Every summer growing up, my family would pack into the car and travel across Minnesota and North Dakota. We’d end up just into the eastern slice of Montana at my grandparents’ ranch. As we drove west, we couldn’t help but notice the countryside getting more and more arid. As we drove past the stunning North Dakota badlands, the multicolored lines in the rock formations jumped out at us in their stark beauty. As we drove, fields of sunflowers and corn turned into rolling hills with rock outcroppings, and fields of wheat transformed into cattle pastures.
My grandparents’ ranch was located on a great, open prairie. Rolling fields of wheat, barley, and hay greeted us as we drove down the gravel road leading to the homestead. Upon turning into their driveway, however, our eyes turned to another scene. Billowing beds of brightly colored petunias circled the white stucco house. My grandmother, always one to turn a challenge into something of beauty, had found one of the few flowers that thrives in hot sunny spaces. Give petunias some soil, water, and sun, and you’ll have a colorful profusion of flowers all summer long.
On the hot, dry expanse of northeastern Montana, she created and tended a garden so lovely that it welcomed visitors into her space. The desolate nature of the location was lost in the colorful floral greeting.
In recent years, I have followed in my grandmother’s footsteps by planting an inordinate number of flowers in my vegetable garden. Planting flowers not only helps out the pollinator insects, but it also allows me to share flowers far and wide. After all, flowers always seem to lift our spirits and brighten the day of everyone who gets to enjoy them.
The flowers I leaned into were zinnias. I purchased them in many colors and sizes and proceeded to plant them in every nook and cranny I could find, and they did not disappoint. They flowered, and flowered, and flowered some more from late June until frost finally took them in October. Zinnias will always hold a special place in my heart because of their uniquely colorful hues and their ability to bring life to a kitchen table.
I’ve had trouble deciding who loves nasturtium more: me or the robins. Promptly after I plant my nasturtium seeds, the robins descend, feverishly digging around in my planters, searching for the seeds to eat for dinner. On the off chance that one of my seeds evades their notice long enough to become a flowering plant, nasturtium tend to bloom with abandon.
All parts of the nasturtium plant are edible. The flowers and leaves appear as often in my salads as they do in my bouquets. Then, the seeds produced after the flowers are done blooming taste delicious when pickled with other garden vegetables.
Nasturtium plants’ brightly colored flowers, quirky twisted stems, and circular leaves are an essential addition to my planters. Together with basil, I tuck them in and around my tomato plants, using companion planting to my advantage. The flowers cascade down from the pots, acting as both an attractor for pollinating insects and a deterrent to the destructive ones that might want to do harm.
In xeriscape landscaping, the goal is to choose plants that thrive on neglect. In this area, yarrow is a frontrunner. Yarrow prefers hot, dry, sunny conditions, so it is an obvious choice for water-challenged regions of the country. Yarrow is also an excellent pollinator flower. On any summer day, you’ll find it covered with bees and other pollinating insects. Yarrow comes in colors ranging from white and yellow to pink, red, and burgundy, so it can compliment many types of flower beds.
The downside of yarrow is that it has a tendency to multiply, so regular weeding of the baby plants is necessary if you want them to stay in the boundaries of your landscaping. When you’re weeding yarrow, dig down at least a foot to get out the whole rhizome. Any broken off piece of the rhizome can become a new plant.
In addition, remove the flowers as soon as they are fading to control the spread through seeds. A single plant can produce thousands of seeds, which can remain viable in the ground for up to nine years. While there are many great reasons to grow yarrow, don’t plant it unless you can keep it in check.
Roses are in full bloom, the billowy bushes covered in red or pink. Their aroma captivates me as I walk through the neighborhoods. I come upon an old wooden arch covered in the climbing pink variety. These look to have been growing here for years, their tangly branches reaching up and over the arch, forming what would be the perfect backdrop for a garden wedding.
I think of my mother-in-law, who was a gardener and grew the old fashioned hybrid roses. These varieties possessed a fragrance that is challenging to find in current varieties. What I would give to have some of her rose bushes in my garden.
Garden roses elicit memories of times past. A small bouquet of roses sitting in a vase next to my cup of coffee: This was a common scene when visiting my mom, aunts, or mother-in-law. Fresh roses, hot coffee, a spot of something sweet, and meaningful conversation make for fond remembrances.
Pansies tend to be the first flower I purchase in the early spring. As the tiresome gray winter months transition to spring, the weather slowly warms, and the days lengthen.
As the spring dawns, the purples, oranges, yellows, and pinks of pansies are the perfect antidote. The faces of the flowers almost look as if they’re smiling, and their colors no doubt brighten anyone’s day.
As soon as the nights warm, a planter full of pansies settles in by my front door. As neighbors pass by, the pansies tell of times to come, affirming that more color is on the way. Green grass, yellow daffodils, red tulips, and purple iris will be here soon. The pansies are just the doormen to the gateway of spring.
Sweet peas are the iconic spring vining flower that climb up trellises and over garden gates, spilling over the tops of large planters. Their intoxicatingly sweet scent brings me back to the cottage gardens of our grandmothers. Long treasured for its sweet fragrance, this flowering legume has graced the walls of gardens since the 17th century.
Sweet peas are easy to grow, and they quickly add color to any garden space. Being a legume, they enrich the soil because of their nitrogen-fixing quality. These early flowers will also bring pollinating insects into your yard, a much desired trait.
One of the best ways to plant sweet peas is to intermingle them with other vining plants, such as pole beans, around the base of a tall bamboo tripod. Place this in the center of your garden, and the birds and insects will be sure to visit.
The Summer Flower Cards
Flowers abound, filling my garden and my vases. The gray of winter seems more bearable contrasted against the vibrance of flowers present in the summer months. I’m soaking up the beauty while it lasts.
These flowers have inspired the creation of my latest watercolor art and greeting card designs, the summer flower collection. Composed of designs of eight distinctive summer blooms, I hope this collection warms your heart and the hearts of those to whom you send them.