If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. The wobbly weather makes me impatient; I just want to get outside and put things in the ground, but Iowa doesn’t always agree. On the other hand, I have a lot to do indoors. I plan my garden in January, place my yearly seed order in February, and get my first seeds started before the end of the month. By mid-March, I have a few brave sprouts in the ground outside. This year, my seed-starting setup got an upgrade:


It looks a bit Independence Day, I know (P.S. I keep seeing the trailer for the new one, and I die a little with excitement every time Jeff Goldblum comes on screen. I chose my childhood crushes well, is all I’m saying.) but it’s a huge step up from my previous folding-table setup. I can start several thousand seedlings and keep them happy for weeks on this thing. For those of you who might want to recreate something similar, it started with this wire rack from Target (incredibly sturdy for the price!), eight of these shop lights from Menards, a big power strip, a timer, and this heat mat from Amazon. I installed one warm and one cool bulb in each light fixture to provide the widest spectrum. You don’t need grow bulbs! For the most part, they’re just like “regular” bulbs, but with 3-4 times the price tag. My plants are thriving just fine under “normal” lights.

The beauty of this setup is that it’s extremely easy to adjust the lights up or down as plants grow, so I try to keep them organized by height on the shelves. The one exception to this is the top shelf, which is equipped with the heat mat. Almost all seeds start on that shelf, since the mat gives them a little extra boost of warmth. I wasn’t sure if it would make a huge difference, but wanted to try…and I’m so glad I did. According to the notes I kept last year, my kale took five days to sprout. This year, on the heat mat, it took less than 24 hours. Very nearly everything has been sped up by the extra heat, so I think it’s well worth the $50. My heat-loving plants (peppers, tomatoes and eggplants) are going to stay on the mat until they’re ready to go outside; everything else moves off once it’s germinated.

This year, as I was flipping through my seed catalogs in January, Jimmy picked up the Baker Creek book and said casually, “Maybe we should plant some flowers this year. Just a couple annuals in the front yard, could be nice.” I agreed absently, my mind on vegetables, but later in the day I started looking at flowers. And looking. And looking. I mentioned flowers to my friend Meghan, and then, while I was stuck in bed sick a few days later, she sent me a Facebook message. “Don’t know if you’ve seen this blog,” she said, “but it looks like something you might like.” It was a link to Floret Flowers.

This is where I fell down the rabbit hole.

I had already planned my flowerbeds—or so I thought—but once I started reading Erin’s beautiful blog, I couldn’t stop. (It helped that I was too sick to do anything else, really.) I devoured page after page of ranunculus, anemones, poppies, zinnias, dahlias, and more. Flowers I’d never thought would grow in Iowa were growing fine in Washington; it was a different zone, sure, but it wasn’t the south. Maybe I could grow some of those dreamy flowers in my own yard? Helpfully, Erin has a shop on her site where you can buy seeds and bulbs for many of the striking varieties she grows. Even more helpfully, she is extraordinarily generous with her knowledge, offering help on everything from seed starting to full-scale commercial production. Before my fever had even broken, I had a shopping cart full of seeds and a whole new plan for the yard. Jimmy came home and I was off like a set of wind-up teeth, hyperventilating about chocolate laceflower and Iceland poppies before he even had his coat off. As I’m sure has happened many times since the day he asked me out, I imagine he was standing there thinking, “I’ve created a monster.” This is true. But let it be known that it was his idea first, meaning I can’t be blamed for the depths of obsession into which I’ve fallen. I was just trying to be a good, supportive partner, right?

Anyway. About half my flowers have been started, but nothing is in a really photogenic stage right now. Except Dusty Miller, which has started putting out tiny, adorable, fuzz-covered true leaves:

So let’s take a look at what the plants should look like, once they’re full-grown. For reference, this is the map I made of the three beds in our front yard.
Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 10.21.55 AM
As a designer, I’m a firm believer in restraint. I think the most beautiful work often comes from restricted color palettes and a less-is-more approach. You’ll rarely see more than 3 colors in a fabric pattern I’m working on. Conventional wisdom is that you should apply this same principle to flower garden design—create variance with texture and height, restrict it to a few colors. Naturally, I completely ignored both conventional wisdom and my own principles, and planted whatever the heck I wanted. I just couldn’t stop—how was I supposed to decide between elegant, ethereal white Iceland poppies and exuberant, over-the-top Benary Giant Purple zinnias? Couldn’t be done. I had to have both. Sorry, neighbors. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system and you can have a perfectly muted cottage garden next year. (More likely, this will be a gateway drug and next year I’ll rip up the entire yard to do even more.)

So in alphabetical order, here are the flowers I’m starting from seed this year!

