Years ago I was given a border pink named Heart’s Desire. A border pink is a group of Dianthus perennials that are used for border edging or rock gardens. They are small plants with gray green, grass-like leaves. They prefer full sun and are drought tolerant once established. Dianthus flowers range from pink to red, have the same ruffled look as a carnation, with the same clove fragrance as a carnation. But a Dianthus is a much smaller plant, a mound of foliage less than a foot wide with inch-wide blossoms on 6-inch stems. Heart’s Desire, a Blooms of Bressingham introduction, is bubblegum pink with a red halo.
Dianthus flowers are edible but fortunately deer don’t eat them. For my family, I pull apart the petals to add color to green or fruit salads and lemonade or fruit drinks. I also cut the flowers for small vases in the office. This plant is a performer — it has thrived on a sunny terrace in my Virginia garden with no maintenance and no fertilizer for many years. Heart’s Desire blooms all summer long and the leaves stay above ground during the winter.
I was at a local Virginia garden center this weekend and saw four plants that are popular to buy now in the early spring. They had such small tags, you would not know the full scoop if you had bought them.
Pansies: They are beautiful and out of these four plants, pansies would have the most colorful impact now. They come in a range of colors and can be used in hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground. But, they prefer cool weather and will not last through our hot and humid summers. By the beginning of summer, you will pull them out if the deer and rabbits do not get to them first. These are annuals meaning they only survive for one growing season. In our area, they really are only useful in the spring when they bloom. They do not make good cut flowers.
Alyssum: Usually one only finds white flowered alyssum which is not my favorite color in the garden. They are not cut flowers but their form lends themselves to hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground, along the walkway. Alyssum likes cool weather but will do well in the summer. Their tiny flowers attract the pollinators including bees and beneficial insects but not deer. These annuals will die with frost in the fall but you will have gotten your money’s worth.
Dianthus: Related to carnations, this type of dianthus likes full sun and can be drought tolerant once established. The flowers are small, but could be cut for a small vase. The plant adds color, usually the flowers are pink to red, but the plant lies low to the ground. Its form does not lend itself for hanging baskets; they are best used on terraces, rock gardens, garden beds. The plant might come back the next year but they do not have a long life and are treated as annuals here.
Snapdragons: The flowers are beautiful, come in a range of colors, and can be cut for vases. They bloom in the cool spring months, the plant simply grows and persists during the summer, and they may bloom again in the cool autumn. Mine have come back the following year but not years after that. Usually they are grown in the ground, or containers, not hanging baskets. Snapdragons are deer resistant.
I forgot to grow zinnias. Every year I grow zinnias so I can put a vase of flowers on my desk at work but for some odd reason, I didn’t this year. Now in the heat of summer I don’t have many options to choose from but next year I will grow zinnias for summer blooms and on top of that, will start even earlier with spring flowers.
To learn more about increasing the diversity of flowers in my Northern Virginia garden, I have been following Lisa Mason Ziegler’s virtual book study for the past month. Each Friday for 10 Fridays, she posts a 10-minute video that corresponds to a chapter in her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques. The videos can be viewed on her website any time and she is more than happy to answer questions. Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, Virginia. She is well known in the horticulture field, has written books and given lectures, and has an online garden shop called The Gardener’s Workshop. Lisa is an expert on hardy annuals, which prefer to bloom during spring’s cool temperatures. Hardy annuals differ from the summer annuals in that the seeds are sown in August/September or February/March, depending on the plant. In contrast, summer annuals, like zinnias, prefer the heat so they are sown after the danger of frost has passed in late April/early May.
Of the 30 plants mentioned in her book, I have seeds of six plants on hand. I can start snapdragon, dianthus, and feverfew indoors now and transplant at the end of August. I can direct sow love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and calendula seeds at the end of August to the beginning of September. All of these will bloom in the spring and peter out when summer arrives which will increase my number of cut flowers from spring to early summer. From then on the summer annuals can take over and I will look for a few more in addition to zinnias. In her videos and in her book, Lisa discusses her preference for direct sown versus transplants and starting in the fall versus early spring. If the plant is hardy to a zone colder than one’s own zone, plant in the fall. If the plant is not has hardy as one’s own zone, plant in early spring. However, early spring can mean cold, wet soil so she suggests preparing the bed in the fall and covering with mulch or landscape fabric to prevent weeds and to enable the ground to be worked easily in February and March.
So far I have viewed 5 of the 10 videos and I have read the book. If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting her web site and listening to her videos or buy her book on her site or at a bookstore but it is not necessary to have the book in order to follow along with her videos.
Posted in flowers, seeds
Tagged calendula, cut flowers, dianthus, feverfew, flowers, hardy annuals, larkspur, Lisa Ziegler, love-in-a-mist, seeds, snapdragon, summer annuals, The Gardener's Workshop, zinnias