Gardeners love beds filled with beautiful blooms, but many of us also adore bringing flowers inside to fill our homes with fragrance and color. While the locally-grown movement inspires fresh food raised in backyard gardens, it also led to the “garden-to-vase” trend—creating pretty, practical cutting gardens filled with seasonal blooms to fill vases throughout the year.
Why Create a Cutting Garden?
Homegrown flowers offer many benefits. First, most flowers purchased for bouquets travel thousands of miles from South America. By the time you buy flowers from the grocery store, for instance, they’ve been a week out of the field, shortening their life expectancy and impacting their “greenness” with a high carbon footprint. Because of regulations in importing flora and avoiding the spread of pests and diseases, the flowers contain a chemical coating—and who wants a bouquet filled with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides? By growing your own flowers for bouquets, you’re adding beauty to your landscape, while also providing a feast for pollinators. Plus, your bouquets will last longer with flowers freshly snipped from your garden versus imported blooms.
If you’re worried that harvesting flowers in garden beds will leave holes in your landscape design, a “production” cutting garden—where the flowers are grown and harvested much like vegetable crops—offers a perfect solution. Plus, if you grow a kitchen garden, adding flower production to the veggies, fruits, and herbs helps create healthier, better harvests. Flowers attract pollinators as well as other beneficial insects, like parasitic wasps and ladybugs that prey on pests.
Of course, wandering through your cutting garden and planning lovely, inspired, fresh-from-the-garden bouquets is the ultimate benefit. You can create pretty centerpieces for a dinner party or share a mason jar filled with flowers to brighten a friend’s day. After all, fresh flowers make everything better!
Why Add Perennials to a Cutting Garden?
Planting perennials offers one of the best ways to establish a cutting garden. Perennials form a perfect foundation to begin your garden-to-vase adventure, as you can plant them in the fall, allow them to overwinter, and begin harvesting blooms the following year. They’re economical—most perennials last for years, and as they grow, you can divide them to create more plants. Additionally, many perennials flourish and produce even more blooms after deadheading, making them a perfect choice for a cutting garden.
Before you plant your cutting garden, consider your space. Most perennials that bloom prolifically require 6-8 hours of full sun. Choose a sunny location with rich, well-draining soil. Also consider planting the cutting garden near a water source to keep the plants well-hydrated in summer’s heat.
Top Perennials for Cutting Gardens
When selecting perennials for a cutting garden, choose a mix of plants that bloom throughout the growing season so your vases will never be empty. Think also about mixing plants to include showstoppers—the “thrillers” of the bouquet–with foliage plants and flowers that fill the vase with texture. Most importantly—plant what you love. Include your favorite blooms in the cutting garden so that your bouquets reflect your personality, favorite colors, and most-loved fragrances.
To get you started, consider these 10 perfect perennials to add to your cutting garden:
Beloved by pollinators, common yarrow provides a pretty display and an interesting history as a medicinal plant. Legend tells of Achilles using yarrow to staunch the bleeding of soldiers’ wounds on the battlefield. Today’s new varieties range from every-changing hues of pinks and corals to deep reds with lighter eyes, like ‘Ritzy Ruby’. Our newer varieties also offer better heat and humidity tolerance than common yarrow. Use yarrow as a pretty filler in bouquets, with its gorgeous clusters of florets. Yarrow also holds color well for dried arrangements. Blooms late spring through autumn.
Japanese Anemone (Anemone)
For elegant fall arrangements, add Japanese Anemones to the cutting garden. Whether you include them in bouquets to add height and movement or use them singularly in Japanese-style Ikebana displays, windflowers ensure you’ll enjoy floral arrangements well into the fall. Simple, single white blooms like ‘Pretty Lady Maria’ or fluffy, pink double flowers like ‘Pretty Lady Julia’ both prove perfect additions to cutting gardens. Blooms August through first frost.
Bright-blue blooms of cornflower, also known as bachelor’s buttons, provide an enchanting, sweet arrangement in early spring days. Newer varieties offer more color options than the wildflowers found in fields and also provide increased bloom size, like ‘Amethyst Dream’. With 2-1/2” royal-blue flowers and silvery foliage, it’s stunning in bouquets. Blooms May through July.
