JUNE IS NEARLY here, but it’s not too late to plant a cutting garden that will keep you in blooms for the rest of the summer and well into fall. I reached out to my good friend Debra Prinzing, founder of Slow Flowers Society (slowflowerssociety.com), a community of flower farmers and floral designers who know a thing or two about growing beautiful blooms.
“Annuals are the most affordable way to have cut flowers all summer long,” Prinzing says. “Savvy flower farmers succession-sow crops of cutting garden annuals every two weeks throughout summer to keep waves of blossoming stems coming on.”
I remember that when I was new to gardening, I had a hard time mastering the difference between an annual, a perennial, a tender perennial or the inexplicable “perennial, often grown as an annual.” So, allow me to simplify: The life cycle of a true annual — from seed to flower to seed — happens in the course of a single growing season. Yes, the plant dies, but before doing so, it blooms its head off in an effort to set seed and carry on its progeny. This is good for gardeners, flower lovers and, incidentally, pollinators.
This summer, Prinzing is trialing a series of easy annuals in the Slow Flowers Cutting Garden for Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com), including the following varieties that set me to sowing:
Available in light pink, dark pink and white, cosmos are a cutting garden favorite. “The spectrum isn’t diverse, but nuanced colors add layers of interest to floral work,” Prinzing says. ‘Xsenia’ produces luminous blooms with “ ’60s pop art pink petals” subtly shaded with terra-cotta orange. Compact plants grow to 24 inches; when plants are 8- to 10-inches tall, pinch out tips to encourage branching and more blooms. ‘Afternoon White’ is a classic, bred for cut flower production with large 2- to 4-inch blooms with bright yellow centers produced on strong stems. Just like it sounds, ‘Cupcakes Blush’ is a sweet confection. Semidouble blooms with finely-pleated petals that look like cupcake wrappers are produced on plants that grow 40- to 50-inches tall.
Prinzing has dedicated an entire 4- by 8-foot bed in her garden to sunflowers. ‘ProCut White Nite’ produces single-stem plants topped with 4- to 6-inch creamy yellow flowers with dramatic dark centers. As with other ProCut varieties, the pollen-free blooms won’t muss up your dining table. Do not pinch single-stem sunflowers, but sow them every two weeks for a continuous harvest. ‘Strawberry Lemonade Mix’ just sounds like summer. Tall, branching plants produce blooms in shades of creamy yellow to blush pink to deep wine red over a long period of time from a single sowing. The more you pick, the more they bloom. In my garden, I’m looking forward to harvesting ‘Chocolate’, a branching sunflower with loads of Hershey brown blooms.
‘Queen Lime Orange’ is the new “it girl” of the cutting garden. Large double and semidouble blooms with juicy apricot and lime petals and a rosy pink center top tall plants that grow 30 to 40 inches. ‘Jazzy Mix’ is a blend of petite 1- to 2-inch blooms in bright and earthy shades outlined with cream, red or yellow. “Colorful seed mixes almost design their own bouquets,” says Prinzing.
Prepare cut flower planting beds as you would for growing vegetables, with good soil in full sun and attentive watering. In fact, cultivate cut flowers alongside your edible crops to feed body and soul. Harvest stems for bouquets or remove spent flowers (deadhead) to keep blooms coming. Prinzing’s latest book, titled “Where We Bloom: Intimate, Inventive, Artistic Floral Spaces” from Bloom Imprint, has just published. Visit the Slow Flowers website for purchasing information.