Most of the time we plant gardens just to look at them. We go to the nursery and find little 6 packs of garden plants and organize them in the garden to grow and bloom in an artistic pattern. This works well, but it is so hard to bring those beauties inside and put them in a vase when they look so nice outside. With a cutting garden you are not trying to create a perfect landscape, rather you want a garden that will work for you and produce copious amounts of cut flowers. You can place your cutting garden in an unused corner of your yard, out of the way, so you do not feel like it needs to look perfect.
Why are my plants so short?
You will notice that most of those nursery 6 packs produce neat compact plants with stems too short to make large floral arrangements. What you don’t know is the nursery industry has spun a conspiracy against tall plants. It seems gardeners like nice neat gardens, not sprawling tall plants that require a constant effort to keep them from flopping over in the slightest rain or wind. But, the best cut flowers come from tall plants not ‘dwarf’ plants so commonly found these days. If you want to find the best cut flower varieties you will have to ask for them by name. They are still out there, but you will probably have to avoid the big box stores and shop at your local nursery or online.
Here is our Top 10 list of excellent cut flower varieties:
Dianthus Amazon Series (neon purple, cherry and pink)
I can’t say enough about this plant, it is essentially a ‘super charged’ sweet william! It is incredibly hardy, it blooms in very cold weather and blooms all summer even in temperatures above 100 degrees! Bright, showy, tall with handsome foliage. As a cut flower it will last for weeks in a vase. Unlike most Sweet Williams, this dianthus blooms the first year and is perennial rather than biennial.
Rudbeckia Indian Summer:
Big beautiful daisy like black-eyed susan flowers on straight sturdy stems. Blooms all summer, and has excellent vase life. Re-seeds freely but is not invasive. Not really a consistent perennial, but with its re-seeding characteristic it comes back every year.
Godetia Grace Series:
A spring bloomer only, but what a show! Tall stems that need support. Plant in early spring for late spring/early
Foxglove (digitalis) Camelot:
Unlike most foxgloves, this series blooms the first year. Tall stems with graceful tubular flowers. Much more tolerant to heat than most digitialis, blooms most of the summer for us.
Peony Coral Charm:
Expensive and hard to find, but worth every penny! Magnificent large coral pink blooms which fade to white in the vase. Pick in bud to enjoy the entire show. Peonies take about 3 years to become established enough to where you can start to cut flowers, so these take some patience.
Bright yellow with a lovely fragrance of spicy apricot jam, this spring blooming bulb flower is amongst our favorite on the farm. Zone 5 or above only.
An unusual green centered sunflower with sturdy tall stems. Blooms are medium sized for a sunflower and long lasting making them perfect for bouquets.
Zinnia Uproar Rose:
Tall zinnia with huge purple pink blooms. Ever blooming all summer and long vase life.
Snapdragons are an excellent example of the nursery industry’s desire to dwarf garden plants. Rocket is a superb cut
flower growing 3 feet tall and providing excellent vase life. Remember to provide support.
A great spring bloomer with long stems. Plant by seed in cool soils. Best to plant in the fall or late winter before soil gets above 60 degrees. Re-seeds freely. Available in purples, pinks and white.
Okay now that you have found your excellent cut flower varieties and have lovingly planted your garden, don’t forget that they will grow tall and will need support. It is always easier to provide support for your plants before they get tall than to wrestle them after they are blown over. You can support plants with sturdy bamboo poles, tomato cages or a grid of poly netting. In the cut flower business we use a grid of netting called Hortonova Plastic Trellis (www.groworganic.com) supported by 4’ pieces of 3/8 inch rebar driven into the ground. You essentially create a horizontal plane of netting for which the flower stems can grow up through, a bit industrial but very effective. Remember this is not your show garden, it is your cutting garden, it is okay if it looks a little rough. The beautiful part will be in vases in your house!
Fertilizers and pests:
Growing flowers organically is easy, in fact most flowers prefer a moderately fertile soil. All those chemical fertilizers are just going to make your plants too tall, weak and susceptible to pests anyway. Start with well loosened soil mixed with lots of well decomposed compost. Avoid those ‘pseudo’ composts with lots of bark. Bark is not compost and it will deplete your soil of nutrients. Good quality compost should be the consistency of coffee grounds. In most cases it is best to leave the pests in a cutting garden be. Many of them are beneficial and disrupting the bug/plant ecosystem with bug killers will just create more problems in the end. Be patient, let the critters balance themselves out and have some lemonade, your cut flowers will be better off without all that human intervention. However, you will need to do some weeding after you finish your lemonade. Be sure to pull all weeds, before they bloom and set seeds, to prevent a weed nightmare the next year!
Marc is the owner of California Organic Flowers which is the Internet’s first grower owned Certified Organic flower shipping website. He regularly gives talks and writes articles on organic farming and ecological living. www.californiaorganicflowers.com