Long-blooming flowers make for lovely summer bouquets, and an attractive border.
I CREDIT THE FACT that I’ve managed to stay married to such a good-looking and intelligent woman (you never know who is going to be reading this) because I never fail to surprise her with a beautiful bouquet on her birthday with flowers right out of the garden.
The problem is that it’s difficult to rob my mixed border of its beautiful blooms to make flower arrangements. Fortunately, if you have a little extra garden space, you can create a cutting garden. All you need is an out-of-the-way sunny area with rich, well-drained soil. If drainage is poor, construct raised beds, and fill them with quality potting soil. A cutting garden doesn’t have to be huge: A 4-foot-wide-by-10-foot-long bed can supply all the flowers needed for spectacular bouquets all summer long.
Pick plants that pump out plenty of blooms all season, such as zinnia, scabiosa, salpiglossis and cleome. Perennials that keep producing after cutting include campanula, dahlia, gerbera daisies, evergreen penstemon, phygelius, agastache and salvia.
Leave a little space for a few perennials, with really showy flowers such as delphinium, globe thistle and oriental lilies. They rarely rebloom, but they make fantastic centerpieces for special occasions. Nothing beats a fragrant rose in an arrangement, so add a couple of repeat bloomers in your cutting bed as well. Keep your cutting garden blooming away by fertilizing and watering regularly, and pick your flowers often to promote prolific blooming.
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Composing bouquets can be a bit daunting, so I asked floral designer Debra Prinzing, author of “Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm” (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013) and host of the “Slow Flowers” podcast, for expert advice.
She recommends starting with a vase with a slightly wider mouth than base dimension, a shape that encourages cascading bouquets rather than upright ones. Allow stems to gracefully fall where they like, rather than stuffing the vase with a tight handful of stems that stand upright and rigid.
Add an equal ratio of foliage as flowers in the arrangement. Most home gardeners have plenty of foliage to choose from. Some of Prinzing’s favorites include lady’s mantle, hosta, lamb’s ears, purple basil, scented geranium foliage, heuchera and ninebark. Most flowers will continue to open once cut; therefore, to ensure longer bloom time in the vase, select varieties that are at least half open and showing petal color. Dahlias are the exception because they do not continue to open once cut, so pick when the flowers are looking their best.
An easy way to design your bouquet is to employ the “thriller, spiller, filler” technique used in container gardening. The “thrillers” are the showstoppers, like sunflowers, delphiniums, dahlias, larger zinnias, roses and peonies. The “spillers” are elements that cascade over the rim of your vase, such as clematis, pea vines, ornamental grasses and amaranth. The “fillers” are the textural elements that add fine details and fill the negative space. Feverfew, astilbe and heuchera blooms, Queen Anne’s lace, dianthus, yarrow, goldenrod and love-in-a-mist work well in this role.
For a longer-lasting bouquet, Prinzing advises starting with a clean vase and making cuts with clean, sharp clippers. Change the water every day or two and, if practical, recut the stems every couple of days. She advises against flower food because pouring it down the drain after the arrangement is spent could be harmful to the environment.
Finally, if you shop for cut flowers, look for labeling that indicates the blooms are Certified American Grown, or buy them at a farmers market. To find a flower farmer or florist committed to supplying local and seasonal flowers, check out Prinzing’s website at slowflowers.com.
So, if you are a troublemaker like me, remember the Ciscoe words of wisdom: A homegrown bouquet a day (or at least on birthdays) will keep the relationship counselor away!