Natural Companions

See how the plant world’s blooming buddies can turn a garden into paradise.

By Ken Druse


Ken Druse's Natural CompanionsSome of the challenges of growing food are avoided by using containers. I can move them if need be for more sunlight. I can pick off bugs if they appear. Having edibles in several places helps keep the critters at bay. Then there are the things you cannot control, like the weather. One year, rain ruins your crops. The next, drought takes its toll.

When the weather forecaster says, “another beautiful day without a cloud in the sky,” I want to scream.

Fresh from the Garden

Summer garden flowers, especially annuals from seed, beg to be cut for the house. There are ways to make flowers last as long as possible. Cut early in the morning when the blossoms are full of moisture and the air is cool. Some flowers cut in bud will open; others will not. Roses, irises, gladiolas, and daffodils can be cut in bud (give daffs their own vase; they shorten the lives of other flowers). Lilacs should be cut when half of the buds have opened. Marigolds, delphiniums, and dianthus should be cut when they are completely open. Try to collect zinnias when the ray florets (the sterile flowers around the outside) are unfurled, but the tiny fertile ray florets (at the center of the flower) are just beginning to bloom.

Carry a bucket of water, and a very sharp knife. Immediately plunge the cut stems in deep water. Bring the flowers into a cool place. The stems may be left submerged for hours. You should always recut the stems before you use them and, if possible, underwater. Air bubbles can get into the sodastraw-like tubes within the stems and seal them—trapping some water in the stem, but also keeping more water out. A few exceptions are plants like poppies, which have sap in their stems. Those plants should be recut, and the tip of the stem held over a flame until it blackens. Woody plants like shrubs should have their ends slit a few times about two inches up the stem lengthwise, and/or have the bark scraped from the bottom few inches to expose the most area to water.

Photo: Ken Druse