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Flowers for Cutting

Salvia and pink cosmos

One of the joys of having a garden is being able to give away plants. Last  weekend a number of gardeners gave away divisions of their plants to the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, helping the Bridge and a lot of other gardeners.  That is one way.

Another way is to give plants to friends or acquaintances who are starting a garden and might not be able to tell a bean from a bachelor’s button

Still another is to make up a bouquet of whatever is blooming and give it to a friend or acquaintance who is celebrating or struggling or recuperating. Of course, you might give away a bouquet just because you like giving away bouquets, even if, like me, you belong to the stuff a handful in a jam jar school of flower arranging.

If you like giving away bouquets think about the best flowers to include. This will depend on your own taste and the season, but some flowers will last longer than others in a vase.

The point of a cutting garden is to grow the healthiest flowers possible, without worrying about ‘design.’  Cutting gardens, straight rows of brilliant or delicate flowers, can be beautiful but it is the beauty of bright abundance, not the beauty of carefully thought out schemes of color and texture.  A cutting garden planted in rows can allow for sufficient space between plants to give them good air circulation and room to grow their best.

It’s easy to direct seed a variety of familiar sun loving annuals like cosmos, marigolds, sweet peas, nigella, annual salvias, pollen-free sunflowers, and zinnias in the ground. Annuals usually begin blooming at the beginning of summer and continue into the fall.  These are not exotic flowers but even this short list includes a variety of color, form and texture and they never fail to give pleasure.

I’ve bought seedlings of less familiar annuals like gomphrena or globe amaranth. The globe shaped blossoms on sturdy stems come in a variety of shades of pink and red. I also buy snapdragonseedlings because they take such a long time to get to transplanting size.

Some people dislike raiding the perennial plantings for bouquets, but removing a few carefully chosen stems doesn’t have to make the ornamental garden suffer. Delphiniums, in various heights and shades of blue, are a great addition to any early summer bouquet.

Astilbes have the benefit of tolerating some shade and moist sites.  Most blooming plants need a lot of sun. These plants with plumy spikes, white, shades of pink and red or peach, grow into big clumps in the garden, ready to donate a few stems to an arrangement. The airy, almost fern-like foliage is also useful in an arrangement.

Two plants that always attract my attention in the garden are astrantia, which is related to scabiosa and has a similar pincushion flower in shades of pink or white.  The other is knautia which also has a similar flower – to me.  I particularly like the deep wine red shade. Both of these perennials attract butterflies.

The columbine, a delicate spring bloomer with starry outer petals and long spurs, is beautiful in a bouquet. I have a deep purple native variety that grows vigorously and makes a good cut flower if only because I try to cut as many of these as I can before they scatter seed all over the flower bed. Other hybrids will self sow, but usually not with such vigor. The columbine comes in many colors, pale shades of white, yellow and pink, and bi-color forms like “Tequila Sunrise” a stunning yellow and coral, or the red and white “Songbird Cardinal.”

Lady’s mantle, achemilla, is useful in a flower arrangement because the airy sprays of yellow green flowers are unusual and neutral, and the round scalloped leaves can form a decorative collar surrounding the bouquet, or the edge of the vase.

Like lady’s mantle, coral bells have useful flowers and foliage. The delicate little blossoms on wiry stems usually come in an array of pink and white. There are many hybrids now where the interest is mainly on the foliage. Heuchera “Caramel”  has foliage with an orange blush, “Frosted Violet” has broad pinky purple leaves dusted with a silver shimmer. The low growing ”Citronelle” is a bright chartreuse and “Peach Flambe” has bright peach foliage that becomes darker and richer as the season progresses.

Dahlias are a mainstay of the autumnal cutting garden. There are hundreds of varieties from small button types to large dinner plate blooms in shades pale or dramatic. They begin blooming in mid-summer and continue into the fall. The more you cut, the more they will bloom. They last handsomely for a week or more in a vase.

A flower arranger might also raid the vegetable garden for some interesting foliage. The famous British flower arranger Constance Spry may have been the first to put kale in her “decorations” but she certainly isn’t the last. A very different sort of foliage is provided by the ferny bronze fennel.

Some gardeners will like the simplicity of a cutting garden planted in rows. Others may simply prefer  to plant a variety of cutting flowers in mixed garden beds. Either way, including a selection of flowers that can last well for a few days in a vase is a beautiful way gardeners can express their generosity.

Between the Rows    May 21, 2011

2 comments to Flowers for Cutting

  • Pat, I love cutting flowers in the house. It’s too early for cut flowers from my garden, but once things get going in a couple of weeks, I’ll go around the garden twice a week with a bucket with a little water in the bottom and scissors for cutting. I love filling that bucket with blooms from various parts of the garden and then putting it on the kitchen island, surrounded by vases of various sizes and shapes and making arrangements for every room in the house.

  • Pat

    Jean – I’d certainly love to visit your garden and your flower filled rooms. It all sounds wonderful.

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