There is inherent discord among gardeners: to cultivate and lovingly raise flowers or to cut and share them with others. I believe there’s a bit of both in every gardener, especially when spring comes around.
The cutting garden was imagined to skirt this issue. Setting aside an area to grow blooms for cutting — essentially a vegetable garden for flowers — lets you snip stems in their prime without any angst. I used to think cutting gardens were only for vast estates with a full groundskeeping staff, but I’ve come to realize you can be a casual cut flower gardener, tucking blooms amongst your perennials and shrubs or even in pots or planters.
One of the charms of such a garden is its dynamic change throughout the growing season. Keep in mind that most plants have a specific bloom time, meaning they will not flower continuously. Consider keeping a bloom time chart through the years that can help you choreograph an ongoing supply of flowers. You can even go as far as curating a specific color palette or selecting certain bloom forms, such as complementary or contrasting sizes and shapes. And if you like arranging, be sure to include varieties that make good fill, like foliage plants.
First-timers may want to stick with a few easy-to-grow flowers. Read plant tags and seed packets carefully, taking note of the hardiness zone and bloom times. You’ll want to organize your garden with the tallest plants in the back and those with the shortest stature in the front. One of my favorites, sweet pea, is a vining plant that needs netting or a trellis to climb. Tall annuals may require stakes or other supports as they grow. This is fortuitous if you like architectural garden structures like the three-dimensional tuteur. Place it in the middle of the garden for a focal point or even in pots.
Having the right tools for the right job makes cutting and arranging easy and pleasurable. Every cutting garden should be equipped with the tools of the trade: pruners, wire cutters, floral snips, chicken wire, vases and flower frogs. A large worktable with ample space for multiple vases and discarded foliage is a plus. If you have the room, keep all your vases in one area so you can easily assess the size, shape and fit for your flowers.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to arrangements. I like to think about the color, texture, scent and scale, while keeping in mind the intended setting or recipient. Some of the most beautiful bouquets are just handfuls of what is in season, quickly gathered and put in water. For other ideas, look to Mother Nature and how things grow together in the countryside. Fill a vase with clean, cold water and use floral snips to cut a half inch off each stem at a right angle. This allows for proper and effective hydration. For added panache, crisscross, alternate or twist together stems. Then decide whether to add more or leave as a simple statement.
You don’t need a sprawling estate or a seasoned green thumb to have a designated cutting garden and your vases filled all season long — just a desire and willingness to nurture. Right here in the North, we have some of the best garden centers, nurseries and experienced experts in the country. The neat thing about gardens and those who tend them is the shared passion and knowledge. It reminds me of a proverb: “He who plants a garden plants happiness.”