Color Your World with a Cutting Garden

One of the growing season's greatest pleasures is the abundance of nature's flowering. There's such bounty you can bring it indoors with joyful abandon. By planting a cutting garden you'll be able to brighten your home with flowers in your favorite colors and scents.

Cutting gardens are like vegetable beds, but planted with flowers that do well in vases. You can mix these blooms with greenery and flowers from shrubs, trees, other landscape plants and ornamental grasses. When choosing what to plant, there are several factors to consider, so take a little time to think about your ideal mix. Local nurseries and gardeners are always happy to recommend plants that fit your needs.

Arranging for lasting beauty

"Use sharp shears and cut flowers in the morning when they are most resilient.

"Jeni Ambrose of Sacred Gardens says preparation is important. Re-cut the bottom of the stems under cool water and always cut them at an angle so they never sit flush on the bottom of the vase. This allows the water to move up the stem. Remove any buds or foliage that will be submerged in water.

"Be creative with vases. Canning jars add a country feeling, while a wine bottle adds romance. Children can have fun decorating old jars.

"Fill vase up to two-thirds full and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. If desired, add small pebbles or marbles to hold stems.

"Place greenery and accent plants in first, then add flowers from smallest to largest.

"Change water and inspect flowers every few days. Remove wilted ones and re-cut stems.

Try different arrangements around your home. A large, mixed vase is perfect for a dining or living area. An herb-flower mix brings inspiration to your kitchen. Smaller arrangements and bud vases brighten up bathrooms. A tall container with a few sunflowers, gladiolas or irises in your foyer greets you and your guests with a smile.

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Select varieties that bloom in different seasons for ongoing bouquets. Kelly Brainard of Ashland Greenhouses recommends bulbs such as tulips and daffodils for spring; Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum), lupine (Lupinus), delphinium, foxglove (Digitalis), echinacea and phlox for summer; and asters and dahlias in autumn. Many annuals are favored for cut flower gardens because they are so abundant, including zinnias, calendula, cosmos and marigolds. Stock and snapdragons add a vertical element. If you want a lower-maintenance garden, go for bulbs and self-seeding perennials like cone flower (echinacea), columbine (Aquilegia), rudbeckia, and daisy.

Color is another element to consider before planting. Choose varieties that match the interior of your home in shades you enjoy most. Plant a range of complementary hues for eye-catching, fun arrangements. Select both solid and multi-colored blooms for extra appeal. Include flowers with different shapes and sizes for interesting visual contrast. As a summer mix, for example, try generously sized single or clustered sunflowers with large zinnias, medium gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) and clustered phlox.

If you want to add scent as well as color, try paper-white narcissus, freesia, bearded iris and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). Aromatic landscape plants such as roses and lavender are standard additions to arrangements, but don't forget greenery such as pine, or herbs like mint and sage add scent as well.

Leave room for greenery and accent plants such as ferns, nandina, baby's breath (Gypsophilia paniculata) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatis). Jeni Ambrose of Sacred Gardens in Ashland encourages gardeners to think outside the cutting garden and use blooms and foliage from trees, shrubs, herbs and ornamental grasses. These can really add texture and interest to an arrangement, says Ambrose. She adds the dark accent of ornamental plum branches to spice up her bouquets. Rosemary is also useful in bouquets, she says, because it is both sturdy and aromatic.

Brainard says healthy soil and regular garden maintenance are natural keys to success. If you see a diseased plant, remove the affected part or the whole plant right away. Feed your flowers with compost. If deer frequent your neighborhood, set up protective fencing, or plant deer-resistant specimens like foxglove.

For the best results, cut flowers as they start to bloom. Remove all dead blooms to encourage the most vigorous continued flowering. Make notes on your calendar for any maintenance that perennials need, such as dividing bulbs and rhizomes in the fall.

With good care, a cutting garden will provide more than enough flowers, and arrangements make wonderful gifts. It's also a wonderful pleasure. "Leave time to wander and experience the landscape," says Ambrose. "Take in the colors and textures. Each time you look at your bouquet, you will be transported back to the serene place where you created it."


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