Looking Forward To Warm
Is it over yet? I’m so DONE with the winter thing. Seriously. And I’m not alone: the robins are back in force and the thawing earth (ok, mud) smells like spring. The soft, warm chinook has replaced the Arctic express. I’m so ready to move on! Before the snow arrived, I had been potting up forgotten bulbs (right?), rooted hydrangea cuttings and divisions of grasses and strawberries that were slated for the compost heap. Now that I can see it all again, none of it looks damaged by the cold or the wet, and I’m amazed once again by the toughness of so many wonderful plants.
After disasters, whether caused by wicked weather, fire, or floods, or all of the above, it’s best not to look back too much. Yes, a lot of much-loved plants are lost and yes, that feels really sad. But. Once they’re gone, it can feel like Kansas out there; acres wide, just ready to be planted. Getting them gone is the key to a happy new start. If you find the work of removal too painful (physically and/or emotionally), remember the First Rule of Sustainable Gardening: Cause it to be done by others.
I Can See Clearly Now
It can be tricky to see new possibilities through a mass of mess and muddle. Clear it away and give yourself some time to refresh your thoughts. When all the wreckage is removed, stumps are pulled, and roots are wrenched up, take more time to prep the soil. Break up any lumps and bumps, rake each area smooth, and layer on some mature compost or aged dairy manure. There now, isn’t that better? Is there a more inspiring sight than beautiful soil, ready for planting? Dream into the newly available space and consider what might fare better this summer than your late plants.
If you’re having trouble re-imagining favorite beds and borders in the wake of winter’s dead, buy yourself some time by filling in with fabulous annuals. These days, there are zillions of gorgeous annuals that are also long blooming, heat loving, drought tolerant and deer resistant. Once you start playing around with them, you may end up deciding that, far from just being space holders, annuals can earn as much border space as any proud perennial. Consider the once humble cosmos, now a knockout with doubled (Double Click Cranberry, f’rinstance) or cupped blossoms (check out the Cupcakes Mix) as well as striped-and-picoteed Veloute. And how about ornamental carrots? Purple Kisses carrots produce lacy swirls of midnight purple, while Dara’s umbels are shades of rose and wine. Or the summer sky blue whirls of Didiscus Lacy Blue…
Zinnias With Zing
For hot, dry, sunny areas, zinnias are among my top choices. I’ve seen articles that insist that zinnias need regular water during hot spells, but that hasn’t been my experience. Gardener friends all over the country report zinnias to be tough as nails-unless we get a wet summer. Then, various mildews can be a problem, but wet summers are extremely rare along the West Coast. So far, anyway. Some of the best for a showboat spot are the long legged beauties of the Benary Bunch, from envy-colored Benary’s Giant Lime through yellows and oranges to coral, salmon, rose, and purple. All boast big, brilliant blossoms on strong 3-foot stems that make these the It Girls of the zinnia family for florists and flower arrangers.
The hard blooming Yoga zinnias are equally floriferous and similarly statuesque, boasting large and supremely showy blossoms on 2-3 foot stems. Like all their cousins, the Yogas are butterfly and pollinator magnets. They produce amazing quantities of flowers in striking shades from powerhouse purple to sumptuous salmon, screaming red, tawny orange, and burnished gold. Oh, and there’s a crisp, elegantly green-blushed white, if you’re working on a White Garden theme. I’m also wild about the Cupcakes series, as luscious a mixture as I’ve ever grown. These are more compact, mostly around 2 feet tall, with deliciously frilled and fluffy flowers in confectionary colors, from butter yellow to citrus tints, as well as reds, pinks, and lavenders.
Maybe it’s my Freddy Mercury fan-ness showing but I’m totally high on the Queens, starting with dramatic Queen Red Lime, shading from dusty red to coral to soft green at the centers. Queen Lime Blotch shades from pink-tinged green to rosy centers, while Queen Lime Orange makes a starburst from hot red to chartreuse to burnt orange. Most of these award winners are 2-footers, great for cuts and terrific for beds and borders. The big blossoms look a lot like dahlias and look exactly like something Frida Kahlo would wear in her hair. So do calendulas, which I’ve planted in every garden I’ve made, as much for their sunny cheerfulness as for their habit of producing blossoms all year round. If the old favorites aren’t snazzy enough, try Calexis Yellow or Calexis Orange, both with quilled and frilled flowers that look more like a Cactus zinnia than something you’d feed the chickens to make their egg yolks brighter orange (that actually works quite well).
I’ve always been a sucker for the tall green spires of Bells Of Ireland (Molucella laevis), an excellent contrast to fluffier flowers. And what can I say about Sweet Cream marigolds except that they’re mouth-watering? I love the spunky scent of marigolds, which makes them very good at chasing off pesty bugs. These tall gals make great cuts, as do both Bali Orange and Bali Yellow, sturdy super bloomers that can crank out over a hundred flowers in a season. Tart, tangy Lemon Gem marigolds are tidy little things; short, bushy plants with fine-textured, fragrant foliage and countless little lemony star flowers. A sister variety, Tangerine Gem, has warmer orange blossoms that can decorate soup or salad with panache. Ready for summer yet? I can’t wait!