With visions of bright red tomatoes and succulent sweet corn lodged securely in my head, now comes other thoughts of the perennial and annual flowers we hope to raise this summer.

Some years, not only do a few bright yellow sunflowers re-seed themselves in the garden, but one early summer as I was looking into the back meadow, amid a pile of slash was a single, six-foot-tall stalk topped with a magenta sunflower. It was tall and proud, as it should be. That single seed must have been carried by the wind or a bird, and had somehow planted itself in a most inhospitable spot. It had apparently started growing much earlier than even the re-seeded sunflowers in the garden.

Yes, the earth is magical. Such spontaneous events also remind me that even with the most meticulous care given to our seeds and plants, nature takes over. If it wants to grow, it will. If it doesn’t, it won’t.

The meadow garden and other lovely blossoms

We plant a number of annuals in a small part of the vegetable garden, but most of our flowers, either annuals or perennials, show up in the stone planters in front of the house, another circular stone planter I built around a maple tree, or in their own special little spot.

We have the traditional daffodils and tulips, crocuses and perennial poppies, as well as a wonderful bed of purple irises. These are particularly special because they were dug from a very good friend’s iris garden.

Another special flower came as a “freebie” with a seed order – perennial sunflowers. Although not true sunflowers, they are bright yellow with a slightly darker yellow center and they are so reliable. Every year, they pop up at the edge of the garden or from one of the stone planters, then blossom almost until frost. They also are very good at dividing, so I can dig a few up once they’ve finished blossoming in the fall and plant another bunch someplace else where I’d like a sparkle of color.

An often overlooked garden is one that takes very little care, but produces a multitude of very different flowers and colors. That’s the meadow garden.

We often see daisies, purple clover and black-eyed susans popping up in a field that hasn’t been regularly mowed. Intentionally planting one can result in even more splashes of color.

To do this, designate a portion of your lawn, meadow or back pasture to become this garden. Purchase a large packet of wildflower seeds or use seeds that may have been saved from the previous year.

Rough up the soil where you will be planting, then simply scatter them. This works even if soil is not tamped over the seeds, but to assure a more reliable result, walk over the seeded spots so that the seeds will just barely be covered with soil. Let some of the tall grass, clover and naturally occurring wildflowers grow. Remove some of the tall grass if it appears to be suffocating the flower seeds. And in a few weeks, the traditional daisies and black-eyed susans will be accompanied by orange calendulas, pink cosmos, purple lupines and a multitude of other summery flowers, both annuals and perennials.

One spring, I simply scattered a packet of mixed windflower seeds wherever I found a relatively bare spot out behind the house. Come summer, pastel shades of flowers sprang up in the most unexpected places.

A meadow garden can be started once the snow melts, and the soil is beginning to warm up. Or, for next year, establish a meadow garden at the end of August. Although the annuals likely won’t blossom, the perennial seeds will be already to go next spring.

Rejuvenating bulb beds

If all the dead tops and leaves of last spring’s tulips, daffodils and others weren’t sufficiently cleaned up last year, now is the time it must be done. This will make way for the bulbs to poke through the soil and begin their journey to become lovely flowers once more.

If more bulbs were planted in the fall, watch for them now.

Also, replace some of the mulch kept on the beds. Mulching not only keeps the weeds down, but it retains moisture and provides protection for the flowers. It looks good, too.

Remove any weeds, grasses and other growth not wanted in the beds, and add soil, if necessary. Fertilizing will also help the bulbs to grow.

Spring is the time to plant gladiolas and dahlias and other tender bulbs. Plant as early as the soil allows, but remember, these bulbs are not hardy enough to survive through a Maine winter and must be dug up, brought inside, and kept cool over the winter, then replanted in the spring.

As with a vegetable garden, I like to map the locations of my bulbs so I’ll know what to expect coming up. However, the thrill of seeing that first bulb break through the soil usually removes the need to know exactly what has made it through the soil.

Other tasks to do now

— Mulching the vegetable garden calls for less decorative materials than when we want a lovely flower garden. So if mulching tomatoes and other vegetables is wanted, start saving newspapers right now.

We have found that completely covering the soil around our tomato plants with at least a double thickness of newspaper, then anchoring the newspapers with straw or hay, significantly reduces the amount of weeding that must be done. And as with all mulching, moisture is retained longer.

We have also laid newspapers between some rows, and I like to place papers between pumpkin and winter squash hills, as well. Anything to cut down on the amount of weeding.

— Get a soil test. Contact the Maine Cooperative Extension for information on how to do this. Generally, soil should be collected from several areas of the garden, then mixed. The results will show whether more organic material must be added and whether the soil is too acid or not acid enough. It’s a great help in preparing the soil for a successful garden.

— To help fend off insect damage, plan on adding a row or two of plants that insects don’t like. One of those is the humble marigold. Bugs just don’t like them. Also, I have found that the soon-to-emerge rhubarb leaves repel some species of insects. Spread the leaves around young vegetable plants once the rhubarb has produced all its pink, tart stalks.

— If container gardening is considered, thoroughly clean last year’s large pots in preparation for filling with soil. Many vegetables and annual flowers can be grown in pots. I have had very good luck with grape tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, calendulas, bell and hot peppers, and several other varieties. Usually, the tomatoes I plant in pots are the last to get hit by frost because I place them near the house in front of the porch. And it’s so much fun to pick fresh vegetables right outside the kitchen door.

Until next time, I welcome comments, suggestions and questions. I may be reached at [email protected]

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