LIKE KITCHEN GARDENS, old-fashioned cutting gardens are chic again. Bouquets snipped from the garden now have the same cachet as homegrown tomatoes. Both shout a popular commitment to slow food and flowers that are seasonal, sustainable and locally grown.
“Gathering flowers and arranging them in a vase is timeless and universal,” says Debra Prinzing, author of The 50 Mile Bouquet (St. Lynn’s Press, 2012) and the forthcoming Slow Flowers. “Today more and more people are thinking about sourcing flowers close to where they live. In San Diego, there’s no reason to go to the supermarket to get a bouquet wrapped in cellophane when you can grow flowers in your gardens year-round.”
Today’s cutting gardens aren’t the expansive plots once cultivated by wealthy landowners to fill dozens of vases in their estate homes. In smaller urban and suburban gardens, the entire landscape is a source of floral finds.
“The goal is to view nature as a complete paintbox of ideas and opportunities,” says Debra, who is redesigning her Seattle garden to supply four-season bouquets. “Foliage, stems, barks, seed pods, grasses — even discarded prunings and weeds — can be used to make modern, natural floral arrangements.”
Here are Debra’s suggestions for integrating a cutting garden into an existing landscape and making the most of the floral potential already there.
Cultivate underused areas. Narrow strips along a driveway, fence or sidewalk can be bountiful, four-season sources for floral displays. Debra underplanted rose bushes along her property line with bulbs for “an explosion of tulips and narcissus in spring.”
Sow cottage-garden flower seeds. “These are so easy — and perfect for bouquets,” Debra says of cosmos, bachelor buttons, poppies, zinnias and other classics. As a bonus, many reseed and return annually. Scratch the soil in existing beds, scatter the seeds and keep damp until sprouted.
Plant vase-worthy edibles. The colorful leaves of chard and kale, fluffy fillers like feverfew and dill, quirky ornamental peppers and sculptural artichoke branches accent many modern bouquets.
Garden up with vines. Curled, twisted vines add sophisticated naturalness to floral arrangements. Some to consider for unused vertical garden space include California’s wild grape (Vitex californica) with its ruby fall foliage and sculptural kiwi vines or exotic fiveleaf akebia (Akebia quinata) with dangling, vanilla-scented flower clusters.
Don’t ignore succulents. All the rage in gardens, succulents’ otherworldly colors and shapes have a place in the vase too. “Cut off a rosette, poke wire into it to extend the stem and add it to arrangements with traditional flowers,” Debra says.
Bring the outdoors in. “When a plant is putting on a show in the garden, cut some branches or stems to enjoy inside,” Debra suggests. “I do that with my viburnum when its leaves turn maroon in late fall.” Other possibilities include the fiery tips of leucadendrons, strawberry tree branches with dangling gold and ruby fruits and flower-lined limbs of stone-fruit trees.
Garden Guide: By Mary James