It all started with two packs of seeds. One was a homemade envelope of Zinnia elegans seeds gathered at the end of last summer from Norma of Norma's Garden Pool. The other was a glossy store-bought pack of mixed Cosmos bipinnatus seeds given to me as a Mother's Day gift.
Ordinarily, I do not cast flower seeds about in the spring, preferring instead simply managing whatever volunteer seedlings come up each year. Once upon a time, I happily tried new varieties of seeds every spring, but something about approaching middle age (ok, I actually have arrived) compels me to slow down, at least in seed-buying and in seed-trying.
But I couldn't resist. I had not grown zinnias for several years, and the idea of having a variety of potluck colors in the flowerbed intrigued me. That's why I gathered the seeds in the first place. After all, to a flower gardener, an aged zinnia head that is ripe for the picking is more tempting than a June blueberry.
So earlier in the season, the decision was made, and I cast last autumn's collection of zinnia seeds across the top of my newly-prepared flowerbed early in May. However, in keeping with my resolve to slow down (because I am middle-aged), I did shorten the length of the flowerbed so that there would not be as much maintenance involved as in previous years.
The flowerbed measured 5 feet x 3 feet and was banked with stones, just for the fun of it and for keeping the soil contained during watering. I used to take the boys to the local beaches to gather large stones, driftwood, and shells to carry home in buckets when they were too small to realize that I was employing them in a collection effort. They probably have memories of going to the beach just to do mom's dirty work.
Since I had all those beach stones lying around, I put them to good use. The existing soil in the flowerbed needed a boost, so compost and a bit of commercial outdoor gardening soil was worked in.
So far, so good, I thought, but 5 x 3 is not really much room; I sowed the zinnias thickly and ran out of space for all of the seeds. Not wanting to waste seeds, I sprinkled the remainder onto the compost pile, telling myself that I would transplant them later if they came up.
Wow, when all of the seedlings emerged , I could not believe the germination rate; it seemed to be 100%. I would have a lot of thinning to do!
One thing I have learned through my zinnia project is to do the thinning early because a procrastinated thinning requires more care in order to avoid disturbing the keeper plants. Truth be told, not only did I procrastinate, I KEPT almost every discarded zinnia.
I created more work for myself by keeping those discards. They were potted up into tiny disposable bathroom cups with drainage holes and were placed in the church lobby as freebies for several Sundays until they were all gone.
But wait—They were not all gone. I forgot about the zinnias that were growing in the compost pile: Those plants grew about two feet tall before I took action by digging them out. Did I throw these zinnias away? No, I did not. They were potted into large plastic pots to serve as yard accents.
I believe I have a problem when it comes to thinning flowers. The principle, although a good one, is lost on me once the process of reduction actually takes place.
A person who talks to plants cannot just abandon them.
Next year I will try harder to set my jaw and thin my plants like normal people do.
About the zinnias—They are now about three feet tall and are very pleasing to the eye. I did not know that I would get orange, yellow, and white mixed in with the traditional shades of pink that I expected. What a treat! I think I will save seeds from these zinnias since the color range is a wide one. Just as with the thinning process that I hate to undertake, zinnias can become bushier with pinching and will make more lateral blooms, but it is difficult to bring myself to cut those first blooms off even if they are ready to be snipped.
Various butterflies and bees have fun on top of my zinnias, and I have fun trying to capture photographs of them now that the bulk of the work is behind me. After I go inside for the evening, I imagine other little creatures such as hummingbirds and hummingbird moths coming to dine on the zinnia bed.
The Cosmos bipinnatus was a smaller project that almost never happened once I realized how much time caring for the zinnias would require. Nevertheless, to please the young man who gave me the cosmos seed packet, I planted the seeds—by tossing them on top of the soil in the compost bin. Why? Because it was already late in May, and I had neither time nor energy to create a new place for another variety of flower.
How long did I leave the cosmos flowers inside of the compost? Too long. They grew tall and grassy alongside of the zinnias that also lived in there, both flower types gaining height each day like NYC skyscrapers. I lovingly watered these plants inside of the compost bin because after all, compost needs to be moist to be useful. Even though there wasn't much left of it at this point.
But it was okay because I could still use the compost around the inside edges of the bin where no flowers were growing.
My husband was not amused.
After the zinnias came out of the compost bin, the cosmos finally came out in stages. I cleared a spot between two mature cedar trees and planted most of them there. A few extras went into large flowerpots just like the zinnia extras did. What I did not use for the yard became "freebies" in the lobby at church along with the zinnias.
The cosmos plants are now tall and thick and are opening up to reveal their beautiful flowers, just like the zinnias did several weeks before. As I recall from many years ago, cosmos takes a while to begin blooming but keeps it up well into fall, and that is fine with me.
Whew! It took two months to get to this point, and I am so glad to only have watering and maintenance as my flower bed chores. I have learned a few lessons along the way:
1) Time is valuable, and that is one of the reasons that we must carefully consider a gardening project before we begin.
2) If you casually toss seeds into the compost bin, they will most certainly grow and will even thrive there unless you remove them.
3) Zinnias need to be thinned. Do it.
4) Zinnias will stretch to reach the light if you give them even the least little bit of shade. Plant them in full sun.
5) Zinnias in pots need water every day. Sometimes twice a day.
6) Zinnias need to be cut. Do it.
7) Cosmos starts out spindly but can get thick and full very quickly. Especially in the compost pile.
8) Cosmos seedlings transplant well IF you give them plenty of water during the process.
Now that it is July, I am enjoying the end results of my work during May and June but hope to fine-tune my style when it comes to flowers and planting projects. I can't wait 'til next summer!