Barbara Eaton has been a flower vendor at farmers' markets in Northeast Ohio for 15 years. She has completed master gardener training and does both garden and floral design. To receive a diagram for a 4-foot by 8-foot continuous-blooming cutting garden, contact her at Visit her blog at

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Grow Your Own Cutting Garden in as Little as 32 Square Feet
by Barbara Eaton, M.Ed.       #Advice

If you’re like me, you never tire of having fresh flowers in the house, and the more grand the floral arrangement, the better.

The solution for me has been planting a dedicated cutting garden. In a sunny spot as small as 32 square feet (a space 4 feet by 8 feet), a well-planned cutting garden can produce enough blooms to keep me sated all season long. If you have a spot that is tucked away behind a garage or in a remote corner of your property where it is not highly visible, you can cut away and not spoil your perfect floral landscape.

In August, this 32-square-foot cutting garden features a wide variety of flower shapes, colors and textures of both annuals and perennials.

In late September, the same garden boasts white and deep pink cosmos, pink dahlias, red zinnias. In the center back you can see some feathery asparagus foliage that provides some delicate touches to bouquets.

Don’t underestimate the value of shorter varieties, which can make beautiful “mini-bouquets” that are very attractive for table centerpieces. My mini-bouquets, which feature mint for fragrance, are my best-selling item at farmers’ markets, and are the perfect size for small bathrooms or bedside tables. Herbs of any kind can be added to your bouquets to create a natural air-freshener.

Look for the cultivars listed below at your local garden centers or hire a local greenhouse to start some from your own seeds. I have a greenhouse owner start my snapdragons in late February; ageratum, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers in April. I direct sow my larkspurs outdoors in fall or early April.

When purchasing annual flower plants, choose plants that are not mature, and have not yet begun blooming. If annuals are already blooming in their small containers they are likely stunted. These plants often never recover to grow as large and lush as they should and remain spindly and small. This is particularly true for snapdragons. Make sure you harden off any plants that have come from a greenhouse, or shade them from the bright sun (with an inverted flower pot or a paper bag) after you put them in the ground for a day or two. I still shade almost everything I plant for at least two days unless the weather is very cloudy and cool.

The basic design rules for ornamental plantings apply. Plant taller cultivars to the north of other plants so they won’t shade the shorter ones. Taller flowers such as sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias will need staking. Planting these flowers against a fence for support or in tomato cages can minimize the need to tie up plants. Even some of the medium-height flowers may need some staking to keep them from being knocked down by heavy rains.

This is a list of many great bloomers, both perennial and annual varieties, all of which I have grown in Zone 5. If you are in warmer zones, you have many more varieties to choose from. Seed catalogs often tell you if a cultivar is a good cutting variety. If they don’t, you can usually find that information with a quick internet search.

  • Zinnia: (Annual) Choose easy-to-grow, time-tested varieties like ‘Cut and Come Again’, ‘Will Rogers’ and ‘Lavender Queen’. For a slightly smaller, shorter zinnia try ‘Lilliput’.
  • Cosmos: (Annual) A mid to late season annual. Best varieties for maximum blooms are ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Sensation Mixed’. There are many new multi-colored and double flowered varieties.

