How to Grow a Cutting Garden

A flower garden feeds your heart and soul. Meandering through it to explore what’s in bloom and snipping a few stems for an indoor bouquet is a peaceful, gratifying experience, especially if you’ve grown the flowers yourself. “Making a garden is a creative process,” says Jenny Rose Carey, author of The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Guide, garden historian and former senior director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbrook Farm. “You can express your individuality and personality, and it’s really about growing what you love. There’s no right or wrong way to design your garden.”

Historically, cutting gardens evolved from walled kitchen gardens, which supplied large estates with fruit and vegetables, and cottage gardens. The charm of a cutting garden is understandable: Being able to step outside and cut a few fresh flowers whenever you like is appealing, and your bouquets never need be elaborate. “Part of the joy is to cut little posies, or miniature bouquets, and place them throughout your house, such as on your desk, by the sink, on your nightstand. This allows you to observe your flowers up close and delight in the details,” says Carey.

Whether you’re a novice or experienced gardener, here’s how to start your own cutting garden:

Start small.

A cutting garden can be integrated into your existing garden beds or a have its own designated space, says Carey. If space is limited, plant in a large container, such as half-barrel or a series of pots grouped together. “Begin by growing just a few types of flowers, then expand as you gain confidence,” says Carey. “Even three zinnias in a vase can make you happy when placed where you can see it on a table or kitchen window.”

Choose the right location.

Most flowers need full sun, which is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day, so plan your site accordingly. “Watch your garden at different times of day to learn how much direct sun an area receives,” says Raleigh Wasser, horticulture manager at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “If creating raised beds, make them no wider than 4 feet so you can reach everything and won’t have to stand on the planting bed, which will compact soil.” When choosing perennial plants, which return year after year, make sure they can survive winters in your USDA Hardiness zone (find yours here).

Think about the progression of seasons.

Flowers should be grown in succession from spring to fall so that something is always in bloom, says Carey. Think spring bulbs, which are planted in the fall, such as daffodils, tulips, and muscari. Next come hardy annuals that don’t mind a chill such as sweetpeas, larkspur, pansies and violas, as well as biennials such as foxgloves and perennials such as columbine. Herbs offer a transition into summer with flowering chives and borage. Summer is the season to celebrate annuals such as zinnias and cosmos and perennials such as yarrow, salvias, black eyed Susans, and coneflowers. By early autumn, it’s dahlias, chrysanthemums and asters.

a colorful bouquet of freshly picked wild flowers from a natural meadow and garden presented on a table outdoors in a clear round bubble bowl glass vase fence in the background

Photographer

Mix and match shapes and forms.

We all gravitate toward certain colors and have personal preferences, but think about form, too. Plant flowers of various heights and silhouettes, and combine lacey, loose flowers with spikey flowers or those that are sphere-shaped. “What makes an interesting bouquet is to mix the shape and scale of the flowers with small, medium and large blooms together in a vase,” says Carey.

Plant seeds, bulbs and plants.

Purchasing plants gives your garden a head start on the season. But don’t dismiss planting seeds as too complicated. “There’s something magical about growing something from seed,” says Wasser. Direct seed reliable performers such as nasturtiums, cosmos, and sunflowers in beds (if rodents such as chipmunks visit your garden, place a piece of chicken wire over the seedbed to discourage digging). “Bulbs such as daffodils, agapanthus and ornamental alliums also are excellent choices because they have long stems for display, you plant them once and most return for years with little care from you,” says Wasser. Don’t be discouraged if something fails: That’s how you learn.

Harvest flowers often.

For many annuals, the more you cut, the more blooms you’ll have. Cut in the cool of the morning, remove all foliage below the water line, and change the water in vases daily. Keep the vase out of direct sunlight and recut the stems after a day or two to help bouquets last longer, says Carey. Add interest by clipping small branches of flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, leaves from ornamental plants such as hostas, evergreens, twigs and autumn leaves. “Go see what’s out there, and don’t worry about how long it lasts in a vase,” says Carey. “Even two days is worth it if you enjoy it.”

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