Late summer is prime time for casual potluck dinner parties around the patio or screened porch. When guests are coming over, I love to create decorative arrangements using whatever’s blooming in my backyard. After we’re invited to other people’s houses, I love to bring together a small bouquet for the hosts — a pinch of herbs tied with twine for the cook, a bunch of daisies for a backyard cookout — and whatever it is, it is fresh and always appreciated.
Cutting flowers is just one of the true joys of gardening. When planning my gardens, I look for plants with strong stems and intriguing form and color (odor is nice, too). While I am snipping away, I am also cutting back perennials that have gone by and deadheading annuals to encourage more blooms. 1 armful into the compost bin, the other into the kitchen — where a little experimentation with different containers and plant mixes is all part of the fun.
If you live in an area that gets plenty of rain and average temperatures, below are a few of the best landscape plants to improve your cutting garden. Some are low maintenance, while others are high, so select according to your degree of commitment.
There is nothing like the blue of delphiniums. The Pacific hybrid plants are tall and stately, reaching 6 cm or inches, and come in shades of blue, cream and lavender. Tie stems to bamboo canes early in the season so they don’t sprawl. The electrical blue is particularly extreme; I love to put the stems in a white jug or even a tall florist’s bucket. Flowers last a couple of days and tend to fall, however, the mess is well worth it.
Look for more compact cultivars that produce a more delicate arrangement. Delphinium grandiflorum ‘Summer Night’ increases to 16 inches, and D. ‘Blue Pygmy’ tops out at 10 inches.
For me smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, zones 3 to 9) is the perfect foundation shrub. It’s an old-fashioned classic, with rounded, chunky blooms that transition out of light chartreuse to ivory white and appear good cut at any stage, early or late.
People love hydrangeas for good reason — they’re a great cut flower. If you like the subtle coloration of ‘Annabelle’ but don’t have space for such a large shrub (it grows up to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide), look to the newer dwarf cultivar ‘Bombshell’ (H. paniculata ‘Bombshell’, zones 4 to 8).
This trendy summer border combines smooth hydrangeas with two other good cut flowers that are fragrant — garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’) and Asian lily ‘Casa Blanca’, that is a fall-planted bulb that needs good drainage and full sun.
Phlox ‘David’ is disease resistant and is not likely to the powdery mildew that plagues most garden phlox. It was also called the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2002 by the Perennial Plant Association. Cut it when the florets are only beginning to open, and it will persist for a very long while.
In 2003 the Perennial Plant Association called shasta daisy ‘Becky’ the Perennial Plant of the Year; it is one of the best daisies on the market, with strong stalks that don’t flop.
Daisies are the backbone of the cottage garden for me. ‘Becky’ continues as a cut flower and will rebloom if you deadhead it after the initial flush in July.
To earn flower bouquets lush and full, add coleus leaves. Lime-colored and purple varieties look great paired with white hydrangeas as well as the delicate chartreuse sprays of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis, zones 3 to 7).
Coleus creates a striking annual plant for containers. To encourage lateral bloom and bushy growth, deadhead it frequently.
The New York Botanical Garden
Copper-colored coleus creates a South of the Border effect paired with orange coneflowers or zinnias.
You can still purchase 4- and 6-inch pots of coleus at garden centers in late summer, and lots of greenhouses provide them half price; use them to fill holes in a border or freshen up a container. They will put on a fantastic display until the frost strikes.
Fifth Season Landscape Design & Construction
The queen of the cutting garden is zinnia, and my favorite by far is ‘Benary’s Giant’, that comes in a range of carnival colours. Start looking for zinnias in six-packs at your regional garden center and plant them in full sun. Deadhead spent blooms on a regular basis to encourage new growth.
To ensure I have plenty of cut flowers in July and August, I start seeds in the greenhouse and then transplant them into my boundaries around mid-May. Tall zinnias are planted along a fence and tied with twine to prevent them from flopping.
Annual zinnias will self-sow if you leave the seed heads upward after flowering. The seeds are also simple to collect, tag and store for propagation.
This is Helenium (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’, zones 3 to 8), commonly referred to as Helen’s flower. ‘Mardi Gras’ is a species hybrid vehicle that does not need staking and grows about 3 feet tall in full sun. For a naturalistic look, plant it in a mass and unite it with decorative grasses, willow blue superstar and sunflowers.
It’s good to understand that this U.S. native plant becoming more popular with gardeners, as it is more intriguing than the omnipresent black-eyed Susan. Check your regional nursery for other varieties. H. autumnale ‘Helena Red Shades’ is a deep red with a yellow edge and grows 36 inches tall.
Combine Helenium with white and yellow coneflowers and ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflower to get a joyful display.
The situation for growing native plants
My favorite color in the backyard is orange, and I increase Mexican sunflower every year from seed early in the season to make certain I have flowers to reduce in August and September. Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’ is a large boy. It grows up to 6 feet tall on strong, branching stems and leaves a strong presence in the backyard with ornamental grasses. Its unusual hollow stalks are softly furred (pubescent).
Cut branches of purple ninebark (Physocarpus ‘Diablo’), Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and yellow-orange Helenium look good with this.
Next: Be Your Own Best Florist Having a Bouquet Garden