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My Love Affair With Zinnias

Gardening is so relaxing. Just looking at beautiful greenery and flowers is calming to my soul. Reaping fresh vegetables is so rewarding.

Such a bright happy flower!

Such a bright happy flower!

Flowers Were a Part of My Childhood.

Growing up, our family would spend summers at my grandparents' house on Long Island, New York. My grandfather had a huge vegetable garden. There were also areas that were set aside for flowers. My grandfather would designate small patches of his garden for us children to plant whatever we wanted.

I can remember us planting giant and small marigolds and zinnias every year. Probably we were given these as they were the easiest to grow and the most likely to come up.

My grandmother always had a vase of colorful flowers on the dining room table. Of course, it had a hand crocheted doily under it. Most often the vase contained the zinnias and marigolds we grew. Sweet Williams are biennials so we they would bloom every other year and be added to the mix. Carnations and pinks were perennials and would pop up by themselves. They had a strong cinnamon spice smell which would fill the whole dining room.

So Many Flowers; So Many Colors

So Many Flowers; So Many Colors

Zinnias Were My Father's Favorite Flower

When my parents moved from an apartment to a house, they too planted flowers and they always had zinnias.

I never really thought of my father as an admirer of flowers or into growing flowers, but one day he remarked that his favorite flowers were "those flowers that come in one package and have so many different colors".

Interesting choice, I thought, but it's such an ordinary flower. I was taking zinnias for granted.

Hundreds of Flowers To Choose From

My Current Garden Was a Blank Canvas When I Moved In

The property I am living on now was new construction when I moved in. The sides and extreme back are woods and the rest is open lawn. The only part of the property that had any structure or shape to it is something my deed calls a "rain pond". This not a pond. It is a tear drop shaped opening that the town requires on all new construction as a flood mitigation and wildlife preservation method.

The rain pond is a pit that goes down quite deep. I suspect at least 10 feet. It then has specific layers of gravel, sand and dirt. The local agricultural school then comes and plants the top layer with 6 native plants.

I seized on the rain pond as a starting point for my garden. Although we are not supposed to plant in the rain pond, as that's reserved for native plants, I decided I would take it a step further and plant a butterfly garden on the perimeter.

I purchased six nursery plants that were supposed to attract and or breed butterflies. Some died and some lived. Some attracted butterflies and some didn't seem too. The milkweed plants died probably because the soil wasn't moist enough. The orange butterfly weed lived but in five years has not spread or grown larger. It does attract butterflies, mostly fritillaries, but by mid summer something has eaten most of it.

Where am I going with this? Although I spent a great deal of time and money on my butterfly garden, as it turns out zinnias are the answer.

Butterflies Love Zinnias

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Zinnias Are the Answer

About three years after living here, I put up some raised garden beds. I decided one would be flowers and I purchased some zinnia seeds. They were so easy to plant. I wasn't even that careful about how I sowed the seeds and more zinnias than I ever imagined came up. They thrived all summer with no care other than watering.

Cutting them for bouquets is super simple and they replenish more than enough to fill the spaces. Sometimes I make a multicolored bouquet and other times I will stick to a color theme such as all pink and white ones.

A seed packet costs under $6.00 and I find it's more than enough to use for 2 year's worth of planting. And yes, even though the seeds are a year old, they still come up.

As I sat on my deck I noticed my inexpensive, easy to plant zinnias attracted every kind of butterfly imaginable. They attract more than even all the expensive nursery plants that I initially purchased.

As a surprisingly wonderful bonus, I found the zinnias also attracted hummingbirds. Sitting on my deck I am constantly treated to a show.

Damage Done By Yellow Finches

Buds Left Behind By Finches

Buds Left Behind By Finches

Zinnias Attract Yellow Finches

In the above photograph, the damage done by yellow finches is visible. They perch on a zinnia and pull out the petals one by one. Much as they are damaging the zinnias, I love watching them. It's as if they are playing "she loves me; she loves me not".

There are so many zinnias and they grow back so quickly it's not a problem that the finches pull the petals out and it is oh so interesting to watch.

© 2021 Ellen Gregory

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