Zinnias top flower-seed hit parade

Annual seed catalogs offer a bewildering assortment of old favorites and tempting novelties. Whether one wishes to follow the crowd, so to speak, in ordering those flower seeds most commonly planted, or to experiment with new varieties is a matter of personal choice. It is always of interest to note, however, the 10 most popular flower seeds in 1980 home gardens, as listed by the National Garden Bureau.

As might be expected, zinnias are ranked as the most popular seed planted for summer gardens. A well-designed garden might even be composed of zinnias alone.

There are the tall-growing zinnias (nearly three feet) that can make a bright background. The new hybrids listed in seed catalogs are available in many colors suitable for showy borders and attractive indoor display.

Zinnias that are cut just when they reach the full-open stage will keep indoors for more than a week if fresh water is supplied daily.

There is a group of these popular flowers that will grow a foot or so tall. They, too, come in brilliant colors and are good for filling space in the middle of a garden bed.

Most endearing are the dwarf and semi-dwarf zinnias that are useful as foreground-edging plants. These flowers are small and carried on compact little forms. Thumbelina is an excellent choice for edging, as it grows very low, yet produces blooms all summer long.

Close on the heels of the zinnia's popularity is the marigold, estimated to be the No. 2 flower grown from seed in American gardens. It, too, can provide a border by itself, as there are tall, medium, and dwarf varieties.

The small French marigolds are pretty reddish-brown varieties. Flower heads are large and heavy on the tall African marigolds, and they are very showy with their ruffled carnationlike petals. Where a show of orange and yellow is desired , marigolds will supply the color.

If you wonder why petunias are not No. 1 or 2, there is a reason. If bedding plants, sold as such, are included in the count, then petunias are No. 1. But when the flower is ranked as produced from seed by the gardener, then the petunia emerges as No. 3.

Petunias bloom in shades of pink, blue, and white, and their flowers vary from single to double, from ruffled to smooth. Some are even bicolored. Try a new type and enjoy the pleasure of petunias in hanging baskets, large containers , or a spectacular garden display.

Fourth and fifth most popular annuals are both low-growing, foreground plants: nasturtium and sweet alyssum, respectively. The former like full sun and a soil that is dry and not too rich. Their bright orange, yellow, and reddish flowers are pretty in the garden or as climbers. The nasturtium leaves and petals make a tasty salad addition.

The old-fashioned sweet alyssum is especially fragrant toward evening as it decorates a window box or fills in as a border-edging plant.

Annual asters are No. 6 on the list of most wanted seeds. There are early- and late-flowering varieties, so both should be planted for continuous bloom. It is generally recommended that asters not be grown in the same location in successive years.

Going down the list, No. 7 proves to be the pretty morning glory vine.

The last three on the list of most-wanted seeds are those of portulaca, snapdragon, and sweet pea.

Portulacas are bright, multicolored edging plants that prefer a sandy soil and come in both double and single form. Old varieties close their blossoms on cloudy days and at night, so it pays to buy seeds of the hybrid varieties that remain open without sun.

Snapdragons, a universal favorite for their spikes of odd-shaped flowers, grow as tall as three feet, although there are dwarf varieties available.

Finally, the sweet pea is for those gardens that have climbing supports for this dainty annual. Its fragrance and wide color range insure the sweet pea its popularity. For best results seeds of this flower must be planted very early in the spring.

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