The Cutting Garden

Ilona Erwin

Like the kitchen garden, and sometimes a part of it, the cutting garden is made in response to the desire for fresh bouquets and flowers for arrangements.

Arrangements” sounds formal, like the professional florists art. You may have that in mind, but many people just like to pick a bunch of flowers, stick them casually into a Mason jar on the table. A simple water pitcher, or a humble vase will do just as well and all you have to do is enjoy!  A cutting garden serves for both the formal art of flower arranging of a floral artist and the mood brightening everyday bouquets for the rest of us.

No one ever has enough flowers- think of the possibilities! Bouquets for friends or shut-ins, for your church altar, or any number of nice gestures where a flower can say “I care about you”. In a cutting garden you can have plenty of material for those, and not mar the landscape effects you are trying to create elsewhere in your yard.

3 Preparation Steps Needed
cutting garden example

The preparation for this type of space is just like any other garden bed:

  • dig deeply, mix in plenty of organic matter, i.e. compost, peat moss, leaf mold, etc.
  • Make sure it is well-cultivated, whether tilled (as with a vegetable garden) or in raised beds.
  • Pick a fairly sunny spot because most of your chosen foliage and blooms will require sun to give their best results.

The Individual far Outshines the Group

Good growing conditions with proper spacing, some wind protection, and proximity to your water source will make it a better success- there is nothing sadder than wilting or wind damaged flowers.

The Plan for a Cutting Garden

Photo by Ruth Temple on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Quick Tips

  • Plan for all seasons
  • Make beds long and narrow for ease of access
  • Group flowers by need (light, moisture, feeding)

Design or Not?
That is the question

Over and over, garden articles on this topic say you don’t need to give design a thought since you are growing for production of flowers to harvest, but I think “Why not?”

Heights, Color, Harmony

There can be a beautiful combination of plants and blooms, with care given to choosing heights and form, as well as shrubs for the corners and the addition of pots which would allow for a visually pleasing garden.

Sure, you are going to cut lots of the blooms for fabulous arrangements, but if you have an edging of flowers or even the old fashioned boxwood hedges surrounding it, it will give you something that says “a garden”.

Make a Framework with an Edging

A pretty edge makes up for a multitude of errors in a garden, and if you have to pick lots of certain flowers, a border of blooms that won’t be harvested keeps the picture pretty.

I wouldn’t be above ornamenting the space with some attractive whimsies or a gazing ball. Giving your eye something of color, so that you won’t miss the flowers (which you purposed to cut, anyway).

Include Easy Pathways

As in the kitchen garden, easy paths around human-proportioned planting beds will make maintenance less of a chore. You are going to grow the loveliest blooms and exciting healthy foliage, so you will be more attentive to the plants and working around them more than in other types of flower gardens.

