In all of the research I have been doing over the last few weeks, I keep coming back to the same conclusion: the key to a successful urban cutting garden is thoughtful planning before planting. I know that in most cases we talk about careful planning, but for this project the decisions we make before we begin, guide how we proceed.
The single most important question to ask yourself is what you really want from a cutting garden. Are you wanting a garden primarily for the satisfaction of growing and snipping your own, hand-raised blossoms, or do you dream of producing bouquets that rival those of the local florist?
While raising professional quality bouquets throughout the entire growing season can be done, it does require a great deal of dedicated space, a broader plant list, a tight succession of sewings and a frequent harvesting of blooms in all stages of growth. The garden itself won’t always look attractive. On the other hand, planting flowers to fill your vases can lend itself to today’s lifestyle.
Regardless of which path you choose, it’s important to understand that not all flowers make good cut flowers. Great cut flowers share five essential characteristics:
- They hydrate well. Once cut, the stems continue to take up water, keeping the foliage and petals from quickly wilting.
- They have a reasonable vase life. Some varieties last only a day or two in a vase. Unless you’re willing to frequently change out the entire arrangement, plant specifies that will last seven to ten days.
- They have longer stems. Eighteen inches is usually the minimum length needed for most formal arrangements. It’s best to avoid planting compact varieties.
- They have straight stems. Twisted stems can add interest to a bouquet, but straight stems are easier to work with, especially for a beginner.
- They make you smile. You will cut and use flowers that you love.
Once broad types of flowers has been established, then the fun of picking specific varieties to plant for your future floral display can begin. Professional floral designers use a combination of six different kinds of materials to create their masterpieces. They begin with structural pieces, then add one or two focal elements, some supporting flowers, a few fillers, something for texture and then they fill in the holes with airy materials.
Structural pieces provide a framework for the design. Small branches and stems from existing trees and shrubs can work well, eliminating the need for a specific planting in a small space garden.
Focal flowers are the stars of the show; They immediately pull your eyes and draw your attention. Focal flowers tend to be big, showy specimens like dahlias and sunflowers. Most bouquets only have a very few focal flowers, but since they are usually large flowers, they can take up a fair amount of square footage in a small urban garden.
If focal flowers are the show-stoppers, then Supporting flowers are the contrasting ones that add depth to the arrangement. Grow varieties whose shapes complement the focal flowers. Spiky blooms like salvias and discs shaped flowers like ranunculus work well. Grasses can be excellent for supporting material too.
Fillers, textural choices and airy flowers work together to add dimension and fullness to the bouquet. All three usually have smaller flowers and may have branching shapes. Gypsophila, for example, is a beautiful yet productive and easy to grow filler plant. Two-thirds of your cutting garden should be planted with a variety of filler and textural flowers .
Another consideration – and to many the most important one – is the color palette of the bouquets. Most of us have an immediate emotional response to color. It can be a determining factor in whether or not we like something enough to have it in our homes. Knowing what you love, and thinking about which of those colors will work well together in an arrangement, helps to avoid having plots of flowers that you never use.
Here in the middle of Missouri, because of intense heat, withering winds and sporadic rains, it can sometimes be difficult to consistently grow lush flowers that are always perfect for cutting. There are varieties however, that not only work well in a harsh climate but are also excellent flower choices for an urban cut flower bed. In order to make your garden center shopping easier, Embassy has put together a list of their top choices. Click here for a printable copy.
Since I do not have even one artistic bone in my body, I know that my summer bouquets will not begin to compare with the store bought ones I’ve been buying for years. What I do know though, is that they will be created with love, and with the health of the planet in mind.