Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers, and growing zinnias has been an adventure for me, so when I caught the title of this piece, I knew it would be a good one, no matter the outcome. But this story reminds me of all the flower gardeners out there. I have two friends who run you-pick flower gardens open to the public. I watch as they carefully and meticulously clear their beds each fall and spring: lay down tarp, plant seeds, and weed all season endlessly to arrive at the most beautifully arranged crops of flowers. Picture-perfect, really.
And today’s piece, “Waiting for Zinnias” by Jennie Ivey, is quite the opposite. It’s about the love of Zinnias, and not wanting to sacrifice seed for perfection but for abundance. As you’ll read, our author sprinkles mixed seeds like she’s throwing scratch to a flock of chickens. Then she weeds, waters, thins, replants to fill in holes and waits.
This is not just a story about someone’s love of growing Zinnias, but also offers some tips for growing your own! For example, her method for planting Zinnias is to deadhead her flowers, let them dry, store them in a cool dark spot over winter, then gently wrestle them apart to release a mix of seeds. It won’t be a perfectly lined or color-matched Zinnia bed, but instead a rainbow of colors. Beautiful! Keep reading for the whole story, which I know you’ll enjoy.
Whether You Love Growing Zinnias or Not, You’ll Love These Stories
This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!
Waiting for Zinnias
Every Autumn, the wait begins again.
By Jennie Ivey
It’s early October and my zinnias are ugly.
Their stems have grown brown and brittle. Their curled-up leaves are mottled and mildewed. In their glory days, most of the plants were almost as tall as me. Now they’re bent and broken, lying close to the ground as though begging to be run over with the mower. But I can’t say good-bye to the zinnias just yet. I continue to cut every half-decent bloom I can find. I stuff pitiful bouquets into juice glasses and canning jars in a last desperate attempt to hang on to something I’ll be grieving for the next several months:
I’ll wait impatiently until Mother’s Day rolls around next year. Then I’ll pull a worn paper sack from the top shelf of my hall closet, where its contents have been kept cool and dry for six long months. I’ll thrust my hand into the sack and gently work my fingers over the deadheaded zinnias inside. Thousands of seeds will fall off and settle at the bottom. I’ll stir and stir those seeds until they’re all mixed up.
Why? Because I love a messy zinnia bed. Lots of different colors. Lots of different sizes. Lots of different varieties, all growing willy-nilly along the rock wall in my backyard.
The ground in front of that wall has been ready and waiting for months. I deadheaded the zinnias after the first frost. Then I pulled up the stems, laid them on the dirt, and covered them with deep piles of chopped leaves. In early Spring, I turned the earth over three different times. Each time I attacked whatever weeds dared to show their faces and then raked the dirt smooth.
On the second Sunday in May, when all danger of frost has passed in my part of Tennessee, I’ll plant. First I’ll wet down the bed with the garden hose. Then I’ll reach into the worn paper sack, pull out a handful of seeds, and scatter them as though I’m throwing scratch to a flock of chickens. Up and down the length of the flowerbed I’ll go until my sack is empty. I’ll tromp barefoot on the damp earth until all the seeds are buried.
Then I’ll wait.
In about a week or so, green specks will sprout, so tiny I will wonder if they’re a mirage. But sure enough, in a couple of days, I’ll know they’re the real thing. Life has renewed itself. There’ll be zinnias once again.
I’ll keep the fragile plants watered. I’ll thin them where they’re too thick and fill in spots that are too sparse. I’ll weed. I’ll mulch. Then, one wonderful day, there will appear a fistful of blooms. A week later, dozens. Then hundreds. Soon, every room in my house will be filled with zinnia bouquets, and I’ll be reminded why June and July are my favorite months of the year. But August will follow, hot and humid, and my zinnias will begin to wilt and fade. By early Autumn, they’ll be positively ragged. Ugly. In the way.
But I won’t pull them up or mow them down. Not for a while. The zinnias and I will limp toward the cold, dark months together, just as we’ve always done. I’ll cut the last few decent blooms and stuff pitiful bouquets into anything that holds water. Then I’ll wait for the first frost, when I can collect the deadheads.
And begin the blessed cycle all over again. ❖
By Jennie Ivey, published originally in 2020, in GreenPrints Issue #123. Illustrated by Linda Cook Devona
Did this remind you of a similar story you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it.