Flowers in the garden

Indian Summer has just about made it here and while the rest of the country is preparing for fall, San Francisco is gathering her shorts and tanktops and hoping she won’t see Karl The Fog for longer bouts. The skies are azure and the ocean is a shimmering turquoise with enough golden sunshine pouring over the hills in a manner so abundant, the Mediterranean would be envious.

Our garden flourished through summer and is continuing to thrive. What with all this new-found sunshine, we’ll have basil well into October. There has been heaps of wonderful things coming out of the garden. How much we manage to grow out of just some pots is still cause for general amazement.

This year is one I’m unofficially going to call the year of flowers. The garden has been covered in them; vines and shrubs heaped with beautiful blooms. From early spring and continuing through now, the riot of colour has been phenomenal.

The hydrangea pot outdid itself this year with bloom after gorgeous blue bloom. Seeing them was a relief. We were concerned we had murdered this plants ability to flower for life. Last year, we decided to take this rather large plant out of its pot, give its roots a trim and re-pot it. Turns out, the hydrangea plant just really wanted to be left alone and protested by not giving us a single bloom. We ignored it this year, and boom, a ton of flowers. Lesson learned. Blue flowers fascinate me in a way few others can and these gorgeous, poufy beauties are my favourites, so I’m happy they are back.
(Fun fact alert: The colour of the hydrangeas is related to the pH of the soil. A soil that is more acidic produces blue flowers and more alkaline produces pink. You can actually change the colour of your flowers over time by manipulating soil pH. Apparently, it is easier to turn blue flowers pink rather than vice versa. I wanted blue flowers and started with a blue flowering plant so I cannot confirm any of this. But the interwebs don’t lie, do they?)

A great bonus with these flowers is that they make long-lasting cut flowers. Here’s a little bouquet I put together for some friends when we visited them. It has some lavender and silver dollar eucalyptus along with the hydrangea.

They are so pretty even just stuck into a vase when I have no time to do anything else. They look great by the window. Since the plants all flower heavily around the same time (late spring and summer), many flowers vied for space on our tables. Here the hydrangea is doing its best to overshadow the Cherry Parfait roses, but those little roses, they held their own.

These roses are just gorgeous. The beautiful cherry red edging fades into the creamiest white that float like exotic lanterns above their emerald green leaves. Cherry Parfait is such a charming, stellar rose. And also, it reminds me of raspberry ripple ice cream.

The other rose plant we added this year was a variety called Sugar Moon. There is no colour in this rose, but make no mistake, it is as striking as dramatic as if it were wreathed in colour. It has an elegant bloom and beautiful petals but what will astonish you about this rose is its scent. It is unique, ethereal even. Identifiable as a rose, but at the same time so much more…potent.

A single cut bloom will perfume the entire room. So many of our guests swooned over the heady fragrance and asked me what room spray I used. I’d point to the discreet, graceful flower and love watching the wonderment on their face. Then, there’s also the fact that if you put a cut rose in water right away, they can last a good four days.

Not all of our roses are that fragrant though. In some, like this pretty purple Royal Amethyst, the aroma can be quite unexpected. It has a citrusy fragrance, reminiscent of lemons rather than roses. I grew up around roses in India where they held an aroma you expected them to have. Anything else is a bit alarming. Even so, the beautiful blossoms are quite charming.

The other rose in the garden is a variety called Hot Cocoa. It has a mild fragrance, nothing worth mentioning but what it lacks there, it makes up for in stunning blooms that range from a burnt orange to a chocolate brown with golden velveteen sheen. It is quite spectacular as the plant sends up many blooms and they all hang there looking good enough to eat. It isn’t called Hot Cocoa for nothing.

We grew our first lilies this year. I’d never grown anything using bulbs before so I was curious as to how these would turn out. In India, lilies and mogra were my favourite flowers and fragrances. I was really looking forward to these blooms. We acquired the bulbs at the San Francisco Flower and Garden show where the vendor assured me these would bloom in my micro-climate. The growers’ label also said this was a fragrant variety.  Well, bloom they did, in a most gratifying profusion, with flower after flower showing up through spring. The problem was, they were completely devoid of scent! I was crushed. They were, nevertheless, beautiful flowers that lasted five or so days in the vase.

