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Growing flowers naturally

Flowers are magic - literally magic, the product of millions of years of evolution to make them irresistible to birds, bees, wasps and other pollinators - and humans as well.

Flowers have deep roots in the human psyche. Flowers make us think of love, passion, harmony, peace, plenitude, beauty. Flowers are perhaps the most powerful - and omnipresent - of all human symbols. We carry flowers to friends in hospital, at a baby's birth or at a funeral; brides wear garlands of flowers or carry bouquets; flowers can be pinned on the lapel or on the ankle - or lovingly placed in a vase to bring their power indoors.

About twenty years ago I decided I'd never feel poor if I had enough flowers - vases of flowers all through the house, from the blue rosemary flowers above my desk to the roses by the bedside, the lilies and proteas of the living room, the sweet scented cottage flowers on the kitchen table... armfuls of flowers to give to friends, baskets full to take as gifts when I go visiting. And it's true - since I filled my life with flowers my life's been richer - in many ways, not just with flowers.

Twelve reasons to grow flowers

1. They make the world more beautiful

2. Flowers smell good. Good smells make you happier.

3. Flowers tell you the season

Once humans lived with the natural world - harvested the plants in season, breathed in cool air or hot. Nowadays most of us spend about 90% of the time indoors, according to a recent CSIRO survey - in a world where we are insulated from the ebb and flow of the passing year.

Flowers are one of the few seasonal harbingers we still keep with us - even if they are simply from the florist we pass on the way to work. Daffodils in spring and roses in summer, the season of chrysanthemums for Mother's day or gladdies at Christmas. Flowers are at least a hint of the world of nature out of doors.

4. Flowers attract predators that will help kill the pests in your garden

Flowers make you garden healthier. Most predators - the birds and insects that eat the pests in your garden - are attracted either by nectar, or by the insects that feed on the nectar. If you have a year round supply of flowers in your garden (it must be year round - predators don't like to diet - they either die or move on) you'll always have a nucleus of 'defenders' whose population will build up in response to a build up of pests.

Plant masses of flowers through your garden - natives for the birds or any tubular flower, especially the many grevilleas and sages that flower most of the year.

Flowers can also be made into pesticides - see pyrethrum and marigold or feverfew sprays.

5. You never feel poor if you have bunches of flowers to give away and masses through your house

6. Flowers like sweet peas, lupins, woad, broom, wisteria can fix nitrogen and help fertilise your garden.

The bacteria associated with many plants 'fix' nitrogen from the air, making it available as valuable fertiliser for other plants when they break down - the best form of natural fertilising I know.

A well designed flower bed should be able to grow most of its own fertility - especially if it isn't heavily harvested with nutrients taken away in the form of armloads of flowers.

7. Flowers lead to seeds - to replant your garden

8. Flowers taste good.

9. Flowers like chamomile, borage and foxgloves appear to make the plants they grow with more vigorous - see Companion Planting and Flowers

10. Most flowers have 'cottage kitchen' uses - you can make wines with them or make calendula ointment if you cut yourself in the garden. Our ancestors were a canny lot - they grew only what was useful - and preferably it was beautiful too. This meant that not only did they select for beautiful forms of useful plants - they also discovered uses for particularly lovely flowers like roses.

11. Flowers can help weed control. Marigolds repel couch grass, dahlias will stop grass intruding in your garden, a thick crop of poppies will help clean up weeds, cornflowers stop some weed seeds germinating, thickly sown sunflowers will stunt weeds and choke them out.

12. Any sourpuss smiles if you give them flowers. 

Memories are made of flowers - the flowers you were given at your child's birth, the first rose your lover gave you, forget-me-nots from Grandma's garden. I like to keep mine hidden in a book - one that I know that I'll reread - a surprise of beauty and memories every time I open their pages.

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