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Flower Power

Planning a prettier garden for now and next year

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Whether a formal rose garden or a small patch of cheerful sunflowers, nothing makes a lush vegetable garden pop more than a backdrop of colorful flowers. Depending on the flower of choice, it can bring elegance and formality, country charm or enchantment. Wispy summer fog adds mystique. Similar to growing vegetables at home, growing flowers at home is easy and much more affordable than buying commercially. Plus, the flowers are never wrapped in plastic or driven in a truck, which reduces landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

As we move into the last month of summer here on the home farm, we can really take in some color and texture from all of the amazing flowers blooming their hearts out in our cut flower garden. The queen is of course the bubblegum pink Amaryllis belladonna lily (aka naked lady). She hangs over the front walkway, creating a showy entrance not unlike a row of graceful ballerinas in tutus. Our towering sunflowers hold us in anticipation of the first bloom. Carnations offer small blooms with intense color and surprise us with their spicy fragrance. Dahlias (cactus and single flower forms) dazzle the eye with rich, colorful splendor. A few lingering sweet peas add amazing perfume, along with a clip of star jasmine. Yellow St. John's Wart offers beautiful contrast and texture, and hot pink yarrow adds a modern twist to an old classic. The lavender offers a second crop of blossoms, leaping out of a background of silvery green foliage.

We love growing cut flowers because then there's no limit to how many bouquets we can have at any one moment. Flowers bring happiness no matter the size or color. Offering a bouquet of fresh, homegrown flowers to a friend overwhelms them with joy. Cut flowers also attract pollinators including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Additionally, all of our picks are drought tolerant. We are amazed at how little care and attention these plants require, and how much they enrich our lives with their color and fragrance.

Late summer is a great time to plan for next year's flower garden. The decision of what to plant can be overwhelming, as there are so many flowers to choose from. A great place to start is by focusing on color. There's nothing more satisfying than having a bouquet in 13 shades of your favorite color, along with some lush greenery such as ferns or ornamental grasses. Grab a color wheel and start dreaming.

Bulbs

Starting a bulb garden offers the beginning gardener an easy option. The hardest part about growing bulbs is putting them in the ground. After that, they're out of sight and out of mind until they magically emerge. Bulbs may take a couple years after planting to flower —patience is a virtue! Bulbs are also affordable and some, such as iris and dahlia, spread and expand underground, requiring periodic thinning. Many of the flowers in our bulb garden were gifts from other gardeners. Neighborhood walks sometimes yield unexpected treasures in the form of freshly dug bulbs neatly labeled "FREE" in a cardboard box, along with an indication of the variety and color. These are confidence boosters because if someone else grew them to the point of needing to thin them, there's a good chance that they'll thrive in another neighborhood location. Bulbs can be planted directly in the ground or in containers that are rotated by season to offer fresh pops of color. Keep in mind the height of the flower and plant in progressive layers from short to tall to fit in as many blossoms as possible.

August is a great time to plant flowering bulbs including belladonna lily and Narcissus. Belladonna lily bulbs can be planted immediately after blooming ends (late August into early September). This bulb should be planted shallow, just covering the bulb, approximately 1 foot apart. All parts of this showy blossom are toxic so make sure to plant in an area away from potentially curious nibblers. Narcissus (daffodils, narcissus and jonquils) offer the early spring garden amazing color and cheer. Dig in some compost prior to planting, as they require well-drained soil. Plant these bulbs twice the depth of their size in a place where they'll get full sun when in bloom. They are resistant to deer and gophers and thrive with little to no care. There are many choices of color from white to yellow to orange to pinkish. Bloom time may vary from late winter to mid spring. Plant a few kinds for continuous blooms and chase away those winter blues.

Annuals

Many annuals can be planted in the garden now for winter or spring blossoms. Sweet peas, a home garden classic, add enchantment with intense fragrance and delicate color. In our mild maritime climate we can grow this flower yearround. Right now we can plant early and spring flowering varieties. Sweets peas are fast-growing vines that require support for growth in the form of wire fencing or chicken wire, or string and twine hung from a wooden frame. Snapdragons can be started from seed now and transplanted in the garden in late fall. Depending on the variety, they can offer a vertical element to the flower garden with tall varieties or a pleasant colorful border with dwarf varieties. Calendula may also be sown now for winter and spring blooms. This easy-to-grow flower offers a bright splash of orange or yellow, and the blossoms may be clipped and dried to make medicinal salves to ward off infection. It also self sows, meaning once a patch is established it will come back year after year.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Whatever your flower of choice, it will undoubtedly bring cheer and personality to the home garden. Don't be afraid to make a long list of flowers you'd like to get to know better and chip away at it every seasonal planting opportunity.

Katie Rose McGourty is the owner of Healthy Living Everyday at www.healthy-living-everyday.com.

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