By Carolee James, Master Gardener
Whether it´s a large mixed spring bouquet or a small vase overflowing with tulips, floral arrangements enhance any room. And if the flowers perfume the air with a lovely scent, it´s an added bonus. I have a dear friend who maintains a vase of fresh flowers in almost every room of her house. But her love of flowers does not go beyond purchasing them at the local Farmers Market. Planting a cutting garden is not in her future…ever! However, for some, a cutting garden is just the ticket for having bouquets of flowers to enjoy all year long.
Planting a cutting garden is not difficult, but does take some planning. First of all you must have a location that has soil with good drainage and that receives direct sun for at least five hours daily. Have your soil tested to know what types of amendments and/or fertilizers you may need to add to your soil before planting. If you also have to contend with our wild friends like deer, gophers, rabbits, etc. you will have to decide if you are going to fence the area and/or use wire underground to protect roots. Some gardeners just over-plant and don´t mind the critters munching in their garden.
Whether you plant in rows, clusters or drifts is a matter of preference. If this is to be a true cutting garden designed to provide cut flowers, rows will make it easier to walk among the plants to cut, deadhead, etc. Watering a row garden can be done with soaker hoses or a drip system. Overhead watering should be avoided. Keeping the rows mulched will help to retain moisture and cut down on weeds.
Once you have your site prepared it´s time to make plant decisions. Everyone has favorite flowers and those should be number one on your list as long as they grow in your area. Next is scent. Some flower scents are very heavy and perfumery and could be a problem for someone with allergies when the blooms are brought inside. These types of plants should be left outdoors and enjoyed when walking by them.
Your cutting garden should contain a mix of perennials, annuals, bulbs, shrubs and even some vines. However, the size of the garden will determine how many plants you will be able to have. Whether you plant from seed or buy plants from the local nurseries is another personal choice. Start by making a list of the plants whose flowers you want to enjoy indoors. Consider creating color harmonies for each season; pastels for spring, reds and yellows for summer, oranges through browns for fall, and white and blue for winter. Or you may wish to plant just one or two colors of blooming plants, plant only bulbs, or plant only annuals and perennials that bloom at different times in the year. Your choices are almost limitless. But do consider the length of bloom time (perennials typically bloom about three weeks, annuals generally bloom until they´re killed by frost) as well as the lasting ability after cutting. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Bulbs: Daffodil, Tulip, Anemone, Hyacinth, Dutch Iris, Lily-of-the Valley, Oriental Lily, Dahlia, Gladiolas.
Perennials: Peony, Iris (Pacific Coast, Bearded, Siberian), Coral Bells, Foxglove, Delphinium, Shasta Daisy, Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, Scabiosa, Gaillardia, Chrysanthemum
Annuals: Stock, Iceland Poppy, Snapdragon, Calendula, Dianthus, Strawflower, Cleome, Cosmos, Hollyhock, Statice, Calla
Shrubs: Camellia, Flowering Quince, Lilac, Rose, Lavender
Vines: Sweet Pea, Clematis, Rose
When making a floral arrangement, greenery sets off the beautiful and colorful flowers. If you have a shady area in your garden, consider planting ferns to use in your cut flower display. One of my favorites is our native Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata). The fronds are large and set off even one bloom stunningly. If you´re unable to grow ferns look to your evergreen shrubs to provide necessary stalks of green.
I hope that I´ve piqued your interest in planting a cutting garden. There´s nothing lovelier than a beautiful vase filled with the blooms of your labors. Except of course the cutting garden itself—if you find that you just can´t bear to cut the flowers! I planted a small cutting garden in the Bay Area many years ago. The cutting garden flourished with bulbs, annuals and some perennials every year, and yet the only flowers that ever made it into the house were the roses that grew in the front yard! I just could not bring myself to disturb the beauty of the natural ‘vase of flowers´ in that small garden.
Carolee James has been a serious gardener for fifteen years and a Master Gardener for the past five years. She is currently planting a small rose garden so she´ll have something to put in her collection of vases.