Flowers by the Season

For Fall

~~~from Ruth Rogers Clausen who has a very helpful plan chart including a pdf download

1. Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) 3 feet tall; 24 inches across; dark purple grassy foliage; arching, bold purplish flower spikes. Tender perennial.
2. Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale ‘Kugelsonne’) 2 single plants; 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet across; abundant butter yellow daisy flowers. Cut back by half in midsummer. Perennial.
3. Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale ‘Moerheim Beauty’) 2 single plants; 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 feet across; brownish red daisy flowers with black centers. Perennial.
4. Dahlia (Dahlia pinnata Redskin Mix) 12 plants spaced 12 inches apart in 4 groups of 3; 18 inches tall and 12 inches across; green-bronze leaves; double flowers 3 inches across in reds, pinks, yellows and white. Seal cut stems with a match for longer vase life. Lift after first frost in cold-winter climates. Tender perennial.
5. Goldenrod (Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’) 6 plants set 18 inches apart in 2 groups of 3; 2 feet tall and 18 inches across; large heads of tiny, bright yellow flowers. Perennial.
6. Garden zinnia (Zinnia Thumbelina Hybrids) 10 plants set 6 inches apart in 2 groups of 5; 6 to 10 inches tall and 6 inches across; abundant 1 1/2-inch flowers in a wide range of mixed hues. Annual.
7. Garden zinnia (Zinnia Dreamland Hybrids) 10 plants set 9 inches apart in 2 groups of 5; 12 inches tall and 12 inches across; 3- to 4-inch double flowers in a range of colors. Annual.
8. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) 10 plants set 6 inches apart in 2 groups of 5; 12 inches tall and 6 inches across; grown for their decorative inflated seedheads for fall. Annual.
9. Aster (Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’) 6 plants set 18 inches apart in 2 groups of 3; 18 inches tall and 18 inches across; forms rounded domes covered with 1 1/2-inch brilliant purple daisies. Perennial.
10. Rabbit-tail grass (Lagurus ovatus) 10 plants spaced 9 inches apart in 2 groups of 5; 1 to 2 feet tall and to 12 inches across; dense oval flowerheads, soft to the touch, on stiff, wiry stems. Annual.


Flowers for a Cutting Garden



For a summer cutting garden

My own plan would be:

1. A background row of hydrangeas, ‘Endless Summer‘ for their soft blue and reliable flowering, ‘Annabelle‘ if you like opulence. 1-2 bushes will yield a good number of blooms underplanted with ivies or asparagus fern (tender) for filler foliage (this is a perennial planting)

2. A block planting of cosmos, you can choose the tall feathery whites and pinks of Cosmos bipinnatus, or the shorter hot colors of Cosmos sulphureus, orange and orange-red. Annual

3. Asiatic lilies and Oriental lilies 10 of each in your preferred colors- they range from white through yellow, orange, pinks and reds. Perennial bulbs.

4. Several roses, the hybrid teas Mr.Lincoln (red), Garden Party (ivory blend) are excellent, and some floribundas or shrub roses. “Just Joey”, “French Lace” are just a couple, and the David Austin selections for the full, old fashioned bloom form.

5. 10 plants of Feverfew. Perennial.

6. Coreopsis verticillata, 5 plants. Perennial.

7. Yarrow– I like the Achillea millefolium the best, but the white Achillea ptarmica ‘The Pearl’ is like a large “Baby’s Breath”. Or Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath) itself, either the large plants of the perennial type or “Covent Garden”, named variety of the annual type, planted in a block of 5 plants. Perennial

8. Snapdragons, many color choices with a spiky vertical form. Annual.

9.Rudbeckias, 3 plants. Nothing says summer like Black-eyed Susans.

10. Lady’s Mantle, 4 plants. Perennial.

11. Carnations are standbys for their long lasting qualities and fragrance- I would like to see a row of about ten plants.

The resulting colors would be white, soft blues, yellow, with a choice of either oranges and reds or pinks.

Color preferences may influence your choices of plants, especially when designing for specific interiors. Or you may have certain seasons in mind, as in the plans, here. Some people simply like certain flowers, such as all daisy forms, and that could dictate the planting plans. There are many ways to contrive the plan within the basic requirements of a garden that produces plenty of healthy flowers and foliage for cutting. Plant…Cut…. Enjoy.

Longer Stems Wanted?

Quick Tips

  • Deadhead regularly
  • Pull spent annuals and replace
  • Plant compactly

If you want longer stems for certain flowers, consider breaking the usual rule for plant spacing.

From Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont:

He recommends that you grow upright annuals much more closely than generally recommended, so they have longer stems for cutting. Mentioning ‘cockscomb’ as an example, and I know from growing it that it tends to have thick stubby stems.

All the other gardening tips that are common to annuals and container plantings apply: dead head the blooms regularly, and keep a regular watering and feeding schedule. Keep those flowers coming!

August blooms

Keep Annuals And Perennials Separated

Annual and perennial flowering plants have different needs, so I would plant them in separate areas.

You can add mulches to your perennial beds, but this practice just gets in the way in growing annuals. It will prevent reseeding of many desirable plants that would be hardy or half-hardy and return the next year.

Some annuals like less fertile soil, as well, and that is better given it’s own space so you don’t have the disappointment of lots of sappy foliage when you wanted the showy blossoms, instead. A garden given a quartered design would be ideal for this type of compartmentalizing.

Tips for Fresh-cut Bouquets

cutting4.jpg Never cut more than half the stem length from your garden plants. This will keep the plants strong, so they continue to produce flowers. Remove lower leaves from your cut stems and immediately place them immediately into a container filled with water. Cut stems early in the morning rather than during the hot mid-day. You’ll be amazed at how well your home grown flowers compare to those purchased in a store.

-Roberta’s Tips

How to Cut Flowers for a Vase

  • A clean cut made with a sharp tool enables water to travel up the stem into the flower head, prolonging the life of the bloom. Dull clippers crush the stem. “Choose blossoms that are newly opened and buds just beginning to unfurl. Cut flowers one at a time” ~Libbey Oliver
  • Carry a water container with you to put the stems into water immediately.
  • Re-cut the stems under water.
  • Add.a drop of chlorine bleach to the water to kill putrefying bacteria.
  • Try to keep your flowers in a cool place, out of direct sunlight until ready to arrange them.

Cut Flower Secrets

Catherine Mix’s system for making cut flowers go the distance:

Harvest flowers two days before an event, and choose blooms that are about three-quarters open. Do it early in the day while the air is still cool; plunge the stems immediately into a bucket of cool water.

Recut stem ends under water, then keep stems immersed in a bucket of water for 24 hours in a cool, shaded place….If you’re working with hollow-stemmed flowers such as dahlias or mignonette, invert them one at a time, fill the stem with water, stop up the end with your finger, then plunge the stem upright back into the bucket.

Arrange flowers in a water-filled vase for maximum life. Or arrange them in floral foam, which provides more design control but sacrifices some vase life.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.