If you like starting perennials from seed, it looks like there are some winners in the seed catalogs to try this year. This is an inexpensive way to get perennial plants and have enough to fill out new borders.

The plant that’s really caught my eye in several seed catalogs is Knautia macedonia Melton Pastels. The crimson-red version of this flower, which likes a sunny spot in the garden, has been available from garden centers for a few years. Flowers that look like scabiosa blooms top wiry stems that get about 2 feet tall. It’s a summer bloomer here.

Park Seed says that Melton Pastels will get about 3 feet tall. The colors are yummy – purple, lilac, blue, rose and crimson – and it’s supposed to be easy to start from seed.

Both Parks and Burpee have some really pretty single hollyhocks, Country Garden and Country Romance, that are very easy to start from seed. The color mix of apricot, ivory, rose, pink and mahogany is a very nice one.

Hollyhocks won’t bloom until the second year from seed, so you won’t know what colors you’ve got until then. You may want to start them outdoors in a nursery bed and grow them on there till next year.

If you’ve got the space for more tall plants, Verbascum Southern Charm looks like a winner. The wild verbascum, or mullein, grows in hot, dry, sunny places in poor soil along roadsides. The cultivated variety should be just as undemanding, and Burpee says it will bloom the first year from seed if started indoors in February or March. Plants make a rosette of leaves at the base and shoot up flower stems that get about 3 feet tall. Colors in this mix are lavender, buff and rose, and it’s supposed to be a great flower for cutting. They also sell started plants.

Columbines are very easy to start from seed and both Burpee and Parks have new varieties. Burpee’s William Guiness is a very dark purple and white, a very striking mix. It’s a single flower and it looks like it has long spurs. It would look very well with Parks’ Irish Elegance, a very double ivory flower with a greenish blush on the tips. They look like camellias. Both will reach 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall and will grow in full sun or partial shade. These too will bloom the first year from seed if started soon indoors.

Thompson Morgan is reintroducing a fragrant columbine that dates back to 1839, Aquilegia fragrans. Single white flowers have outer petals that are tinged with blue and short spurs. T&M describes the fragrance as soft and says the foliage has a hint of apple when rubbed.

Parks has seed for a new variety of catmint or Nepeta, this one Nepeta nervosa Blue Carpet. The Nepeta mussini that I grow is very low-growing, with silvery foliage that has a pleasant smell when bruised and tiny lilac blue flowers that cover the plant in spring. If you cut it back after flowering, it will give you another flush of bloom in fall. Blue Carpet will bloom the first year from seed on 10-inch plants that spread out over the ground to form a mat. Nepeta likes full sun and a dry soil.

Too much moisture will rot out the plant.

I’ve always had luck starting perennial salvias from seed and I imagine Park’s Salvia x superba Rose Princess would be easy to get going. This rosy pink version of Blue Queen gets 20 inches tall and will bloom all summer long if you deadhead it. It’s best in full sun and can take a dry spot in the garden.

Penstemons are favorite perennial plants of mine. They bloom in late spring and early summer with little lipped bells up and down the stems. Parks is offering a new variety called Rondo that they say you can direct seed in the garden and still get to bloom this year. There aren’t many perennials that will do that. The plants will get 16 inches tall and the color mix is pink, red, lilac and purple. It’s supposed to be a good cutting flower. They grow well in full to part sun.

T&M is offering seed for a Penstemon that they can’t identify. Known in their catalog only as “Up-named species,” this lavender-blue flowered plant will get 18- to 24-inches tall and will flower in summer. If any of you can identify it, either from the photo in their catalog or by growing it from their seed, they want to hear from you.

Malaysia can become main source of oil palm seeds

Besides being a main exporter of palm oil in the global market, Malaysia can also become the main source of oil palm seeds, Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim) director-general Dr Yusof Basiron said.

High quality oil palm seeds are needed by the oil palm industry.

“In the future, Malaysia may export these seeds because the market for them is big,” he said at a seminar on oil palm cultivation in Bangi, Selangor yesterday.

Porim has the largest collection of high quality oil palm seeds in the world and is one of the main provider of high quality seedlings.

“We possess good mother palms, which can be leased out for further cultivation of oil palm seeds,” Yusof said.

He said there are now 12 agencies involved in producing these seeds in the country including Golden Hope Plantations, Guthrie dan United Plantations.

However, he added, that these agencies may not be able to meet all the demands.

There are plenty of opportunities for bumiputera entrepreneurs in the business of providing oil palm seeds for cultivation, he added.

He urged Bumiputera entrepreneurs, including members of the National Cooperative Organisation of Malaysia (Angkasa), to partake in oil palm seeds cultivation.

In his speech, Yusof said that the opening of the Advanced Technology Centre in May next year will see Porim shifting its focus towards research and development and the production of oleochemical-based products.

Economically, he said, oleochemical-based products fetch a much higher value in the marketplace. “For instance, a 600gm body lotion, which is an oleochemical-based product, costs RM8 compared with cooking oil, a palm olein product, which is priced at RM3.50 a kg.”

Another area which has tremendous potential is the use of bio-mass of oil palm.

A safer approach to heights

Falls from heights are the largest cause of serious injuries in the agriculture, construction, manufacturing and service industries, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive.

In light of this fact the European Union has introduced revised health and safety legislation, enforcing new standards and making the provision of appropriate fall protection mandatory.

From this month it is compulsory for all safety equipment used in the EU to carry the new CE mark which guarantees that it meets a rigorous set of quality and performance standards. Companies whose employees work at heights, be they builders, oil rig workers or window cleaners, must ensure that they use safety equipment of the appropriate standard.

The British company BTP  developed Sayfglida, a permanent safety and support system which is installed during the construction of bridges, buildings, etc and remains permanently in place so that they can be maintained and repaired.

The trick with fall arrest systems is to dissipate the energy of a fall through the harness, shock absorber and overhead steel line. This latter spans the whole length of the structure and is computer designed to its dimensions and specifications: it must not be too taut, otherwise a faller would come to a jolting halt, but it must not be too elastic, or the experience would be akin to a bungee jump.

The fall protection harness is designed to spread the energy of the fall over those parts of the body which can best withstand pressure, like the trunk, thighs and shoulders. The shock absorber is a concertina of material which rips open sequentially, absorbing energy as it does so.