Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Zillions of zany zinnias!

" set budding more later flowers for the bees
Until they think warm days will never cease
for summer hath oerbrimm'd their clammy cells."

Ode to Autumn, John Keats

We rarely have mists although mellow fruitfulness is apropos. The last few autumns we have had such a promising beginning: I have all the windows open (it's 5:30 AM) on October 5--it is almost summery in coolness with just a nip of fall. Although cooler weather is predicted in a few days...

My last blog showed a sumptious Salvia at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake (that Lakewood wonderland I have not yet truly done justice to on this blog--I just show snippets here and there of the many treasures there)...that garden is quite spectacular this time of year with literally dozens of plants in full glorious bloom. None are more lavish in their display than our modest Zinnia grandiflora,

I say "our" advisedly: the late Andrew Pierce, whom I have eulogized recently, insisted that he and I introduced this to Denver Botanic Gardens early in the 1980's on a field trip he and I took to Phantom Canyon. I am happy to take credit for this introduction (our accession files should tell the tale): I wonder if this might not be the earliest evidence of its being cultivated--at least locally? I suspect Plants of the Southwest must have offered it in the sixties and seventies...

I think each of these pictures is actually taken of a different spread of zinnia at Kendrick Lake. We grow this at DBG and I had a fine spread in my own home xeriscape, but our's are not quite so lusty. The finest planting ever was (and I suppose still is) at Centennial Park, once an outpost of DBG which we sadly released to oblivion...perhaps I shall share pictures of that one day.

What can I tell you about this zinnia? Common throughout southernmost Colorado southward to Mexico, throughout the Chihuahuan uplands (it could almost be the mascot of the Chihuahuan steppe/desert). It often begins to bloom in late spring, and lasts through the summer (older flowers turning parchment yellow and papery) so it presents the same sort of floral show one would want of an annual. Except this plant is totally drought tolerant, and will grow in the stickiest clay with equanimity.

Some time in the late 1980's I wrote an article about this plant for the Denver Post: I remember getting angry calls and notes from local nurserymen who of course were caught with their pants down: you see, it was not being produced commercially at the time and customers were demanding it after reading my piece. I learned a lesson there! That was a lesson I took to heart! One or two local nurseries are growing this now (Little Valley Wholesale Nursery and Country Lane spring to mind) so Plant Select should really revisit this plant.

It belies' Robert Frost's wonderful short poem, "Nothing gold can stay" which I read to conclude my eulogy for my dear friend Andrew's memorial service on Monday night. This is gold that indeed stays and lasts and blooms its zany head off for months and months.


  1. I first saw this plant when Jeff Ottersburg was growing it in the early 90s. At the time he was selling flats of it to Plants of the Southwest every spring. He still grows it, too!

  2. You are probably right about Plants of the Southwest growing this plant much earlier than anybody around here. Library reviews of old catalogs would elucidate the answer to that. We were growing it at Weddle Native Gardens in the late '70s and I can remember gathering seed for DBG in the early '80s as well.

    Personally, I have never regretted writing or talking about native plants not yet in the trade regardless of how much local garden centers dislike it. It's one way of garnering the interest needed to get them into the trade. Otherwise we might have to wait forever while local (non-native) plants-people discovered it on their own.


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