An ornamental garden, as contrasted with an edible garden, often will yield a number of blossoms suitable for occasional floral arrangements. To produce blossoms specifically for indoor display, however, the gardener needs to develop and maintain a cutting garden.
A cutting garden can be as small or as large as the gardener chooses. Because it serves as a “blossom factory,” it need not be a landscaping feature. It could be a rectangular space with plants in orderly and efficient rows. The bed could be as short or long as desired, but should be no more than about four feet wide, with access on both sides for cultivation, maintenance and harvesting.
The bed should follow the familiar basic standards: fertile soil with good drainage, six-to-eight hours of sunlight, and convenient access to irrigation.
Plant selection should reflect the gardener’s preferences, which might be based on personal favorites, intended combinations of blossom colors, or other criteria. Unless the gardener has particular plants in mind, the initial plant selection might be based on expert recommendations.
The best source I know for such recommendations is Debra Prinzing, advocate for American-grown flowers, author of The 50 Mile Bouquet and Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm. Here are her current top ten picks for summer bouquets:
- Dahlia — medium-sized forms
- Zinnia — Queen series for soft colors; Persian Carpet varieties for textural accents
- Sunflower—‘Plum’, ‘White Night’, ‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Strawberry Blonde’, ‘Chocolate’
- Cosmos—Double Click and Cupcake series
- Ammi—(called false Queen Anne’s Lace) ‘Dara’, ‘White Dill’, and ‘Green Mist’
- Yarrow—both pure colors and muted/pastel varieties
- Shasta Daisy—especially double forms like ‘Crazy Daisy’ and ‘Sante’
- Roses —try some in the caramel and terra cotta range: ‘Hot Cocoa’, ‘Cinco de Mayo’, ‘Pumpkin Patch
- Herbs— purple basil and ‘Berggarten’ sage for foliage and fragrance
- Nigella—blue blooms, unusual seedpods, and lacy greenery are eye-catching
After the gardener has selected plants for the cutting garden, the options are to buy and install small plants at a garden center, or plant seeds. Buying small plants involves paying someone for starting the plants from seed, so it’s faster and more expensive than growing your own. But choices could be limited Planting seeds requires less expense, and also provides access to a wide range of options.
Seeds should be planted at the right time of the season. Some seeds should be started indoors in early spring; others are best planted in the ground in early spring, early summer, or mid-summer/early fall. This month is still a good time to start certain seeds for a cutting garden.
An excellent source of recommendations for seasonal planting of seeds for flowering plants is local expert Renee Shepherd. For a timely list of flowers to plant now, browse to her website, click on “Gardening Resources” and search “Time to plant Renee’s Garden Seeds.” Her seeds are among those on display in garden centers.
Seed packets typically have brief instructions for successful planting of seeds.
Flowering plants that have multiple, branching stems will produce maximum yield of good quality flowers with long stems when their primary stems are cut back (“pinched”) at an early stage of growth. Examples include carnation, cosmos, dahlia, and snapdragon.
Pinching is not appropriate for plants that produce just one flower per plant. Examples of such plants include flax, stock, and single-stemmed sunflowers.
Growing your own flowers for bouquets and floral arrangements is one of the most satisfying garden activities. A good time to start your own unique cutting garden, and beginning to gain experience and enjoy the process, is mid summer/early fall. That’s right now!