My new favorite book is “Cool Flowers” by Lisa Mason Ziegler (St. Lynn’s Press). The subtitle of Ziegler’s book is “How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques.” That’s a long description, but with autumn upon us and winter around the corner, this little book explains how to get a head start on next spring’s flowers with minimal effort.
“Cool Flowers” focuses on hardy annuals. Their seeds can handle a light frost or freeze and will germinate at the earliest opportune time. In warm areas, some will self-sow at the end of the season and some act like perennials.
Clove-scented Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) in spiraled florets, cat-faced pansies, deep blue and yellow violas, bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) with their chartreuse bracts and colorful snapdragons are all considered hardy annuals. Often planted in spring as early as the ground can be worked, hardy annuals can also be sown in the fall. In that case, they will grow through winter and develop root systems ready for fast growth and early bloom in spring.
Ziegler highlights 30 hardy annuals that can all be sown now. What caught my attention about many of these flowers is that I have never been successful growing them from seed before.
Each page highlights a different flower, describing sun needs, height, spacing and even deer resistance. Ziegler also explains how to cut the first flower to keep blossoms coming all season long. This is helpful information for those of us who resist cutting first blossoms. Understanding which flowers benefit from frequent cutting, like snapdragons and yarrow, and which are one-blossom wonders, makes cutting and enjoying abundant flowers easy and almost a duty.
The author also discusses how to prepare beds and keep soil healthy, how to use row covers for temperature and bug control, and how to prepare and preserve cut flowers for maximum vase life.
“Cool Flowers” was the incentive I needed to finish cleaning out my summer beds. I amended the beds generously with oak leaves and compost to prepare them for successful fall sowing and spring reaping.
After clearing, weeding and amending your spent beds, mark the areas you will be planting. I laughed when I read that one of the author’s most important lessons was how essential signage is. Those of us who have struggled to label plants, only to find the names eventually faded or deteriorated beyond usefulness, can relate. More signage is better than less. As certain as you are that you will remember what you planted, it is a rare gardener who actually can.
A professional flower grower, Ziegler also realized that straight rows are easier to identify and maintain when seedlings are tiny and competing with weeds than more artistically arranged plantings. That said, you don’t need to observe straight lines if you are seeding an entire bed with a single flower type. When germination starts, get to know your seedlings so weeding is not counterproductive.
“Cool Flowers” separates hardy annuals into four categories requiring different treatment at seeding time. Flowers sown outdoors and covered with soil and compost include bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus); delicate but hardy corn cockle (Agrostemma githago), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). Others, like false Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea), pansies and violas, are better sown indoors and lightly covered with soil.
Sweet William and Canterbury bells (Campanula medium) should be sown indoors, the seed pressed gently into the soil but left uncovered. Transplant seedlings into the garden in a month or two. Bells of Ireland, feverfew, foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Iceland poppies, strawflowers and yarrow can all be sown directly into prepared beds outdoors. Do not cover the seed. That type sounds easiest to me.
This year, I will also be sowing poppies of all kinds, including Iceland poppies, our California native poppies and the whimsical nodding breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum). Colorful strawflowers for cutting throughout summer, white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora) and even godetia (Clarkea amoena), also called farewell to spring, can be sown in prepared beds and left uncovered through the cool months, first to bloom with the warmth of spring.
Ziegler reminds us that gardening is an experiment, so keep notes of what flowers and planting dates work for you. Try different flowers in different places and let winter work its magic on your spring flower garden.
Free Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop titled “Don’t Kill the Good Guys!” on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Ave., Napa.
Have you had it with aphids on your kale and broccoli? Sick of holes in your leaves and flowers? Are caterpillars, snails and earwigs eating more of your vegetables than you are? Ready to take action?
Come learn about your control options and how to use them safely. Even low-toxicity products can cause problems if not used properly. Discover what the words on the labels actually mean. Find out how to recognize and encourage some of the many beneficial insects. Learn how to keep yourself, your family, your pets and the good bugs safe in your garden. Pre-registration is highly recommended as seating is limited. Online registration.