We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

Grow Great Spring Flowers and Pollinators Will Come!

Spring blooming Scabiosa will attract bees from the get go of the season. Scabiosa Blue Cockade.

Spring blooming Scabiosa will attract bees from the get go of the season. Scabiosa Blue Cockade.

Spring blooming flowers are about so much more than just gorgeous flowers.  Those featured in my book Cool Flowers are spring bloomers, but they also offer a big hand-up to pollinators and other beneficial insects that are eager in spring for habitat and food. So, not only are these some of the most beloved spring bloomers to enjoy – but they roll out the welcome mat to the good guys that will impact your entire growing season for the good.

I didn’t set out to fill my farm with pollinators and other beneficial insects. You might say it has been a side effect of all-natural cut-flower farming.

As simple as it sounds, it’s true. Just plant flowers. Don’t use pesticides–organic or otherwise. Soon a wave of these guys will overrun your garden.

As my awareness of beneficial insects has grown, I find that it is getting easier to farm. It has become my second nature to consider and provide a place for them to live, eat, and raise a family year round. This practice is not only the right thing to do for the future of all, but it totally impacts my business bottom line for the good.

We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

We have pollinators following our harvest trailer around the farm! Harvest buckets of zinnias with a swallowtail butterfly left and a hummingbird moth on right.

This little-known community of good bugs is as diverse a mix as the population of NYC. And don’t underestimate their entertainment value either. A fairly common comment directed at me on our farm:  “Are we harvesting flowers today or are we taking photos of bugs?” There is a reason they make movies about bugs — they are fascinating!

How to attract them? Provide flowers from the first crack of spring and throughout the season until frost. It’s those early spring blooms that really kick-start our insect population. Bachelor buttons and calendula are two of the heavy hitters in our gardens. They bloom in spring when the nights are still chilly but the days are warm. Their foliage secretes nectar even before the flowers bloom, making them a great favorite of hungry bugs.

Fall blooming flowers will keep the garden full of pollinators until winter arrives. Left Salvia Leucantha, right Salvia Mexicana.

Fall blooming flowers will keep the garden full of pollinators until winter arrives. Left Salvia Leucantha, right Salvia Mexicana.

Pleasing the pollinators requires providing a continuous supply of flowers throughout the growing season. This fits perfectly with my flower farming because my customers want the same thing! Monthly succession planting fits the bill for us.

To reap the benefit of these guys as pollinators and pest control, you must resist the urge to treat a possible problem that may pop up in your garden. Be patient and do not be afraid of some pest damage. To keep your community of good guys home and fed, they have to have some bad bugs to eat, right? Give them time to do their job.

Planting flowers in the garden with your vegetables with ensure pollination. Celosia plume with a bumblebee.

Planting flowers in the garden with your vegetables with ensure pollination. Celosia plume with a bumblebee.

It is my opinion that if you have a 10-row vegetable garden, you should also have 2 rows of flowers to support them. I won’t get on my wagon here about the vegetable gardens I visit. There are some that don’t have a flower in sight, while the gardener complains of a lack of bees for pollinating. It couldn’t be more simple: plant flowers and they will come.

To learn how to supply your garden with beauty and a vast population of pollinators and other beneficial insects, attend my program Growing Great Spring Flowers that will be held at Belmont Sunday, November 1 at 2pm.  I will share what to grow, starting it from seed, best planting times, how to set up your garden for low maintenance and how to keep the blooms coming!

Perhaps spring is the most anticipated season of the year– yours can be full of abundance and beauty as featured in my book Cool Flowers.

A Pop-up Shop will follow the program offering seeds, tools and supplies for sale.

Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at lisa@shoptgw.com , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com.

