A series on gardening for beginners would not be complete without a list of flowers – food for the soul. I love growing flowers. I probably grow better flowers than food!
Flowers add color, beauty and fragrance to a garden of lush foliage or to a vegetable garden where the fruits are the focus. Many repel insects, which is an important part of organic gardening. If you have no bugs, you need no pesticides! Flowers attract pollinators, which are crucial to the production of vegetables and fruit.
Annuals bloom all season. They add color when the perennials, with their short bloom times, are not very showy. The variety of color, texture, shape and size add to any garden in large or small numbers. Be sure to cut the old flowers off before they go to seed. Once they do, flower production stops.
Most annuals do well in containers and planters, and small varieties are even being developed exactly for this purpose. If you live in the city and have a small balcony or yard, you can have a few pots of flowers to brighten up your days!
Small pots of flowers can act as a centerpiece on a table. Tall varieties can be cut and brought inside for colorful decoration and delicious scents. Annuals are easy to start from seed indoors or seed directly into the ground. They are almost a no-fail plant!
I like to grow the more difficult flowers to experiment, but I always grow the easy ones, too. Here are my favorites.
Marigolds – A vegetable garden is not complete without marigolds. The strong scent of the flowers repels many types of bugs. Use them generously around your vegetable plants. For a flower border, there are many heights from 6” to 3’ tall to be from the front to the back. Flowers are single or double and come in white, yellow and many shades of red and orange. They are easy to start from seed, and they like full sun.
Zinnias – Zinnias are one of the longest lasting flowers in the garden and in a bouquet. There are various heights from creeping and hanging (good for containers) to 3’ tall for the back of a border. They like full sun, need little maintenance and are very easy to start from seed.
Cosmos – As tall as 4’, cosmos is the perfect flower for the back of a border. The foliage is light and airy, which creates visual space. Pink and white single or double flowers make large, long-lasting bouquets. Cosmos tolerates poor soils and reseeds easily. Alternatively, you can collect the seed in fall for next year or to share. Orange cosmos is a smaller plant with a different shape flower, but it has all the same qualities.
Nasturtiums – This is another good plant for pest control in the garden. It attracts aphids, which can decimate a crop quickly. Let them eat your nasturtiums instead of food you are growing! Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed. Their round-ish, blue green leaves make a stunning contrast in a flower border. The whole plant is edible, too!
Sunflowers – How could I not include sunflowers in this list?! They are so versatile! You can grow large varieties for shade and small ones for the front of a border or for containers. They make excellent cut flowers, attract pollinators and provide food for birds and people. Seed can be saved for the following year. Flower color ranges from bright yellow to deep red. They tolerate poor soil, but if planted in good garden soil, you can plant pole beans at the base. They will use the sunflower stalk as a trellis, which makes harvest easy. Sunflowers are a magical project for children!
Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups – These are more flowers that intrigue children. The dark insides of the petals create faces that smile at them! Who can resist that?! These are low growers that do great in containers or as the front of a border. Johnny Jump Up reseeds easily, so your garden is different each year. I love plants that do that. These will pop up between flagstones in patios and walkways providing a shot of color, but not be in your way since they are so small.
Aside from early spring flowering bulbs, perennials are a sure sign of the end of winter and hope for warm weather and a new growing season. They put out green growth when the soil is too cool for annuals and most vegetables. Design-wise, perennials, along with shrubs and trees, are the backbone of the plantings that define your yard.
The key to using perennials is knowing when they bloom. Most flower for a short time, so when one is done, you want to have another coming into flower. Some bloom all summer, and those are my favorites, because I don’t have much time to tend to them.
It seems to me the cool colors (blues and purples) bloom in the cooler weather of spring, and the warm colors (reds, yellows and oranges) come in summer’s heat. Or maybe I have just planted that way! Either way, color is the main consideration after bloom time. Until you are very familiar with the huge variety of perennials out there, you will have to experiment with what colors bloom when. It’s kind of a juggling act, but you can move plants around as you learn their characteristics.
Size, shape and texture are important for visual interest. Larger plants need to be at the back of a bed or in the center of a circular bed. Smaller plants are for edges. Various textures and shapes make a garden fun to look at and explore. Plants can be spikey, mounded, draping, vase shaped or sprawling, and their leaves can be large or fine, and in many shades of green.
I highly recommend walking through a good garden nursery at various times of the year to see what’s in bloom and how they are used. Hopefully, there are demonstration gardens. Visit a botanical garden to see what grows well in your area, but here are a few that grow well in most places and are fool proof.
Yarrow – This is a sun loving, all-summer bloomer that comes in any color you want. It is hardy, tolerating cold, heat and drought. The foliage is feathery and scented, and it ranges from dark green to a dusty blue green. It is a low, mounded shape with the flowers above it.
Echinacea – This is commonly known as coneflower and is another hardy plant. It does well with little maintenance once established in full sun. It is about 30” tall when full grown, and has a pink daisy type flower.
Gallardia – This is known as blanket flower. It comes in red, yellow and burgundy. It reseeds easily, so you can dig up and transplant or give away the babies. It loves sun and heat, and handles drought. This is another hardy, low maintenance plant that will bloom all summer if you keep removing the spent flowers.
Heuchera – Commonly known as coral bells, this plant is grown mostly for its foliage. There are cultivars now with green, purple or variegated foliage. It is a shade loving plant that does well with a little morning sun. Too much sun will burn the leaves. The foliage is low growing, so it is a good edging plant. The dainty flowers shoot up on spikes early in summer.
Lilies – This is another plant that would do well with dappled shade. The leaves are spikey for interesting texture, and the flowers come in colors from dark red to pink to yellow and any combination you can think of! These are low maintenance beauties that everyone loves!
Perennials will grow larger every year, and after a while, they need to be divided. A pitchfork with flat tines (a dung fork, it’s called) is best for breaking a plant apart without severing the root system. Never use a shovel to do this. Be gentle with your plants, and they will provide you with joyous color for many years!
Combine annuals and perennials for color all season and a wide variety of visual interest year round! See my perennials Pinterest board for images and more ideas!