Zinnia Happiness

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Every Saturday morning when I stroll over to Rittenhouse Square, I’m starstruck by the plethora of zinnias that greet me with their dazzling array of colors and flower heads.

Zinnias and happiness

There are 3 or 4 flower stands at this weekly market but one grower, Triple Tree Flowers, has a flare for displaying flowers that woos passer-bys and has them waiting with baited breath to buy either prearranged bouquets or hand pick them. Plus he is the only flower stall that sells zinnias.

Because of him, the neighborhood is caught up in what I call Zinnia Happiness.

Zinnias at Outdoor Market

Zinnias at Saturday Outdoor Market on Rittenhouse Square

So what is it about zinnias that make us feel like we can never get enough of them?

I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t think of not ordering zinnia seeds each spring to sow in my garden. Only dahlias come close to offering the showiness, brilliance of color and size of bloom similar to these members of the Aster family.

Zinnias in a wide range of colors

Zinnias in a wide range of colors

Their benefits are plentiful.

Undemanding, they can be grown almost anywhere in the garden as long as they receive full sun.

Another positive – they’re butterfly magnets AND the more you deadhead them and use as cut flowers, the more flowers they produce. But their real allure?

Zinnias make people happy. Their cheery faces convey a feeling of optimism to all whose eyes land on them.

A short background on these lovelies from Landreth Seeds

 “They are primarily a native of Mexico where a rambling plant with daisy like orange to yellow blossoms grows, but some forms of wild zinnias have been found as far north as Colorado and as far south as Guatemala. 

The first zinnias were discovered in Mexico and brought to Europe by the Spaniards in the 1500’s. Zinnia peruviana was an altogether ugly sight, a sparsely foliated, rangy plant which produced small flowers whose petals were often various muddy shades of yellow and orange. This plant was known throughout Europe by the mid-1600’s, but it was not cultivated much. Dr. Johann Gottfried Zinn of Gottingen University in Germany wrote the first description of the plant and because of this, the zinnia is named for him.

Zinnias at outdoor market

Zinnias at outdoor market

In 1796, a zinnia was brought to Europe, possibly by way of Brazil, (when it was presented to Linnaeus – the great Swedish scientist and medical doctor – it had been labeled Calthe de Bresil, the Brazilian marigold) and it was this zinnia, Zinnia elegans, which the world fell in love with. Zinnia elegans is the ancestral plant from which our modern day zinnias have developed. This zinnia produced larger, lusher flowers in colors which ranged from crimson to pale lavender.

In 1798, Landreth offered the first zinnia seed for sale to the public in the United States. Americans were not interested. The French, however, were becoming interested in the zinnia and by 1856 had developed the first truly double forms of the flower. All of Europe and Great Britain took a liking to the double flowered zinnias and by 1864 purple, orange, red and salmon colored zinnias had made their way back to North America and into the gardens of Americans.

Rittenhouse Square Outdoor Market

Rittenhouse Square Outdoor Market

During the early 1860’s, the first dwarf zinnia varieties, Zinnia haageana, made their way from Mexico to the United States. By 1876, the Philadelphia seedhouse, Henry A. Dreer, was offering dwarf zinnia seeds for sale to the public. Persian Carpet, a Zinnia haageana variety, is still available today.

Today there are more than 20 known species of zinnia, but only three are commercially available, Zinnia elegans, Zinnia augustifolia, a small daisy-like zinnia, and Zinnia haageana. Zinnia blossoms come in many varieties and are often described in the following way:

Single Flowered – Blossoms have one row of petals and the center of each flower is exposed.

Semi-Double Flowered – Blossoms have several to many rows of petals, but the center is exposed and fully visible.

Fully Double Flowered – Blossoms have many rows of petals and the center of the flower is hidden by the petals.

Cactus Flowered – Blossoms have long petals. The edges of the petals roll under and the entire petal twists to create a unique flower form.” Source – Landreth Seeds

Sources I use to buy Zinnia Seeds –

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds –  Orange King is one of  my all time favorites.

Orange Creek Zinnia from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Orange King Zinnia  from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

It produces a variety of bright orange toned flowers that make a bold statement. I grow in my cutting garden and containers ~ it never disappoints.

And from Renee’s Garden, there are several varieties I love but one that continues to be a winner each year is Zinnia Green Envy

Zinnia Green Envy from Renee's Garden

Zinnia Green Envy from Renee’s Garden

It’s unusual chartreuse color is a knock-out in any garden border or as a cut flower.

This summer while I continue giving away flowers to strangers on the street for Give A Flower, Get A Smile, zinnias have become a symbol of this movement locally for one reason only – they make people smile!

Give A Flower, Get A Smile

Give A Flower Get A Smile in Philadelphia with zinnias

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: What flowers are you growing in your garden or buy as cut flowers this summer?

**To learn more about Give A Flower, Get A Smile, check out our You Tube video  and Facebook page.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
15 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Cathy Taughinbaugh July 1, 2014, 9:19 am

Love your first photo – beautiful! I have not grown many zinnias, but now I’m a fan. I have a number of pots, so have been doing the usual petunias, impatiens and have some nice iceberg roses among other things. I definitely will add some zinnias to the mix. Thanks!