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A Gardener’s Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things…

Felco pruners and holster

Felco pruners and holster

Most gardeners have a few favorite tools they reach for over and over again. For me, the most important tool I have is my Felco #8 pruning shears. These are bypass pruners that I carry with me in the garden in a leather clip-on holster. It is in constant use, or some days, abuse! The pruners are perfect for clipping stems, but I have also been known to use them to pry open stubborn bottle caps, cut wire, scrape away soil on a root-bound plant and use it in all sorts of ways not intended by the manufacturer. My constant abuse dulls the blade of course, but I have a nifty little sharpener that can smooth out nicks and makes the blade sharp again with a few quick swipes.

A sharp blade makes a clean cut which is better for the plants and easier on your hands. Here are the two simple steps to follow to maintain a sharp blade:

step one

Step One

Hold the pruning shear flat in the left hand and sharpen the blade using a sharpening stone (beveling angle 23°).

Sharpen in one direction only, from inside
to the tip in two or three swipes.

 

 

Step Two

Step Two

Turn the pruning shear over to remove burring from the blade. To do this, set the ceramic stone to a sharpening angle of 5°.

 

 

 

A spritz of WD-40 before sharpening removes soil and plant sap and prevents gunk build-up. I also carry alcohol swabs to sterilize blades if I have been working with diseased material. Over time, the blade will become too damaged to be repaired. Thankfully, Felco has a blade replacement kit that makes it easy to install brand new blades. My pruners are now 15 years old, and they are a constant garden companion.

Boston Weeder

Boston Weeder

Another tool I reach for time and again is this hand weeder. The 90 degree angle of the head, combined with a sharp edge and the pointed end, makes it the perfect tool for weeding. It slices off roots with ease and gets into nooks and crannies where regular tools just can’t go. Once you try it you will be sold! I have multiples of these since I am always misplacing them and then rediscovering them in various places in the garden.

 

 

A brand new pair of gloves

A brand new pair of gloves

Gloves are very important as they protect hands from scratches and cuts. After many trials and errors I now exclusively use the “Touch” glove. It is strong enough to protect my hands, but thin enough that I can feel stems and roots or pick up seeds and other small items. Another bonus is that they are made from nitrile making them safe for people with latex allergies.

Hunter boots

Hunter boots

 

Feet need protection too, and for muddy and wet conditions I rely on my tall Hunter rain boots. In cold weather I add a pair of thick wool socks leaving my feet warm and dry all day long.

 

 

 

 

 

Gator

Gator

The best tool of all however is the John Deere gator we bought a few years back. It hauls, it dumps and it saves me miles of walking every day, I don’t know how we managed before!

Happy gardening!

Paul Neyron

Winter Gardening

Winter is a good time to settle down with seed and plant catalogs and a nice cup of hot tea. The weather is freezing and gardeners are hiding inside, out of the wind and cold. We can still garden however, at least in our heads.

Mailboxes, both digital and physical, are filled with seed and plant catalogs that allow us to dream and plan for spring. I prefer the paper version for browsing since I can dog ear or use a post-it to mark my selections, but I like to order on-line as it will let you know instantly if the seeds you want are available. Many catalogs offer seedlings as well, this is a great option if you only want a few plants or if you can not be bothered with growing your own plants from seeds.

I try to plant what I know Corinne Melchers used in the garden, or at least the variety of plants that were available to her during the period she gardened at Belmont, 1916-1955. This means I purchase a lot of heirloom plants, and I have found that this has many benefits. Some, though not all, heirloom seeds that are available for sale are Open Pollinated (OP) seeds and these will grow true from the seeds they produce, meaning you can save their seeds year to year and get the same plant that you initially purchased.

Paul Neyron

The fragrant Paul Neyron rose

Another benefit of heirloom plants is that they usually are much more fragrant than their modern hybrids, and this is the benefit I enjoy the most, just one deep whiff of an old rose is enough to make you a convert. Many of the old varieties are quite disease resistant and tough survivors, this is especially true of roses and peonies. Some of these plants have been around for hundreds of years and growing them is a wonderful way to connect with the past.

Here are some of my favorite catalogs, have fun!

Select Seeds
Seed Savers Exchange
The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
Old House Gardens
The Antique Rose Emporium