The budget gardener's trick to growing satisfying summer flowers is to do it from seed.
The budget gardener's trick to growing satisfying summer flowers is to do it from seed. Those you can sow right into the freshly prepared soil have been cherished for generations as easy, living heirlooms. Our ancestors gathered the seeds at season's end and sowed them again the following year for free. Many of the seeds even naturalized, self-sowing on their own. You can still find most of these flowers at seed racks at garden centers or in many catalogs.
For the new gardener, the plants are easy because they germinate right away and grow up fast before the bugs can get to them. However, it's important to distinguish when to sow because these old favorites are divided into two germination preferences.
In the North and East, and very early in the South, spring conditions are cooler. Therefore annuals that prefer lower temperatures to germinate and grow will do best in the early season. They may fade with the onset of midsummer heat, but if you sow warm-season seeds between these early beauties you will have a second wind of a garden after June.
In the South and West the heat comes early, and soils warm to temperatures that make seedlings jump out of the ground just days after planting. They cannot be sown until after the last frost date in your area. These big, bold flowers are what truly give these gardens their characteristic charm. It's because no highbrow gardener would consider such a crass display, but for those of us who love flowers and color they are just the thing to make a cottage stand out beautifully.
Sunflowers, be they giant mammoths or the riot of smaller branching florist cultivars, are as Americana as cottage gardens get. You can never have too many.
Tithonia, with its tangerine orange flowers, is a west-side performer that takes sun and afternoon heat in stride.
Zinnias, with their day-glo colors, are scorned as "common" yet produce the most fabulous blossoms on plants that do best in brutal southwestern dry heat.
Before planting, remove all weeds and debris from the soil. Then turn it with a spading fork. Enrich the broken soil with liberal amounts of steer manure and compost to a depth of one foot.
Before you sow, read seed depth data on the package. Sweet pea seeds germinate a lot faster if you soak them in water for 24 hours before they are planted. Zinnias need light to germinate and do best when simply raked in. Use a "rain" diffuser nozzle to water seed and seedlings.
Later, water large-leafed plants by flooding on ground level. Watering on leaves or large flowers may cause breakage or topple the plant. Fertilize every two weeks during peak growth with any water-soluble product such as Miracle Gro. Cut off spent flowers before seed can form to generate more new flowers. Close to the end of the season let seed form to collect for next year.Cottage gardens have never been the realm of the rich or the worldly. They are the true people's gardens, created with little more than labor, earth and a dollar pack of seed.