By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training
Last October as I planted the last of my fall bulbs, my thoughts turned to what next??? How to extend my garden experience by stretching the season. I adore flowers in the house and between retirement and lockdowns seem to have the time so why not try a cutting garden?
I have no experience with the subject matter and it made sense to find some resources. A good comprehensive book is “Floret Farms Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein. It covers the basics of cut flower gardening as well as highlighting tips for commonly grown flowers. How to plan, grow, harvest and even some basics on arranging. This book proved to be a doorway into a plethora of other references and websites on the subject. “YouTube” was also a plentiful source of information.
Site selection is key. Most cutting flowers require full sun and well drained, fertile soil. A site sheltered from the wind is preferable. I decided on an area on the west side of the house where the sunshine is ample and my water source is nearby. Since it will be windy, the support provided to the plants is important and will be discussed in future entries. The final length of a bed will depend on the amount you want to grow. The recommended width is 4 feet. This width allows you to reach the entire bed without stepping into the bed. The type of flowers to grow is personal preference but regardless of the variety, look for plants with long stems and lots of blooms. Try to have plants that bloom in the spring (eg. snapdragons), summer (eg. zinnias) and fall (eg. dahlias). If space is limited, skip the plants that bloom once (like many sunflowers) and concentrate on continual bloomers such as zinnia and dahlias. These are known as “cut and come again varieties” as they provide blooms for long periods if they are cut or deadheaded. You may also wish to grow some plants as fillers such as Dara. Fillers are the backbone of arrangements, lending structure, supporting delicate blooms and filling gaps between focal flowers.
Cut flowers are grown more densely than usual and most commonly are spaced 6,9 or 12 inches apart. References abound on the internet indicating which spacing is best for each variety. The number of seedlings, corms or tubers required is calculated using the area available for that plant and the spacing distance. Once calculated, order your seeds as soon as you can. Goods for the garden seem to sell out quickly in these days of lockdown. Seed vendors have been discussed in a previous blog. In addition to those already cited, many of the cut flower farmers also sell seed.
Once you have selected your seed, you then need to determine when to start them indoors using the last spring frost date for your area (OMAFRA lists Peterborough as May 17). For each variety, check the seed package for timing and work backwards from there. This allows you to make a seed starting schedule. For those seeds you intend to direct seed, you may need to consider time to maturity in order to give the plants time to bloom (work backwards from first frost date in your area). I make a list of seed sowing dates to help keep me organized.
Now all there is to do is wait for the seeds to arrive. I start sowing in February. Please join me through this blog on my horticultural adventure.
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn