Irises!

We’re well into spring in central North Carolina and, blessedly, are nearly done with pollen. Go, Mother Nature! We’ve got three new hives to get our garden underway, but I noticed last year those hard workers keep the flowers on point, too. Jenny’s irises started blooming over the weekend, and they are just beautiful.

Lovely Narcissus

Poor Narcissus, the handsome fella doomed by the avenging goddess Nemesis to fall in love with the water nymph Echo, who could only repeat the words of others. The early-Spring flower is said to have sprung from where he died by the riverbank–it’s fabled to have been the last flower Persephone picked before being swiped by Hades. It’s also the scene of Sigourney Weaver’s final battle with in Alien.

I love a good story, particularly when it carries over to my other favorite pastime, gardening. The narcissus is a great example, in mythology and gardening and art, of the concept of vanitas … the idea that every living thing must come to an end. Like Narcissus’ young life, narcissus flowers have a very short blooming period. Narcissus is one of dozens of varieties of daffodils, all of which are pretty easy to grow.

According to the American Daffodil Society, “plant the bulbs when grounds have cooled, in some climates September and for warmer climates in November.” They need well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and will grow well in hilly landscapes. Plant them at least a foot deep, and make sure they have plenty of water the year you plant them. They acclimate pretty quickly and will multiply on their own. I’ve had some bulbs bloom five or six years in a row, and them some that never bloom more than one season. Crucial to the survival of bulbs, in my experience and by growing tip, “do not cut the foliage until it begins to yellow (usually late May or June).”

Keep in mind that daffodils, like many other bulbs, are great flowers to share with family and friends. They’re perfect spring companion plants for things like roses, hellebore, peonies, hyacinth, and astilbe. They’re the flower for the month of March, and since my son‘s birthday falls in March, we have them all over the yard.

Behind the Scenes: Zinnias

This week I caught up with Maggie Zwilling, with her beautiful zinnias, artistic aesthetic, and laissez faire attitude. She’s a badass. “I’m not a tidy gardener,” Maggie told me, “nor do I care if colors don’t match.” See what I mean?

Maggie is a big chronicler of butterfly and moth activity, and plans her garden with them in mind. Check out some of this summer’s swallowtail visitors from her garden:

Zinnias are easy annuals to plant and care for. They add vibrant pops of color throughout your garden, whether they’re the centerpiece or sprinkled in. Plan ahead to make sure you have enough for a cutting garden, so that even when you’ve got a bouquet of zinnias indoors, there’s still some gracing the garden.

For more information on zinnias, check out:

Behind the Scenes: Cut Flowers

For the next couple OG columns, I’m going to focus on supremely summertime topics in the garden: flowers, vegetables and fruits. To kick it off, I caught up with Nicole Rosenberger, who owns Turtle Rock Gardens and is part of the Red Roots Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program. Her combination of annuals and perennials paints the county in blooms.

When I asked if she brought in any cut flowers for herself, she said: “I always have lots of cut flower around the house–I’ll never get tired of them! I grow them because I love them so much.  I mostly just have the cast offs from making bouquets though, rarely do I go out and make myself my own.”

Nicole grows a regular cadre of annuals, including zinnias (her fave), dahlias, snapdragons, lisianthus, nigella, cosmos, ornamental tobacco, celosia, amaranth, sunflowers, scabiosa, and marigolds. And when I asked if there was something she’d like to try, she said, “There are so many flowers out there I would love to grow but I only have so much space!  I try a few new things every year.”

That’s some pretty sage gardening advice that applies to everything in life: try a few new things every year.

For more information:

Plant a cutting garden

When planning my gardens, my goal is always one and done. By that I mean: plant evergreens and perennials and enjoy the fruits of my labor from the deck with a nice glass of wine. But every year I add a couple annuals in to my cutting garden, because zinnias. And cosmos. and globe amaranths. Annuals make the butterflies happy, they brighten up the meadow, and they give me pretty things to clip and bring inside. Don’t have a cutting garden yet? It’s easy. Pick a sunny spot with good drainage. Prepare your soil (it should be loose and weedless, add in compost and fertilizer if you’ve got it), plant your plants and cover with a light layer of mulch. Good plants for a cutting garden include bulbs like daffodils, gladiolus and tulips; annuals like zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers; and perennials like lavender, coneflower and coreopsis. Flowering bushes like roses and lilac are also great for clipping and bringing indoors–but consider anything that flowers or has interesting texture. Some of my oddball favorites are lantana, euonymus, lorapetulum, azaleas, and huechera.

What annuals do you plant in your cutting garden?