As a budding gardener, I was introduced to John and Adele, husband and wife, who lived in an old house on the shore of Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island. The houses in their neighborhood were built as simple beach houses back in the day of clam shacks and big family dinners on Sundays. Surrounding their house were well-cared-for gardens that reflected their surroundings—sunny and understated.
I walked around the yard admiring the flower beds. Then I looked closer, at each plant in the beds, that contributed to the overall look. Keenly aware of my “beginning gardener” status, I wanted to memorize the plant combinations so I could replicate them in my garden. Adele was an experienced gardener. She had a complete working knowledge of plants, soil, environment, contour, and style. She used her knowledge to create gardens that reflected herself, the house style, and the neighborhood.
I wanted to take some of her world home with me. I wonder now if she knew that. While we were walking and talking gardens, she said to me, “Plant zinnias, State Fair Zinnias.” Simple, to the point, and oh so right. That is Adele’s way.
Zinnias are plants that can make anyone—children and adults—feel like great and experienced gardeners. There are many varieties, all colors and sizes. Most are solid colored: pink, yellow, orange, purple, scarlet, white, even blue. Zinnias have growing habits to fit every garden need. Tall, 3-to-4 foot varieties work well in the middle or back of a garden bed. Zinnias also make spectacular cutting gardens. That you can cut from all summer and fall. It always feels to me that the more I cut from the plants the more they grow. In fact one variety of zinnia is called “cut and come.” Dwarf plants grow 8 to 14 inches tall and work well in the front of a garden or in pots.
Garden centers almost always have zinnia plants for sale, if you’d rather not start plants from seed or if spring gets busy and you don’t get your plants started early. Every March I have the best of intentions. I think to myself, “This year I will start zinnias from seed.” But then I get busy with other garden projects. In May, I gratefully drive to one of my many favorite garden shops, marvel at the many varieties of zinnias available, buy my plants, return home to plant them in my garden, and think of my friend Adele.