for your first year, I highly recommend these three species as foolproof and great in the garden:
- Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Lavender Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
All three grow very easily. All three are long-lasting flowers that will be great to help our troubled pollinators. The most serious problem is usually that too many seeds sprout(ed) in each cell: an embarrassment of riches! If you plant them early enough, say early-mid February, you should see flowers in the first year! Just remember to follow the instructions on the packet, particularly for the Hyssop which needs the seeds to be “planted” on (the) top of the soil.
I’ll have more as we near the season for planting outside. I don’t have any financial connection with Lee Valley Tools or Wild Flower Farms other than being a regular customer.