July has given way to August, and there is no denying that the race is on to Labor Day. During the intervening month, day length will dwindle by 90 minutes between Aug. 1-31, leaving 13 hours as we head toward the late days of summer.
In the meantime, this weekend brings the full Sturgeon Moon on Sunday, Aug. 2, a name with origins among both colonists and the Algonquian nation indigenous to the Northeast, as sturgeon are native to both Europe and the Americas.
Other common names for August’s moon allude to the ever-expanding list of ripening crops. Whether the Green Corn Moon, Wheat Cut or Blueberry Moon, they all confirm that we are in the heart of summer, with the best of the harvest underway.
Certainly cukes, zukes, new potatoes, early tomatoes, beans and brassicas are crowding the kitchen counters, as well a great yield of berries. But summer flowers are also at their peak, with nasturtiums, zinnias and cosmos offering bright splashes of color among rows of corn and potatoes.
While some gardeners maintain a divide between the ornamental borders and vegetable patch, I am not among them.
Annuals have caught my fancy since I was a child, when my dad gave me a corner of his garden, which I remember to be populated largely by tomatoes.
Asters and zinnias were my favorites then, and I love them still. During the intervening years, the list has grown, and these days I start half a dozen annuals from seed to be sure to have my preferred varieties. I also devote a spot to traditional open-pollinated biennials like hollyhocks and foxglove.
Certainly aesthetics is a consideration, but there are other benefits to including flowers in the vegetable garden. The most obvious is that flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects.
Pollinators are crucial for vegetable development. Squash is a case in point. You can have lush vines and leaves topped off with stellar flowers, but if those flowers aren't pollinated, few squash will actually develop.
Peppers are another hard-to-pollinate cultivar that will benefit by being mixed with blooming plants.
Other flowers are valued for their ability to repel certain garden pests and as a companion plant. Marigolds, among the most easily grown and widely popular annuals, have strongly scented foliage, and the roots are known to secrete a substance that repels soil nematodes. Nasturtiums, on the other hand, act as a trap for aphids and whiteflies.
Easy-to-grow annuals also make wonderful cut flowers. Just as vegetables need to be harvested at the optimal time, flowers benefit from the same sensibility.
If prolonged vase life is a consideration, always cut fresh flowers in the morning, when they have benefited from the night’s cooler temperatures and higher humidity. Choose buds or flowers just beginning to exhibit their pollen.
Blooms are not only lovely in a vase but can add color, interest and flavor to meals.
Their flavors range from spicy to sweet and herbal, and blossoms in a summer salad, whether calendula, nasturtium or borage, can be a showstopper.
When it comes to cultivar selection, for me, easy-to-grow is the bottom line. My true focus is vegetable production, so selecting plants that will thrive on their own is essential.
Nasturtiums fill that description perfectly. This sun-loving annual can also easily be grown from seed in the garden, and will thrive even in marginal soil. Jewel is the standard compact variety, while Gleam grows taller with a wider range of colors. And then there is Alaska, one of my personal favorites, a low-growing nasturtium with striking variegated green and creamy white foliage.
Zinnias are forgiving as to soil type and quality, and well, just so cheery. Plant breeders have had a heyday with their gene pool, creating gaudy dahlia-like mammoths, two or three to a stem. My preference are classic varieties like State Fair, Benary’s Giant, and Cut and Come Again, producing prodigious blooms ranging from scarlet, salmon and yellow to white.
Cosmos, with its lacy foliage and prolific blossoms, grows on a wide range of soils and produces a showy profusion until heavy frost hits. Variations have been introduced in recent decades, including Cupcake Blush, Double Click Mix and Picotee, a white cosmos with deep red serrated edges. I’m still a fan of the original Sensation series, an easy-to-grow variety with lavender, pink, magenta and white blossoms.
Then there are the climber:, morning glories and sweet peas among them, or scarlet runner beans, which create a display of flaming red flowers that lasts throughout the summer. This tender perennial vine from the South American tropics, grown as an annual in the north, draws hummingbirds and bees alike.
Sunflowers are another subject, whether grown for seed, cut flowers or as a lure for birds and beneficials. At this point in the summer, they are a magnet for bees and monarch butterflies. Like so many other annuals, they are both practical and have great aesthetic appeal.
Open-pollinated varieties like Autumn Beauty also self-seed, reappearing summer after summer to hold down a corner of the vegetable garden.
PICK UP TAGLINE