Cutting Garden thoughts

Remember those bouquets I made last week?

Beginning with a little backstory to explain my thinking for this post…way, way back in the late 70’s when I began growing for market, I was focused on vegetables. We did a popular Saturday market in a college town, and I quickly found that Asian and Middle Eastern vegetables were a very profitable niche that no one else was filling (even the grocery stores didn’t carry much back then!) My 5 yr. old daughter went with me to market in those early days (her older sister stayed home to watch the little brother) and after watching the market for a few weeks, decided she wanted to sell flowers. So, she sold zinnias for 5 cents a stem, making her own change and charming her customers. Each week she wanted more flowers to sell and eventually, we devoted a small garden area to zinnias for cutting.

One of the problems with the flowers, however, was that if they didn’t sell at market (for instance, on a rainy Saturday with few customers) all that time and effort was an entire waste. You can’t can or freeze zinnias, or turn them into sauce or soup. Hard to be profitable in that case.

About this same time, I began growing gourds for crafting, and along with my sewing and painted items, we had enough stock for booths at fall and winter shows. I wanted another product line, and decided to grow drying flowers for bunches and wreaths. This was a huge advantage in many aspects. It gave us cut flowers to sell at market (we began taking 20 bouquets a week) and if they didn’t sell, we simply stripped off all the foliage and hung them to dry. Eventually, we bought another field just for drying flowers and converted the entire upstairs of the barn and the entire chicken house into drying sheds! We planted over 1,000 gomphrena, 1,000 celosia, 1,000 statice, 500 strawflowers, ammobium, lots of feverfew and more. We sold big red, almost basketball sized celosia for $5 each…an exorbitant price back in those days! As the girls got older, they learned to make beautiful dried flower wreaths, and we’d take 40-50 to a large show, plus dried bunches. As we expanded, we shipped dried flowers to specialty shops in Naples, Florida. Our timing was perfect…it was the beginning of the dried wreath craze, when everyone was decorating “country style” and hanging baskets on the rafters.

So, I know A LOT about cutting flowers, but only those that are also good “everlastings.” I know LITTLE about which other flowers make good cutting flowers (other than zinnias!) Last week, when I had committed to making bouquets for a brunch, but had only the flowers in my borders to harvest I realized just how little I know about the durability and appropriateness of some flowers. Yes, I could have Googled, but I’m more of a “try it and find out” kinda gal. And, these bouquets only had to look good for a few hours, which as it turns out, was a good thing!

Here’s what I learned:

1) Iris that have been rained on and are waterlogged only look good for a very few hours. I had to replace the once I’d cut the night before the following morning.

2) Iris buds that are still closed WILL open nicely and look beautiful, eventually. I found this out when I broke off the top fully opened bloom on a stem, so I stuck the stem in a pop bottle and put it on the kitchen counter. Both lower buds eventually opened and looked lovely, but only last a couple of days each.

3) Kale flowers last 4-5 days, but drop petals as the lower flowers fade first, so be prepared for “table confetti.” Those dainty yellow flowers are really pretty in an arrangement though, so I’d use them again personally, but not for sale…

4) Viburnum flowers looked good for 3-5 days, then drooped. Maybe I should have preconditioned them in some way, or pounded the stems, or something else. May have to do some research…

5) Ornithogalum “Silver Bells” were terrific and lasted nicely a full week! I’ll definitely use them again, and grow more.

6) Hyacinthoides began drooping after only a few hours…so sad as they are stunning in a bouquet. However, they were fully open when cut, so maybe an earlier harvest might make a difference?

7) Tulips were also fully opened, and had been for a few days, so I didn’t expect them to last long and they didn’t…only a couple of days.

Pickings are not just “slim”, they’re entirely missing!

This was just one little experimental bouquet, and I’m looking forward to playing around with more. Today’s experiment will be a bouquet with the “Old Gold” iris and the “American” columbine. I think they look great together, but have no idea if columbines are good cut flowers. And you can see the “May Queen” shasta daisies in this garden are just beginning to open. The ones in the Cutting Garden are barely budded. Must be the “stored” heat or reflected sun from the brick house and the dark wooden deck. Micro-climates are so interesting, aren’t they?

Columbine, iris, and shasta daisies…a lovely living bouquet, if not a good cut one!

Meantime, I’m increasing the number of varieties in the Cutting Garden, and am trying to get some earlier blooms there so I don’t have to cut from the gardens. As you can see from the photo taken this week, there’s nothing much in bloom. So far, the only “early” blooms in the official Cutting Garden were daffodils, and now the Dames Rocket at the very far end and not visible in the photo, is just beginning to open. No buds on the ranunculus, but the bulbs arrived very late. Obviously, the selection for spring cutting needs to be expanded. Suggestions? Don’t say tulips…the Cutting Garden is close to the woods and the deer and rabbits are frequent diners….. In fact, many of the strawflowers and all but one lupine planted this week have already been on the menu! The deer repellent doesn’t work when it’s been raining (Sigh!)

Loving the purple alliums!

The alliums in the Front Garden, Front Island, and potager interior border look great, but I’m certainly not going to cut them. Alliums for the Cutting Garden are already on the list for the fall bulb order. What do you grow for spring bouquets besides daffodils, tulips and alliums?

About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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5 Responses to Cutting Garden thoughts

  1. bcparkison says:

    There is always something new to learn in gardening.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo Shafer says:

    Quite and interesting and informative story this morning, Carolee. My own garden no longer produces an abundance of early bulbs except grape hyacinths which don’t make good bouquets. Lilacs used to be great as spring fragrance in the house when I could reach the blooms; now, the lilac bushes are so high up that they bloom on the “ends” of tall branches. Peonies, on the other hand, are well within reach with monstrous heads of vibrant color; I have only to add bright blue cat mint to make a stunning display.


    • carolee says:

      I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed catmint. Thanks for that reminder. Know what you mean about the lilacs. Ours got frosted so all the blooms were brown tinged. I’ve had peonies, but inevitably the day they opened a storm would blow through, putting all the petals on the ground. However, in the cutting garden, I’d be harvesting at bud stage and letting them open in the house where they’d be protected from wind. Maybe I should give them another go. We used to dry hundreds of dark red peonies for use in wreaths and dried bouquets (not grown by us, but harvested at a nearby peony farm back in the old days…it’s gone now, sadly)


  3. Going Batty in Wales says:

    I can’t help you I’m afraid Carolee but I will be interested to hear more as you expand the range. I am still focussing on the veg garden plus shrubs for ornamentals as they need little work but hopefully soon I will have energy and time to spare to grow more flowers. Reading about the history of your business was fascinating. Do your daughters still enjoy gardening and making things with what they grow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolee says:

      They both still do some gardening for pleasure, but neither one was in any way interested in continuing the business. Can’t blame them…they are both super-smart and can make lots more money doing other things they like.

      Liked by 1 person

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