Sunday, February 14, 2010

Colour in the Kitchen Garden!

I love to plant huge clumps of annual flowers in the kitchen garden. Not only do they add a welcome splash of colour, but they also attract beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden. Certain annual flowers, such as marigolds or nasturtiums may even repel pests from munching on the broccoli! Diversity is key to a successful garden and by including a large selection of plants, a healthy ecosystem will be achieved.

Here are some of my favourite annual flowers for a kitchen garden:

Nasturtiums - In my humble opinion, nasturtiums are essential to a veggie garden. They are beautiful, edible and available in a range of colours including pale yellow, bright gold, pumpkin orange, deep scarlet and a burgundy so dark that it's almost black. There are two types of nasturtiums - mounding and trailing. Trailing types can take up quite a bit of space, so if you choose to grow trailing nasturtiums ensure they'll have room to run or netting to climb.

I plant mounding nasturtiums at the end of vegetable rows or as an edging around a garden bed. Both types also look spectacular when planted at the entrance to a garden, sprawling and spreading in every direction. Plant nasturtium seeds directly in the garden in mid to late May, pushing them about a 1/2-inch deep in the soil.

Marigolds - I've never liked marigolds. At least not until I discovered the beauty and versatility of Gem marigolds. In shades of yellow, red or orange, these small-flowered marigolds produce a 1 foot tall bushy plant that is covered in cheerful blooms. They make a great edge around a garden bed or a colourful hedge at the front of the garden. I tend to buy transplants in late May, spacing them about a foot apart in the garden.

Cosmos - Cosmos are a tall annual with delicate ferny foliage and large daisy-like blooms. The flowers may be carmine pink, soft pink, white, yellow, orange or a combination of colours. There is even a doubled cosmos that has pretty frilled flowers. Plant the seed indoors 6 weeks before planting out or sow directly in the garden in mid-May. Pick the flowers often for long-lived bouquets.

Zinnias - Zinnias are an old fashioned annual with flowers in a large range of sizes, colours and styles. Some varieties grow tall and produce large dahlia-shaped blooms, while others are compact and bear delicate button-like flowers. Whatever type you choose to grow, you'll be glad you did! I start seed indoors in early April, transplanting the seedlings to the garden in late May. I often stick a few between the bamboo posts of my pole bean teepees or amongst the tomatoes.

Sunflowers - Who can resist the friendly face of the sunflower? They're easy to grow, produce large, brightly coloured blooms and attract bees, birds and butterflies to the garden. Sunflowers are also found in an assortment of flower sizes, shapes and colours. The children love to grow the deep red types, as well as the miniature sunflower 'Teddy Bear' with doubled flowers. If you have the space, try growing a few 'Kong' sunflowers - a giant sunflower that can reach heights over 16 feet with a little TLC.

Happy Gardening!

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