Once upon a time, I fell in love.
Loose, wild collections full of scent. Tight, subtle bouquets, perfectly positioned in a vase. Tiny posies, gathered and tied with a gauzy, polka dot ribbon. Tulips, long and gangly, growing and reaching for light in their vase. Handfuls of daffodils, plucked in January, to cheer a gloomy house. A single peach rose, perfect in its simplicity.
Flowers spoke to me. They said, “Don't wait for an occasion. Or a somebody. Treat yourself.”
So often, I'm consumed with edible gardening: plant the seeds for Garden Delights, weed the raised beds, switch out the cool weather crops for summer veggies, baby the transplants for the business, write about growing veggies to feed a family. Coerce the kids to eat the homegrown veggies.
And so often, I overlook what made me love gardening from the beginning:
I didn't grow up with a vegetable garden. My dad grew up on a farm—and when he became a successful businessman, he had no interest in returning to his roots. My mom grew up without much—and I'm sure her family probably grew most of their food out of necessity. I honestly don't know. She didn't like to talk about her childhood.
Instead, my mom loved flowers.
Tulips and daffodils.
Snapdragons and pansies.
Tea roses and lilacs.
My introduction to gardening began with beauty, not practicality. And I can assure you, with my chemist father, our garden was not organic.
Still, it was lovely.
A little bouquet of homegrown flowers—lilacs, daffodils, tulips—always graced our kitchen table, nestled next to the permanently filled candy jar that varied with holidays. (My friends loved our bottomless candy jar.)
So, as I ordered seeds for the business, this year I ordered extra seeds—just for me.
This is the year of my cutting garden.
I harbor this secret fantasy of owning a flower farm. It's not going to happen in this lifetime. Instead, I stalk Floret Flowers and try to live vicariously through the amazingly talented Erin.
Her flowers and designs are to die for. Seriously. (I would never end a sentence with a preposition if I didn't mean it.) If you ever need an instant mood boost, just visit her site and gaze at her flowers. They're heavenly. (By the way, I don't know Erin at all. I just adore her work.)
So, while a flower farm is not in my future, I'm determined that I will have fresh bouquets all year from our garden.
We already grow flowers scattered throughout the gardens, but this year I want to be more systematic. Sometimes, I'll snip tulips from the front bed, but hate leaving empty gaps by the entranceway. So instead, I've decided to make a bed—or beds—designed just for cutting, planned with seasonal succession in mind. I've also decided to make the flowers serve double duty. By planting the flowers near the vegetable garden, we'll instantly attract pollinators.
It's my duty, right? Save the bees!
My biggest challenge is our shady yard. Oh, and voles. But I'll deal with that.
Anyway, as I'm beginning to plan the cutting garden, I thought I'd share some of the plants I plan to include, along with their projected bloom schedule. Seeds, shrubs, and bulbs all can provide beautiful cut flowers.
Along with my secret flower farm dream, I've amassed quite a collection of floral design books. I thought I'd share some of the experts' recommendations for flowers ideal for arrangements, as well as tips to increase their vase life. (I think I'll make a Pinterest Board for this so you can see the flower photos from my sources. It's a work in progress.)
Mostly, the cutting garden will comprise seeds and bulbs—a relatively small expensive for a high return. Many of the shrubs I've already incorporated into the landscape, but I'm listing them in case you want to add some flowering shrubs to your cutting garden, too.
Perfect Plants for a Cutting Garden:
Bells of Ireland
Annual. Sow 2 to 4 weeks before average last frost. Requires light to germinate. Press lightly into soil surface and keep moist. If sowing during warm weather, refrigerate seeds one week before sowing. Bloom time: late summer. Use: Lovely green stalks with tiny white flowers are great accent stems or used as foliage. Vase life: 7 to 10 days. Dries well.
Annual. Sow 1-2 weeks after last frost. Full sun. Bloom time: summer. Uses: Perfect for casual summer bouquets. Vase life can be up to 10 days when cut fresh from the garden.
