A cutting garden provides a local source of material for fresh flower arrangements. It can focus on one type of plant, like a spring garden with a variety of daffodils or tulips, or include an all-season variety that you can cut throughout the warmer months.
Whatever flowers you choose, choose those with long stems. These can be perennials (plants that will come back year after year) or annuals (those that only live for one year) or a mixture of the two. If you are planning mixed floral arrangements, also include filler and foliage plants to complete your design options.
A variety of daffodils and tulips make a lovely spring display and wonderful bouquets for the home. You can plant these bulbs in the fall in groups or scattered among other perennial plantings.
For a season-long cutting garden, consider perennials such as spring-flowering peonies (Paeonia) or bearded iris (Iris germanica), late spring-to-early flowering yarrow. (Achillea millefolium), summer-flowering garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) or purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and mid-summer to fall-flowering tickseed (Coreopsis).
While annuals will need to be replaced each year, their bloom time tends to be longer than perennials, often spanning months. Consider annuals such as cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) and zinnias (Zinnia elegans) for a variety of colors and as long-lasting additions to your cutting garden.
The inclusion of filler plants such as baby’s breath (baby’s breath) and dill (Anethum graveolens) as well as foliage plants such as coleus (Coleus scutellarioides) or hosta (Hosta) will complete your cut flower arrangements.
A cutting garden can take the form of a traditional garden plot with straight rows, a raised bed, an island planting, or a row of flowers along a driveway. Whichever design you choose, make sure each plant will be within easy reach for easy cutting.
Keep the needs of the plants you want to grow in mind when selecting a location. Just like when planning any other garden bed, for a successful cutting garden you will need a site with good soil and plenty of sun (six to eight hours a day), although there is bouquet-worthy flowers that do well in partial shade, such as astilbe.
Start by removing all the weeds from the garden bed and turning the soil to loosen it. If the soil needs amendments, like compost or a slow-release fertilizer, add it to the bed at this time.
A soil test will help determine the fertility of the soil. You can have your soil tested through the University of Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Testing Laboratory (pss.uvm.edu/ag_testing).
When designing the planting layout, consider each plant’s mature size, width and height, and allow enough space between them to allow for anticipated growth. Perennials in particular will expand their footprint, so be sure to leave enough space between them to avoid overcrowding. Place taller plants behind shorter plants so they don’t block light from shorter plants.
Annuals work well to fill the empty space between young perennials that have not yet reached full growth.
Additionally, supports for taller plants such as dahlias and delphiniums should be in place when setting up the garden. Adding a layer of mulch as a finishing touch will help suppress weeds.
As the season progresses, be sure to keep your cutting garden well watered and remove weeds to encourage healthy, productive plants. Removing faded blooms will encourage many plants to produce more blooms, giving you months of fresh-cut flowers to enjoy in your home.
Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM Extension Master Gardener from North Adams, Massachusetts, part of the Bennington County Chapter in Vermont.