A Garden For Cutting & Arranging

A cutting garden – a piece of earth used primarily for cutting flowers and bringing into the house for arranging in vases – sounds kind of elitist. Like a prim and proper English lady who has a team of gardeners, and ventures out to the garden with a floppy straw hat with her “secateurs” to cut flowers at the ‘peak of perfection’ and places in her English trug. After cutting the flowers, she brings them in to arrange them in fabulous vases that will decorate her wonderful English Cottage.

Formal arrangement
Formal arrangement

I am more of the type that I have slaved over starting seeds inside, planting out, harvesting and after picking, placing them casually in mason jars, a simple water pitcher or an old bud vase. A cutting garden can provide you with material for both the formal art of flower arranging or a simple everyday mason jar arrangement to brighten your mood.

Simple arrangement in a shoe
Simple arrangement in a shoe

At its simplest, a cutting garden is just that – a garden used primarily for cutting flowers. I have established ornamental perennial borders that I cut from frequently, but a cutting garden gives you a separate space where you can remove broad swaths of fresh cuts to plunge into deep vases and enjoy.

Cutting garden

A purely utilitarian apace, it should be designed for usefulness, not for beauty. The goal is to have lots of flowers for cutting to bring in armfuls of flowers all season long. Since the  true cutting garden, unlike the border, is all about the floral harvest, don’t worry about artistic plant combinations- simply plant for plant utility and provide support!

Support your flowers with a mesh trellis
Support your flowers with a mesh trellis

The production of multitudes of flowers in a very short time severely drains and depletes the soil. So, choose a site in full sun, and work as much compost and fertilizer into the soil as you can.  I use Espoma Organic Flowertone found in most every nursery or garden center and add to the soil after tilling and rake it in.

Your cutting garden will require at least an inch of water of week in the absence of rain, and a layer of landscape cloth for weed suppression  is required if you don’t wish to pay for every blossom you cut with rivers of sweat produced by endless weeding. Also, don’t forget that cutting gardens, once established, must be cut and used. Many varieties will cease flowering if allowed to go to seed. But going to seed for some varieties is a good thing, as you will have seedlings in the spring that will spring up and grow without much attention.

If you let Larkspur go to seed, you will reap the benefits next spring
If you let Larkspur go to seed, you will reap the benefits next spring

Finally, give some thought to broadening your plant selection beyond common annuals, such as zinnias or cosmos. Most people seem to think that a cutting garden is primarily an annual one, and while it’s true that many favorite flowers for cutting like zinnias and cosmos are indeed annuals, many perennials work just as well or better, providing flowers year after year, without the need for constant replanting. A great example is yarrow, a perennial that I use for a filler.

Yarrow or achillea
Yarrow or achillea

Also, be sure to include members of each of three general flower types when you choose your plants: tall, spiky blooms, such as larkspur and  liatris; disk shaped flowers like peonies, asters, and daisies, as well as small, lacy, fillers like forget me nots or baby’s breath. And don’t forget the bulb family. Tulips, which I treat like an annual, are one of my favorites and are ready to pick in early spring when annuals are still small transplants. When you are ready to pick them, just pull up the entire plant, bulb and all, and cut the stem and discard the bulb.

  • Tulips
    tulips

Say It With Flowers 

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Bachelors Buttons or Cornflowers are an old favorite with the most intense blue color
Most old-fashioned annuals arrange beautifully as they have long stems: here is Nigella, Agrostemma, Poppies, and Amni Majus

Cutting Garden Tips

I like to set aside a garden totally dedicated to cutting and arranging. One reason is that they aren’t as attractive when they are finished and going to seed, but during the spring and early summer while active blooming, they can be striking.

Weed control with landscape cloth
Cutting garden needs lots of supports so the flowers don’t flop

Heirlooms

With all the new intros of flowers, people forget the old-fashioned flowers that our grandmothers grew and enjoyed. ‘Flowers with a past’, or ‘flowers with history’ intrigue me even in the face of the preference of perennials in recent years. So many people when they hear that a plant is an annual turn up their nose and dismiss it as not worth the time and money to plant. But I love annuals and they bloom all summer long, unlike perennials that bloom for just a couple of weeks.

Corn Cockle or Agrostemma is an English cottage garden flower rarely seen here in the US
Corn Cockle

Pushed to the side for many years in favor of newer, supposedly better cultivars, I always remember growing old fashioned annuals as a child and seeing them in my parents garden. I couldn’t wait to squeeze the snapdragon flowers to make the “mouth” open like a dragon when I was little. Or being fascinated by the pansy faces that I grew and pressing them between the pages of a phone book.