  • These two fabulous annuals are Burpees' ‘French Vanilla’ marigold and ‘Horizon Blue’ ageratum. Both are easy to grow and will supply an abundance of flowers continuously from July until frost.
    Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): (Annual) Try some of the taller varieties like the pale yellow ‘French Vanilla’ and ‘Red Metamorph’.
  • Branching Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus): (Annual) Good choices include ‘Pan’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Evening Sun’, ‘Lemon Queen’ and ‘Tiger Eye’. Pollen-less varieties are available and are often spectacular, but they rarely produce more than one flower.
  • Coreopsis: (Perennial) I especially love the relatively new pale yellow cultivars that cover themselves with dozens of blooms all summer and into fall.
  • Gaillardias: (Perennial) These are cheery, hardy bloomers are now available in several great colors. This is another flower that keeps on giving over a very long season.
  • Chrysanthemum: (Perennial) This is fall bloomer that will yield a plethora of blooms right up until the hard frosts. If you buy plants in the fall, be sure to get them in the ground early enough while there is still enough warm weather to allow their roosts to get established.
  • Sage or salvia: (Perennial and Annual) ‘May Night’, rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) are perennials that will bloom twice and sometimes three times in warmer zones.
  • Buddleia or butterfly bush: (Perennial Shrub) A tall continuous-blooming shrub that is hardy and won't take up a great deal of space. Shorter dwarf varieties are now available.
  • Hydrangeas: (Perennial Shrub) There are many varieties and most thrive in partial shade or a half-day of shade. Varieties that are great in full sun are ‘Tardiva’ and ‘Pink Diamond’. When choosing hydrangeas for cutting, check the cultivar to be sure it is one that will bloom each year on new wood.
  • Lillies (Lilium spp.): (Perennial) Both Asiatic and Oriental species are spectacular cut flowers that will grow from the same bulb year after year.Snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.): (Annual) The best snapdragons I have found for repeat blooming are the Ribbon series, which are a naturally branching variety. The new Twinny series, although they are short, have a fairly long bloom season and the blooms are large. ‘Black Prince’ is a great rebloomer, too. Snaps do not thrive in hot dry weather, but can be planted in partly shaded locations.
  • Ageratum: (Annual) For beautiful foliage and continuous blooms, Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ really delivers. It is a tall variety reaching 30 inches by the end of the season. Its attractive, thick foliage can be used as filler in the vase and to artfully hide the foliage of other flowers when it begins to turn brown. This variety is rarely available at garden centers, but you can buy seeds and start your own. It is easy to grow but needs very warm weather to germinate.
  • Larkspur (Consolida ajacis): (Annual) For a vivid blue-purple, think about the annual ‘Sublime Dark Blue’. Although they have a relatively short bloom time, they are tall, slender plants with fine foliage and they won’t take up much space in your garden. Best of all, they germinate readily if planted in very cool weather and will reseed themselves; so if you learn to recognize the small seedlings and refrain from weeding them, you'll have volunteers year after year.

  • For grand-scale bouquets, dahlias and hydrangeas will deliver. Also, great choices  for large-scale floral design are lilies, peonies and sunflowers.
    Dahlias: (Perennial) Wonders never cease! This family is perhaps the most prolific in its ability to generate new blooms every day. Although not long-lived in the vase, their perfect symmetry is truly inspiring to behold. This flower grows from a tuber, which must be dug up before it freezes and stored dry through winter at temperatures above freezing. Dahlias come in varying heights with small, medium or dinner-plate sized blooms.
  • Peonies: (Perennial) For big, fragrant blooms, peonies can’t be beat. They flower only once in late spring.
  • Ornamental grasses: (Perennial) Most of the ornamental grasses yield interesting feathery flower tops that work well in bouquets. Be sure to check the specifications to be sure the varieties you choose will be perennial in your zone.
  • Ornamental grains: The deep burgundy spikes featured in my small garden are a variety of ornamental amaranth, one of my favorite items to add interest and texture to my bouquets. A relatively small, annual variety that self-seeds is ‘Marvel Bronze’, which is a dark red and very attractive. However, it does droop in very hot weather.
  • For shade, Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), astilbe, Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and small hydrangeas, all of which are perennials, will perform well in the vase. 
  • Spring-blooming bulbs: (Perennials) Although it's too late to plant bulbs for this spring, plan now for fall when you can nestle spring-blooming bulbs deep in the soil in places where your annuals have gone to seed. Good cut flower choices are daffodils and other Narcissus spp., alliums, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.) and tulips (Tulipa spp.). Bulbs can be planted very close to perennials and around the base of small shrubs or climbing vines. Even shorter flowers such as grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) are great for little bouquets.

Now all you need are a few vases, and you will be ready to bring the beauty indoors.

Short varieties can be used to make cheerful mini-bouquets that fit perfectly into a coffee mug. This one features a red dahlia, red zinnias, ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds, ‘Creme Brulee’ coreopsis, and mint for filler and fragrance.

This mini-bouquet contrasts a white hydrangea against the dark red cosmos and spikes of Amaranth ‘Marvel Bronze’.

This bright beautiful bouquet came from the October garden. The tiny lavender floret is Verbena bonariensis, which may be perennial in Zone 6 or in a protected place in Zone 5.

Photos by Barbara Eaton.


Posted: 06/30/14   RSS | Print


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