Grow a Cutting Garden for Pesticide-free Bouquets

This summer consider planting your own small cutting garden to fill your vases.

Credit: Stock image

This summer consider planting your own small cutting garden to fill your vases

Farmers’ markets can be a great source of colourful, fragrant cut flowers that are produced locally, grown organically, and harvested and arranged within a day of sale – all the criteria necessary for a long-lasting, environmentally friendly bouquet. But this summer consider also planting your own small cutting garden to fill your vases with fresh seasonal cut blooms and foliage. With proper planning, a few key plants can provide stems for display all year round.

A sunny location will provide the best environment for blooms to develop and open; an area that receives six hours or more of sun is considered full sun. The soil should be loose, organically enriched and well drained. To prepare the soil, add up to 25 per cent well-composted organic matter, such as leaves and kitchen compost. Apply organic granular fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s recommended rate, and after planting, mulch with a few inches of Sea Soil (fish compost). Plants grown in soil with optimal levels of texture and nutrients will produce plenty of healthy long-lasting blooms and be able to fight off disease or stress. Once the sunny spot is located and the site is ready, the next step is to choose the plants.

Select plants suitable in size for your space and that offer blooms or foliage at different times of the year. Consider colour, fragrance, texture and lasting power. Will it complement your interior design with suitable colours? Does it offer a fresh fragrance that you would welcome, or is it overpowering? Does it last when cut or will it fade in a day? Do your research before you buy. Recommendations and ideas for cut flowers can be found on the Internet and many garden-centre plant tags now offer all the information you need, including whether the plant is suitable for cut flowers.


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An annual application of an all-purpose organic fertilizer will provide trace elements and NPK, and a bi-weekly application of an organic liquid fertilizer will support bud and blossom development; applied as a foliar and root feed it may also help prevent mildew and black spot. Mulch annually in early spring to provide nutrients, protect the roots from heavy spring rains, slow the germination of weed seeds, and help cool the root zone and conserve water during the summer. To prevent insects from attacking buds as they develop, an early-June application of ladybugs is recommended.

A few simple cutting techniques ensures stems last as long as possible – nothing is more disappointing than a bouquet that withers after only two days. Water your plants deeply the evening before to allow for maximum cell water intake. Cut early in the morning, just as the sun rises, using sharp clean pruners. Plunge the stems immediately into a bucket of water. Place bouquets in cooler areas of the house, out of direct sun, and change the water daily, trimming the flower stems to remove calluses that impede water flow.

Whether you purchase farmers’-market bouquets or grow your own, you will be supporting the local economy and the concept of low-mileage gardening, as well as benefiting the environment by reducing transportation and encouraging wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies.

Look for old favourites, such as hydrangeas, lavender, stocks, lilies, eucalyptus, peonies, dahlias, roses, clematis, delphiniums, pussy willows and Russian sage – or try some of these new introductions:

Spring-fling shrubs

Cut branches for vases and enjoy an early spring!

Syringa x hyacinthiflora 'Maiden Bush'
Maiden’s Bush/courtesy Proven Winners

Forsythia Arctic Fire™: This new compact version of an old favourite blooms from the ground right to the top of the shrub. Bright-yellow early-spring blooms form along the length of the stems. Deer resistant. Hardy to zone 4 (see page 8 for zone listings).      

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’: One of the earliest lilacs to bloom, it is very fragrant and loaded with masses of light-mauve blooms. As with all lilacs, sweeten the soil annually with a cupful of lime. Beneficial for early butterflies, it grows up to 3 m (10 ft.) high and 2.2 m (7 ft.) wide. Zone 3.

Summer-blooming annuals

Annuals grown from seed each spring are staples in summer bouquets, and a wide array is offered at garden centres. Look for these new introductions of two old favourites, sweet pea and sunflower.

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Angels Blush’: This new sweet-pea hybrid produces masses of large, clear-pink, scented blooms over a long period. Suitable for small spaces and ideal for baskets and containers as they reach only 60 cm (2 ft.).

Helianthus annuus ‘Taiyo’: This Japanese sunflower is a striking orange-yellow with chocolate centres. Blooms are 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in.) across and the plant grows up to 3 m (10 ft.) tall. A long-lasting bloom, this sunflower makes a statement in the garden.

Perennials for summer-through-fall flowers

Once established, perennials are a great garden investment, offering fabulous blooms every season. Here a few new varieties of old favourites.

Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy'
Cherry Brandy/courtesy Proven Winners

Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Poodle’: This coneflower sports a fluffy pink blossom, somewhat resembling a dahlia. Long 80-cm (32-in.) stems are strong enough to support the 10-cm (4-in.) bloom. Zone 4. Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’: The first offering of a double orange, this has a slight honey scent. Strong stems support the vibrant 7.5-cm (3-in.) blooms. Zone 4.

Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’: The brightest and reddest of them all, this coneflower with single blooms 12.5-cm (5-in) across can flower solidly for up to two months in the garden. Zone 4.

Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’: Pair this one with its cousin ‘Goldsturm’ for gold and velvety red baroque-inspired bouquets. ‘Cherry Brandy’ features cherry-red petals perfectly spaced around an elegant chocolate centre. Although ‘Goldsturm’ is hardy to zone 3, and well worth planting, ‘Cherry Brandy’ is best treated as a half-hardy annual; it may or may not return, so save a few seeds and re-sow come spring. Like ‘Goldsturm’, however, it does bloom its heart out, offering loads of bouquets from summer right through fall.

Gaillardia 'Fanfare'
Fanfarecourtesy Heritage Perennials

Gaillardia ‘Fanfare’: A native perennial, the salsa-coloured blooms of red, orange and yellow will spice up the garden and the trumpet-shaped petals offer texture in bouquets. Just as beautiful is Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’.  Zone 5.

Sedum spectabile ‘Neon’: Blooms from summer to late fall, until the first frost arrives. Lovely, full, neon-pink blooms top stems with blue-green succulent foliage. Very drought tolerant. Zone 4.

Winter foliage

Use these colourful stems and foliage to brighten up the grey days of winter.

Cornus Stolonifera 'Arctic Fire'
Arctic Fire/courtesy Proven Winners

Cornus stolonifera Arctic Fire™: Brilliant-red stems of red-twig dogwood light up bouquets or the garden. To encourage fresh new growth, prune hard and often in the spring. This variety is compact, growing to only 1.2 m (4 ft.). For brilliant-yellow choose Cornus alba ‘Bud’s Yellow’. Zone 3.

Ilex meserveae Castle Spire™: A Proven Winners introduction, this blue holly with red berries must be planted near Castle Wall™ for pollination. Both offer lush, glossy blue foliage, perfect for holiday decorating. Zone 5.

Ilex verticillata Berry Nice ®: This winterberry bears masses of bright-red berries that are displayed after the foliage drops. Requires a pollinator, such as Ilex ‘Jim Dandy’. Attracts winter birds. Zone 3.

Ilex crenata Sky Pointer™: A lovely columnar Japanese holly with tight, glossy evergreen foliage. Use it to fill in arrangements and trim out the mantelpiece. Deer resistant. Zone 6.

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