Gardening, for many, is a hobby that offers the respite they’re seeking, and time spent out in the garden is an end in itself. Increasingly, however, gardens are being created to supply or enhance a different pastime, and specialty gardens are sprouting up all over. What is a specialty garden? Any contained group of plants specifically chosen to fill a particular need. Many of my clients have requested cutting gardens over the years, and here are a few things I ask clients to consider before I sit down at the design board:
Choose the right plants
Photos of cutting gardens are so very enticing, featuring loads of heady blooms in a plethora of colors. The key to a successful garden is refining it to suit your taste and style, which means an artful curation of color, size, shape and bloom time. If you never buy giant yellow zinnias from your local florist, chances are good that you will not pick them from your garden, no matter how alluring the seed catalog photos are. You’ll be most likely to utilize your garden if it features 2 or 3 hues that work well with your interior décor. Think about the size and shape of the flowers; you don’t want to end up with all ‘filler’ material, or a plot full of spikey flowers. A combination of shapes that includes frothy or cascading, upright, and large-head allows the greatest arranging flexibility. Season of bloom is important, too. I like to include shrubs with flowers that continue for a long time, such as Hydrangeas, as well as perennials that peak in early-, mid-, and late-summer. Annuals play a pivotal role for two reasons: they can be changed easily from year to year as an inexpensive way to try out different shapes and color, and they bloom for a long period of time, daunted only by frost. Finally, don’t forget the other parts of the plant. Leaves, seed heads, and branches all make unusual and exciting contributions to an arrangement
Plant for good care and easy harvesting
Clients are often very surprised when they learn how much space a truly productive cutting garden requires. Each plant needs room to grow, and enough navigable space around it for grooming, watering, feeding and harvesting. A fair quantity of each type of plant is necessary to assure substantial bouquets all season long, and when one is considering bulbs, annuals, perennials, shrubs and perhaps climbers, the numbers add up. The most useful cutting gardens are laid out just like their vegetable counterparts: in rows, with sufficient walking space between the planting beds. It’s best to put the plants that require similar horticultural practices together. Bulbs flower in spring, and are fed once – heavily -- after flowering. However, their leaves must remain intact (no cutting, rubber-banding or braiding!) until the plant has processed enough food for next year’s flowering. In most cases, that means you’ll be looking at dwindling foliage until July. I like to plant bulbs toward the back of the garden, and pop in the taller annuals in June, between their ripening leaves. Annuals go through an entire life cycle in one season, and benefit from regular water and feeding. Use a liquid fertilizer so it’s absorbed by the plant quickly. Perennials come back year after year, and need room to spread their roots. They prefer weekly watering, and a nice deep drench, at that. Most perennials don’t need fertilization, but a springtime slow-release granular feed is considerate. Sun is an essential ingredient for a successful cutting garden, and ‘sun’ means at least 6 hours per day. While you can have a shade cutting garden, the flowers will be delicate and less bountiful, and it’s wise to plan for great foliage to add drama.
Condition the plant material
One essential charm of the cutting garden is being able to dash out at a moment’s notice and grab an armful of your own flowers just before the guests arrive. However! If you want the longest possible life from your bouquets, there are a few simple tricks. The flowers should be cut early in the morning before the sun has warmed their faces, and preferably while still covered in dew. You should have a bucket of warmish water at the ready, and a pair of sharp pruning shears. I like to bring a tall plastic pitcher (not too heavy) with a wide enough base to sit on the ground without tipping over. Choose your flower, and – leaving as long a stem as possible -- snip the stem diagonally. Strip off unnecessary leaves, and plunge the stem into your pitcher. Prepare your vase by filling it with warm water, adding a bit of commercial flower food. Re-cut each flower stem, again on the diagonal, as you arrange. Theoretically, your finished arrangement should be stored in a cool dark place while the flowers rehydrate and get a little food in their systems, but who wants to wait for that? An exciting note about peonies: if cut while the buds are still in the soft marshmallow stage, they can be wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in the vegetable crisper for up to a month. When you’re ready to use them, cut the stems on the diagonal and put them in warm water in a cool dark place. They’ll open right up. This is an amazing thing, and actually works.
If you’re in the market for a stunning cutting garden, or simply want to talk about ways to make your outdoor spaces more useful or beautiful, give DLTC a call. Ask for Jon, Dave or Pat, and let’s get started!
Note: photos from Pat Lammers' personal cutting garden.
Connect with Pat: firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.338.9696