By Sarah Wilson
Do you dream of planning a cut flower garden? Growing a selection of flowers to create arrangements rich in texture and color is immensely satisfying. All you need to do to get started is decide on a look, choose certain flowers you want to include, or a favourite color palette.
‘Think in terms of successional flowering too,’ says Carien van Boxtel, who designed a cut flower garden for 2021's RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. ‘Use space as economically as possible, with one bed for multiple crops. Once spring bulbs have finished flowering, replace them with plants grown from seed, like cosmos and sweet peas.’
Just remember, everyone’s cutting garden is different, so pick the right arrangement flowers for your flower bed ideas – and make sure they keep coming.
Planning a cut flower garden: cutting garden flowers to grow
The key to a productive cutting garden is to choose plants with many flowers that bloom for a long period of time.
‘My favorites are sweet peas, dahlias, Mexican sunflowers and cosmos,’ says stylist Selina Lake, whose new book Shed Style is out now. ‘These are great choices as picking the flowers regularly encourages more flowers to bloom, giving you a constant supply for cutting.’
Choose plants in color combinations you find appealing. ‘I like to mix vibrant pink cosmos and dahlias, and dusky pink zinnias with pops of orange from Mexican sunflowers and crocosmia for colorful late summer arrangements.’
Your plot needs to be in full sun and as your plants grow you may need to add stakes and supports to keep the blooms upright.
Every cutting garden needs roses. ‘I find that ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Constance Spry’, with their highly scented pink rosettes, work well with a few stems of nigella, whose lime-green feathery leaves top the purply-blue flower like the ring-setting for a glamorous jewel,’ says Jane Cumberbatch, author of Pure Style in the Garden.
‘The pink/ blue/lime-green combination is a favorite. I don’t usually go for elaborate vases and containers. A simple, utilitarian look tends to be my choice: glass jam jars, rounded pudding basins, enamelled jugs.’
For a regular supply of blooms, deadhead repeat-flowering shrub roses throughout the season. Pinch off the finished flower, just below where the base of the flower joins the stem.
Growing foliage for flower arrangements
Foliage works the same way in the garden as in arrangements. Use it as a filler and to add interesting architectural shapes. The idea is to make your design as three-dimensional as possible.
‘The more leafy stuff you use, the more your arrangement will look nicely home-made rather than florist-bought,’ says plant expert Sarah Raven.
‘For primary foliage, I often use euphorbia oblongata. It's brilliant acid-green color adds brightness and contrast, and it’s one of the best foliage plants because it has a robust, upstanding structure. It also has thin stems but a generous horizontal top, so you don’t need huge quantities to create the right effect.’
You can also achieve this with interesting grasses or seed pods, or vertical leaf spikes such as Bells of Ireland.
Cutting garden flowers for a sunny garden
Try tall and airy verbena bonariensis for graceful structure. Long flowering coreopsis adds a punchy pop of sunshine color, while phlox paniculata has clusters of gorgeous fragrant flowers. Floaty silk-petalled cosmos add an ethereal touch and the tall spires of erysimum bring masses of mauve flowers to the mix. Combine these to create a naturalistic arrangement.
‘Fill out your vase with stems of pittosporum, perfect for providing limitless foliage to use as a backdrop for brighter colors, plus a great filler shrub for sunny borders,’ says garden designer Amelia Bouquet.
Sweet peas are the perfect choice for a container. They are an abundant source of cut flowers and come in an array of pretty colors.
Cutting garden flowers for a shady garden
During the summer months, astilbe is the star of the cutting garden with its elegant plumes of feathery flowers and attractive ferny foliage, while starry shaped astrantia blooms are perfect for creating lacy drifts.
‘Both are striking plants that love a shady dappled spot and look equally good in the vase,’ says Amelia Bouquet.
Alchemilla mollis is one of the prettiest foliage plants around. The velvety soft fan-shaped leaves add a pretty effect and can be used to introduce detail to a delicate arrangement too. For containers, try orange calendula (marigolds) for a stunning display. They will tolerate shady conditions, and make excellent cut flowers for arrangements too.
Harvesting cutting garden flowers – the right way
Cut your flowers when they’re about to show some color. For best results, collect cut flowers early in the morning when their stems are fully turgid (filled with water) and avoid picking them if it’s hot or sunny. Put the stems straight into a bucket of water before arranging.
Many annuals, such as sweet peas, as well as some perennials will bloom over a longer period if picked regularly. Follow the stem you want to pick until you reach the main stem and cut at this intersection. Do not leave parts of the stem behind.
Multiply your stock by collecting seed. Wait until a dry day towards the end of summer, pick the dry seeds of a healthy plant. Shake the stem to let the seeds fall in a container or put a paper bag around the seed head and cut the stem. Hang it upside down to dry. Don’t forget to label when dry.
Planning a cut flower garden layout
When it comes to the practicalities of a cut flower garden layout, remember that knowing how to plant a flower bed so that cutting beds are easily accessible is vital – and your compost heap and water supply should be nearby, too.
‘You will also need to think about staking and supporting your flowers, especially if they’re in an exposed spot,’ says garden designer Carien van Boxtel.
If you’re limited by the size of your garden, create a perennial cut flower bed within your existing borders. ‘It means you don’t have to section off areas of ground when space is already tight,’ adds Amelia Bouquet who trained in garden design at the English Gardening School.
‘It's a much more sustainable way of growing flowers for arranging in your home and avoids buying ones that have been flown halfway across the world. Intersperse flowers you wish to use for cutting with shrubs and herbaceous perennials.’
The general rule for cut flower gardens is to grow the plants in lines, which requires lots of space. Instead combine cutting flowers in looser groups amongst other planting. Choose flowers that multitask, looking good in both garden borders and indoor arrangements.
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