Cool-season gardening—I must confess I can’t take credit for discovering the phenomenon. Come to find out, our grandmothers gardened that way, and old gardening books recommended the practice. It just seems to have fallen out of gardening fashion. I stumbled upon this forgotten group of flowers while I was just looking for a way to jumpstart my career as a cut-flower farmer. The flowers are known as cool-season hardy annuals, and the key to their success is simple—timing.
Before I spill the beans about this amazing group of flowers, I must first tell you about my garden. I am a small urban farmer growing cut flowers for the commercial floral trade. My farm is a little less than three acres with one and a half acres in working cutting garden. We follow organic practices and do not use pesticides. In season, we produce thousands of stems of cut flowers each week. I grow them outdoors in the garden without the use of greenhouses. I typically grow like a home gardener— just have a larger garden.
Learning about cool-season hardy annuals changed my gardening world and launched me into the cut-flower farming business. Fall, winter and early spring are no longer barren times of longing for warm weather. The cool seasons are now full of preparing and planting a garden of flowers I never dreamed would grow in my garden. Hardy annuals not only jump-started spring in my garden, but they have brought a new anticipation for spring throughout the winter months.
So, which flowers are we talking about? Perhaps the most commonly known hardy annual is the pansy. Because many gardeners are familiar with fall, winter, and early spring planting of the pansy, I use it as an example of the concept of cool-weather gardening. Here's the good news—there are at least 35 other flowers, also hardy annuals, that thrive under the same growing conditions as pansies: Bells of Ireland, sweet peas, snapdragons, stock and others. For years I had tried to grow some of these flowers. I'd storm the garden to plant during the very time they should have been settled in and established to begin blooming! That never ended well and led to discouragement.
The secret is in the timing. Armed with good timing advice, anyone can plant and enjoy hardy annuals. The key is to find the correct planting time for your garden. Fall, winter and very early spring plantings thrive and bloom for the longest time. I found that many can be fall-planted in my zone 7 garden to winter over as baby plants, while others not as winter hardy, are planted in very early spring. The key is to have time to get their roots settled in and be ready to bloom in their season. After growing hardy annuals for 18 years, you'd think I'd have exhausted the possibilities—not so! I'm still adding new flowers to this list.
Join with me during my FREE Smart Gardening Workshop as I share this rekindled concept from the heart of my book Cool Flowers and from new experiences I’ve gathered along the way.
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at email@example.com, call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her websitewww.shoptgw.com.
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