breaking news

UPDATE: Two injured in Southwest Austin explosion in good condition

How to start your own perennial flower garden

The English cottage garden began as a worker’s garden. These were country folks who served on grand estates or farmed small plots in the countryside. In this incredible climate, the workers planted everything they thought beautiful, oblivious of horticultural fashion of the day. Inevitably, they selected flowers that brightened life after the long English winters. Annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that produced the most glorious color were the most favored. This suggests that at our human roots lies a need for flowers as solace to the disappointments of life.

This is not an expensive garden at all because cottagers knew about the propagation of plants, both sexual by seed and asexual via cutting. This was how cottage gardeners could rehabilitate castoffs and overages from estate or gardens to fill their garden without buying a thing. It’s really a creative process in which these folks made new plants for themselves off the grid. So how could they create such exquisite, world-renowned beauty without a designer? Simple: A love of flowers drives everything.

Everyone deserves an overflowing flower garden for that incredibly romantic old fashioned beauty. The key to success this spring is to grow the most rewarding species that bloom large and plentiful. Return to your grandmother’s favorite flowers, the zinnias and the foxgloves that made old gardens so choice.

The problem at the garden center is these big rangy plants aren’t suited to massed bedding. The originals have been bred into compact dwarf forms that grow very uniform for these special carpet plantings. Plants grown from open pollinated heirloom seed will likely attain their early look and size. For example, the orange marigold of El Dia De Los Muertos celebrations has been shortened from 3 feet to 18 inches or less. Grow Tagetes erecta from seed and you get the original strain abuela grew for her celebrations in Mexico.

Even if you’ve never grown a flower garden, look for old fashioned favorites in seed or seedling at the garden center. These plants are the original forms of today’s annuals that have lost their former stature, or were changed in other ways due to breeding. They are the open pollinated species adopted from England to colonize American gardens.

Above all, they are easily grown when sown right into garden soil, started indoors in pots or purchased at the garden center. Like grandmother, you’ll be able to save seed of your own to grow them again next year. Often these seeds yield genetic surprises because they display natural variations, unlike hybrids, which are uniform. Let them self-sow when their time is up and they may colonize, offering many volunteers to pick through each spring to come.

This list identifies the basic annual and its primary flower color. If it varies, that means there are a wide range of hues available as with zinnias. The last category tells you its form, which will help you visualize how their shapes will look together within your flower beds or borders. Arrange shape and height so all the plants receive equal amounts of full sun, particularly on a south-facing exposure.

If you’re a worker who needs a way to blow off the world at the end of the week, consider spending about $20 on some seeds and start growing. Remember, there are no ugly flower gardens, so plant your heart out. Who knows, perhaps it will become the root of something very old made new again as we return to lots of flowers everywhere.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

Americans binge 17 billion drinks a year, CDC estimates
Americans binge 17 billion drinks a year, CDC estimates

College students have a reputation for binge drinking, but it’s not just them. Americans drink massive amounts of alcoholic beverages, according to a new report.  Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, to determine...
Woman who broke barrier at Boston Marathon knows real power of running
Woman who broke barrier at Boston Marathon knows real power of running

You’ve seen the photos — a race official trying to rip the bib number off a female runner at the Boston Marathon in 1967, as another athlete shoves him away. Kathrine Switzer wasn’t the first woman to run Boston — that honor goes to Roberta Gibb, who jumped out of the bushes and ran, bandit-style, without an official number...
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, March 18
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, March 18

Today’s Birthdays: Composer John Kander is 91. Country singer Charley Pride is 84. Nobel peace laureate and former South African president F.W. de Klerk is 82. Country singer Margie Bowes is 77. Actor Kevin Dobson is 75. Actor Brad Dourif is 68. Jazz musician Bill Frisell is 67. Singer Irene Cara is 59. Alt-country musician Karen Grotberg (The...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, March 18

ARIES (March 21-April 19). Knowledge is the bread of life, and taking action is the meaty part of the sandwich. But constant action will be the thing that makes a difference. No one can live long off one sandwich. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). The change you desire is coming, though not immediately. Don’t worry about the schedule. Every time you...
Dear Abby - Sunday, March 18

Dear Abby: I’m a disabled middle-aged woman, married for 15 years. From the beginning, there was never much passion between my husband and me, but we’re friends. I’m now becoming less able to go out and do things, and I will eventually be wheelchair-bound. I want to leave him so he can find someone who is able to do things with him...
More Stories