Plants I love: Zinnias
Picardy Garden’s Marian Somes sings the praises of cheery, easy, paintbox-pretty zinnias.
Asked about a plant that makes me smile I immediately thought of zinnias. Roses and sweetpeas make me swoon but zinnias, with their bright, paintbox colours and simple, daisy faces are one of the most cheerful summer-autumn plants. And they are easy to grow from seed.
They can be used for informal mixed colour effects – rather like throwing a handful of Smarties into the garden. I particularly like growing the mixed colours in the vegetable garden where they add their colour to red tomatoes and purple podded beans. Alternatively, sophisticated colour schemes can be made by carefully selecting individual varieties and colours. You can choose from bright hot Mexican colour combinations like magenta, orange and red, to soft pinks and mauves. There are also clear yellows, pure white, creamy white, lime green and subtle, bi-coloured forms, so they can be used like paint to achieve any effect in the garden that you can dream up.
Imagine clumps of Zinnia ‘Dream Lavender’ backed by tall-growing pink and white cleome or Cosmos ‘Sensation’ and perhaps accompanied by one of the pinky-mauve David Austin roses. Or Zinnia ‘Queeny Lime’ with white and lime green Nicotiana, white petunias and the ubiquitous but hard-working Rosa ‘Iceberg’. Another scheme I’m keen to try is to cover tripods in the lovely azure-flowered annual climber Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’, creamy yellow Zinnia ‘Isabellina’ and a sprawling Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’. The possibilities are endless.
Zinnias originated in Mexico and South America and suit hot, dry summers, flowering on into autumn. They require well-drained soil and full sun to give their best. The arrow-shaped seeds are best sown where they are to grow. Wait until the soil is warm, that’s November – December for me. The seeds are quick to germinate -about a week -and growth is fast. You can expect flowers from January to April. Water the soil rather than using overhead sprinklers as wet leaves may be prone to powdery mildew. They are strong, branching upright plants and do not usually require staking, which I love as I can’t be bothered with staking.
Plant zinnias in your garden and bees and butterflies will love you, and as a bonus the flowers not only last a long time on the plant but also make good cut flowers. Cut the stems at an angle and remove any leaves that will touch the water.
At the end of the flowering season let a few heads of flowers dry on the plant, rub off the papery covering from the seeds and store them in a cool dry spot ready to plant again in mid-November or when the weather warms up.
Where to buy
Mixed packets of zinnias are available at any outlet or nursery that sells seeds. I have had good results from these inexpensive seeds. For named varieties I suggest Lambley Nursery, Diggers Seeds and other specialist seed merchants.