Backyard Blooms-Top 12 Cut Flowers

I grow an artist’s palette of flowers

One of the main reasons that I grow flowers in my garden is for the fresh cut flowers. Blooms to bring in by the arm load and arrange in buckets and vases, is the reason that I slave hours in the garden.

Buying fresh cuts from a florist or grocery store isn’t the same as bringing in blooms that are decorating my garden with fragrance and color. Regretting removing those blooms from my garden isn’t an issue when I can enjoy it for many more hours up close and personal in the privacy of my home.

Poppies are planted early in my cutting garden
Planting out my cutting garden in the spring

To get the best of both worlds – a beautiful garden along with beautifully arranged vases – I always designate a special area a ‘cutting garden’. Expanding year by year as I discover just another flower that is perfect for cutting, it has encroached on my vegetable garden. Less veggies-more flowers!

Blocks of flowers in a cutting garden; mesh netting supports the stems
I grow so many dahlias, I arrange them in bowls

But what defines a good cut flower?- Simply put: long bloom times, tall sturdy stems, and ample vase life.

Zinnias, Amni majus, and Bells of Ireland
Peegee hydrangea with ‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia, and Chelone

Garden-to-Vase 

Growing specialty cut flowers for me ranges from crowd favorites like peonies and dahlias, to more obscure varieties rarely seen at a local florist, like ‘Love in the Mist’, is both a money saver and a little bit of luck. Starting many of these varieties from seed can be tricky, and some years I have a bumper crop, and other years, I bomb. Gardening is not an exact science and the more I experiment, I find that there is always more to discover.

Planting seedling plugs at Great Dixter, UK

Growing my own source of private bouquets is something I will be doing as long as I have a  garden, as I crave fresh flowers in my house and I don’t want to rely on the florist. My vegetable garden is about 50% flowers now!

Allliums and coneflowers
Growing cutting flowers for drying

Not only do I use my fresh cuts for arranging, I also dry a bunch of them for use in the Fall and Winter. See Dried Flowers for ideas.

My Top Twelve List of Fresh Cuts

  1. Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Dondo Blue’
  2. Larkspur-comes in pink, blue and white and gives a great vertical accent to your arrangements
  3. Poppies-comes in a rainbow of colors and my bees like them; go to Poppy Love
  4. Zinnias-all kinds, but I especially love the cactus varieties
  5. Sunflowers-forget the mammoth ones (too large), but the different colored varieties with branching stems are my favorites like ‘Valentine’
  6. Dahlias-for late season interest, these are perfect! For my post on Dahlias, go to Dahlias – Divas of the Garden
  7. Lilies-Oriental and Asiatic, not daylilies as these only last a day
  8. Love in the Mist- not only beautiful flowers, but beautiful foliage and dried seed heads
  9. Peonies-a flash in the pan and they are gone, but I indulge in them when in season
  10. Tulips-forget these if you have deer; wonderful form and they grow in fantastic shapes in the vase
  11. Bishops Flower(Amni majus)-looks like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids
  12. Alliums-long lasting statements that make good focal flowers; go to my post on Alliums-All Season Long.
Alliums are easy to grow and deer resistant
Love in a Mist
Dried seeds heads of Love in a Mist
Bishops flower
Lavender blue of ‘Blue Horizon’ ageratum
Ageratum, Sunflowers, and Dahlias in an arrangement
Cosmos with its ferny foliage is a great cut flower, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland
Masses of sunflowers ready for cutting, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland

Out of Season

When summer is over that doesn’t mean I don’t have plant material in the house. Transitioning to colorful berries, leaves, and branches takes me into the holiday season. After that, I bring in evergreens, cones, and branches, until flowers appear again in the spring.

Fall arrangement with berries and branches in a bowl

Placement

Deciding on a place for your cut flowers is a personal decision, but you have to have lots of sun. Growing flowers in my vegetable garden which gets the most amount of sun on my property makes sense for me. Most of my other beds are full of perennials and evergreens, and shrubs, so I usually don’t have room for them in my garden beds. I will plant early bloomers, like poppies, larkspur, and cornflowers in areas that will hold late appearing perennials, like hostas. By the time the hostas are up, the early bloomers are just about done and I can remove them.

