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Plant the Baptisia alba ‘White Indigo’ now and reap the benefits next year.
Plant the Baptisia alba ‘White Indigo’ now and reap the benefits next year.

Baptisia alba ‘White Indigo’: Don’t forget about what you’d like to see come spring Add to ...

When autumn arrives, there’s so much to do in the garden that it can feel overwhelming. Things look sloppy when sensible pruning hasn’t been completed or the edges of borders aren’t tidied up for a crisp winter look. But don’t forget to stop, however briefly, and think about seeds. It’s a terrific time to sow some seeds that will give you not only moments of glory, but long-lasting pleasure.

Buy seeds now and hang on to them until there’s been a frost but the soil isn’t frozen hard. Then, you can lay seeds directly on the ground and, voilà, you’ve performed dormant seeding. Any wildflower seed will lie “dormant” until spring warms things up and it starts to grow.

My choice for a long-lasting native perennial is Baptisia alba. What a great plant. When it has decided it likes living with you (it takes about three years to bloom), it will leap out of the soil each year once it’s thawed and will grow to a metre in weeks. It produces wonderful white blooms on blue-green eucalyptus-like foliage. Every part of this plant has a plus: The bell-like flowers bloom in spring; the long elegant stems look gorgeous cut for a vase; the seeds turn black and are decorative; and butterflies adore this plant. Though it doesn’t need staking, you can shape it after blooming even if it means losing the seed pods for one year.

The other virtues of Baptisia alba are that it is leguminous (has nitrogen-fixing roots), but it’s a long taproot, which means it will not want to be moved so choose your area for seed sowing carefully. It doesn’t have to be great soil, but pick a spot that gets both sun and shade. Mine gets shade in the morning and late afternoon and is in the sun at midday and does very well.

For anyone who needs a more instant spring effect, look for seeds that don’t require the freeze-thaw of winter, also called cold moist stratification if you need to get technical, to germinate. These are all native plants and may look more relaxed and casual than you are used to. They may self-seed as well, so be careful in planning where to sprinkle the seeds in November and mark the spot so you don’t haul them out as weeds in the spring. Try any of the following: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum); Blanket flower (Gaillarda aristata); Monarda fistulosa (Bergamot, Bee Balm); Lanceleaf Coreopsis and many different types of grasses.

The great thing about autumn seed sowing is that you have such a wonderful treat in store. It gives promise that spring will actually come just when you are convinced that winter will never end.

Seed packets retail for $3.25 at www.wildflowerfarm.com. For more plant information, go to www.marjorieharris.com.

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