Brian Minter: The best flowers for your cut flower garden

Greg Stevens

Opinion: The sharing of our gardens has never been more popular and meaningful, and it also contributes to building community spirit.

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The growth of the cut-flower market in our province continues to amaze. During COVID-19, a simple bouquet had such an uplifting effect on spirits, and as gifts to friends and family, bouquets were the new hugs.

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When I was speaking with Bob Pringle, the CEO of United Flower Inc. in Burnaby, the largest wholesale floral outlet in Western Canada, he told me he’s continually astonished at the phenomenal growth of the cut-flower industry. It’s also interesting to note that many local B.C. growers are specializing in outdoor cut-flower production from late winter well into the following November.

Today, we’re seeing this emerging trend reflected in home gardens.

More than ever, folks are looking for both annuals and perennials that can be used as a source of cut flowers throughout spring, summer and fall. It’s not only for their own enjoyment, but also as bouquets to give to friends and neighbours. The sharing of our gardens has never been more popular and meaningful, and it also contributes to building community spirit.

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If you have been thinking about creating your own cut-flower garden, even in a small space, there are a number of annuals, perennials and bulbs that are excellent candidates. Successful cutting gardens need a location that gets sunshine from at least mid-morning until late afternoon. It’s best to choose plant varieties that have stronger and longer stems so that the flowers are well supported in a vase. Depending upon the varieties, some staking may be required to keep taller-growing plants upright in windy areas.

An incredible range of cut-flower varieties is available, and now is a great time to begin planting annuals, either from seed or started plants. If you’re quite serious about growing cut flowers in your garden, you may wish to extend your harvest time by starting very early, even in late February or March, with very cool-loving plants.

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Some of the earliest to bloom are lightly scented dianthus, either annual or perennial. They’re in full bloom right now. Very similar to old-fashioned sweet williams, varieties, like the D. barbatus Amazon F1 and Sweet F1 series, have longer stem lengths in the 18- to 24-inch range. They like cooler weather, but a new series, called Jolt, is a heat-tolerant variety that blooms well into summer and fall. Its stems are 16- to 20-inches long — still a nice length for cuts.

Snapdragons have become one of the most in-demand cut flowers for their beautiful garden look and long-lasting blooms. For home garden cuts, I like two varieties. The shorter Sonnet series has stems measuring from 18-to-24 inches. It’s a very strong plant that will re-flower with lots of blooms, once the main early stem is cut. The old-time Rocket snapdragon mixes have a much longer stem height, up to 36 inches, and they, too, will re-flower with multiple new stems.

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Highly perfumed stocks make beautiful cut flowers, and among all the traditional early varieties, the Vintage series, with stems from 15-to-20 inches in height, are among the best varieties to grow. Stocks like a cool and slightly shaded location out of the hot afternoon sun.

The Bells-of-Ireland, or Moluccella laevis, is a newer cut flower favourite. At this time of year they’re usually started from seed, which is widely available from many different companies. Growing about 16-to-20 inches, the large, lime-green flowers, or calyces, are standouts in any bouquet or floral arrangement.

It’s a great time to plant sunflowers out in the garden, but remember, they love lots of sun. We’ve been growing them for years, and although there are many cutting varieties that have no pollen — which makes them last longer and less messy to use — we like the Sunrich series. The plants of this series grow three-to-five-feet tall, are very uniform and have great lasting qualities. The flowers come in a wide range of colours, from yellow and gold to lemon, lime and orange. The ProCut series has white and bicolour flower heads to add a little variation to cut bouquets. There are lots of novelties as well, but we love the uniformity and traditional happy sunflower look. Here’s a little tip: sunflowers like well-drained soils that aren’t too rich — so avoid manures, especially mushroom compost.

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Long-stemmed, huge headed African marigolds have become very popular. A longtime favourite, they make surprisingly long-lasting cuts. The new Bali series, growing up to 24-to-32 inches in height, and available in the traditional range of yellow, orange and gold, are among the best for cuts. They have been bred to withstand hot, humid summer conditions, are very disease resistant and are well-branched.

African Marigolds are stately and beautiful in the garden and in bouquets.
African Marigolds are stately and beautiful in the garden and in bouquets. Minter Country Garden

Zinnias love the sun, and they make great summer cut flowers. Most of today’s breeding focuses on shorter varieties with good spreading habits, but the old-fashioned State Fair grows about 36-to-48-inches tall and is still one of the best for cut flowers. Another old-time favourite is the smaller headed Cut and Come Again Mixed variety, which has a great mix of bright colours and 18-to-24-inch stems. Its flowers measure about three-inches wide, are mostly double and make lasting cuts. If you love novelties, try the Benary’s Giant series and the Queen series with its very unusual lime combination, as well as the most unique of all, Queeny Lime Orange, an All-American Selection award winner.

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For colour later in the season, plant some beautiful, tall Bombay celosias, with their cockscomb flower heads, Ball Florist Mix and Matsumoto asters and the Crane series of tall ornamental kale — all make beautiful fall cuts.

Globe-shaped Drumstick Flowers, like Golf Beauty, will add a bit of fun to your arrangement.
Globe-shaped Drumstick Flowers, like Golf Beauty, will add a bit of fun to your arrangement. Minter Country Garden

Statice can be seeded now for lovely fresh or dried fall bouquets. The round balls of Drumstick craspedias and gomphrenas, with their round, white and purple flower heads that dry nicely, are wonderful value-adds to any bouquet.

Although they love cooler weather (like spring this year), Mammoth sweet peas can still be grown for cuts if the seed is planted in a morning sun/afternoon shade location, which will keep them blooming all summer. Don’t let them go to seed so they will bloom longer.

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Dahlias are divine! Coming in a range of colours and sizes, there is sure to be one to match your style.
Dahlias are divine! Coming in a range of colours and sizes, there is sure to be one to match your style. Minter Country Garden

Without a doubt, dahlias are the No. 1 choice today for cut flowers, and most are started from roots or cuttings from rooted plants. Unfortunately, there is quite a shortage of roots this year, but in late winter, order them early for next season, unless you can convince a dahlia-grower to share some of their prized cut varieties. From the ball or pom pom, cactus and decorative varieties to the single anemone and fimbriated types, there’s a wide selection of dahlia flower forms. It’s quite an art to grow longer stems as cuts, but it’s a wonderful learning experience.

Growing one’s own cutting garden is such a popular activity today. In a few weeks, I’ll deal with perennial cut flowers, as well as the best bulbs. Having a continuous source of cut flowers to enjoy in our homes and to share with neighbours and friends is a wonderful trend. Give it a try.

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