Growing Goat's Beard

Early in our first season in the Adirondacks last summer, we connected with a local legend. Nick Woodin (author of the August 2017 newsletter subscriber giveaway, the Exuberant Garden) for a couple reasons. One, everyone around here told us we had to meet him. Whenever we met a new neighbor and talked about our dream of setting up the farm and growing local flowers for the community, people would say, "have you met Nick Woodin? His gardens are amazing. He's a flower growing genius." Two, there were moments when we were a little desperate. We are committed to sourcing the most local flowers possible if we don't have what we need on farm. The Woodin's are just one road over and a few miles away. When we needed some extra flowers for a wedding or event, we knew where to go.

Armed with a couple twenties, my daughter and I filled a few buckets of water and went looking for the Woodin's. There are a couple of properties on the road that I figured might be the right place. We went door to door. After just two stops at properties who no doubt benefitted over the years from their proximity to the "flower growing genius," we turned down a narrow dirt drive. The only real hint of the treasures we'd soon see was a stand of naturalized campanula peeking out just enough for passers by on the road to see.

Perfectly planned perennial gardens edge the drive leading up to a narrow woodland home the Woodins built. Perennials were the focus, and at one time the Woodins propagated their own and ran a catalogue. We passed peonies, delphinium, and tons of flowers and plants I'd never seen before. It was a wonderland. Now, in their retirement all the beauties are naturalized. They've grown in and look as if they were always there. In my conversations with Nick since that day, I've learned that there is also a secret peony field somewhere on their property. 

We popped out of the car, and Nick came out to greet us. His kindness and compassion were immediately clear. We introduced ourselves and explained the afternoon's hunt for flowers. We talked about some wedding designs I was working on. He told us that we were generous for allowing couples to chose their own colors. The Woodins had only ever promised fresh flowers. But he took my clippers in hand and cut generously from the gardens for our event. We took home a bucket of peonies, a bucket of Goat's Beard, and some other blush-colored blooms. He was happy to share the bounty.

The Goat's Beard plants were prolific, filling out their spaces in the garden and infringing on other plants' space. It looks sort of like a giant astilbe. It is perennial and performs well in cold climates- even zone 2. They were so tall- 8 feet- it seemed. I decided I needed to grow them that day. Now, with the popularity of pampas grass and other plume-type flowers in wedding design, I can see how Goat's Beard can play an important role for us. 

We ordered seeds last fall from Swallowtail Garden Seeds and started a tray last month. With no obviously available suggestions for growing them, I did what seemed to make the most sense. I divided the seeds into three parts. 1 part went back into the seed packet in case my experiment failed and I'd want to try something different. The other two groups were sown in a simple experiment. I put half of them in a damp paper towel inside a plastic baggie in the fridge for two weeks. The others were chilled dry for two weeks. 

I surface sowed all the chilled seeds in 2-inch pots on a 1020 tray. The dry seeds went on one side. The damp seeds went into pots on the other side. The tray went under lights in the cellar (50F). The seeds were sown on January 23. 

The difference was clear. While the overall germination rate was slow and low across both sides of the flat, the half that was chilled damp germinated at a rate of 13 to 2 over the "dry-chilled" side. For improved germination, I've read that you can put pots back in the fridge and chill them again. More seeds will likely germinate. For now, I'll keep watching the tray and see what happens. 

Here is a photo of the seedlings (still in 2-inch pots) one month and 4 days later:

Goat's Beard seedling in a 2-inch pot. One month and 4 days from sowing. It is a slow process.

Goat's Beard seedling in a 2-inch pot. One month and 4 days from sowing. It is a slow process.

OK, that is probably enough blabbering on. My husband just read the title of this post over my shoulder and started giggling. Time to call it a night.