We have all done it. Picked flowers and presented them to a favorite teacher, mother or a special friend. Giving a bouquet of flowers tells the recipients they are special, and even more so when the bouquet comes from your garden. Whether you grow them for the home vase or give them away, flowers are food for the soul.
It comes down to this. Would you fervently work in the garden until every muscle aches if you did not love the joy your flowers bring to you? Of course, you pick the flowers and give them a place of honor on the table, the mantel or the nightstand next to your bed. Homegrown cut flowers bring the beauty inside for everyone’s enjoyment. They bring a festive element to any room.
Even though it’s winter, the best time to map out your cutting garden is now. It is a fun winter pastime when you cannot go out and play in the garden. There are so many choices for the vase. Spring and summer always have a plethora of flowers to choose from, and autumn will still have some good choices. Winter though is more challenging, but a challenge accepted makes for a cheery winter inside.
The maritime climate in Northwest gardens means you can grow numerous plants that are perfect for harvesting. If planned right, the garden will provide fresh greenery or flowers for the vase nearly every day of the season.
Sometimes it is a challenge to put the right foliage, flowers, twigs or combination thereof together. It may seem tricky, yet almost every garden has the elements for which a creative bouquet will rise. Moreover, floral arranging is addicting and fun.
The beauty of growing your own is that every blossom comes fresh from the garden. You can grow unusual plants for foliage, twigs and flowers. Your flowers are sustainable, and if you garden pesticide-free, the flora you bring into your home will not harbor unwanted contaminates. You nurtured every bit of the life that sits in the water on the mantel.
In the garden, you select plants that comingle together in the way that you like. You choose plants for leaf textures, color or their dramatic shapes in the garden. It is easy to transfer the same concepts to a bouquet.
Growing your own invites you to be more creative, and if your creation doesn’t turn out quite how you planned, you can go back out to the garden and find something else to make the flower arrangement better.
As the cutting garden evolves — once you realize a bouquet is more than just flowers plopped into a vase — the selection of plants diversifies. Shrubs and trees are selected for interesting foliage, colorful twigs or twisted branches, then harvested for inspirational floral creations. Some shrub branches are forced for late-winter blooms inside the home.
Harry’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) and corkscrew willow trees (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) become part of the garden for their curly branches harvested for fresh use in the vase or set aside to dry for future bouquets. The scarlet curly willow (Salix x matsudana ‘Scarcuzam’) is an ornamental asset in the garden with its red, curly branches.
Red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), which has bright-red stems, helps liven up Christmas décor with fresh cut twigs. Not as suckering as the red twig dogwood, the variegated Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’ IVORY HALOTM) is a fine deciduous shrub that matures to 8 to 10 feet tall. Use this shrub for its variegated foliage or bright-red stems, or choose its flowers for filler.
Shrub roses may also be a part of the cutting garden or placed in the border. A Damask rose (Rosa ‘Mme Hardy’), dating back to 1832, is an exquisite, fragrant, white rose with a touch of blush.
Harvesting flowers sometimes leaves an ornamental garden without color. You want to go out and cut those tall spires of midnight-blue delphinium blossoms you grew from seed imported from Dowdeswell’s Delphiniums in New Zealand. Harvesting them spoils the show in the garden. The solution is to grow a cutting garden in a corner of the yard or integrate the plants into the vegetable garden. Annual flowers planted right in with the vegetables not only attract pollinators but give the garden visual appeal.
The cutting garden hosts the flamboyant, spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils, Dutch iris and tulips, which are planted in large quantities in fall. Once the bulbs finish flowering and the soil warms up, plant out annuals among the dying foliage of the bulbs. This allows the bulb foliage to ripen while the annuals settle into their new home.
Spring-flowering peonies such as peony (Paeonia ‘Leslie Peck’) are exceptional for spring bouquets. Select a mixture of annuals, bulbs and summer-flowering perennials and cut them during their peak blooming times. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum ‘Double Azalea Apricot’) are a good example of “cut and come again” flowers.
Sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Butterpat’) is not a weed at all and is a welcome perennial addition for the vase with its tall, stiff stems topped by cheery, yellow, daisy-like blossoms. On the opposite side of the color wheel, sea holly (Eryngium planum) produces excellent fresh and dried flowers.
Annuals are usually a good source for cut flowers. Zinnia ‘Magellan Scarlet’ is a commendable annual worth planting for late-summer flowers every year. They will keep producing flowers if you keep them from going to seed. Keeping the flowers picked and deadheading any spent flowers will prevent an annual from setting seed and signaling the plant that its life cycle is complete. The drawback to annuals is that they have to be planted every year.
Biennials are another group of plants that offer a selection for cut flowers. In their second year of life, Canterbury bells (Campanula medium ‘Calycanthema’) shoot up some of the most spectacular floral displays. When finished, they set seed and die.
The drawback to biennials is the two-year wait from the first seeding. Sowing seed every year gives a continual supply of flowers. If the plant is not a hybrid, simply let them plant themselves by allowing a few flower stalks to go to seed.
Perennials make a fine addition to a more permanent cutting garden. The drawback to them is that most flower for only a few weeks to a month, once a year. However, perennials add a variety of seasonal flowers to indoor bouquets.
There are many things to consider in choosing a plant for your cutting garden, including the length and strength of the stems and, of course, how the flower holds up in a vase.
How to Harvest Your Cut Flowers
The best time to harvest flowers for longevity is in the morning. Once the temperature rises in the day, the flowers lose water. When harvesting flowers, useful tools to bring out to the garden include a container of warm water to drop the newly cut stems in, and a sharp pair of pruners or scissors. Sharp scissors won’t crush the stems and inhibit water uptake. Once the stem is cut, immediately slip the flower into the water.
After harvest, leave the flowers soaking in water for about eight hours in a cool, dark place. During that time, the stems take up water. When you arrange flowers in the vase, recut the stems at a slant so more cells are exposed to water. Slit woody stems up the middle with a knife and open them up some.
Sear the end of the stems of poppies, or any other sap-producing stems with a lighter lit under its end. With tulips and daffodils, take a sharp pin to the swollen green base of the flower and poke a small hole. This florist trick allows air bubbles to escape.
Cut most of your flowers when they are just coloring up and the outside petals or flowers are half-open. Cut flowers on racemes, such as Oriental lilies, just when the bottom flower is opening. Perennial and annual delphiniums and gladiolus and other similar plants do well with cutting this way.
As you become more accustomed to your cutting garden, you will become familiar with the best cutting time for each plant, both for fresh and dried flower bouquets.