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Zahara White zinnias. (LSU AgCenter photo)

Rx for stress: A row of zinnias

This coronavirus business is pretty gloomy stuff — forcing us into inconvenient changes in our lives, bringing real hardship to some of our neighbors, introducing uncertainty about what will happen next and how long it will last.
There’s no silver lining in this storm cloud.
But if we are forced to stay at home, there’s no better time of the year to interrupt the rush-rush of our regular routines. Spring is bursting out all over, and you’ll find no prettier place than south Louisiana when that happens.
Spending some of your enforced isolation (I hesitate to call it leisure) working in the yard or just enjoying a pretty day will not make the virus any less scary, but it can help us cope.
Sitting on my screened porch, the cat and I are equally fascinated, albeit for different reasons, by the birds that flock to the feeder just a few yards away. They make a pretty part of the show, but there is more.
We can sit on the porch without runny eyes and allergic sneezes now that the catkins (I call them “yellow wigglies”) have fallen from the oaks, and tree leaves, new grass, and even the weeds, are popping up in that distinctive, bright shade of green that happens only at this time of year.
I don’t know why my azaleas didn’t make their usual show this year, but irises and aromatic old roses and oxalis and little wild violets peeping through the grass give all the color I need.
We don’t make the big vegetable garden that we once did. We ended up giving away vegetables to friends and neighbors who also grew big gardens and wanted to give vegetables to us. But we have started a few tomato plants in a bed in the back, and prepped other beds for peppers and eggplant and cucumbers that we’ll plant a little bit later.
We grow lettuce and onion tops and a variety of herbs in a raised planter just outside the kitchen window. It keeps them handy for cooking and the waist-high planter is a boon to an old back.
And, of course, I’ve made a place ready for a row of zinnias, just like I’ve done practically every year for 60 years or more. I have a special affinity for them because zinnias were my introduction to gardening.
I was probably 6 or 7, maybe younger, when my grandmother gave me a handful of zinnia seeds and showed me how to plant them. She grew them next to her herb patch and would always “pick a few flowers for the table” when she cut the herbs she would use in that day’s cooking.
It was just the right plant to learn on. Zinnias make bright, showy flowers in several colors, sprout fast enough to satisfy an impatient kid, and are easy to grow. It was my grandmother’s opinion that “if you can’t grow zinnias, you can’t grow anything.” She was right, too. Zinnias are the one thing that I plant each year fully confident that they will prosper.
Plant a few and see for yourself. Show your kids how to plant them. It can ease some of the stress of these unsettled times, and will brighten your table when all this is past.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.

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