Perennial. Sow 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost. Requires darkness to germinate. Sow at recommended depth of 1/4”. Best germination at 70-80 degrees F. Blooms late spring/early summer. Full sun. Thrives in cool, moist climates. (Note: I've never had luck with delphinium—I think it's too hot in SC. But I'm going to try one more time because it's so beautiful.) Uses: Harvest when ¾ of blooms are open. Tall flowers add height to arrangements. Vase life: 5 to 7 days.
Perennial. (Also annual varieties.) Plant seeds 1 to 2 weeks before average last frost date or as soon as soil can be worked. Can sow in early fall for early spring blooms, which is helpful in warm climates. Grows best in partial shade with moist soil. Blooms spring and early summer. Use: Harvest when a few flowers are open. Flowers shouldn't shed when handled. Submerse cut flowers into deep, cool water to harden them prior to arranging. Base life: 5 to 7 days.
Biennial. (Foliage first year, blooms second year.) Sow seeds 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost up until two months before first fall frost. Requires light to germinate. Press seeds into moist soil, do not cover. Prefers shade/partial sun. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Blooms late spring/early summer. Uses: Harvest when bottom third of bell shaped flowers open. Vase life: 10+ days. Recut the thick stem to avoid blockage and increase vase life.
Hardy in zones 1-6, grown as an annual in zones 7+. Sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost or as soon as soil can be worked. In mild climates, fall sowing is recommended. Seeds require light to germinate. Poppies like cooler weather. Foliage dies back in summer heat, reappearing in fall. Bloom time: late spring. Uses: Cut in bud stage when the bud shows some color of the blossom. Vase life: 3 to 5 days. Sear the end of the poppy and place in warm water. Can also use the pods to add interest to arrangements.
Annual. (Perennial usually grown as an annual. May overwinter in climates as cold as USDA zone 5.) In cold climates, sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before average last frost or as soon as soil can be worked. Mild climates: sow seeds in late summer to early fall for winter and spring blooms. Uses: Harvest when a few buds are open along the base and others show good signs of color. Vase life: 10 days to two weeks.
Annual. Sow 2 to 4 weeks before average last frost. For blooms throughout the growing season, sow every 4 weeks. In mild winter climates, sow in fall for early spring blooms. Grow in full sun to light shade. Average bloom: early summer. Uses: Harvest when one-third to one-half of bottom blooms are open. Vase life: 3 to 5 days. Cut thick stems for better water penetration.
Annual. One of the easiest, most rewarding flowers to grow in a cutting garden. Sow seeds 1/2” deep, 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost. I typically sow seeds every few weeks throughout early summer for a long harvest. Full sun. Bloom time: summer through fall. Uses: Harvest when three-fourths to fully open, center free from signs of pollination. Vase life: 5 days. If large leaves wilt, strip them to prolong vase life. Watch the water level—sunflowers are thirsty!
Annual. Delicate, fragrant beauties grow best when seeds are soaked in water for 24 hours or nicked with sandpaper prior to sowing. In mild climates, plant in late fall/early winter for spring blooms. In cold climate, sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks prior to last frost. Full sun, needs support. Plant and seeds are poisonous. Uses: Harvest when a few flowers open at the base of stem. Vase life: 3 to 5 days.
Annual. Sow seeds 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost. Full sun. Long lasting garden and cut flower. Thrives in hot weather. Uses: Harvest when flower is mostly open. Handle gently, as zinnias bruise easily. Vase life: 5 days.
Wow. If you're still here—congratulations! I've just realized that instead of a blog post, I'm writing an epic tome about cutting gardens. I'm sorry—I've obviously gotten carried away with my flower lust.
So, because I know you have other things to do today, I'll continue our chat about cutting gardens tomorrow, focusing on the bulbs and shrubs for floral arrangements.
Until then, inquiring minds want to know:
What is your favorite cut flower to give or receive? Do you love formal red roses, or are you more of a sunflower person? Tulips or peonies? Daisies or daffodils?
Honestly, this little arrangement, gathered at a soccer game last year by my sweet girl and delivered in an impromptu vase, will always make me smile.
P.S. Want to find more interesting growing ideas?