With a pretty, daisy-like shape and a wide range of colors, coreopsis offers great options for a cutting garden. Today’s coreopsis varieties provide sturdier stems, larger flowers, and more vibrant colors than traditional tickseed. For a burst of bright color, try coreopsis ‘Limerock Passion’, a variety that matures from lavender to lighter pink shades. Blooms all summer into fall.
Helen’s Flower (Helenium)
If you love a riot of color in your floral arrangements, then you’ll need helenium Mardi Gras in your cutting garden. Yellow petals lavishly splashed with orange-red form wildly-patterned skirts around center cones. Blooming for 6-8 weeks, helenium will keep your vases filled. Blooms in summer.
For friendly, cheerful bouquets, oxeyes add brightness to arrangements. Also known as “false sunflower,” the pretty daisy forms work well to fill vases either in combination with other flowers or alone. Heliopsis ‘Bressingham Doubloon’ provides an erect, loosely branched habit of semi-double, golden flowers on sturdy stems–perfect for bouquets. Blooms mid-summer through fall.
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum)
Is there anything nicer than sharing a simple, pretty bouquet of Shasta daisies? It’s the perfect bit of cheer to brighten a friend’s day. While simple daisies always belong in a cutting garden, new varieties add impact to classic bouquets. Check out Freak!® Shasta daisy. With gorgeous layers of white, frilly petals surrounding yellow centers, the 2-1/2” flowers elevate a simple daisy bouquet to an elegant arrangement. Blooms throughout summer and reblooms in fall.
Sea Holly (Eryngium)
If you’re looking for a stunning bloom to add to bouquets, sea holly is a perfect choice. With its big, bold, bright-blue flowers, eryngium adds architectural interest to floral arrangements. Gorgeous 4” blooms and spiky green foliage make ‘Big Blue’ an excellent addition to cutting gardens. Blooms July through September.
When creating bouquets, height and movement in an arrangement adds interest. Using tall, airy, delicate-looking beardtongue in floral arrangements provides vertical interest without making an arrangement look top-heavy or too dense. ‘Prairie Twilight’ produces clusters of delicate, tubular pink flowers with white tips and throats, providing a pretty, soft addition to bouquets. And, as you wander the cutting garden, you may find hummingbirds enjoying the flowers. Blooms late May through August.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
For a prolific perennial that provides masses of showy, medium-yellow flowers, add Black-Eyed Susan to the cutting garden. Perfect alone or in mixed bouquets, the cheerful flowers add casual charm to kitchen tables. Try the low-maintenance ‘Viette’s Little Suzy’, a highly floriferous variety. Not only are the blooms lovely, but the foliage turns a gorgeous mahogany in the fall. Add some leaves to arrangements for fall interest in the vase. Blooms mid-summer through fall.
Additional Ingredients for a Cutting Garden
Perennials establish good bones in a cutting garden, giving you many low-maintenance floral options. However, you may want to add some easy annual flowers as well, such a zinnias, cosmos, sweet peas, or sunflowers for even more bouquet ingredients. Sow the flower seeds according to the directions on the seed packet. Some seeds, like sweet peas, germinate best if soaked in water overnight. Make sure to space the seeds so they have ample room to grow without crowding. For information on starting seeds for cutting gardens, visit well-known flower farmer Erin Benzakein at Floret Flowers.
For the longest lasting bouquets, harvest flowers when buds just begin to open. As you harvest, use clean pruners and place the flowers immediately in a bucket of fresh water. When you’ve finished harvesting, recut the flower stems at an angle and arrange the flowers in a water-filled vase.
Also, when creating bouquets, look to your existing shrubs for interesting foliage to add to vases. Foliage offers perfect filler material. Just make sure when harvesting flowers and foliage to strip any leaves from the bottom of stems that will be submerged in water so that the plant material doesn’t decompose and shorten the life of the bouquet.
With your cutting garden filled with perennials, you’ll harvest even more flowers as the plants mature. Enjoy the pleasure of wandering through your cutting garden and creating your own garden-to-vase bouquets.
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