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'Cool Flowers' is the name of a book by the extraordinary American Flower Grower, Lisa Mason Ziegler. I have never actually sat down and read, really read, a book about gardening before. It was too boring; it was too 'telling me what to do'; it was well, very unpleasant. And everything was all over the place in little compartments. But this book is a Story Book. It tells Lisa's story and how she succeeded. Like Lisa, I, too, was brought up on the Betty Crocker Cookbook. It was all there was in those days, so we learned to cook American Style right here in Australia. Every Saturday afternoon for me was devoted to making the Lemon Meringue Pie. I have never forgotten how.
And on the gardening shelf we had the Yates Garden Guide (Australia), while the US had Better Homes and Gardens (now we've got both). And they were our cooking and gardening 'Bibles'. Whatever they said to do, we did it. Without question. And they taught us a lot. About the old-fashioned way to go in the kitchen and, more especially, in the garden.
They were simple. Life was simple. Choices were limited, so we were Focused. Look for a recipe today (especially online) and what do you find? Hundreds. All slightly different versions of the same thing. Except that in the last 10 years or so there has been a change. Suddenly it has become fashionable to be old-fashioned. We see a lot about 'Cookies baked the way Grandma baked them', or 'Good old-fashioned annuals, just like Grandma had in her garden'.
Well, I can tell you, Grandma was right. But she had the time. Compared to us, she had all the time in the world. As Lisa says, today we only have time for the garden squeezed in (maybe at the weekend) between all our other commitments which come with our hectic lifestyles. And I can see that at best we can only look forward to retirement to really enjoy our garden. But it doesn't have to be like that, because if you want to grow beautiful flowers, all you need to do is to grow them right. The way Nature intended them to be grown. If you don't have much time, then put all your efforts into a smaller garden and make it the best on the block.
We have been led away from the simple life in the garden and in the kitchen, by having quick-fix solutions thrown at us from all directions. How much competition is there on TV for the biggest and fastest Weight Loss, the fastest DIY Home Renovator, the fastest Master Chef? The quickest and best Fitness Instructor? And it seems that these shows thrive on pressure. Actually, between all of that and Reality TV Shows, there's not much else on. But the one place which does give us time to relax and unwind is the good old-fashioned Gardening Show. And even there...
The Cold Hardy Iceland Poppy (Champagne Bubbles Variety). An excellent Cool Flower to start on and to experiment with. You can really push the boundaries with this one. As a cut flower it will last several days and if you sear the stalk to prevent the sap running out it will last longer. You can just dip it in boiling water, if you're not squeamish.
If you have a problem in the garden, just go online and look for an answer. I can guarantee that you'll find many answers, and they'll all be different. That's what I have discovered when I look up something like 'the bloom period for sweet peas'. It can be anything from 'short' to 'long'; spring or summer or both. The reason for this is not only to do with people's opinions, but also plant breeders have had so many chances to alter the original old-fashioned flowers and change them by cultivation, hybridization and even genetics. So that, unlike the good old days, today we really do have a massive range of choices.
We have so many choices, in fact, that many of us are dying to get back to 'our roots'. And here I mean it literally, as applied to gardening and our choice of flowers. 'Good old-fashioned annuals' and 'heirloom seeds and vegetables' are becoming extremely common terms used by gardeners and advertisers. But going back to 'our roots' in the garden is not complicated. In fact, the secret of great gardening is extremely simple and it all begins with the soil.
Instead of just 'adding stuff' to improve it, we should be digging down a bit further to make it great for our plants 'from the roots up'. And that's exactly what I found in this book. We should be improving our soil by starting at the bottom. Get to the subsoil and you have a chance of having a garden that blooms long before and long after every other garden in your street. Good soil needs good drainage and good microbes. Lisa shows you how to get them, as well as showing you how to get the beneficial flora and fauna above ground to encourage healthy bugs and discourage the bad guys.
I always thought of all these areas of garden care as separate sections of the library. But in this book they are all effortlessly brought together. Even companion planting does not have its own chapter. Everything is all interwoven seamlessly. I hope to begin with the following plants which are just some of the flowers which Lisa has tried and tested over many years of working with her cold hardy annuals.
The Sweet Pea. Definitely Cool.
As Lisa found out with her very first garden, don't be scared to throw caution to the wind and start by doing exactly what Nature does. Plant your seedlings and seeds when Nature does. Not when spring has arrived because by then it's too late. Plant them not at the right time of the Moon (although this is a reliable method for those who know about it), but in autumn and late winter and early spring. You can even start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before they're due to go into the garden which gives you something to do towards your garden when the weather is so hot in summer, or when the snow is falling in winter.
Of course, you need a little help with this. Just find out your Hardiness Zone. Once you know that, you're almost ready. But there's one more thing to remember: Be Versatile. Dare to push the boundaries. Some of the most beautiful flowers you'll ever grow may just be the ones not recommended for your zone. That's what happened to me with the English Garden Rose. It's not supposed to do well in Australia, but I grew it with no problems whatsoever, right here in sub-tropical Queensland, simply because I didn't know that it can't grow here. Just forget everything you've been taught ....
If you're worried about support and covering for your new plants, Lisa shows you how to make the Sweet Peas stand up straight, how to stop the Delphiniums from toppling in the wind, and how to give 4 Degrees more warmth to a plant in mid-winter without rushing it inside and giving it a cuddle!
And when harvesting time comes and you are cutting your first flowers for your house, always put them into clean vases or containers. If you can't drink out of the vase, don't put your flowers in it. Lisa explains why in the book. My Mother totally disagreed with this one. Boy, the feathers were flying. We always used to ..... add this, pick off the lower leaves so they didn't go slimy ... Yes, but flowers love clean drinking water, too. If you want them to last, don't poison them. I must admit I had never thought or heard of this one. You do add something, but it's the right thing to keep them fresh.
Lisa's Golden Rule:
The term 'Cool Flowers' here means flowers which are Cold Hardy and Organic. This includes quite a lot of plants. But Lisa sticks to her favourite 30 flowers in the book and tells us exactly what to do with them. Just do what she did. It's worked over and over. What's the difference between these flowers and all the others? Well, hardy annuals are not 'tender annuals.'' Tender annuals would never survive this sort of treatment. But Cool Flowers just love it. They thrive on it.
Tender annuals are the ones we plant well after the last frost - in spring - to flower for late spring and summer, but hardy annuals are right in there getting their root systems established thoroughly, well before they're expected to perform. And there's another important thing to remember: when you have done your planning before your planting, make sure you have enough seeds to plant. Avoid the frustration of being all ready and having nothing to plant. The section on planting and growing seeds indoors is particularly attractive to me. Well, so that's how it's done. So simple and worth the time. Can't wait to start.
Viola Tricolour. This Tiny Plant Is So Cool.
We don't have to give up our beautiful, tender annuals, we just add all the Cool Flowers to the mix, to ensure blooms for a large chunk of the year when our gardens may have looked desperately unattractive. Work around that space destined for spring planting with annuals which will come up really early, and because of the right method, they will flower longer and more often for season after season. And as the years go by, the garden gets better and better because of what's happening below ground level. And just in case you're worried, Lisa has you covered for Perennials as well. A life changing book to say the least. Here's the book: