Sow There! Plant envy while traveling, try not to covet the alstromeria, June 28 2019

Alstromeria is a long-lived bloom, in a vase or in the yard. The tricky part is getting it to sprout. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

June 28, 2019 at 3:40 am

It’s easy to fall in love with a land when you’re on vacation. People are generally kind to strangers, and a visitor’s footsteps follow the most-favored paths. If you happen to stray to the less-polished parts of town, things looks brighter through a traveler’s lens.

Last week, seven teachers from my school attended a week-long training in Sebastopol.

I knew this town in my youth. When I was 8-13 years old, I would visit a childhood friend for weeks at a time. We climbed apple trees and gathered blackberries. I remember going to the beach, and walking down long roads covered with gravel.

Things have changed, as things always do, and Sebastopol is now a cute little town with gift shops, a Whole Foods store and new restaurants. We also stumbled across a concert in the park, with a huge crowd of gray-haired people twirling on the grass.

Many of the side roads near downtown look much like they did in my youth, with large lots without fences and the occasional goat or horse in the front yard.

When I visit a place for more than a day or two, I sometimes fantasize about moving there. I might go so far as to research home prices, and that usually dissolves the idealized image I had created in my head. There may very well be a direct correlation between home prices and a climate where plants thrive.

Green garden envy

Our group stayed at an amazing house with a lush garden. The foxglove was 9 feet tall, and this is not an exaggeration. Spikes of blossoms did not tip over like they do in my yard. I breezed by big bushes of alstromeria, which will survive in the shade in my yard, but only for a few years. The hydrangea were also massive. I could tell it had been blooming a long time because many of the flowers had already dried.

Did the people who own this house know a thing or two I needed to learn? Did they bring in truckloads of compost every spring?

Then I noticed the trees and fence posts, as well as just about everything else made of wood. So much lichen was growing that the wood looked like it was covered in dull green/gray paint that was peeling.

Yes, the fog. That pure, misty air in the mornings, laden with just enough water to mist plants into happiness … that was the key to the plant prosperity.

Lichen are not waxy like plants and do not hold water when it is dry. Lichen can absorb the morning water vapor.

Chico’s USDA climate zone ( is similar to Sonoma County, but those misty mornings make a big difference.

The treasures in this yard included a medium-sized tree, which I am guessing was Chinese lantern. Exquisite ornaments hung throughout the tree, with papery red blooms and tiny red jewels at the bottom. I could have danced all night under that tree, and yes, we had a full moon.

Tricky alstromeria

I gathered a few dried alstromeria seed pods, also known as Peruvian Lily, in the hope of bringing a bit of this beauty to my own backyard.

Yet, there may be reasons people buy alstromeria in 1-gallon pots, rather than seed packets. Thompson and Morgan ( advise that gardeners have the best luck when the seeds are recently produced by the mother plant. They also advise planting seeds in midwinter to early spring.

Even if you do everything right, the T&M website said only a few seeds may sprout, and some of these may emerge a year later. Another source (, this one in the United Kingdom, says to plant seeds in vermiculate, cover with plastic, then place in the fridge for three weeks. Next, move the dormant seeds to a 70-degree environment. “Germination may be erratic.”

The reason the seeds wait, according to Thompson and Morgan, is that the seeds go into dormancy if the conditions are not exactly right.

Got it. They might as well just say it. These plants are best when purchased in a 1-gallon pot.

If you do plant alstromeria, they’re worth it. Cut flowers will last for weeks in a vase. I’ve also learned that when the stems die back and turn brown, you can gently shake them as you remove the dried stem. This stimulates the root system. As you shake the stem, you should probably also shake the seeds onto the ground. Who knows; they might grow someday if they feel like it.

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