Zinnias

They bloom in vivid colors from summer until frost, are a snap to grow from seed, and attract birds and butterflies to your yard.

By Pam Ruch and Lauren Sloane

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The Organic Gardening Test Garden has many attractions at the end of the season. A dozen or so new tomato varieties are ripe and ready for us to taste. Sunflowers are raising up their shining faces. The scent of licorice wafts from the anise hyssop. Goldfinches dart in to snatch seeds from flowers finished blooming and tiger swallowtail butterflies alight for a sip from blossoms still at their peak. And most days the sun rises gloriously through the mist that overnight has given every plant a fresh sheen.

Among all of these extraordinary delights, however, a very familiar flower always sparks oohs and aahs of admiration, from veteran horticulturists and casual passersby alike. The zinnias planted solely to brighten up our garden never fail to cheer us with their brilliant blossoms that open continuously from midsummer all the way to the first hard frost. Just look at the photographs on these pages, shot at our garden here in eastern Pennsylvania, and you'll see that zinnias embody the simple beauty of an organic garden at its peak. But zinnias earn their place in our garden (and hearts) for more than their good looks. You, too, will love growing zinnias because of all they have to offer:

1. A rainbow of color options. They come in every eye-catching hue except true blue, so you can match them with your favorite perennial or annual flowers, foliage plants, and herbs.

2. A height for every site. Want tall, back-of-the-border plants with huge, dahlialike blossoms? Need a low-growing flower with simple yet colorful petals? Zinnias fill the bill in both cases and in so many other situations.

3. No fuss, big payoff. If there's a flower that's less demanding of your time and attention than zinnias, please tell us, because we need to know about it.

4. A banquet for birds and butterflies. Plant a patch of zinnias and watch your yard come to life with the entertaining activity of wildlife on the wing.

5. Never-ending bouquets. The more blooms you snip from zinnias, the more they produce. Every week, you'll get a fresh bouquet that no florist could match.

Of course, we could go on about our love of zinnias, but we'll let the pictures speak for themselves. After you've looked at them, come back here to find out how to grow them yourself.

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