Beth Wilson July 1, 2014, 10:31 am

Hi Fran! What a beautiful piece. Gosh, I haven’t thought about zinnias in a long, long time. Probably not since I was a kit and used to watch Mom plant a row each spring on the west side of the house, right up next to the bricks. I was always amazed by their sturdiness as they baked under the Midwestern summer sun. Thanks for the memory today; it’s a very pleasant one.

Tess The Bold Life July 1, 2014, 11:31 am

Love love love! When Princess Di got married and I watched the ceremony on TV it was my first experience seeing so many lovely flowers at a wedding and I thought what a lucky person-her floral designer. He was born under a lucky star.

At the time I had a big circle garden in the front of my home filled with zinnias. I would pick them and sell them at the Farmer’s Market. I loved every second of it. I realize today that I was born under a lucky star as well.

Shirley July 1, 2014, 12:07 pm

You are so right about zinnias making you happy. I live in Ecuador and brought some zinnia seeds from Cuenca to Manta where I now live. Manta is dry and mostly sunny with a lot of winds/breezes. It just brightened my day so much to look out on my planters full of zinnias every day. Now the seeds from those plants have come up and are blooming but are not as robust as their parents. They are puny, get mildew easily and turn brown. I may have to order new seeds online to get the fabulous zinnias I had. You are so lucky to have the vendors at the street market to buy from. Lovely pictures!

Fran Sorin July 1, 2014, 2:23 pm

Shirley- Am glad you enjoyed the article. Where in Ecuador do you live? I was there last year visiting the Achuars in the rainforest and fell in love with the country. Yep – it sounds like you’re ready for some new packets of zinnia seeds. It’s well worth the investment – as you know. Thanks for stopping by. Warmly, Fran

Fran Sorin July 1, 2014, 2:25 pm

Tess- What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing. How terrific that you came to this realization that you were born under a lucky star. I know about your deep love of flowers and how you used to grow and sell them. You are one incredible lady 🙂 Fran

Fran Sorin July 1, 2014, 2:27 pm

The beauty of zinnias is that you can plop them in a container, cover with soil, and before you know it, they germinate – as long as they’re in full sun. It’s not too late in the season for you to buy some seeds – or if you can find some good varieties in a 6 pack – and plant them up. 🙂 Fran

Fran Sorin July 1, 2014, 2:29 pm

Beth- Thanks for stopping by. I so identify with your description of your Mom planting a row each spring. It reminds me of an old client of mine from Pittsburgh who needed to have rows of zinnias planted each spring in a certain bed in the backyard. Although I didn’t love the design of it, she certainly made use of them – always cutting them to bring indoors- which is a wonderful thing to do. 🙂 Fran

Shirley July 1, 2014, 2:43 pm

Hi, Fran. I live in Manta, Ecuador which is midpoint on the Pacific coast. I really enjoy GGW but feel sad that I can’t grow so many of the plants. I’m trying to figure out what I can grow here by planting some different seeds brought back to me by friends visiting the US. I haven’t been able to find anyone who knows much about flowers here yet. Keep up the great work.

Fran Sorin July 1, 2014, 2:57 pm

Shirley- I know how frustrating it can be to live in a climate that you’re not used to when it comes to gardening. I’ve always found that by taking walks and observing, I see what is indigenous to the area and what grows well. Thanks for your kind words about GGW. Warmly, Fran

Janet July 4, 2014, 8:22 am

Fran, So love this article. The Give A Flower, Get A Smile has given me ideas for my ministry. God bless you for passing this along. Another “happy” flower that is also in my garden is cosmos.

Blessings to you!

Fran Sorin July 5, 2014, 5:59 am

Janet- Am so glad you enjoyed. Cosmos is a wonderful cut flower and I also use in my garden. The past few years, I’ve grown an orange one that pops up all over the place and continues to re-seed. Thanks for your lovely comment. With gratitude- Fran

Tira July 5, 2014, 3:46 pm

Thanks for the article, Fran. I also find zinnias very cherry, they also remind me of my childhood as zinnia, together with celosia, marigolds and cosmos were ubiquitous in Caribbean cottage gardens when I was a child. I have a couple zinnias blooming right now but waiting for the rainy season to plant some more seeds. My faves are whirligig and the cactus types.

Fran Sorin July 5, 2014, 5:00 pm

Tira- Thanks for sharing that piece of info. that zinnias, celosia, marigolds, and cosmos were- and probably still are – plentiful in Caribbean cottage gardens. Sounds divine. I think for a lot of gardeners – and non-gardeners- zinnias do bring back happy memories from childhood. I’ve grown cactus but not whirlygigs – so many wonderful varieties to try each year. 🙂 Fran

Gardening Northside July 11, 2014, 3:01 am

Hey, beautiful photographs i have never grown zinnias nor ever thought of it but after seeing your photographs i have started loving it. Probably i’ll be trying zinnias here

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