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Lisa Mason Ziegler
Photographs Suzanne Mason Frye


After a long summer of farming in the heat and humidity, nothing is more restorative to me than the crisp beauty of fall flowers bursting into bloom. For many gardeners, a fall flower is a mum or a pansy. But let’s think beyond mums and pansies-- because there are other fall bloomers to enjoy. These unlikely flower candidates are stealing the show on cut-flower farms everywhere, and they are worthy of a try in your fall garden.

Who are these lovely flowers? This hardworking group is known as hardy annuals. You may already know one hardy annual-- the pansy.  Hardy annuals include favorites of spring, but some can also be grown in the fall garden for spectacular blooms. The bonus of growing hardy annuals in the fall: they bloom right up until the first hard frost.  Another plus is that native pollinators will appreciate the late blooms.

So, in summer, after our summer-blooming flowers are planted, we turn our attention to planting hardy annuals for fall blooms.  While you may find transplants available at your local nursery in late summer for fall blooming, they are also easily started from seed.

Snapdragons: The snap is a familiar flower, but not many people know there are different varieties to choose from, each with its own special look and color mix. My top choices to grow for fall are Opus and Chantilly. This plant grows and blooms beautifully in the short days of fall and the colors are a perfect fit for the season—peach, salmon, yellows and pinks with an open-faced bloom that is gorgeous. Snapdragons prefer to be transplanted into the garden and are easily started from seed. Start seeds indoors in early summer for fall blooms.

Sweet William: This large flower head is made up of a cluster of smaller flowers. It brings with it the fragrance of spring in the fall! While you may find other varieties available from your local nursery, my favorite for fall is Amazon. That’s another that is easily started from seed indoors. This plant seems to be ignited by cool to cold weather—often blooming longer than any other fall flower I grow. Begin in early summer for a fall-producing plant. Amazon goes from seed to bloom in 16 weeks. 

Love-in-a-Mist: This flower has the sweetest little blue, white and rose colored blooms. It also develops a pod that is excellent for drying. Blue flowers are always beautiful in the garden and fall is no exception. Seed is widely available in a mix and straight colors. This flower is very easy to start from seed planted directly in the garden and will replant itself in the coming seasons. The fernlike foliage is perfect to set off a kitchen bouquet.

Ornamental Kale: While there are many different kales widely available as transplants for gardens and containers, the one we love to grow for cut flowers is Crane. It grows up to 30” tall; when grown close together (4-6 inches apart,) it forms a perfect little cabbage head. The flower looks like a giant rose about 5-6 inches wide! This plant’s real purpose in the garden is a cut for bouquets. But I have seen it used to gorgeous effect in the middle to the back of a flower border. Kale is another plant that sails into freezing weather; the center colors (white or pink) intensify with cold temperatures.  When using as a cut flower, remove all the leaves below the top 3 inches of the stem. 

These sensational flowers complement some of the better-known fall favorites:  dahlias, cosmos, mums and pansies.  Fall on our farm is no longer a season of winding down—it’s a spectacular show. We look forward to it as if spring had come all over again. As the days begin to get shorter, the nights cooler, and the warmth of the afternoon is once again welcome, the fresh crisp blooms of these fall beauties are just what we need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower grower, author, and speaker. Her new book Cool Flowers is available online and in bookstores. For more on Lisa, her farm and online garden shop visit Look for a review of her book, Cool Flowers, in this issue of In The Dirt.

Posted October 10, 2014


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