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Perennials and Annuals Make the Cutting Garden

peonies

Peonies have long stems and have a variety of colors and forms, perfect for a cutting garden

The rains started last August. The rains continued during our long cold spring. The effect on my garden was that a number of plants drowned including my beautiful double weeping cherry. The view from my kitchen window was now bleak and empty.

To remedy the situation now and for the future we first needed to raise our already raised planting beds. Spring rains kept us from beginning this project.  To raise the height of the beds we needed more soil and our beloved Martin’s Compost Farm could not supply that soil because the rains put a stop to their operations.

Finally, Martin’s Farm was able to deliver four more yards of compo-soil and we moved load after load to the two planting beds. Once again we had barren beds. What to do?

We began by planting a water-tolerant quince bush surrounded by water tolerant sedums, yarrow and silvery Artemisia in the most northerly bed. The water tolerant Aesclepius tuberosa, the ornamental native orange flowered milkweed, and cardinal flowers were thriving. Even so, we did add more soil to the area around these plants.

I took a different approach with the second bed, which is right in front of my kitchen windows. We hadn’t decided on a planting scheme and decided that for this year we would plant annuals on this small area while we devised a plan. In went seedlings and starts of cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, and two clumps of dianthus. Needless to say it doesn’t look like much right now.

Annual cosmos

Annual cosmos comes in a variety of colors. Long stems, lacy foliage

Then, one day I looked at the second bed, about eleven by eight feet, with its little flowers and thought I might turn it into a permanent cutting garden bed. The flowers in a cutting garden are chosen because they easily make pretty bouquets. Snapdragons, cosmos, and zinnias are certainly good bouquet flowers. It would be lovely to be able to share my garden by giving friends and family an occasional bouquet.

A cutting garden can make use of perennials, annuals and even herbs in a bouquet. Most gardens have perennials suitable for a bouquet. The question is will there be enough for bouquets and the flower garden. A big question.

The summer perennials that come to my mind are peonies, yarrow, phlox, helenium, gaillardia, dahlias, asters, and black eyed susans who each have their own blooming season. There are also perennials like Lady’s mantle that has gray-green ruffled leaves that make a pretty collar around a bouquet.

I think many of us are familiar with the practice of judiciously cutting back perennials early in the season to create more lush blooms later in the summer. When you prune those perennials cut them carefully and remove most leaves.

Annuals with long stems are best for many bouquets. I am always careful to choose long legged zinnias. To keep annuals blooming through the season I’ve been told that blooming annuals should be cut back once, or even twice a week. This practice will keep new flowers coming.

This regular cutting of flowers to use in bouquets means learning where to make the cut. When you are beginning to harvest annual flowers, the first cut should be made above three or four side shoots. This will generate more strong flowering shoots which will be cut back in their own time. Be careful to cut back stems that are growing towards the center of the plant to keep stems from being overcrowded.

red zinnias

Red zinnias – and annual with long stems. Vibrant color

There are many annuals that can be started by seeds, or seedlings bought at the garden center. Just a few of the annuals for a cutting garden include gomphrena,  phlox, love-lies-bleeding, Mexican sunflower, china asters, nigella, the red flanders poppy, China asters, Shasta daisies and other ‘daisy’ flowers like osteospurmums.

Herbs like rosemary, dill, sage and oregano can also have a place in a bouquet.  Herbs provide pleasant scents and attractive foliage.

Yarrow or achillea

Yarrow – a strong, long stemmed achillea

I’m known for running out to pick a few flowers to stick in a vase and calling it a day. This kind of bouquet will be pretty for a day or two. However, making a bouquet that will last for a few days takes some preparation.

The best time for cutting flowers is early in the morning or in early evening when the flower stems will be full of water.  Use a very clean pail or container with clean lukewarm water. Use a sharp snips or garden clippers to cut flower stems at about the same length so they will not crush each other in the pail.

If a plant has floppy stems I have heard that some gardeners roll the stems in newspaper to hold them erect.  Don’t crowd the flowers in your bucket.  Maybe you’ll need two buckets if you are making a large bouquet.  Also think about whether it is necessary to have a separate container for each flower you are gathering.

The bucket of flowers should be left in a cool place for at least three hours, or overnight.

I have never been very successful using floral foam, but many people swear by the help foam provides. Others like to use a bit of balled up chicken wire to hold the flowers in place.

My cutting garden has not been carefully thought out this year, but it has given me food for thought for next year.

Between the Rows  July 13, 2019