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Cape May Garden Journal: Zinnias Move In

By Jane Kashlak
Cape May Times Garden Columnist

August 24, 2004 - Zinnias are turning up everywhere in our Cape May garden ....mixed in with the verbena, tangled with the cardinal climber, crowding out the campanula.

Funny thing - we never planted zinnias this year. Or last year.

These zinnias are what the plants people call "volunteers" - flowers that take a liking to a spot and don't need to be drafted to come back the following year.

Truth be told we did plant zinnias there, once. That was all it took for these annuals to get a foothold in our woodpile garden. (The garden's named in memory of two previous woodpiles on the same spot. The woodpiles killed the grass beneath and voila - a garden was born.)

When the zinnia volunteer seedlings started popping up last year, we couldn't pull them out - what cold hearted person would pull out future flowers?? I did, however, later in the summer, yank the brash red and orange flowers, leaving only the more refined pinks. That eased the overcrowding situation a bit.

This spring, there were big bare patches where the zinnias had been. Enough. This was supposed to be a perennial garden. It was time to get tough. So this spring, every time I saw a seedling early on, I gently pulled it from its spot. Gone. They might be pretty but they are also greedy little things...grabbing up as much water and sunlight as they can.

Garden Partner watched in horror as I pulled up those early seedlings. He is of the opposite temperament...a kind, gentle soul, not a ruthless plant killer.

The zinnias, I told him, could have a place of their own...not overshadowing the faithful perennials but with room to run wild. We would create an annual garden.

Funny thing, in the middle of the summer, cloaked by the growing mass of greenery in the woodpile garden, the zinnias made a comeback.

Out of the green tangle, a pale pink flower emerged, then another..and another.

Quietly these garden guerillas had snuck back into the perennial garden...and caught us unaware.

This time, however, there's not a red or orange one in the bunch. My Darwinian approach has produced perfectly shaped zinnia volunteers, with no hint of disease, in every shade of pink, from pale rose to deep magenta.

Of course, even I can not bring myself to pull them out of the woodpile garden now.

I push a zinnia away from the campanula - so the campanula can get a little air.

I eye another zinnia, snuggling up a little too closely to the Jupiter's Beard.

Maybe next year.

Check future Cape May Garden Journals to see how our garden grows.

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