I have a friend who has always considered a weekly bouquet of fresh flowers a necessity. She is French however, and they are presumably taught such things at their chic mothers’ beautifully sculpted knees.
For years I have secretly admired her resolute stance on the subject, but as the daughter of an English father and a California cattle rancher’s daughter, I was schooled very early in the separation of ‘want’ from ‘need.’ Consequently it is only on rare occasions that I find a fresh bunch of pick-me-up sharing space with a gallon of milk in my grocery cart.
Yet I know in my heart she is right. Nothing tells of a life well lived as thoroughly as a large bunch of Oriental lilies sitting on the drinks cabinet, or an assortment of fresh gerbera gracing a bathroom sink.
Plants may provide us oxygen, but flowers provide us joy – creating ‘event’ in the midst of daily routine and celebrating the ordinary lives that make us who we are.
Thus I, and others who share my parsimony, must turn to the garden.
There is one complication. If you are one who looks at each garden flower as a crucial piece of a larger composition, you may be loath to take pruners to it – sure that a lost bloom will be keenly felt. Let me gently assure you that from an outside perspective, this is not the case. The overall look may change, but a snip here and a snip there will only create a new composition, not to mention a lovely inside bouquet to grace a tabletop.
Still, I do not wish to force you to take up arms against your own creation. If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t feel comfortable.
Better then to consider a cutting garden – beds specifically designed with one thought in mind: harvest. And, to consider siting it in an out of the way spot or in a vegetable garden where harvest happens every day. Such placement can help snip-adverse gardeners to share those outside blooms with their inside spaces.
As our wisest planning often takes place at the tail end of the current growing season when we are still faced with the realities of maintenance so easily forgotten during the winter, I invite you to walk around your garden now and think about where you could fit a small area next year to provide blooms for the house.
Where to plant a cutting garden?
Sun exposure is a huge factor in making this decision, as many of our very favorite bouquet flowers desire a sunny position. If you don’t have a good deal of it, you can either get creative with your flower choices (roof iris, azalea, big leaf hydrangea, astilbe etc…) or creative with where you grow – I have two friends with gardens in shade but who both keep community garden beds solely for the purpose of cutting flowers.
How to plant a cutting garden?
A corner of an existing garden is a good place to start, but as I like to keep harvestable and high-maintenance beds separated from the grass/weeds/chaos around them, I prefer to work with raised beds. If you feel similarly but have no desire to build anything, even a kit, you can buy large heavy duty fabric beds that last for many seasons from Smart Pot. Simply unfold, fill with soil and plant.
If you’re fairly new to planting, you may want to begin with small plants from the garden center – but a small cutting garden is an ideal environment to start experimenting with direct sown seeds. After all, many cottage garden favorites are often sown in the spring.
What to plant in the cutting garden?
Asian lily bulbs? Zinnia seeds? Mini sunflowers? The choices are endless, and when you specifically are growing to harvest, you don’t need to worry about whether your colors will clash or if you have enough texture contrast. Simply grow what you wish to cut and what will last in a vase for more than a few days.
A few long-life favorites are tulips, daffodils, roses, sweet-pea, zinnia, annual and perennial sunflowers, lilies, peonies, Shasta daisy, Echinacea, hydrangea and baby’s breath. Be aware of your foliage to flower ratio however. A peony is a gorgeous cut flower, but the plant easily takes up three square feet in a bed. This can work as long as you cut back mildewing foliage in late July and succession plant with annual seedlings such as zinnia or sunflower.
After a season or two, you may want to branch out to make your bouquets fascinating as well as beautiful. Try growing eucomis, celosia, belamcanda, atriplex, kniphofia, echinops or eryngium.
Though you have no need for design, it is wise to consider timing and spacing when putting together your wish list. This way you can start with daffodils and end with goldenrod, maximizing the space you have for bouquets throughout the growing season. If you have time to put the bed together this season, you can start your spring bouquets with fall planted bulbs.
Once you have fresh blooms guiltlessly in hand, you may even consider adding to them with berries and foliage from the rest of the garden, using needed prunings as fodder for your vases. Experimentation here, as with all things in gardening, will allow you to grow more creative and confident with each vase that you fill and each room that you brighten. – MW