“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; They are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.”

– Luther Burbank (1849-1926)

Flower gardens have long been a staple in the history of gardens. Kitchen gardens or cutting gardens were considerably less formal than other sections of the garden. Composed of vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs and flowers, they were frequently tucked behind the kitchen for easy access. The English garden rose to popularity in the 18th century when there was a shift in garden design, from restraint and control (think Versailles) to one that emphasized freedom and openness. I think we would call this a “Cottage Garden” today – informal, colorful and joyous.

Recently, we spoke with Moira Crowe, a Montecito newcomer who moved here from Ireland. She was surprised to discover how few people tended their own gardens here in Montecito, saying it is a matter of pride in her homeland to participate in the garden. Surely, hired help does the heavy work and maybe another develops the design, but part of the enjoyment in having a garden is participation by its owner.

My favorite activity in spring is the planting of my flower garden. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many flowers in the garden, especially cutting flowers. The choices are endless. You may already have roses, but now’s a good time to add a few new ones. La Sumida Nursery (165 South Patterson, 964-9944) has the best selection of roses in the area and since they are in bloom right now, you will know exactly what you are getting. No roses in your garden? Be brave, they are easy to grow despite their reputation and well worth the effort (just make sure they get plenty of sun).

Dahlias are another perennial that I can’t get enough of. I originally planted about 20 of them and then planted 20 more last year. The dahlia is a bulb, so it’ll die back in the winter and come up each year bigger than the last. It produces enormous quantities of flowers suitable for cutting and though not fragrant, it comes in every color, size and shape imaginable. Dahlias will give you more flowers if you harvest often, so have plenty of vases.

Of course, we can’t leave out my perennial favorite, iris. According to Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the gods. And since the iris is also a bulb, it will provide years of pleasure after planting. I like the old-fashioned bearded iris. It is fragrant, productive and wondrous. Other good cut-flower perennials to try: foxglove, gladiolus, calla lily, hydrangea and ginger.

Don’t forget annuals for a blaze of color this summer. For a real treat, try planting zinnias, which come in a veritable rainbow of colors and the more you cut the flowers, the more flowers you will receive. I like planting them from seed, but you can buy seedlings at most local nurseries. Also, try sunflowers, painted daisy, marigold, snapdragon and coreopsis.

The key to having the right flower garden is abundance. Let your imagination run wild, mass like-colored flowers together, plant more than you think you need. This is your opportunity to be creative. Add a border of alyssum or Santa Barbara daisy and it’s guaranteed you’ll spend more time in your garden this summer.

“In his garden every man may be his own artist without apology or explanation”

– Louise Beebe Wilder, garden writer (1878-1938)