Cut Flowers from the Garden

As I write this week’s installment, a friend is cutting flowers from my garden to decorate a garden party this weekend. I rarely bring blossoms into my home, so I am pleased to see how a skilled flower harvester goes about this process.

Important activities precede and follow actually cutting flowers! To begin, select plants that you like for arrangements, bloom at convenient times and produce lots of blossoms. You might stick with familiar options, or favor more exotic choices. In either case, include foliage plants to complement arrangements. Visit for suggestions.

The design of a cutting garden emphasizes convenient access to the plants, more than the appearance of the landscape. Planting in widely spaced rows works well. You might locate your cutting garden in an out-of-the-way—and sunny—spot.

Cultivating a cutting garden involves only good basic gardening.

When you are ready to cut flowers for arrangements, here’s a few guidelines:

  • start early, when the plants are full with sugars and moisture;
  • use clean, sharp tools, and dipped in bleach between plants (a good idea if disease is evident, but a bit fussy otherwise);
  • cut from different parts of each plant, to leave a good appearance (important with flowering shrubs);
  • take long stems when possible (you can make them shorter later); and
  • immerse cut flowers promptly in cool water.

It may be helpful to gain deeper familiarity with selected plants, to understand better when and how to gather their bounty. For more on this point, see for links to useful websites.

For more in-depth treatment of this topic, here are three highly rated books:

  • Cutting Gardens, by Anne Halpin and Betty Mackey.
  • The Cutting Garden: Growing and Arranging Garden Flowers, by Sarah Raven with Pia Tryde (Photographer).
  • An American Cutting Garden: A Primer for Growing Cut Flowers Where Summers Are Hot and Winters Are Cold, by Suzanne McIntire.

Here’s a fine opportunity to learn more about cut flowers: a Cut Flowers Workshop, June 9th, 9:30 – 4:00 in the Alan Chadwick Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Join Zoe Hitchner of Everett Family Farm and Orin Martin, manager of the Alan Chadwick Garden, to learn how to select, grow and arrange cut flowers from your garden to create beautiful bouquets. The workshop will include both lectures and hands-on practice.

Costs: $75 for Friends of the Farm & Garden members, $85 general public. Pre-registration is required, online or by mail – visit for information, call (831) 459-3240 or email

For many, bringing arranging cut flowers in the home or gifting them to friends is the ultimate purpose of gardening. Whether you bring your garden’s bounty indoors or appreciate them outdoors, enjoy your garden!


A friend asked for recommendations for handling a cut flower from an aloe plant. (I rarely get easy questions!) She asked specifically whether or not she should seal the cut end of the flower stem by fire. My best answer on the spot was to run a simple test: put a flame to one stem and not to another, then see which lasts longer in a vase.

When I searched the web for a more direct answer, I found a recommendation to enjoy aloe blossoms in the garden, and not in a vase, because they won’t last more than half a day. Better choices for succulent blossoms as cut flowers are  Bryophyllum (on the left) or Aeonium (on the right).


Here is useful advice on the web from Gardener’s Supply Company on creating a cutting garden, including twelve “easy-care favorites.”

More useful advice, this time from Real Simple, on the same topic.

Then, a third presentation on the basics, from

Here’s good advice on the actual cutting of flowers and keeping them as long as possible. It’s from the Royal Horticultural Society, which should not be questioned.

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