How to Grow a Cutting Garden

A flower garden feeds your heart and soul. Wandering around to explore what’s in bloom and cut a few stems for an indoor bouquet is a peaceful and rewarding 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 Meadowbrook Farm of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “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 vegetable gardens, which supplied large estates with fruit and vegetables, and cottage gardens. The charm of a cutting garden is understandable: Being able to go out and cut a few fresh flowers whenever you want is appealing, and your bouquets never need to be elaborate. “Part of the joy is cutting small bouquets or miniature bouquets and placing them throughout your home, such as on your desk, by the sink, on your bedside table. This allows you to observe your flowers up close and revel in the details,” says Carey.

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

Start small.

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

Choose the right location.

Most flowers need full sun, meaning 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day, so plan your site accordingly. “Monitor your garden at different times of the day to find out how much direct sun an area is getting,” says Raleigh Wasser, horticulture manager at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “If you’re creating raised beds, don’t make them wider than 4 feet so you can reach everything and don’t have to stand on the planting bed, which will compact the soil.” When choosing perennials, which come back year after year, make sure they can survive the winters in your USDA hardiness zone (find yours here).

Think about the progression of the seasons.

Flowers should be grown in sequence from spring to fall so that something is always in bloom, Carey says. Think of spring bulbs, which are planted in the fall, such as daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths. Next come the hardy annuals that do not fear the cold, such as sweet peas, larkspur, pansies and violas, as well as biennials such as foxgloves and perennials such as columbine. Herbs provide a transition to summer with blooming chives and borage. Summer is the season to celebrate annuals such as zinnias and cosmoses and perennials such as yarrow, salvias, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers. In early fall, it’s dahlias, chrysanthemums and asters.

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Mix and match shapes and forms.

We all gravitate towards certain colors and have personal preferences, but also think about shape. Plant flowers of different heights and silhouettes and combine loose lace flowers with prickly or sphere-shaped flowers. “What makes a bouquet interesting is mixing the shape and scale of the flowers with small, medium, and large blooms together in a vase,” says Carey.

Plant seeds, bulbs and plants.

Buying plants gives your garden a head start on the season. But don’t consider planting seeds too complicated. “There’s something magical about growing something from seed,” says Wasser. Direct seed from reliable performers such as nasturtiums, cosmos and sunflowers in flower 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 are also great choices because they have long stems to display, you plant them once and most come back for years with little care on your part,” Wasser explains. Don’t be discouraged if something fails: that’s how you learn.

Collect the flowers often.

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

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