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The cool spring has finally ushered in May flowers. I love cut flowers from the garden. There is a simple, happy satisfaction that comes from picking a bundle of peonies for the kitchen worktable. Just be sure to shake the ants off first.
The other thing about a cool spring with adequate rain fall is that the weather is acting as a sort of preservative: all those beautiful blooms are lasting much longer than normal.
When planning a garden, I always consider a seasonal offering of cut flowers for indoor arrangements. These flowers can work double-duty and attract beneficial insects, as well. You can plan on cut blooms starting in very early spring with daffodils and woodland flowers. In May, the peonies fill the house with their spicy, sweet scent. Then, a steady stream of annuals and perennials fill mason jars and vases through the first frost. I will even hit the weedy side of the dam for an arrangement of golden rod and poke.
Since cutting gardens are about production, the first order of business is preparing the soil. You will want maximum harvest, so prepare the soil with compost for extra nutrition; good drainage is ideal, as well. Some of our favorite cutting flowers, like cosmos and zinnias, demand good drainage. In fact, these annuals are so undemanding, a little neglect often improves performance.
If you have the space, plant out your cutting garden in rows or blocks. Planting, cultivation and harvesting will be easier and more efficient. In order to maximize production, work a slow-release fertilizer like cottonseed or alfalfa meal into the soil during the planting of seedlings or container plants. If starting from seed, wait to side-dress the plants once they have several sets of true leaves. Providing small amounts of fertilizer to the plants’ root systems at a slow rate can be supplemented by a bi-weekly application of a water-soluble fertilizer like fish emulsion or a manufactured brand.
Certainly, food and water are essential for maximum production, so if Mother Nature does not provide rainfall, then water 1 inch per week on average, depending on the requirements of the plant. If flowers go uncut, be sure to dead-head any spent blooms. You want your annuals and perennials to expend their energy on producing blooms, not seeds. However, at the end of the season allow some flowers to go to seed so that you can harvest them for planting next year.
In my world, success as a cutting flower is measured in three days. If you can hold your color, petals and resist wilting for three days in a vase, you are a good cut flower. Annuals typically make up the bulk of a cutting garden. Some reliable blooms include bachelor buttons and cosmos, which generally reseed themselves year after year. As soon as the soil warms, I sew zinnias in all shapes and sizes. Sunflowers are a snap to start from seed, too.
Perennials also have a place in the cutting garden and quite a few last in the vase well beyond the three-day mark. Gaillardia, Veronica, Veronicastrum, Eryngium, Solidago, Salvias, Helianthus, Heliopsis, Achillea and Echinacea are all prolific summer perennials that deserve a row in the cutting garden.
Good filler plants that appeal to me and hold up relatively well (I say relatively because there is a little blossom drop after a couple of days) includes catmint “Six Hills Giant” in late spring through the summer; and Russian sage and beautiful mint (Calamintha) in late summer. You can also use foliage plants, like Solomon’s seal, Hosta and herbs, as fillers in your vase. These “fillers” have the ability to anchor cut arrangements literally and figuratively.
All of these high volume plants will fill the vase, then you can add the flowers that you really want to highlight, like the tall purple pompom’s of drumstick Allium or the bright orange cluster of Aesclepias, or butterfly weed, in late spring, or the bright blue of salvia “Black and Blue” in the summer.