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Power Flowers

Another week, another flower! Last Thursday I shared about some of the more unusual flowers and fillers I grow in my garden and use in my design work. This week, I'm happy to share about the "power flowers" in the garden - the work horses that provide endless color and charm, season over season. I can't imagine my garden without these key players, and whether you're a gardening newbie or a dirt-streaked vet, these beauties will inspire. Similar to my last post, all of the flowers here either thrive or can survive the Florida heat, so if you're local like me (or enjoy traditional, hot summers), read on!

1. Zinnias

I truly believe that if more folks understood how versatile and easy to grow Zinnias are, every yard would be full of them, and not just the short, annual varieties found at Home Depot and Lowe's. It's hard to find a flower that can offer something for everyone, but if I had to pick one, Zinnias would likely be it.

The blooms come in a wide variety of size (from giant 4-5 inches in diameter to those no bigger than a silver dollar), shape (there's traditional, cactus-flowered, and even those that resemble ruffled pin cushions) and color, from vibrant pinks and oranges, to pure white, butter yellow and deep maroon, even romantic blush and peach tones. They can be used in nearly any type of floral design, and many of the newer color tones are perfect for wedding work (think, the 'Queen Lime' series). They're prolific in the garden with long, strong stems (the more you harvest, the more they grow), love the heat and have a long vase life (up to 7-10 days!). They can also be dried for wreaths, pressed - have I won you over, yet? 

2. Sunflowers

Another easy to grow, prolific garden staple, sunflowers are one of the best things you can add to your outdoor space if you've got a vacant corner with full sun. My own love of sunflowers has a family connection - my great uncle Tony used to carry sunflower seeds with him when he lived in NYC's Greenwich Village and would throw the seeds into the abandoned lots to see if they'd grow.

Over the past several years, I've grown everything from single stem giants to branching varieties in shades of pale buttercream, deep saffron and traditional gold. Sunflowers are fast to germinate from seed, hardy in most soil conditions, and have a long vase life if harvested at the right time (right as the flower is beginning to open). They also attract wildlife to the garden! They are literal sunshine, whether left to thrive in the garden or included in a floral arrangement. 

3. Rudbeckia

Typically referred to as "Black-Eyed Susan," Rudbeckia are often mistaken for a type of sunflower, though technically they're not related. The flowers come in many shapes, from large single-petaled stunners, to more ruffled beauties, small airy blooms, and those with long, almost tubular petals. They can be bright gold with black or bright green centers, dusty maroon or vintage red, and make great additions to bouquets and floral arrangements. They're ridiculously prolific once they get started, though can be a little more difficult to grow from seed as they take a longer time to germinate than other flowers like Zinnias and Sunflowers. They are perennial in some zones, and have a great vase life. 

4. Dahlias

Where do I even begin? There's nothing quite like a Dahlia to inspire awe in the garden (or the vase), though growing these lovelies can require a little more patience than some flowers. While they can be grown from seed, it's more likely you'll see the tubers for sale at your local garden center or home store. In most climates Dahlias can be planted directly in the ground, but in some places where it is very hot and wet (hello, Florida!) gardeners need some hacks to ensure the tubers have good air circulation and don't get too wet and rot. Here in Central Florida (and even in NJ where I had limited space), I plant my Dahlias in 7-10 gallon fabric grow bags and stake them with tomato cages to keep them upright.

Getting to the good stuff though - I love Dahlias because, much like Zinnias, there's something for everyone! They come in nearly every color, shape and size and just bloom and bloom all season long. There are dinner plate Dahlias with flowers 6-8 inches in diameter, pom poms with 2-3 inch blooms, cactus and water lily flowered varieties, and colors like hot pink, blushed rose, ombre purple, nearly black, and bright peach. Basically, if you can dream it, there's likely a Dahlia color and size combo for you! In my own garden, I grow several varieties of white, blush, deep crimson and rust orange, bright pink and soft yellow. When including in floral design, the key is to harvest when the bloom is fully open, as they will not open any further in the vase. 

5. African Marigolds

When you think of Marigolds, you probably think of the short, bright orange and yellow varieties planted as annuals in borders or around veggie gardens to deter pests. I personally love Marigolds, and when I discovered that there's a variety that produces tall stems for cut flower arrangements, I knew it was a must-have to include in my garden. There are varieties with more subtle hues of buttercream yellow and pale orange; however, I've always been a sucker for the bright tones so those are what I grow. The blooms are incredibly long lasting and the pollinators love them. Easy to grow from seed, thrives in most conditions, looks great in arrangements - what's not to love? Ten out of ten recommend finding a spot for these guys, if you can.

6. Nicotiana

Probably the black horse of this post, I felt compelled to include Nicotiana (also known as flowering tobacco) here, as it's one of my absolute favorite flowers in the garden, and I do utilize it frequently in my floral design work. The seeds are literally smaller than grains of sand, which I've always found to be one of the coolest things about this whimsical garden giant. With large, paddle-like leaves at the base, Nicotiana form towering stems with dozens of trumpet-like blooms - some large, some small - in white, pale green, soft lilac, and maroon. I'm technically testing them in Florida's heat, but since they bloom at night when temperatures cool off a bit, they seem to be thriving so far! They are a favorite of my local hummingbirds, and smell heavenly! In the vase, the trick is to dip the stems in a conditioning fluid or boiling water so that they do not wilt. Like many grasses and decorative grains, they add a distinct sparkle to arrangements and are great in wedding work or just to add a bit of whimsy. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my "power flower" favorites and why I love them. With any luck, I've inspired you to grab some seeds and dirt, and give these a go yourself.

If you are a flower lover like me and are looking to add a bit of charm to your life this summer, be sure to also check out my FLASH Summer Flower CSA - 4 weeks of locally grown, organic blooms for the month of June! I'll have a limited number of spots available (Orlando, only), so don't miss out!

Grow on, lovelies.

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