The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

A colorful summer

Scarlet runner beans

I've been surprised by how much joy I've gotten out of flowers this year.  I always put the bare minimum amount of effort into non-edible plants, choosing the easiest annuals and perennials that survive lots of neglect.  Zinnias, sunflowers, touch-me-nots, and scarlet runner beans seem worth replanting using my lazy methods, and echinacea and bee balm have already survived years of neglect.

Red sunflower

From the perspective of the local wildlife, sunflowers are probably the top choice among my for-show flowers --- I definitely see more bugs there than on my other "useless" plants.  I've been enjoying the hummingbird who claimed our patch of scarlet runner beans, though --- she drops by multiple times a day and has been busy chasing off the competition.

Weed kill mulch

Part of the reason I've gotten so much bang for my buck from flowers this year is that I started a patch in front of the trailer where we can see the flowers from the couch and from the outdoor table.  So I'm dumping weeds along another section of the front porch this summer to give a little fertility to soil that will become flowers next year.  No, flowers aren't worth wasting cardboard on, but this lazy kill mulch will do its job pretty well anyway.

I'm curious to hear from other similarly lazy flower gardeners.  Which species make the cut among your low-work annuals and perennials?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I use marigolds, just like my mom. In fact the do an good job of keeping the rabbits and other critters out of the garden as well.
Comment by Mark Mayer Tue Aug 5 09:19:22 2014
Cosmos (I like the white ones) and borage (tasty blue flowers for salad) are both easy fillers that will (not invasively) self-seed themselves. We can sometimes manage two generations a summer from them in Arkansas zone 6b/7. Borage seeds overwinter where they fall and I always have a few volunteers the next spring, cosmos seed do not seem to overwinter for me so I have to collect seed. I'd also add poppies, fennel, and columbine. Plus, I actually like garlic chives more for their late summer white blooms than for eating (but they do self-seed like mad!).
Comment by sweetgum Tue Aug 5 10:27:55 2014
When we bought our land, we had Bee Balm (Oswego) already there and I love it. It spreads a bit, but not like mint. Makes a great tea, too, and it's very hard to kill. Put it in a sunny, well ventilated spot since it sometimes molds.
Comment by Faith T Tue Aug 5 10:30:16 2014

I agree, sunflowers and red runner beans are great. I wonder with your zone if tulips would survive the wet ground. They are plant and forget. Some day I will get some flowering ground cover in. The kind that can be walked on I between the aisles.

Comment by Kathleen Tue Aug 5 10:45:48 2014
I too love marigolds, bright and cheerful. Also, I like a variety of day lillies, because once planted I never, ever think about taking care of them again, they spread slowly, and the blooms are beautiful. In dry sunny areas portulacca blooms all summer long with no attention at all, and it doesn't invade as the wild versions do.
Comment by Maggie Turner Tue Aug 5 11:00:59 2014

Mark --- In my ultra-low-work method, marigolds have failed to come up in the past. However, I am trying them again this year, courtesy of a 10 cent pack of seeds from the Dollar Store, and they look like we might actually get blooms...

Sweetgum --- I've wanted to grow borage, but the one time I tried them, they didn't survive the extreme neglect I give flowers. However, if you find them pretty easy, it might be worth starting a few in flats just to get them going on the farm, now that our vegetable garden is more in control than it was in early years. I'm now willing to give flowers 5% of the attention they deserve instead of 1%.... :-)

I did grow cosmos for a year or two, and they survived my extreme neglect. But the plants tend to fall over, which puts them out of my ultra-low-work category. Maybe worth growing again now that I have spots up against the side of the house, though....

We do grow poppies for seeds, and I had columbine and fennel going for a while until I mowed over them. (Oops.) Maybe I should start those again. :-)

Faith --- I just realized I had a typo in my post where I mentioned "echinacea and coneflowers" (which are the same thing) instead of "echinacea and bee balm. I agree --- bee balm is an awesome easy flower!

Kathleen --- I think we might have a tulip or two, but they fade fast in our climate. They definitely are plant-it-and-forget-it, though.

Maggie --- I've always felt daylilies were too invasive --- in my mom's yard, they have to be ripped back so they don't take over the world.

I'd never even heard of portulacca (I know nothing about ornamental flowers). We don't have many dry, sunny areas, but that would be possible. :-)

Comment by anna Tue Aug 5 12:45:46 2014

Here is a list of flowers that have survived fairly severe neglect in our yard: Daffodils, bachelor buttons, yarrow, thyme, blanket flower, shasta daisy, purple cone flower, cosmos, black eyed susan, maypop, sun flowers, zinnias and this year is our first for scarlet runner beans and sunchokes. I'm sure I missed some in there too. We started many more from broadcasting seeds but they either didn't survive more than a year or couldn't survive the heat.

Comment by Brian Tue Aug 5 13:19:11 2014

Do blue flowers attract bees? Irises and bluebells (I have those from Mass. so they are not Va. bluebells), I'll add, since they are perennials. Ground ivy is special, for me, because of its spicy smell, but I guess you call it a weed. (I wanted to try larkspur, but didn't this year.)

Don't forget the good white bells on comfrey. and flowers on the mint family.

Phlox is special, to me, not the wild, but the tame, which will come back.

Comment by adrianne Tue Aug 5 18:16:09 2014
Add Day lilies and Shasta Daises. Also, but they will take over and spread every where are Jerusalem Artichokes.
Comment by Gerry Tue Aug 5 19:00:58 2014
Black eyed susans and phlox are 2 easy perennials that spread but not invasively and require no care. I grow salvia coccinea an easy annual that self seeds and hummingbirds love it - happy to send you some seed if you want. 4 o'clocks are super easy and require no care, i have the fuschia colored ones if you want seed. I'm in the NC mtns so we have similar climates.
Comment by Katherine Tue Aug 5 22:44:40 2014
Forget me nots are great ground cover plants, they spread easily. I would gladly send some, they are very hardy. I also like dianthus it blooms twice, again it is a low grower. Then Brown eyed Susan's and zinnias for later color and height. Blazing star is nice and blooms later. I have coriopsis that is a great late summer boom pretty yellow flowers. If you try to think of what blooms when, and different heights, you can plant and let it all fill in. Email me if you want forget me nots
Comment by lisa Wed Aug 6 20:38:45 2014
the way i looked at it is that i am trying to be good to myself by growing my own food and also i am trying to be good to the earth....and so i try to plant native plantings....and the plus side of that is native plantings really shouldnt need any babying - low maintenance at its finest as in i do nothing with them. i dont baby any of my plants - be they for food or beauty. anyway, i dont know your area.....but ive got milkweed (for the monarchs), jewelweed (for poison ivy), coneflowers, black eyed susans, joe pye weed, wild bergamot, prairie blazing star, etc etc etc. chicory grows all over - not sure if thats native but i love it....i do love my day lilies too.
Comment by prb Wed Aug 6 23:20:40 2014

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