One of the Joys of Maturity
Flowers in the Senior Garden
The Senior Garden has always been primarily a vegetable garden. At first, we grew vegetables to feed ourselves and our family, to cut our food bills, and to have better fruits and vegetables than were available at local groceries and markets.
Early on, I began to include flowers in our vegetable garden. I think at first it was a matter of companion plantings for bug deterrence. Then I began using flowers at the ends of direct seeded rows of vegetables. The flowers allowed me to pull up my planting stakes for use elsewhere, while still marking the yet unemerged row in an attractive manner.
But somewhere along the line, the bug bit for growing flowers simply for the beauty they add to ones garden. I'm certainly not an expert on flowers and flower growing. I just enjoy being able to marvel at their beauty when I'm out and around our garden. We pretty much stick to what is pretty and easy to grow.
Picking what flowers to grow where has been a trial and error exercise for me. Sometimes I grow a variety simply because a seed vendor throws in a freebie packet with my order. In other cases, I have formed specific ideas about what I like and where. The corners of our garden beds often have showy red geraniums that bloom throughout the summer.
So here's a look at the flowers that grew in and around our vegetables this year in the Senior Garden. Note that all images in this feature story are linked to a larger version of each image.
I tried some snapdragons several years ago, but found that they didn't stand up too well to the strong winds we experience in the Senior Garden. Since I really like snapdragons, I began growing them in the row and at the ends of our trellised crops for support. This year we were treated to a long running show of snapdragons amongst our peas and well after the pea vines were pulled.
Usually, our daffodils and tulips give us the first blooms of the season outside, although not in the garden proper. Our daffodils didn't disappoint this spring, but our tulips fared poorly in high winds and from a couple of dogs that like to hunker down in the flower bed.
We also have a bunch of dianthus that faithfully produce an array of early blooms. We've also had good luck saving viable seed from the dianthus, so both our front and side flower beds are now lined with them.
Our hanging baskets generally supply our color fix before flowers in the garden begin to bloom, but I'll add photos of them later on, as they truly put on a spectacular display later in the season. The first flowers of the season in the garden turned out to be some cosmos that came as a couple of freebie packets of seed with seed orders. We planted the smaller Cutsey variety in a few spots in our main garden, and the plants provided some lovely blooms before getting too big and rather unmanageable as a border plant. I also planted one of the taller, Bright Lights, variety in a flower bed. While it bloomed a bit, it mainly just grew and grew, more resembling a giant ragweed than any flower! I think we just gave it too much nitrogen, much like tomato plants over-fertilized with nitrogen that produce lush vines and few tomatoes.
By early June, we get beyond just a bloom here and there, and the borders of our garden beds erupt into a colorful display of blooms. The display is often a bit irregular, as I put in the first of our flower transplants as row markers for direct seeded crops or rows of small vegetable transplants. The flower transplants usually come from mixed color seed packets and go in before any flower buds open. Other than our geraniums, I really have no idea what color of flowers the flower transplants will produce.
While I am admittedly partial to bright, deep red geraniums, often Maverick Reds, marking the corners of our garden beds, I also quickly succumb to the pale beauty of salmon and other shades of geraniums. Since we grow our own from seed, I often include a packet of mixed color seeds along with our standard red geranium seed.
Although I began our feature story, Growing Geraniums from Seed, "If you have the right conditions, growing seed geraniums (geraniums from seed) is relatively easy," the process can also be fraught with problems. My two columns about growing geraniums from seed cover some of the real blunders I made over two years that might save others a few bucks and heartaches if they decide to jump into geranium from seed production.
While geraniums usually anchor the corners of our beds, petunias, vincas, marigolds, cosmos, and even a few snapdragons fill in the border. Some were planted as row markers for vegetable varieties, but then I went back and filled in the open areas of the edge of our raised bed with whatever flowers I still had left in plant flats. Over the growing season, our flowers often would get overgrown by crops such as broccoli, kale, and green beans that spread out a lot, only to recover after the crops were harvested and the vegetable plants pulled to make room for the next crop.
As the season progresses, our hanging basket flowers around our back porch begin to strut their stuff. I bought one of those cocoa hanging baskets a few years ago. It's a chore to keep plants in it properly watered, as the cocoa wicks the moisture out of the soil fairly quickly. Even so, our impatiens thrive in it. I water our cocoa basket by plunging it into a low pot filled with water every few days and letting it soak until the soil is thoroughly damp.
The earliest bloomers on our back porch are usually our petunias. I keep buying seed for trailing varieties of petunias, and the plants keep refusing to do much trailing, but they certainly bloom. They also get neglected a good bit when I get really busy in the vegetable garden. I forget to pinch off dead blooms and the plants loose their umph. When that happens, I just cut them back and fertilize them. Before long, we have beautiful petunias again.
I've tried growing the Summer Showers variety of ivy leaf geranium several times, but only have one hanging basket with a couple of plants in it to show for my effort. In the process of cutting back and cleaning up some of our hanging baskets that we bring indoors for the winter, I took a few cuttings from the geranium and several took root. So, I may have another basket of geraniums next year, if I don't kill off the starts by accident.
The ivy leaf geraniums are sort of a stringy plant, but they produce the most exquisite, delicate blooms one can imagine. They make the effort worth it.
Before I bring plants indoors, I usually cut them back a good bit, hose them down thoroughly to remove debris and insects, and then treat them with a systemic insecticide. Then the hanging baskets sit a week or so to allow the insecticide to work. The plants get hosed down again before being brought inside. We have lots of lovely gloxinias growing under our plantlights, so I really don't want to bring in an insect infestation.
Another star of our back porch is a wax begonia I purchased on sale at a discount store four years ago. I really should have divided the plant a year ago. A spring storm this year forced my hand on dividing the plant, as it blew the pot off its hook. The pot cracked and the soil and roots were torn apart somewhat. So...I took a sharp knife to the roots, dividing the plant three ways, desperately hoping at least one of the divisions would survive.
The original plant is shown at left in an August, 2010, photo. One of the new divisions is shown at right, slowly recovering from being separated and repotted. It's not quite back to where the original was, but all three divisions survived and should produce glorious plants next summer.
Despite our best efforts to fool our gloxinias into blooming throughout the year, the plants inside seem to know it's summer and put on a gorgeous display in our kitchen window and under our plantlights. The plants at left are a Double Brocade and a Cranberry Tiger gloxinia. At right is our plant rack on July 7, filled with gloxinias in bloom.
There is, however, a surefire way to have gloxinias in bloom in November, December, January, or whatever month you choose. Just back up about seven months from the desired blooming date to seed gloxinias. Since almost all of our plants are now several years old, they somehow have gotten around to blooming mostly during the summer and going dormant during the fall and/or winter.
As summer wears on, our border plants continue to mature and delight us.
Most of the photographs I shared here are of our flowers in isolation or of just their blooms. The reality of flowers in the vegetable garden is often like the three shots below. As I mentioned earlier, the flowers sometimes struggle to survive when overgrown by maturing vegetables, only to rebound when the crops are harvested and the flowers can grow unimpeded.
Bringing in good crops provides a lot of satisfaction to a gardener. But for me, a vegetable garden without flowers just isn't a garden.
From the at Senior Gardening
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