Fresh flowers for summertime


June 20 may be the first official day of summer, but once June 1 hits, I consider it summertime.

Summertime is a gardener’s dream. It’s a period of abundance for fruits and vegetables and flowers, and here in Chatham County, just about anything you put in the ground thrives. This week we’ll start with flowers.

Gone are the delicate blooms from spring bulbs like Irises, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. In its place are heartier blooms like sunflowers, geraniums, dahlias, cosmos, calendulas, and zinnias.

I caught up with Nicole Rosenberger, who owns Turtle Rock Gardens and is part of the Red Roots Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program. Her combination of annuals and perennials paints the county in blooms. She’s not into the instant gratification of running to the store and grabbing a six-pack of blooming annuals; she’s in it for the long haul by starting most of her flowers by seed.

“I grow cut flowers on about a quarter-acre, so it’s not cost effective for me to buy plants,” Nicole said. “It can also be really difficult to find flower seedlings suitable for cutting because most garden centers sell bedding (or short) plants.”

Her source for reliable, long-stemmed cut flowers? Country Farm and Home in Pittsboro, and Big Bloomers Flower Farm in Sanford. According to Nicole, Country Farm and Home “sometimes has more common annual cut flower seedlings, like marigolds, and also has lots of beautiful perennial flower seedlings. Big Bloomers Flower Farm also has just about any perennial you could want as well as some annual flowers that are tall enough to cut.”

You’ve just got to know what you want.

Starting flowers from seeds isn’t rocket science, but it does take know-how, experience, and patience. Nicole has a handful of perennials, and annuals that overwinter at her house with a little extra protection, like lisianthus and snapdragons; but the bulk of her flowers are annuals, which she starts from seed.

“I find a heat mat and some way of trapping humidity are really important for getting seed to germinate,” she said. I just cover my trays with a clear plastic bag on the heat mat, but you can also buy a plastic dome top for trays. If you don’t have a heat mat and grow lights and don’t want to invest, there are lots of flowers that do well direct seeded, like calendula, zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos.”

Whether you’ve got lushly rich meadows or hilly and rocky landscapes, you, too, can find success with seeds. Nicole rents the bulk of her garden space and sows her seeds into rows. “Rows make it much easier to get the right spacing when you plant, and it makes it easier to set up interchangeable supplies like drip tape since all of the rows are the same length,” she said. “The rows also make it easier to put up flower netting on things that need support.”

Nicole’s garden space is mostly surrounded by a deer fence, but if you have problems with deer and no fence, she suggests planting strongly scented flowers like marigolds. “I don’t generally have too much trouble with bug pests, but I do occasionally use organic approved pest controls like Monterey BT,” she said. “Recently I had a really bad infestation of cucumber beetles on my amaranth and I tried kaolin clay, which didn’t do much. Some flowers, like sunflowers, you can cut early to avoid bugs chewing on the petals. Insects aren’t too much of a problem on flowers, though.”

And even though she’s in the flower business, she still takes time to smell the, well, flowers, saying: “I always have lots of cut flowers around the house, and don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.”

Nicole’s Turtle Rock Gardens flowers are available at the Chatham Marketplace, through the Red Roots Farm CSA, and at the Fearrington Farmers Market on Tuesdays. I asked if she used any kind of preservatives and she said no.

“Flowers wilt because their stems get clogged up with bacteria and can no longer take up water,” she said. “Cleaning your vase thoroughly before putting flowers in it and then changing the water every day keeps them looking as pretty as any floral preservative.” And don’t forget to recut the stems after about three or four days.

Got any tips for keeping your cut flowers fresh? Do you start your flowers by seed? Do you prefer perennials or annuals? Let me know.

For more information:

• Turtle Rock Gardens:

• Red Roots Farm CSA:

• Chatham Marketplace:

• Fearrington Farmers Market:

• Country Farm and Home:

• Big Bloomers Flower Farm:

• Monterey B.t.:

• The Optimistic Gardener: