Cutting garden: Invest in perennials
Floral arrangements are definitely the easiest way to improve the ambiance of any room providing an instant pop of color, life and beauty to the home. But because cut flowers are often an expensive luxury, it can be hard to justify the cost unless for a special occasion. The beauty of a cutting garden is how entirely customizable it can be. From a relatively small space in your garden with an investment in perennials, you can have fresh-cut flowers from March to late autumn.
One of the most important factors in the success of your cutting garden is deciding where you always like to have flowers. For example, I always want an arrangement on my coffee table. So for me, growing long-stemmed flowers is of no concern. If the area in your home where you like to keep flowers demands a larger arrangement, growing flowers with longer stems will need to be a consideration. Also important to consider is what kind of floral arrangements you prefer. If you are more attracted to arrangements with several colors and types of flowers, it will be important to plan for multiple plants to bloom at the same time. On the contrary, if you prefer monochromatic arrangements all of the same flower as I generally do, assuring that there will be enough of each individual plant blooming at the same time is paramount. In a cutting garden, it is important to have plants that bloom all season, as well as those that only bloom once.
Next, planning the planting of your garden is based on what blooms when. The first blooms of the year will come from bulbs and early bloomers like forsythia. While it can vary by a few weeks, generally the very first bulbs will bloom in mid-March. Favorites like crocus, muscari, hyacinth and daffodils are early bloomers and always a welcome introduction to spring. My favorites of the early spring for cut arrangements are daffodil and hyacinth. Crocus and muscari are both more delicate as cut flowers with small blooms; many are needed for one arrangement. With daffodil and hyacinth, however, you get a lot of bloom for the investment. Also blooming at this time is forsythia. With long stems of vivid yellow, forsythia makes spectacular arrangements. In a few short years, forsythia can quadruple in size producing more and more blooms to cut and enjoy inside. In mid-spring, many varieties of daffodil continue to bloom as well as tulips. Because deer are so likely to eat tulips, it is advisable they are grown in an enclosure or in containers where the deer cannot reach. Later in the spring, allium and iris are perfect for arrangements. One of my favorite arrangements is to mix purple allium and green-white Annabelle hydrangeas.
In late April, the divine fragrance of lilacs inside the home cut from the garden is a treat I look forward to all year. I prefer old-fashioned lilacs like “President Grevy,” which have larger blooms, deeper color and stronger fragrance. However due to the large size of an old-fashioned lilac, space can be a concern. To kick off the summer around Memorial Day, peonies are a favorite of many, including myself. Peonies make gorgeous, fragrant arrangements. Peonies come in hundreds of varieties, so choosing your favorite is essential. And some peonies work better as cut flowers than others; a “Krinkled White” peony for instance lasts only about two days, whereas once cut, a “Boule de Neige” lasts around a week.
Once in summer, the options really open up with hydrangea, roses, lilies, daisies, dahlias, black-eyed Susan and gladiolus for example.
Moving into the autumn, some flowers like hydrangea turn a beautiful green and burgundy color if left on the shrub. Depending on when the first hard frost is, you can rely on your blooming shrubs for cut flowers deep into the fall. There have been a few years where even on Thanksgiving I was still able to cut hydrangeas from my own garden.
While it is a bit of work in the beginning to do all the planting and purchasing for a cutting garden, it is an investment that will reward you for years to come. Fresh flowers liven up any room with minimal effort, and with the resources in your own yard, they do not have to be reserved for special occasions.
A few basics for arranging flowers from your own garden:
Wash them: A downside to cutting your own flowers are the bugs that often come with them. This is a very easy fix. Fill your sink with cold water (warm water could discolor or wilt the blooms) and submerge each bloom in the water. Twist or shake gently under the water and more often than not, an insect you did not see before will come out.
Feed them: I buy large tubs of floral food online, as well as a product called Quick Dip. Quick Dip is an irreplaceable product that helps oxygenate the stems of flowers so they will more rapidly take in water.
Angle them: With exceptionally clean scissors, cut the stems at a 45 degree angle. This promotes maximum water absorption.
Also, flowers with woody stems like roses and hydrangea are more likely to need a fresh cut every few days as well as a little bit of bleach (½ teaspoon) in the water to ward off the growth of bacteria.
Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.