Floret_Basil_Aramato-1-550x550(photo by Floret Flowers)
I never grow herbs from seed, mostly because I like to have them early in the season and maximize the amount of time I can cook from them. This ornamental variety, however, was just too gorgeous to pass up. Those deep eggplant stems poking up between all my bright flowers should be the perfect counterpoint. It sprouted in less than a day!
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

Floret_Daucus-Carota_Dara-1-550x550(photo by Floret Flowers)
This is actually a brown/burgundy variety of Queen Anne’s Lace, with many different shades on display. I loved the color and thought it would be a beautiful, airy addition to bouquets.
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

(photo by Floret Flowers)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of cosmos. I was sold, though, by their description on Floret’s shop, which explains how densely covered in flowers the plants are. I decided that my garden could do with another neutral flower or two, and made some space for a few of these beauties.
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

Yes, this variety of dahlia is everywhere. But there’s a reason for that. I mean, look at it! 6-8 inches of beautiful cream and pink, and no two flowers the same. I’m so excited to see how these come up. I’m picturing it in a bouquet with Dusty Miller and Eden roses.
Purchased from: Tulip World (Floret also sells this variety, but they sold out too quickly for me to get my hands on any)


I’ve grown Dusty Miller many times—my mother often planted it in pots and window boxes when I was a kid—but never from seed, and never this variety, which promises to have larger leaves with smoother edges (nice for bouquets). I believe Floret has this same variety if you’re looking to condense your orders.
Purchased from: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Purple coneflower has made an appearance in my garden before, but has always been devoured by the neighborhood rabbits before it can establish. I’m hoping a combination of marigold neighbors and Liquid Fence will keep them safe this year. I’ve heard they can be tricky to germinate, but mine sprouted like champs after a week of chilling in the garage. Cross your fingers that our bunny friends leave them alone!
Purchased from: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Floret_Gomphrena-Globosa_Sunset-Mix-3-550x550(photo by Floret Flowers)
Globe amaranth are adorable, colorful little pompoms, not unlike the clover flowers I made crowns with on the playground in elementary school. I couldn’t resist the texture and tiny scale they would bring to the garden.
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

Floret_Iceland-Poppies_Champagne-Bubbles-1-550x550-1(photo by Floret Flowers)
Look at that photo and tell me you aren’t buying those seeds right now. These are so breathtakingly beautiful, I’ve been hovering over their little pots every day since I planted them, jumping up and down over millimeters of growth. It’s a toss-up between these and the ranunculus for which I’m most excited about, but the Instagram Floret just posted of the first blooms of the year may have me sold.
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

I’m not sure any summer garden is complete without marigolds. They get a bad rap because they’re common and some aren’t especially showy, but there are a lot of reasons to grow them: they’re indestructible, they’re perfectly happy in terrible soil, they’re cheerful, and they help keep away many garden pests. This year, I decided on the adorable dwarf Cupid Orange variety. Look at those ruffly little guys! I’m planting them in huge masses, so they can really show off.
Purchased from: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Guys, I can’t even tell you how excited I am. I’ve loved these flowers for years and years, but never thought they would grow in the Midwest. Apparently I was told wrong. I bought a bag of 25 corms (the weird, tarantula-looking bulbs they grow from) and started presprouting them yesterday. Floret has a great post on how to start ranunculus.
Also, a little shout-out here. I bought these from Holland Bulb Farms, and according to their shipping calendar, I would receive them in mid-April. This makes sense for our zone, but was too late for me, since I wanted to start them indoors. I used their customer service chat to ask if they could be shipped sooner; they sent them out the same day and I received them two days later. Great service!
Purchased from: Holland Bulb Farms

That bunch full of lush, fluffy spires looks like summer in a bucket. I’m planting a row of them up against my stair railing, so they’ll get some support and lean charmingly over the side. The seedlings are a few inches tall right now, and you can see what color (I assume) the flowers will be, because the undersides of the leaves are different colors!
Purchased from: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

How was I supposed to resist a 6-inch, bright purple flower? Its distinctly Seussian look called out to me, and I had to bring it home. I’m only growing a handful of them—I’m showing restraint in numbers, if not in varieties—but they’re going to be glorious.
Purchased from: Swallowtail Garden Seeds

As much as I love the soft, organic shapes of peonies and ranunculus, I’m always impressed by Mother Nature’s precision in some flowers. I fell in love with the little pompom shape of these zinnias and thought they might be a nice counterpoint to the larger, fluffier blooms I’ve got going on all over the place.
Purchased from: Swallowtail Garden Seeds

(photo by Floret Flowers)
Because two varieties of zinnia weren’t enough, apparently. I fell in love with these adorable little blossoms as soon as I saw them. I think they’ll be a nice organic counterpoint to the more formal Edwardian and Benary’s Giant zinnias. Plus, those colors go with everything! Here’s hoping I get some of the salmon/peachy ones—those are especially beautiful, I think (you can actually buy ONLY that variety, if you want, but I wanted some variety!).
Purchased from: Floret Flowers

So that’s where things are right now. I’ll keep you posted as things grow, and I tend to post way too many photos of plants on Instagram. If you’re like me and desperate for any blooming thing, follow Floret on Instagram as well—Erin starts many of her flowers in hoop houses, so things are already blooming! I hope it’s warmer where you are; cross your fingers it thaws out here soon…