My Language of Flowers

As it is the last day of April and the day before Beltaine, I thought it good to give a reference list of flowers to fill your garden with love.

I have an ever-growing list of essential flowers and herbs — annuals, perennials and a very few small shrubs. These are the plants that feed my soil and my soul. They nurture my family and my other-than-human kin. These are what I use to regenerate healthy ecosystems wherever I can find a free patch of dirt. Some are natives to this continent. Many are not. I’ve rather given up on the idea of native species, choosing instead to differentiate based on harm and utility. Many native insects, for example, have adapted themselves to Eurasian imports to the point of depending upon these plants. White clover and dandelions come to mind. And many native plants are decidedly aggressive if planted in the garden. Sweetgrass is wonderful where it grows wild, not so in a cultivated setting. And poison ivy, while native, is unwelcome wherever it is found.

I’ve left off trees and most shrubs because most people won’t have room for them. But if your regenerative project is large enough, be sure to include agave, prickly pear, winterfat, apache plume, sumac and chamisa out West and serviceberries, viburnums, hazels, new jersey tea, spicebush and wild plum down East as well as many evergreens in both places. Willow and hawthorn are for the hedge projects. (Some people will disagree vehemently with me on the issue of hawthorn, but it does keep the ruminants in place.) And a nut or mast tree is a generous gift to the future. Your fruit trees and bushes will also delight wildlife. (Of course, you might not want the wildlife to take too much delight in the orchard, hence the hedges.) Likewise, your veg garden — annual and perennial — will have plants that will meet more than your needs. Peas and beans are possibly better for your soil than for your stomach. And every creature loves sunflowers.

This is the first half of the growing season, more or less in order by bloom time. Hellebores and rosemary will start blooming in February where it’s warm. Some may be a bit out of sync with your garden. This list is a blend of New Mexico and New England, and plants do different things in these places. But I think I’ve got those that bloom from high summer to autumn out of this list. I’ll put those up later. This list goes from lenten roses at Candlemas to garden roses at Midsummer.


Hellebores (helleborus spp.): A garden with lenten roses is filled with hope. But mind the bite of this beauty.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus): Shakespeare says it’s for remembrance; the bees say it’s a spring life-saver.

Spring bulbs (tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, scillas, anemones, winter aconite, hyacinths): No meaning whatsoever. Just beautiful beings. And beauty is a needful thing in spring.

Violets/pansy (viola spp.): Stalwart and spiritually wise, thriving where others fail. The larvae of many beneficial insects rely on these diminutive wildflowers.

Lilac (syringa vulgaris): The scent of heaven, but this lovely keeps her treasure close. Clip some lilacs for spring cleaning day.

Sweet cicely (myrrhis odorata): A bit of frothy white in the deepest shade. Pollinators of all kinds love this early umbel-flowered beauty. The scent is like sugared anise.

Bleeding heart/Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra spp.): The hummingbirds will love you for setting out these little broken hearts in your spring garden.

Dandelion (Taraxacum): Cheerful, nurturing and generous, the unassuming dandelion is mighty in your garden and in your pantry.

Columbine (aquilegia spp.): A courageous, if inconstant, little dove that all the hummingbirds just love.

Dill (anethum graveolens): A pollinating insect favorite and necessary for pickling season, just don’t call your Aussie friends by this name.

Chervil (anthriscus cerefolium): Elegant and mild-mannered, the secret of fine eating.

Cilantro (coriandrum sativum): For happy bees and perfect salsa.

Parsley (petroselinum crispum): Parsley in the garden, a nurturing spirit in the home.

Sweet peas (lathyrus odoratus): The scent of heaven, excellent nectar, and will feed your plants. But mind you keep the edible peas away from interbreeding with these toxic seeds.

Alliums (allium spp.): Chives, garlic, onions, leeks, ornamentals — there isn’t a more useful genus of plants. If you grow nothing else, grow alliums. You’ll always have bees and butterflies. And wonderful soup stock.

Monarda/bee balm/bergamot (monarda spp.): The essence of pink. Nectar-loving creatures will flock to the sweet early-summer flowers. Their infants will stay on for the leaves. A bouquet of bergamot is a rosy kiss of delight. The whole plant is a balm, to humans as well as bees.

Pulmonaria/lungwort (pulmonaria spp.): Though there’s naught but sympathetic magic in the name, these shady ladies, cousins to borage, will delight your woodland lepidoptera.

Brunnera/bugloss (brunnera spp.): Another blue-flowered beauty for your shade garden. And these dainty forget-me-nots won’t turn invasive.

Cranesbills/geraniums (geranium spp.): The name comes from the delightful seed dispersal column which, when broken, will fling seeds out in all directions like confetti. Sure to make you smile.

Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum): Uncertain in love? Find one of these little day’s eyes and count the ways. Symbol of Freya and so also of motherhood, childbirth and bright beginnings. Nothing more adorable than spring skippers on daisy heads.

Thymes (thymus spp.): A modest cousin in the mint family, thymes feed all and sundry. You can’t find a better natural antiseptic. For a carpet of lovely — ferny foliage in the summer, bee-dotted flowers in the spring — Reiter’s thyme will grow anywhere, better than grass, even in the desert.

Clovers/daleas (trifolium spp./dalea spp.): Trefoil is the Eurasian, dalea the North American version of clover — two workhorses in the legume family. If you have white clover, Guinevere has walked your garden. You also have happy bees, nourished soil, and the makings of heavenly mead.

Sulfur buckwheat (eriogonum umbellatum): A prairie native that feeds all the hairstreaks and a number of other pollinators. The name is from the color not the scent. Your goats will love you.

Lobelia (lobelia spp.): A genus of many beautiful species. If you have a damp woodland, plant cardinal flower for hummingbirds and great lobelia for the bees.

Wild indigo (baptisia spp.): Delicate blue bonnets on this durable legume will feed your plants and many pollinators.

Speedwell (veronica spp.): A carpet of blue in the early summer. And the American native, veronica americana, is an excellent dryland substitute for watercress.

Lemon balm (melissa officinalis): Honey bees dance over this lovely mint. Your hives will never fail with balm growing near.

Mints (mentha spp.): The genus of flavor and scent. If you want to please, grow mint by your doorstep. But keep it contained or your other plants won’t be so merry. Though it does wonders in the orchard to keep the pests away.

Lilies (lilium spp.): From May to September, fill your garden with intoxicating scent and exotic color.

Peonies (paeonia spp.): A small genus of large, lavish blossoms. Good fortune comes to the garden where peonies bloom. These lovelies will be blooming for your grandchildren.

Daylilies (hemerocallis): The most lovely of the edible flowers. Best of all, deer detest them!

Sage (salvia spp.): Healing, protection, immortality and wisdom. Excellent bee plant, delight of hummingbirds. The perfect seasoning for just about everything. Just don’t buy white sage for smudging. There’s not much left in the wild.

Chamomile (Roman, anthemis nobilis; German, matricaria recutita): All your wishes will be fulfilled. This humble daisy gives comfort and calm and never wants for anything.

Lupine (lupinus spp.): Imagination thrives where the lupines grow. And so does your garden. Feeds your plants precious nitrogen and nourishes a large number of beneficial insects. Many species will feed you as well, though not the native Texas Bluebonnet.

Roses (rosa spp.): The perfect flower. A garden lacking a rose is not a garden. A rose is love embodied and nourishment for all. Just leave the multifloras (rosa polyantha) alone.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021