Flowers in the Kitchen Garden

With seed orders complete and February coming to an end, I’ve been working on a planting calendar and planting plan for the garden year ahead. Deciding when and where to plant this year’s vegetables is always a pleasant late-winter task, but so is deciding when and where to plant flowers. Over the past few years, I’ve given more attention to this colorful side of the kitchen garden.  All the green shades of vegetable foliage are beautiful, but so are bursts of color.

For years, rudbeckia had a place at the ends of the long rectangular beds that make up my kitchen garden. There were a few established plants that had overwintered but more often there were self-seeded new plants.  I’d transplant these volunteers throughout the garden and looked forward to their bright yellows and rusty browns and oranges.

Nasturtiums occasionally found a place too, weaving through vines and stalks and leaving seeds to germinate the next year.

Then, some years ago, to add to the rudbeckia/nasturtium palette, I started planting zinnias and cosmos.  A few years later, I added calendula, borage, sunflowers, new varieties of zinnia and cosmos. Now I can’t imagine the kitchen garden without all these blooms. Bees and hummingbirds love them and so do I.  

Of all these blooms, the most fun have been zinnias.  Not having grown them since I was a little girl, I was delighted to rediscover this timeless flower.  There’s classic State Fair zinnia, large, double blooms in red, orange, purple, yellow, and pink growing to three feet tall, reminding me of childhood gardens.  Fast forward to today, there’s the Queen Series, a new zinnia, a mix of double, semi-double and single blooms on plants that grow nearly four feet tall.  The series includes Queen Red Lime, Queen Lime Orange and Queen Lime Blush. Red Lime has red to pink petals,

Lime Orange has orange to peach petals, Lime Blush has creamy to pink petals, and all have red centers surrounded by small, lime green petals.  They are gorgeous.  Territorial, Pinetree and Johnny’s all sell seeds of this great new zinnia.  

Cosmos is a close second favorite to zinnia. While I like the classic Sensation Mix, their four-to-five-foot-tall plants are too tall for the kitchen garden.  Instead, I plant the Sonata Mix because it grows only two feet tall but has the same classic blooms in whites, pinks and reds.

I also grow a cosmos from the Double Click Series, Double Click Cranberry, for its rich cranberry color and double and semi-double blooms. It pairs beautifully with the Queen zinnias.  And this year, tempted by a catalog photo, I’m trying Uprising Seeds Chocolate cosmos, “long-stemmed, deep garnet, single and double velvety blooms.”  

I start zinnias and cosmos in 2-inch pots indoors in late March and set out plants a month or so later.  It’s been easy to take a foot from each end of the eighteen-foot garden beds and give these flower starts space and a place on the irrigation line.  Throughout summer and into fall their blooms add to the already great pleasure of wandering the garden and harvesting vegetables. Some of these blooms fill a basket too, becoming bouquets for table and gifts to friends.  On this cloudy, cold February afternoon, with snow flurries in the forecast, it’s wonderful to imagine summer flowers.