Monday, August 1, 2011

MYSTERY BLOOMS


I don't know the identity of these flowers, but I like them a lot. They grow about two feet high, with three-inch blooms that come in an almost endless variety and combination of hues. The blooms may have a single, almost primitive array of petals; while others sport double or even triple allotments. Each flower is unique. From their start in midsummer, the bright, colorful blooms keep arriving one after another until serious frost. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds all find them attractive. Moreover, they somehow strike me as old-fashioned looking and seem  a perfect choice for the cottage garden.

Yet…their name remains a mystery. Myladylove's parents live in the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee, smack in the middle of the Blue Ridge portion of the vast Appalachian Mountains—that ancient rocky spine which runs southwestward from Newfoundland, Quebec and Maine all the way to Georgian and Alabama. From their hilltop home, a few minutes drive north will take you across the state line into Virginia; head east instead and you'll be in North Carolina…and in not much more time you could make that Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, or South Carolina.

Their home, which her Methodist minister father built a few years ago prior to retirement, sits atop a high hill, on mostly open acreage—grassy pasturelands rather than the thick forests of, say, the Great Smokies, and not nearly so high and rugged. There are plenty of woods around, and occasionally a black bear wanders along—but this is really horse-farm country, with lots of stables and riding centers nearby. 

Myladylove's mother not only puts out a big garden—from which she annually cans several hundred jars of everything from green beans to tomatoes, peaches to pickles—but she also grows a variety of flowers, and often sends a package or two of seeds to us in the mail. A few years ago she passed along a handful of flower seeds.



One of those seed packets resulted in the blooms pictured in this post. The story is that a number of years earlier, an old man gave Myladlove's mother a supply of seeds which he said had been passed down through his family for several generations. He didn't know the flower's name, or if he did, Myladylove's mother doesn't remember. I've looked through a few garden flower books, and scrutinized the spring catalogs—but so far, no luck. No one I've asked recognized the plant. 



Now I'm not saying this is a rare plant, or even uncommon…just that I'm stumped as to its name. It may be as common as marigolds, something everyone but me knows immediately. At best I'm a dabbler when it comes to garden flowers. While you don't need to know the name of flower to appreciate its beauty, I'm hoping someone knows this one.



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24 comments:

ellen abbott said...

Zinnias.

Kelly said...

Grizz, they remind me of an older variety of zinnias my Grandma used to grow in her garden. She would save the seeds every year and plant them. She gave me seeds too, and I grew them for years at my parents house when I was a kid. I love them! Do the goldfinch love their seeds in the autumn? I'd even see hummingbirds sipping their nectar...

Bonnie said...

They are quintessential cottage garden flowers.

My guess is that they are a hybrid cross between marigolds and gerberas. However, it should be noted that my main claim to fame in the garden department is in appreciation and wonder - not expertise.

Cicero Sings said...

I would think these are Zinnias

Bonnie said...

me again - just asked myself what my mother would say they are - and the word 'primrose' came up. Hmmm - wish I could call her. She would know. On walks she would identify every bird from their song and every flower, wildflower, weed, or edible leaf we would pass. Somehow I always believed I would be able to ask Mom ...

Grizz………… said...

Ellen…

Ahhhh…mystery solved. And as I suspected the answer is one of those Garden Flowers 101 I.D.s which anyone with a planting trowel and a sprinkling can would know—which shows you the gaps in my education.

Actually, what threw me when looking at books and catalogs is that my flowers mostly have the single row of petals, not the multiple rows in the usual photos, which make zinnia blooms look sort of like small chrysanthemums, also mine often have blooms with several colors in a single flower—unlike most catalog images; plus mine are almost every shade in the rainbow, and photos tend to show mono-colors, all reds, purples, pinks, whites, yellows, etc.

But I'm glad to finally know what they are…even if it's embarrassing to be so dumb. Thank you!

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

I think you've hit on the key in that, and the fact that your grandmother collected seed and grew similar plants squares with what I know about my plants. As I said in the post, these seeds have been collected each fall and planted the following spring for many decades. ("Generations" was the word used.) So who knows how long this particular variety has been going? They are almost certainly an old style—and I think their appearance reveals that heritage of being haded down from an earlier age. They just look old and less modern than the photos in the catalogs, which is my best excuse for not recognizing them when I tried to match picture to plant.

When the old man passed them on to Myladylove's mother, he gave her a standard-size brown paper grocery bag full! Hundreds of thousands of seeds, because I'm told he has borders around his property a dozen feet wide and hundreds of feet long of just this plant. And Myladylove's mother also plants a wide, long border along one side of her big garden, and more along their drive which runs a couple hundred yards from the road up the hill to their home.

