Gardening RX > A Garden Just for Flowers

One way to take advantage of the summer garden’s fleeting beauty is to have bouquets of freshly cut flowers in every room. But who wants to strip flower beds bare of bloom? The solution is easy—plant a garden just for cutting. If you have an empty spot out back or in the vegetable garden, fill the space with flowers.

“Growing cut flowers at home is simply a matter of choosing the right varieties and knowing when to cut,” says Greg Berger of Springledge Farm in New London. He grows 248 varieties of pick-your-own flowers on more than a third of an acre. “Whether from seed or transplants, many flowers are well suited to cutting. Check catalog descriptions or plant tags for height—plants should be at least eighteen inches tall—and for any reference to its use as a cut flower,” he advises. At Springledge, it’s easy to grow your own with a cut-flower assortment, which consists of twenty-four plants of between twelve and sixteen varieties that Berger and his staff find well suited for the area’s growing season.

Tips for starting a cutting garden

A cutting garden needs at least six hours of sun a day for optimum flower production. If you are using a section of your veggie patch, there probably is good, deeply dug, fertile soil. If not, you can always enrich it by digging in some compost or aged manure. Go easy on the fertilizers though; plants grown with too much nitrogen have lush green growth at the expense of flower production, or the flowers are so tender that they fade quickly when cut.

Plant your garden in rows or blocks, whatever makes for ease of picking and maintenance. This is a utilitarian space. facing page Daylilies, helenium and zinnias flourish in this summer cutting garden.You don’t have to worry too much about the arrangement of colors and heights here, as you will be cutting the flowers when they are about one-half to threequarters open. Keeping annuals picked encourages more blossoms to form, so don’t hesitate to strip the patch of all the flowers you can every few days. Don’t let them set seed or flower production will come to a halt.

Flowers that work well

Abigail Wiggin of Wake Robin Farm in Stratham knows a thing or two about growing cut flowers. She is the fourteenth generation of her family to farm the same land, although the twentyacre Wake Robin Farm is all that is left of the hundreds of acres the Wiggin family once owned in Stratham. “My parents started selling flowers and produce at the Seacoast Farmers’ Market thirty years ago. I was raised at the farmers’ market, and now I’m the president of the Seacoast Growers Association,” Wiggin says.

She grows a wide variety of flowers that she sells at her farmstand and at farmers’ markets around the Seacoast. “I never make the same bouquet twice,” she says. “They are all unique. I try to cut a variety of flower forms, shapes, sizes, textures and colors.”

Some of Wiggin’s favorites are branching sunflowers, coreopsis, cosmos and celosia. Spiky-shaped flowers such as astilbe, liatris, snapdragon, salvia, veronica and foxglove add height to arrangements. Composite flowers are made up of daisy forms such as aster, feverfew, marguerite, calendula, rudbeckia and coneflower. Don’t leave out the big showy blossoms of zinnias, phlox, dahlias, marigolds and cleome. For added fragrance, sweet peas, nicotianas, stock, carnations and other dianthus are essential.

Remember to plant some everlastings and good drying flowers, too. Baby’s breath, globe amaranth, statice and yarrow can be made into bouquets and dried for winter use. Greenery—such as herbs, ornamental grasses, ladies’ mantle, artemisia and funky seedpods—adds interest to your arrangements. “There are lots of great hybrids and heirlooms for home-cutting gardens,” says Wiggin. “Grow what you love, because the best bouquet for you has the flowers you like the most.”

Tips for creating long- lasting bouquets

Berger offers the following advice for most flowers:

¦ Cut flowers before they are fully open, usually when they are halfway open and showing color.

¦ Cut the longest stem possible to give you something to work with when arranging. ¦ Place stems in a pail of water as you cut them.

¦ Cut early in the morning when plant tissues are firm and not wilted.

¦ Use sharp clippers to make clean cuts and avoid crushing the stems.

¦ Recut the stems under water. When cut in the air, stems take in a bubble of air that inhibits movement of water up the stem. This shortens the life of the bouquet.

¦ Stand cut flowers in a dark, cool area for several hours to reduce transpiration (loss of moisture) from the leaves.

¦ Add floral preservative to the water in the vase.

¦ Arrange flowers and enjoy!

Water and sanitation are the two most critical elements in having longlasting bouquets. Bacteria can cause your cut flowers to wilt early. Remove any leaves that would be under water in your vase; they will only rot. Recut stems every time you change the water. Changing the water every other day and adding a few drops of bleach to it will keep your bouquet fresh-looking longer.

Creating the right pH balance

Light affects the sugar content of plants, so keep your arrangements out of the sun and away from heat. Flowers last longest in acidic water (pH 3.0-5.5) because it is absorbed more rapidly and deters the growth of micro-organisms. There are commercial fl oral preservatives, like Floralife™, that you can buy, or you can make a homemade version. A balance of acid, sugar and bleach is all that is necessary. One recipe calls for 1 teaspoon bleach and a can of 7-Up® (not diet) in a gallon of water. If you aren’t into buying soft drinks for your fl owers, try 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 teaspoons bleach per gallon of water. Wiggin says if you don’t want to use bleach, lemon juice works just as well because it helps acidify the water.

This is the perfect time to start a cutting garden—soon you’ll have armloads of fl owers to brighten your home and to share with friends!