In 2003, an extraordinary gardening series called Recreating Eden aired the first season of five. Unlike many gardening shows which are mostly about the garden and the plants in them, these programmes were more about the gardeners and how their gardens changed their lives. The twelfth episode in the first year was “Keeper of the Dream“, a story about one of Canadas most historic gardens, its creator, Elsie Reford, and her great-grandson, Alexander Reford who saved it and restored it.
Among the flowers that Elsie Reford grew was the Himalayan Blue Poppy. In the first winter after we built the house, Joyce decided she wanted to have a go at growing them. So she researched how to grow them and I found some seed.
The seeds germinated and grew to about 1-2″. Then they wilted and died. We knew that we were dealing with damping off. We germinated more seeds and the same thing happened. We tried better circulation, fungicides, home remedies such as chamomile tea and garlic. Finally, we gave up and blue poppies became a faded dream. After that but not because of that, our garden interests shifted away from flowers to food – vegetables, fruits, nuts, and berries.
This winter we’ve had a fair number of seeds cold stratifying – goumi, autumn olive, Nanking cherry, Japanese quince, sloe, hawthorn, a number of different sorbus, etc. When some of the Japanese quince germinated, I did some potting up and placed them under grow lights. At first, they did quite well and then one by one they wilted and fell over. It had been a while but I knew that I was looking at damping off again. This time my researching the problem led me to Tom Clothier’s excellent gardening site with its information on damping off. His comments about accumulated salts and soluble salts got my attention. We have a water softener and I started thinking that there might be a connection to the damping off because I was watering with tap water.
So we started buying bottle spring water. Within days the results were very noticeable. One seedling that had fallen over and was nearly dead recovered and put out new leaves. All of the remaining plants turned dark green and put on growth.
So it seems that salts in the water from the water softener were the problem. One wonders what our garden would look like today had those blue poppies not died. Perhaps we would have been on a entirely different path.