The thing you have to look out for with these types of lilies is those pollen pods you see in the photo. They stain things as efficiently as turmeric does, and in a similar colour and they are powdery and will definitely fall. I take them off as soon as the flower blooms, because if it rains while they are on the flower, the flowers themselves become stained and unappealing. This would pose less of an issue in a dark coloured flower, but unsightly in a white or pastel one.
We also grew dahlias from bulbs. I adore them completely. Called pompom dahlias, they are like the little pompoms my mom would make to add to her crocheted caps and gloves. These little ones were gorgeous, not too much larger in diameter than an Oreo. Bobbing up and down in the breeze, they sure were cheerful. The thing about bulbs is, if you preserve them after their season, you can reuse them the following year. I am looking forward to having these flowers in the garden again.
We also grew some gorgeous two-toned sweet peas this year. They looks like butterflies in the garden with their bilaterally symmetrical flowers. The plant itself is a vine, quite unruly. The fragrance of the flowers is unforgettable. This one day, a friend of mine walked in with her eight year old daughter who immediately squealed that the backyard smelled like her favourite Bath and Bodyworks lotion. Their fragrance was everywhere.
A bunch of these on your desk as you work brighten up your day and make for happy co-workers.
Some seeds turned out to be quite a surprise. A sweet old lady at my local farmers’ market was handing out sunflower seeds to anyone who wanted them. We put them in the ground in spring. We didn’t have to wait long for them to grow. We were thinking large yellow sunflowers with long yellow petals and rich black centers, what one usually expects from sunflowers.

What we got were these giant yellow poufs, more reminiscent of teddy bears than sunflowers. Everyone just wanted to hug them. They were totally disarming.
There has been plenty of fluffy lavender…

…and gobs of cheerful daisies. I think these are beautiful and truly no flower is more cheerful. I have to agree with Meg Ryan there. Remember You Got Mail?

Just check out that multi-jewelled center. As exotic a flower as any other in the garden.
Not all flowers are just to be admired, though. These golden nasturtiums, for instance, I grew because they are edible. They have a curious peppery taste. They are best left on the plant as they attract beneficial insects, or you can enjoy them in you favourite salad. You can make lovely nasturtium butter by blending them with some softened butter.

Some flowers are very interesting for the promise they hold, like these fabulous blossoms…
…which yielded these delicious lemon cucumbers. They are named so because of their appearance, not their flavour, which is pure cucumber without any bitterness. These got sliced thin and went into my favourite cucumber sandwiches. Soft bread with a generous swath of buttered, sliced cucumbers arranged all over, salt and pepper. The best little sandwich there is. We got quite a good yield out a small potted plant. The only thing to remember with cucumbers of any kind is they have soft spines all over the plant, in this case even the fruit. Fervent peeling is essential and also, watch out for that vine.

There were also zucchini flowers in the garden. We never had any zucchini this year because the flowers were plucked, stuffed, fried and eaten before they had the chance.
We also planted these Persian cucumbers. With their cool, pale-green skin, they were a lot like the Indian cucumbers I remember.

This is the third year of the strawberry plant. It keeps coming back after each winter. All we have is that 13″ X 9″ pot you see in the photo above. Since the beginning of the year, it has yielded several dozens of fruit. It is still continuing to churn them out. A strawberry right off the vine is the freshest it can get. The flavour is at its strongest and sweetest when it is that ripe.

The Mexican lime plant I had despaired over has done a complete turnabout and this year we have not only had pretty flowers but also the gorgeous fruit we seek.
It’s great to see all this fruit. It is still ripening on the branches, but we should be able to harvest our first limes soon.
The Meyer Lemon pot we added to the garden this year has had no trouble adjusting to its new digs. These pretty buds have now turned into fruit.
The herbs have thrived. This is the bunch that went into the making of the Bean and Grain Salad bar.
There have been some missteps. A ranunculus we planted gave us just three flowers. One of the rose plants didn’t flower at all. Neither did the jasmine plant we’ve been tending to for a couple of years now, still no flowers. I got too assiduous with my pruning and accidentally cut all the buds off another dahlia variety. It never quite recovered from the assault and gave us one sad little bloom this year. The hibiscus gave us a grand total of one flower. We know it must be a task for it to tough it out in foggy cool weather when it is such a symbol of the tropics.All of this comes with the territory so we try not to dwell on it at all. The next year could see all of them do better.

Until then, we have the memory of this year’s bounty to last us through winter.

Have you seen my Food and Garden 101 page yet? It is a collection of links I find useful on other blogs or websites. There’s some great information to be found here, whether you want to start your own garden or make your own butter.


Update: It’s 10 am now, six hours after this post went live. And today, we are looking at a rainy, cold day. So much for sunny skies and good timing *sigh*. Well, at least the plants are loving it.


  1. Michelle

    I loved see all those beautiful blooms. Flowers make me so happy.. nature does actually. Thank you for sharing those pictures.. made me smile.

  2. momofnine

    Your “pottage” garden is the most diverse and beautiful I have ever seen outside of a botanical garden! I am assuming everything has a home in a pot? Correct me if I am wrong. The colors and variety are so lovely. What happy flowers to bring into your home!

    • Sharmila

      Thank you momofnine! That is very kind of you to say.

      Everything except the sunflowers are in pots, yes. What we have is a concrete backyard with a roughly 3′ border of earth around it.

      We started the sunflower seeds in little starter pots but planted them in the border because we were concerned they might get much too tall for the pots.

    • Sharmila

      Thanks very much J! You should have seen the jungle ours was a couple of years ago before we started. Brambly blackberry bushes and general disrepair abounded. I’m sure yours is in better condition. I hope you have much success with it.