Monday, 19 March 2012

Bedding Plant Top Picks: Pt 1 - The Powers of Flowers

By Michelle

To be honest, I was never really that into flowers. I grew up surrounded by beautiful flower gardens that my Grandmother, Aunt and Mom relished in designing, planting, maintaining and admiring every year, but I never really got what the big deal was. I mean, you can’t eat them…so what? And herbs – any discussion about these mysterious array of flora pretty much ended with the confusion of, “Is the ‘h’ silent, or not?”. However, I’m thankful that this indifference and perplexity ended a few years ago when I spent one Spring working at Sage Garden, a family-owned, organic greenhouse business on the outskirts of Winnipeg. Dave Hanson and Evelyn Yauk’s passion for bedding plants made me excited about the scent of a basil plant, the vivid red tubular Salvia flowers that guaranteed hummingbird visits, the variegation of a Coleus leaf, and the magic of a Sensitive plant (whose tiny leaves detract themselves by the touch of a finger), among other things. Having the knowledge learned during that short Spring, and engraining a good portion of it in my brain by teaching customers, inspired my newfound love of vegetables, herbs and flowers – and I’m thrilled to say that Fresh Roots Farm is going to be selling bedding plants this year! Of course, our selection is not that of your average high-production greenhouse, but we’re excited about some of the plants that you could take home this spring.

So, whether you’re a flower or herb enthusiast, or not, bear with me. I’d like to share with you some of my favourite bedding plants that we’ll have for sale this May. I’ll do this in a few different parts – why not start with flowers, lah-de-dah.

We all know about geraniums, impatiens, petunias, blah blah blah. We’re going to focus on a few more perennial flowers (this means they’ll come back year after year) that will hopefully provide folks with a hardy, low-maintenance, beautiful, diverse garden. Still, there’s some annuals you just can’t deny. Here’s just 3 selections of what we’ll be growing (and selling) this year, some of my personal Top Picks:

1.     Hollyhocks: Okay, we’ve all seen these massive beauties towering beside an old barn somewhere in the country, fulfilling our romanticized rural visions. They are a biennial (which means they bloom every second year, making it all the more special) and generally drought-resistant, which may make it a good choice for a dry year like it looks like this one will be. Hollyhocks are apparently also handy for maintaining a lady’s modesty. They were planted next to outhouses long ago, so that a visiting lady may subtilely ask where the ‘hollyhocks’ were, in order to be pointed to the direction of the potty. I think that it would be funny, when someone asks where our hollyhocks are, to point to the direction of the toilet. But that would just be bad for business, and just rude. So maybe not.
Varieties we’re offering:  “Ukranian”, “Old Fashioned”, and a black variety from a generous friend’s seed collection.

2.     Painted Daisies: Daisies have always been a favourite of mine – their simplicity and delicate (yet strong) composure remind us that something doesn’t have to be extravagant to be beautiful. These are also perennials that are be one of the first things to bloom in early summer. They also make a great border plant. These long-stemmed, sun-loving flowers come with a bonus surprise – they contain a natural pest repellant called ‘pyrethrum’ that works directly on the nervous systems of aphids, mites, leafhoppers (and, wait for it – mosquitoes!), without harming other animals or plants. Learn how to make it yourself with the flowers here.
Varieties we’re offering: Try the classic “Painted Daisy” in shades of pink, or the white “Pyrethrum, high potency”, specially bred for its organic insecticidal properties.

3. Nasturtiums: I can’t say enough about this rad plant, that probably falls somewhere between ‘flower’ and ‘herb’ – ‘cause it’s so good lookin’, useful, and you can eat it, too! Its Latin name, Tropaeolum, comes from the word “shield”, which well describes its unique large, round-shaped leaves. It’s pretty versatile and can tolerate part shade, or sunny locations. They like well-drained soil, and the poorer the soil, the more abundant their flowers, actually. Its only downfall is that it doesn’t generally survive our Zone 3 winters, so is an easy annual to replant every year. I would suggest planting it in a vegetable garden as a companion plant to many vegetables, such as cucumbers (improves growth and flavour), melons (deters bugs and beetles), and is a great ‘trap crop’ for aphids, especially the yellow-flowering varieties (did I hear some 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from you tomato gardeners?) And did I mention you can eat it?! Seriously, the leaves have a peppery, watercress-like taste that spices up a salad or an alternate for basil in a pesto recipe! The flowers are also edible, and have medicinal qualities (oh, just disinfectant, antibiotic, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial – no big deal). Steeping them in white vinegar for a few weeks can help you take advantage of these health benefits.
Or just throw ‘em in a meal as a garnish. Oh, nasturtium – my love for you grows just thinking about you.
Varieties we’re offering: The multicoloured “Jewel Mix” (as pictured), and the elegant-looking “Black Velvet”, which conjures up a vision of Alannah Myles singing into a mahogany-coloured flower petal. For me, anyways.

So – it’s okay – admit that you got a little excited there. I mean, flowers, right – who knew? Go ahead and get so excited that you wet the bed (of soil, silly) and dig right in. Stay tuned for Part 2: Bodacious Herbaceous Herbs. (And for the record, I pronouce the ‘H’, loud and proud. No shame.)    

What are some of your favourite flowers to grow (or just admire)? We'd love to hear suggestions about what to try growing for next year...comment below.

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