Pansy flower
‘Etain’ Viola
Simple violas and fern in tiny vase

 

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow
Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower (Impatiens balsamina) is extremely easy to grow; Find them at Burpee Seeds

I have never stopped growing these neglected blooms and invite other flower lovers to embrace them as well. Neglected but not forgotten, all these flowers should be planted and enjoyed by another generation.

Edible Nasturtiums are easy to grow
Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums

Heirloom annuals are plants that have been cultivated for at least one hundred years, and some for much longer. Unimproved flowers that hybridizers haven’t got their hands on, antique annuals bloom profusely all season long and set seed so that you can collect them to flower for another year. Even better, many reseed to continue growing for the next season. Balsam flower reseeds like clockwork in my garden. Many are tall and graceful, not short and stocky hybrids that fit into containers and smaller gardens that are more prevalent today.

Sticky cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower
Sticky Cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower; Find them at Burpee Seeds

Difficult to have something in bloom all season long, a perennial border is just shouting out to have annuals inserted in empty spots so you can have a constant parade of blooms.

Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Beautiful ruffled Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Cosmos with Clary Sage

Perennial purists who will not allow an annual to enter their garden gate are missing out on the dizzying palette of flowers that bloom and die in one season. Perennial is a term that can be interpreted several ways. I have some short-lived perennials that only last two or three seasons, like lavender or Gaillardia. The drainage issue always does these perennials in for me in the mid-Atlantic. So, the term perennial could mean – lasts for many seasons, like a peony… or perennial for a few seasons, like some of the new Echinaceas. Echinaceas don’t seem to last very long at all and yet they are called perennials.

I love all the new Echinaceas, but they seem to last only a couple of seasons
Annual poppy
Annual poppy

When most perennials are on their last gasp in late summer, many annuals are still running strong with little care. A bit of dead heading, sometimes staking, and an infusion of fertilizer is enough to keep them in good form all summer. Some annuals like Poppies, Love in a Mist, Bells of Ireland, Clarkia, and Larkspur are definitely cool weather plants finished by June. See my post on Cool Season Annuals.

Purple Larkspur makes a fine foil for pink Poppies
Cool season Bells of Ireland
Cool season Bells of Ireland; Find them at Burpee Seeds
Love in a Mist (Nigella)
Dried seed pods of Nigella or Love in a Mist

Cultivated for thousands of years in the Americas, Zinnias are a true antique classic. According to Burpee’s website, “Zinnias are undemanding annuals that simply need full sun, warmth, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If soil is poor, incorporate lots of compost or leaf mold”. Like many old-fashioned annuals, Zinnias do better sown directly into the garden instead of being transplanted.

Zinnias arranged in a floral bucket
Zinnias, Amni Majus, Bells of Ireland, and Rudbeckia

Plumed Celosias are bursting with new cultivars but I really like to grow the unique Crested Celosias. I love the brain-like texture of the velvety bloom and it dries beautifully.

Good for drying, crested celosia has a fascinating bloom
Good for drying, Crested Celosia has a fascinating bloom
Cosmos

All of these heirlooms draw pollinators in droves to their open faced flowers, with easily available pollen and nectar. To see more plants and flowers that attract pollinators, go to  Plant These For Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available on Etsy

Heirloom Annuals

Here is my listing of  favorite Heirlooms. But there are many more that you can try.

False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus

Clarkia

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus

Spider Flower,  Cleome

Snapdragon, Antirrhinum

Larkspur, Consolida

Cosmos

Corn Cockle, Agrostemma

Sunflower, Helianthus

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Heliotrope

Balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus

Four O’Clock, Mirabilis

Pansy and Viola

Lobelia

Flowering Tobacco, Nictotiana

Love in a Mist, Nigella

Poppy, Papaver

Dusty Miller, Senecio

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymene coerulea

Zinnia

Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Blue Floss Flower, Ageratum

Cockscomb, Celosia,

Petunias

For my PDF on growing your own cut flowers, go to the tab ‘Cut Flower Recommendations’ on my menu at top and download the information.

7 Replies to “A Garden For Cutting & Arranging”

  1. Thanks Claire – it’s great to have all the varieties, advice & seed suggestions in one place. Looking forward to broadcasting zinnia seeds in well fertilized/leaf mold-enhanced garden area this spring.

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