Red and white tulips-great for cutting
Rows of flowers in a vegetable garden (not mine!)

Allow enough room to maneuver around the blocks or rows for watering, weeding, and picking. I plant in blocks about 3 feet wide for good access and air flow.

Bouquet of dahlias from my garden
My veggie garden serves also as my cutting garden

Starting some seeds inside and others like Zinnias outside, I start about two dozen varieties each year. Some years I have a bumper crop of something that has done especially well, I just can’t predict what will be blooming in my garden.

Starting seeds under grow lights gets me a jump on the season

For cool season flowers like Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, Poppies, Love in the Mist, and Cornflower, go to Cool Flowers.

Bells of Ireland are a great cut flower

Pink cornflower
It’s quite an event when I bring in these large Celosia heads which I dry

Lavender Harvest

White and purple lavender in field

Collecting and Drying the Harvest

Anticipating a bumper crop of fragrant lavender this year after planting more than 30 ‘Phenomenal’ plants in the spring of 2015, I was ready. Ready with lots of purple chiffon bags for sachets, wreath wire forms, and hanging space for the dozens of hand-gathered bundles removed from a thriving hedgerow of lavender plants. And ready with some new ideas of what to try with my sweet-smelling harvest. See Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter and  Lavender Honey Ice Cream posts for previous articles. The Lavender Honey Ice Cream is sublime!

Lavender Honey Ice Cream
White lavender is a great plant too
White Spanish Lavender has a much larger flower

Just as the small purple flowers are opening, I get myself ready for the harvest. Using my sharpest shears, I cut right above the woody part of the plant. This action also prunes it, making the plant neat and tidy looking for the next harvest.

Gathering the harvest is a delightfully aromatic job with lots of bumbles and honeybees still attached. Not likely to sting, I gently brush the bees off while cutting, bunching, and stacking bundles. Gathering in the early evening, bumblebees tend to congregate and sleep on the flower wands, but the heat of midday is too hot for me to handle. I will take the bees anytime!

Cody loves lavender!

Taking about three years to reach full maturity, I can now cut about six to eight bunches per plant. Every year a few plants bite the dust and I fill in the holes with young transplants.

Half of my hedge is cut and you can see the one year old plants filling in

One bunch of lavender stalks fill your hand comfortably and I rubber band the bundle tightly. As the stalks dry they shrink and the rubber band shrinks with it. The band becomes a convenient holder to snag an opened paper clip which I attach to a braided rope hanging from my basement ceiling.

Hang up the bunches in a cool dark place like a basement

Look for a cool dark spot to dry your bunches to retain the best fragrance and color. Any bits and pieces of lavender stalks, I keep to use on the grill or fire pit for aromatic smoke.

Adding lavender bits and pieces to the grill gives food a wonderful taste

 

Wreath Step By Step

Making a lavender wreath takes lots of flower stalks but this year, I had plenty. Gathering a large basket of cut stalks all facing one way is your first step. Using plenty of lavender  to start with will ensure that as the wreath shrinks as it dries, it will still look full.

Creating smaller and shorter bunches for a wreath (about six to seven inches long) and wiring the bunches together makes it possible to create a beautiful fragrant wreath to hang in the house. Start with a 10 inch pinch clamp wire wreath base for a quick and easy method to make your garland. The only other supply you need is some thin wire to wind around the bunches. Your house will remain very fragrant for days after you create this beautiful circlet.

Gather supplies

Gather a large basket of cut flowers along with a wire wreath base and thin wire

Make a fist sized bunch

Bunch a small cluster of flower stalks about 6-7 inches long for a fresh lavender wreath

Wire to fasten stems

Wire the bunch together

Pinch bundle on wreath form with pliers

With pliers pinch the bunch firmly to the base

Keep arranging bundles on base

Continue overlapping each lavender bunch facing one way all around the wreath

Finished! Add a wire hanger to the back and let dry flat

Finished! Continue to dry flat until completely dry (1 week) and then hang

Add a wired moire ribbon bow to complete the dried wreath

Adding a bow to the finished product

 

Dried Flowers 101

After each growing season in my garden, I assess what I grew, making up a wish list of new things to grow for next year. Planning what new varieties to try is half the fun of gardening! But this time I am going back to growing some old varieties that have fallen out of fashion that I haven’t grown for years, and these include everlastings or dried flowers.

Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
A larger variety of Sea Holly
A larger variety of Sea Holly

Air drying flowers or everlastings is simple and a great way to preserve your flower harvest for months to come. Knowing the correct varieties that dry well is key to successfully drying your blooms. I have dried flowers on and off for years; this was in vogue in the 70’s and 80’s and I have noticed a resurgence of interest, but people aren’t sure about which flowers are suitable.

A small colorful dried arrangement
A small colorful dried arrangement

After a recent visit to Priorwood Gardens in Scotland which is known for their dried flower culture and gardens, I was inspired to try this old craft again. Priorwood is a specialist center for the craft of dried flower arranging and has a dedicated drying room.

Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has dried flowers from their gardens for centuries
Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has had dried flowers from their gardens for centuries

A delightful historic walled garden in the Scottish Borders in Melrose, Priorwood is a rustic walled garden where the plants grown are selected for their suitability for drying.  Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, Priorwood is a delight to visit to learn about drying varieties and methods.

The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
Priorwood Gardens entrance
Priorwood Gardens entrance

Brimming with old-fashioned flowers such as Strawflowers, Teasels, Cardoon, Ammobium, Statice, Love in a Mist, Pearly Everlasting, and Yarrow, I walked the pathways identifying the ones that I recognized.

A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink

If you are an Outlander fan, I visited Claire’s herb garden in Culross, Scotland where many drieds and herbs are grown also. In the Outlander show Claire walks the pathways gathering medicinal herbs for preserving in her medical practice in 18th century Scotland. Most flowers are fleeting but preserving them by drying extends the beauty and usefulness of them.

Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire's Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire’s Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Claire's Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Claire’s Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Culross Palace gardens where scenes from Outlander were filmed
Culross Palace gardens
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Poppy seed heads dry nicely
Poppy seed heads dry perfectly

 

Dried flower arrangements last for months
Dried flower arrangements last for months

Steps to Perfect Dried Flowers

  1. Choose flowers that are not completely open as they will continue to open through the drying process.

  2. Cut flowers in the morning, after the dew has dried using sharp sheers.

  3. Strip off all foliage.

  4. Group flowers into small bundles and gather together with rubber bands. This allows the rubber band to contract and not lose its grip as the stems shrink.

  5. Hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry, indoor spot where air can circulate.

  6. When flowers are done drying, they will feel dry and stiff to the touch. This may take several days or several weeks, depending on conditions and the type of flowers.

    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Claire's Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Claire’s Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Strawflower
    Strawflower
    p1100173
    Strawflower
    p1100177
    Strawflower

     

    Everlastings to grow for drying

    • Sea Holly(Eryngium ) – perennial

    • Winged Everlasting (Ammobium alatum) – annual

    • Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) – perennial (seed pods)

    • Artemesia – perennial

    • Hydrangea- perennial

    • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) – annual or perennial

    • Sweet Annie (Artemesia annua) – perennial

    • Cockscomb (Celosia cristata) – annual

    • Bells-Of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) – annual

    • Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) – annual (primarily the seed pods)

    • Money Plant or Honesty (Lunaria annua) – biennial

    • Yarrow(Achillea spp.) – perennial – perennial

    • Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) – annual

    • Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) – annual; go to Plant Geek Alert

    • Statice(Limonium spp.) – perennial and annual

    • Bachelor’s Buttons or Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – annual

    • Lavender (Lavandula spp.) – perennial

    • Roses (Rosa spp.) – perennial/shrub, flowers and hips (fruit)

    • Peony-perennial

    • Tansy-perennial

      Bachelors buttons
      Bachelors Buttons

      nigella
      Nigella or Love in the mist is grown for its seed pods

      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry