Zinnias are the clowns of the late summer garden.  Wacky, sporting mis-matched and often outrageous color combinations, they bob  behind the ranks of chic perennials on stalks as long and sturdy as stilts. They’re just too silly to be taken seriously by any self-respecting gardener and yet, by the end of August, they’re often the only colorful things left standing in the border.  I’ve come to depend on them over the years and, after discovering Queen Red Lime zinnias, have grown to love them, too.  This double flower variety starts with a deep red core, then daubs on shades of lime green to limey pink to a deep purplish red as it grows.  It also offers up an entertaining repertoire of shapes: frills, scallops, pin cushions, and a dense intricate center that looks almost crocheted. It dies beautifully, too: its colors muting as though dipped in tea, the flowers turning rounded and mop-like.  In the end, its head droops suddenly like a child falling asleep after a long day.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem on the subject by Mona Van Duyn, the first woman to serve as the country’s poet laureate (1992-93).


A Bouquet of Zinnias

Mona Van Duyn

One could not live without delicacy, but when
I think of love I think of the big, clumsy-looking
hands of my grandmother, each knuckle a knob,
stiff from the time it took for hard grasping,
with only my childhood’s last moment for the soft touch.
And I think of love this August when I look
at the zinnias on my coffee table. Housebound
by a month-long heat wave, sick simply of summer,
nursed by the cooler’s monotone of comfort,
I brought myself flowers, a sequence of multicolors.
How tough they are, how bent on holding their flagrant
freshness, how stubbornly in their last days instead
of fading they summon an even deeper hue
as if they intended to dry to everlasting,
and how suddenly, heavily, they hang their heads at the end.

In any careless combination they delight.
Pure peach-cheek beside the red of a boiled beet
by the perky scarlet of a cardinal by flamingo pink
by sunsink orange by yellow from a hundred buttercups
by bleached linen white. Any random armful
of the world, one comes to feel, would fit together.

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12 Responses to Zinnias

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    I had never read that poem before. How beautiful!

  2. Gwen Rhodes says:

    I too have not read that poem before it is lovely and the descriptions are exactly what is in my end of summer garden here at Fettrrs mill bed and breakfast

  3. Elaine McGann says:

    zinnias how grand. they draw butterflies, bees and other creatures. our are blooming gloriously when most other things are drying up or drying back. thanks

  4. Anders Gyllenhaal says:

    Such beautiful photos — and post. Makes us feel like we’re back in your magnificent garden for one last dose of summer.

  5. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Feel like you captured that late summer feeling of it not quite being over. I think I need to run out and get some Zinnias. Your words are as poetic as the lovely poem. Thanks.

  6. Liza, I’m thrilled to discover your garden writing, thanks to Kirsten Schoenberger, who sent me your Zinnea post. I look forward to reading more!

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