By Judith Canty Graves
When I was a child, my mother gave me a packet of zinnia seeds to plant in our backyard. I planted them and watched them grow with amazement. I was probably about five years old, but I have a strong memory of their brightly colored flowers. This was my first gardening success and I was hooked. I am still amazed by what I can grow from seeds.
My childhood interest in these annuals has become a serious exercise in garden planning and design. Now I create sketches and study websites so I can maximize the garden beds in my yard. One garden website that I have found helpful is GardenDesign.com.
At a corner of my house, I have an open and sunny space that I fill with zinnias every summer. I plant the seeds in late May or early June once there is no danger of frost; then I watch the seedlings emerge and grow.
After a couple of weeks the seedlings are noticeably larger and buds start to appear. Once the July heat and sun work their magic, the explosion of growth is rapid. Suddenly, colorful zinnia blooms appear and I am enchanted by their appearance.
Zinnias do best in full sun, and since my yard is very sunny, I combine a mixture of seeds in this bed to produce a variety of heights, colors and types of zinnias. I choose taller ones for the back of a plot, such as Benary’s Giant Mix that have spectacular, big blooms and can reach a height of four feet. I then plant slightly smaller zinnias in front of those, such as the Purple Prince, Orange King and Canary Bird (Zinnia elegans) plants. These will reach a height of between one and three feet. In front of these, I plant Cut and Come Again zinnias, which will grow to about two feet. When I want even smaller zinnias, I plant Persian Carpet Heirloom Butterfly zinnias. These grow about a foot high and have a mixture of colors. Other choices for smaller plants are Thumbelina Mix at 12 to 16 inches and Pixie Sunshine zinnias at about 8 inches. These work well in containers.
I am learning that zinnias have many different shapes and sizes of blooms. The flowers can be single, double and semi-double. Interesting varieties with unique blooms are the peruviana, the elegans and the cactus zinnia.
In addition to being colorful and attractive, zinnias attract pollinators throughout their long growing season. I enjoy seeing bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds flock to these plants. This year, consider planting zinnias for their ease of care and beneficial presence for pollinators. You will enjoy their colorful display and continuous blooms in your garden throughout the summer.
Judith Canty Graves is a home gardener with a background in photojournalism. She lives in Asheville. To see more of her garden photography, visit TheObservantGardener.com.