Karen Atkins owns Proper Gardens, a garden design and installation firm in Pittsburgh (propergardens.com). She writes, designs, and gardens from her 150 year-old farm in Western Pennsylvania she shares with one husband, two children, two dressage horses, three Leicester Longwool sheep, two roosters, seven hens, two swans, two bunnies, two dogs and three cats. You can read her blog at pagardener.com/propergardens.

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Plan Your Cutting Garden Now
by Karen Atkins       #Flowers

I used to consider my cutting garden a luxury. I think of it as a necessity now, as it has contributed so much to my quality of life. Reveling in my new ability to fill vases throughout my home, I assemble arrangements of blooms coordinated specifically to work with the colors in my interiors. It is wonderfully satisfying to bring fresh bouquets to friends, neighbors and my children’s teachers and coaches. And I no longer have the guilt of weakening the display in my perennial and rose gardens by cutting from them. A garden designed just for cutting is most successful if it is planned to maximize the variety and length of bloom time. Here is a guide to help you to get started.

  1. Choose your site

The greatest number of repeat-flowering annuals and perennials prefer full sun. If the area that you have in mind is partially shaded, consider pruning the canopy to establish at least pockets of full sun. Remember that you will be able to harvest flowers at the best possible time if you can observe the garden’s growth daily. For this reason, situate it close to the house, or at least along a path you travel often. Although many flowers are drought tolerant, place the garden somewhere that your hose can easily reach.


  1. Invest in raised beds, if you can

Often, lumber can be found at architectural salvage operations. Stain the lumber to coordinate with the colors on the exterior of your home. Customize the beds by drilling holes for unique finials. Just because the garden is functional doesn’t mean that it can’t be pretty.



  1. Determine the colors you will enjoy most

Take inspiration from interior colors, or just select colors that you love.


  1. Make a planting schedule, or copy mine

Photo © Jon Helgason istock.com/klikk. All other photos courtesy of Karen Atkins.

First Fall — Designate beds for daffodil and allium bulbs and peonies, where they won’t be disturbed. You can still sow annual seeds carefully around the remaining foliage after you have cut these spring flowers.

Every Fall — Plant new tulip bulbs (the “perennial” tulip is a myth.)

Every Early Spring — Sow sweet peas (provide climbing support with a tuteur or just a post covered with netting or chicken wire.) Plant dahlias 1 foot below ground a month before the last frost date. They will emerge earlier, giving you an extra month of blooms.

First Late Spring — Plant delphiniums and roses where there is plenty of drainage and in a bed deep enough to accommodate lots of rich, organic soil. Topdress beds with plenty of well-rotted manure as mulch. The compost will act as a slow-release fertilizer for these heavy feeders. Black-eyed Susans and coneflowers prefer an area with full sun that drains well. Don’t forget to include hydrangeas that grow on new and old wood. Some of my favorites are the original ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Endless Summer Blushing Bride’, ‘Pinky Winky’, and ‘Limelight’. Add shrubs for use in holiday and winter arrangements such as holly, boxwood and variegated boxwood.

Every Late Spring — Sow annual seeds such as nasturtiums, larkspur, cosmos, cleome, as many varieties of sunflowers as you can find and zinnias. Susan Banks, garden editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recommends this combination: ‘Queen Red Lime’ and ‘Queen Lime’ zinnias.


  1. Don’t forget to cut often and enjoy.

    Adding a few tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of bleach to the vase water will prolong the life of your arrangements. Goodwill and the Salvation Army thrift stores are excellent sources for inexpensive vases that you can cheerfully give away.




Posted: 02/27/12   RSS | Print


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