twitter icon facebook icon youtube icon instagram icon

Stories from the valley

A Season in Our Gardens – Flower Power!

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Contributed by Paul Buttner

Contributed by Luke Matthews

Flowers are always an important part of a backyard garden. Whether it is just a couple of blooms here and there or whole rows, they add a lot to the joy of the food plot. Even if you don’t plant flowering annuals on purpose, those produced by the vegetables are often showy and even edible!

Large Rural Garden – Tim Johnson, President & CEO

Every year, it seems like I plant more flowers! It started with a few zinnias and has expanded to sunflowers, stock, snapdragons and now Mexican sunflowers (not really a sunflower). Nothing like picking a fresh bouquet to give to someone along with the zucchini. It helps ease the burden. 

I also leave the spent heads for the birds at the end of the year. Goldfinches and linnets love the seeds and I will see them all winter long. I see a lot of activity on the sunflower leaves as well. It is not uncommon to see whole leaves stripped to the veins. 

Honey bees target the Mexican sunflowers as soon as they start to bloom. It’s my giveback and valuable to these pollinators at a time when most of the blooming plants have passed their prime. 

The zinnias are a hit with friends and neighbors. They seem to produce more flowers the more you cut! Best of all they last up to a week in the house.

New Garden – Paul Buttner, Environmental Affairs Manager

As part of the “pandemic make-over” of our yard this year, the floral design engineer of the household, Nasreen, decided it was time to transform a couple of fairly neglected beds and beautify them.  

First step was the major grunt work which, of course, was all mine.  I had to dig out tons of crabgrass and dig down far enough to try to get rid of the root masses.  This involved saturating the soil so I could get shovels and picks in there.  This was back-breaking and muddy work.  Big shovels full of fully saturated, muddy soil are very heavy! 

Next step was to replace 20-year old, rotted wooden borders and replace them with new, pressure-treated studs.  Great care was taken to make sure everything was square and level along with placing high-quality ground cloth down to have more certainty that the weeds would not return.  Finally, bark was added for a nice finished look.

Then the floral design engineer took over by surgically planting a variety of beautiful perennial flowering plants.  This very artistic arrangement includes Day Lilly, Dahlia, Coleus, Vinca, and Hosta plants.  The result is amazing and has totally transformed an ugly weed patch around our apple tree into a thing of beauty.  The butterflies have really responded and are visiting this spot regularly.

Diverse Urban Garden – Luke Mathews, Wildlife Program Manager

Five years ago I would not have been caught dead planting flowers. My motto used to be: if I can’t eat it, I won’t plant it! However, I have had a change of heart over the past 2 years, and now planting and maintaining flowers in our backyard is a major part of our gardening effort. In full disclosure, I think there are two key factors that led to this change in my beliefs. First is that we moved and now have a much larger backyard, which means that I don’t feel like planting flowers competes with growing vegetables. Second, is that we got a colony of bees last year. Having bees has really motivated me to plant flowers year-round to ensure that they have adequate pollen and nectar to thrive (of course providing forage for the bees is obviously not a purely altruistic act, as I do plan on harvesting honey from the hive). 

In our backyard, we have planted a row of perennial flowers including lavender, milkweed, salvia, butterfly bush, and a few others. These perennial shrubs started flowering in early April and many of them are still producing flowers. We have enjoyed these beautiful plants and so have our honey bees, other native bees, and hummingbirds. In addition to these perennials, we planted a variety of sunflowers. These varieties produced flowers in an array of colors from the typical yellow to orange and a deep maroon. In peek bloom our sunflowers were bustling with bees and, now that they have largely died back, flocks of finches and doves visit our yard every day to dine on sunflower seeds. 

I have really come to enjoy planting flowers and I look forward to planting new annuals soon for fall and winter blooms.