Ann Wright: A garden bouquet |

Ann Wright: A garden bouquet

There is something very special about a spectacular arrangement of cut flowers – particularly from your own garden. A delight to the senses, a bouquet of cut flowers can brighten up a room, cheer up a friend or neighbor, or help celebrate a special occasion. Plus, they make people happy!

Flowers add so much beauty to a garden, offering a huge array of colors from nature’s palate. Then bringing them indoors provides even more enjoyment. Flowers also nurture a garden by attracting pollinating bees, butterflies and other creatures like birds and beneficial insects. As more people are spending time at home in their gardens, growing flowers specifically for cutting seems to be on an upswing. There are so many beautiful flowers blooming in many of our local gardens.

To establish a cutting garden, it is important to have a plan – do you want/ have room to devote an area strictly for cutting flowers, or do you want to incorporate flowers into an existing area? Keep in mind where the flowers will be planted. Whether in raised beds, in the ground, in containers or pots, consider the sun exposure and source for water. Also, good soil health will be the start to healthy flowers! Add organic matter to the soil – such as compost, worm castings (vermicompost), or aged manure.

Preparing the location for a cutting garden may be the easiest part of the project. Selecting the plants might be a bit harder – there are so many flowering plants from which to choose! First, consider the life cycle of the plant – is it annual, biennial or perennial? Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle within one year, hence “annual”. This means that the seed germinates, the plant grows and blooms, then the blooms go to seed and the plant dies. Annuals are reliable bloomers and because their life cycle is short-lived, they grow and bloom fairly rapidly. When spent blossoms are trimmed off, the plant generally sets more blooms to promote more seed production. Some popular annuals include sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, asters, stock, sweet peas, strawflowers.

Biennials are plants that complete a life cycle in 2 years. During the first year, they grow leaves, stems, roots and other vegetative structures. Then, they over-winter during dormancy. The following spring or summer, the stem of the biennial plant elongates, blooms, and produces fruit and seed before dying. Some familiar biennials include foxglove (Digitalis), hollyhock (Alcea), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and clary sage (Salvia sclarea).

Perennials, are plants that live more than 2 years – they will grace our gardens year after year. Examples of some popular ornamental perennials are peony (Paeonia), Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum), and lilac (Syringa).

Cut flowers can be enjoyed almost year-round, depending on what’s blooming in the garden. Locally, December and January may be a bit slim in terms of what is available to cut, particularly at our higher elevations. But late January and into February, there may be flowering shrubs, blooms from bulbs and other lovely sources for small bouquets. At other times of the year, ornamental and native grasses may add lovely accents to arrangements.

Once flowers are ready to cut, the fun of the harvest begins! Flowers should be cut as early in the morning or late in the day as possible. Never cut flowers in the heat of the day, as they are more water stressed and may not hydrate properly if cut when it’s hot. Select flowers just beginning to open and once cut, put immediately into a clean bucket of cool water. They will need to be trimmed again at a sharp angle, under water, helping preserve the freshness and longevity of the flowers.

Containers for displaying the arrangements should be clean – using soap and water to wash away any bacteria or fungi lingering in the container. (Sanitize hard to clean containers by using a 1:10 ratio of household bleach to water, followed by thorough rinse.) If using treated city water for bouquets, allow the water to sit out overnight to allow chlorine to dissipate. Do not use softened water as it is too high in sodium for cut flowers. Refresh the water in the vase every two days.

To learn how to start flower seeds and grow your own beautiful cutting flowers, plan to join Master Gardeners for an upcoming virtual workshop, Flowers 101- From Seed to Vase on Saturday Aug. 15 at 9 a.m. The workshop will include a demonstration of seed planting, transplanting seedlings, and specific hints on growing cosmos, zinnias and dahlias. Presenters will also demonstrate a simple flower arrangement you can make with common plant material in your yard in combination with your newly grown flowers. Don’t miss this fun and informative workshop that will bring beauty to your garden and home! 

To access the Zoom presentation, go to the website at for instructions on how to log in. Other virtual Master Gardener public workshops have also been planned. Check the website for schedules, Zoom login instructions and recordings of past workshops.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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