I do see butterflies and other insects nectaring on my flowers all the time; bees appear to love them; hummingbirds, too…and yes, in the fall, the goldfinches give me a run for my money at collecting seed.

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

They are, indeed, quintessential cottage garden flowers. I think zinnias is the I.D. answer…though I'm glad someone besides me was mystified. I'm no expert, for sure, but like you, I am an expert appreciator. ;-D

Grizz………… said...

Cicero…

Yup, zinnias they are…and thank you.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

beautiful flowers (zinnias), and wonderful family story to honor their beauty.
Love to you
Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

Both my mother and my father were genuine experts when it came to plant names—in fact, Dad had a degree in botany. They could recognize everything, though Mon leaned more toward flowers, both wild and garden varieties, while Dad knew trees and vines and shrubs as well. And like you, I grew up depending on them for answers—when I wanted to know the name of a plant, I asked Mom or Dad. As a result, I never paid good attention and learned them myself. About the time my father passed away, I began to get interested in photographing and writing about wildflowers—and guess what?…when you take a photo of a flower with hopes of writing about it and having the picture published in a magazine (and getting paid for your effort) you have to know the name of the thing. I was out of luck and struggling for years—still am, in fact.

So I know exactly what you're saying—I've spent my whole life trying to catch up because I always thought I'd be able to ask Mom or Dad…

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

It's wonderful to have friends out there in blogland who are smarter about these things and willing to share…and I'm grateful. Actually, let me revise that statement: it's wonderful to have friends. Period. No matter where they are or what they know or don't know.

Take care, my friend…

The Weaver of Grass said...

There are two possibilities I think - by far the most possible is as your other correspondents say, zinnias.
Or they could be some form of dahlia.
But i do agree with you that they are a real tonic - such pretty colours and I expect the more you deadhead them the longer they keep flowering.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I do think zinnias is the answer. These seem to be extremely long-blooming, though I'm not sure whether it deadheading that makes them endure almost into November, because I've always deadheaded in order to save lots of seed.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

Zinnias they are, and come in all sorts of different varieties. Yours are especially lovely.My grandmother always had them.

madcobug said...

They are definitely Zinnias. I have some in my flower bed. A long time ago they were called old maids. Why, I don't have any idea. Butterflies really love them. Helen

Penny said...

I know others have answered but my first impression was also zinnias, but such lovely ones, so much nicer than the newer ones. Wish I could have some seeds but cant get them into Oz.

Grizz………… said...

Kristi…

Thank you for responding…and after looking at dozens of zinnia photos today, I do think the variety I have is prettier than many of those being sold. Of course that's pure prejudice on my part. :-)

By the way, I took a quick look at your blog and will be back for a real visit. But just wanted to let you know I'm also a fan of Chief of Police Bruno.

Grizz………… said...

Macobug…

You know, when you mentioned that they were sometimes called Old Maids, I remembered hearing some of the older folks, including my mother, mention flowers of that name—so this name may have Southern roots.

I have butterflies and hummingbirds flitting around them all the time.

Grizz………… said...

Penny…

I woud send you seeds if I could—though I don't have as many plants as usual, due to our record wet spring, so seed production is not apt to be up to par. But the last month has been blazing hot and they're blooming like crazy, so it all may work out. I do think mine are especially pretty—a perfect, old-fashioned fit for the cottage.

KGMom said...

Well, I am late to the ID party, but yes--zinnias.

Grizz………… said...

KGMom…

Late, yes…but still welcome and appreciated. Thank you.

Arija said...

A beautiful display of zinnias Grizz. My mother grew them from seed as well and they offer some bright colour in the summer garden as well as attracting bees and butterflies. It is an old fashioned flower, seldom appreciated in these days of mondo grass.It belongs to the time of cottage gardens, along with red salvias, cosmos, hollyhocks, petunias and iceberg begonias, not in these modern times of designer gardens of stiff perennials.

Grizz………… said...

Arija…

I love them and I'm tickled no end to finally have folks tell me what they are. Looking through various flower catalogs each spring, which of course show zinnias, I apparently didn't recognize them because mine, being from seed handed down for well over a century, are sort of heirloom stock and don't look like modern varieties. Which is fine, because I find I tend to love the old plants, old varieties. I like they way these zinnias look in my garden and intend to expand their planting as best I can, given enough seed. And I also like every "old fashioned" plant on your list, though I'm least fond of hollyhocks—though I generally plant them. To me, they—along with lots of roses—are essentials for a real shaggy cottage garden look.