Real Life Magazine, Spring 2001
Sunflowers in a vase
Friends and neighbors have politely turned down excess zucchini and tomatoes during times of garden exuberance, but I’ve yet to hear “No, thanks” to a bouquet of fresh cut flowers. If you want to dress up the dinner table, perk up a cubicle or brighten someone’s mood, choose fresh flowers –then watch what happens when you say, “I grew them myself!”
Those who don’t have the time or space to develop and maintain several kinds of gardens on their property can benefit by including foliage and flower varieties that work just as well in a vase as they do in the landscape. Undoubtedly, some flowers and foliage are better suited for cutting than others.
The best have strong stems that grow to a useable length. Ideally, the open flowers (or foliage) will last nicely without drooping or fading for several days, while buds along the stem continue to open.
Most deliciously, there will be fragrance.
You may be surprised that many flowers that fit these criteria are rarely found at floral shops. Why? Primarily, flowers have been selected for the ability to hold up during shipping and storage, and one of the first casualties in this genetic shuffle is fragrance.
peony, iris, larkspur and zinnia
Carefully select both perennials and annuals suitable for cutting, and you’ll have fresh bouquets from about May through October. By including a few types that dry well, such as statice and strawflowers, you’ll have materials to carry you into the next growing season!
Perennials overwinter and reappear each year. Spring’s earliest flowers are generally perennials. Early season perennials that make great cut flowers include:
Most of the bellflowers
Two favorite perennials that work well in both the landscape and as cut flowers are Jupiter’s Beard and May Night salvia. Fragrant Jupiter’s Beard is available in reddish pink and white forms. Combining the reddish Jupiter’s Beard with the deep purple blue of the salvia is positively electric. Both of these perennials will bloom the entire summer (sheer them back when they begin to get lanky), and they don’t mind hot weather at all.
Annuals, on the other hand, complete their life cycles in one year and are usually set out anew each spring. They begin blooming as spring’s many perennials begin to fade out during our hot, dry summers. Many annuals used as cut flowers drop seeds that sprout the following year:
Love in a Mist
Though the price is right, this new generation of flowers can be very different in form and color than their parents if they were hybrids. If your favorite varieties are hybrid, you’ll need to replace these self-sown seedlings.
Some of the best annuals for cutting are zinnias. I’m particularly fond of the ‘Benary Giants’ series as well as a variety named ‘Envy’ that blooms a true light green. Sunflowers make excellent cut flowers and, in recent years, new color combinations, double forms and pollen-less types have been developed. If you’ve used sunflowers in the past, you’ll appreciate the tidiness that comes with no pollen!
black-eyed Susan, Echinacea, Salvia and columbine
Among the flowers used for drying are annual statice and strawflowers. Annual statice is available in dozens of colors and makes lovely filler in fresh flower bouquets. Harvest strawflowers before they open on the plant, as they open while drying. To maintain bright colors and form, dry statice and strawflowers upside down and away from bright light.
Many herbs, bulbs and foliage plants can also provide interesting material for bouquets. My favorites include dill and cinnamon basil. Dill’s airy, chartreuse flowers, and graceful ferny foliage combine nicely with zinnias. Cinnamon basil has deep purple veins in its leaves and adds a magnificant sweet-spicey fragrance. Once cilantro flowers, it loses culinary value. Plant seed for the next kitchen crop, and use the flowers as a substitute for Queen Anne’s Lace.
The final, crucial last step to gorgeous, lasting bouquets involves cutting cutting and conditioning your plant material for longevity.
Cut most flowers in the early morning before the sun begins drawing precious moisture from them.
Remove any foliage that would be submerged in the vase.
Re-cut stems by about 1/2″ under lukewarm water and place them upright in floral preservative in a cool, dim place for several hours.
If you are harvesting for a special occasion, it is best to do this the day before the event. This process, known as conditioning , fills the flower with water and makes an enormous difference in how long a bouquet lasts.