Sow a cutting garden

I used to read about cutting gardens in magazines, and while I was attracted to the idea, I felt overwhelmed at implementing it. Creating a cutting garden seemed difficult and out of reach. Maybe I had too many responsibilities like college, marriage and raising children. I could only manage a small garden back then, and that was okay.

Celosia, also known as coxcomb, is a long lasting cut flower for a cutting garden.
Celosia, also known as coxcomb, is a long lasting flower for a cutting garden.

I now have more time, but in one of those crazy quirks of the universe, time now moves more quickly, and I don’t seem to get as much done as I once did with a 24-hour day.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Zowie! Yellow Flame zinnia.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly sipping nectar from Zowie! Yellow Flame zinnia.

Last March when Bill tilled up my vegetable garden, he made it larger than ever. We till this one area because of the nasty Bermuda grass that covers our prairie. Bill also replaced the chicken wire fencing with flat fence panels so we can more easily trim the grass next to the garden. I love this change. However, when I looked at all that red dirt, I felt engulfed by the care a large vegetable garden requires. Many hands would be needed, and I only had two.

In spring, there is so much to do and so little time. My ornamental garden needed to be cut back, prepped and ready to grow. I also replaced over a dozen more roses killed by Rose Rosette Disease. Choosing replacement shrubs took a lot of time.

With some of our children out of the nest, we don’t need such a large space for vegetables either. I could grow most of our food in pots and my raised bed potager except for ‘Glass Gem’ corn and my favorite red okra. These two crops need more room.

Dark mahogany sunflower with bumblebee.
Dark mahogany sunflower with bumblebee. The other head ripens with seeds for the birds.

Thank goodness Cindy from My Corner of Katy suggested I make half of the veggie space a cutting garden. The thought of bouquets for my table sparked my interest, and I found energy to plan the space anew.

What else can I say about these crazy wild zinnias? 'Burpee Rose Giant Cactus' zinnias are a gorgeous color, and have a wonderful and wild shape.
I love these crazy wild zinnias. ‘Burpee Rose Giant Cactus’ zinnias are a gorgeous color, and have a wonderful and wild shape. They were my favorite this year.

One challenge with any garden space devoted to vegetables is remembering to rotate the crops. Otherwise, you end up with disease problems. On the far right side, I planted four tomato plants that I bought from Bonnie Plants. I then sowed ‘Glass Gem’ seeds. Next to the four rows of closely planted corn, I grew two rows of okra. These were seeds I saved from previous years from the heirloom ‘Bowling Red.’ I love the long, slender red pods, and the plants’ dark leaves with just a hint of red. A hibiscus relative, okra is a beautiful if “stickery” plant.

'Bowling Red' okra is as pretty as most flowers in the ornamental garden.
‘Bowling Red’ okra is as pretty as most flowers in the ornamental garden. This photo is from 2012.

At the garden’s center, I sowed seeds for two climbing beans. It rained all of April and May, and my bean seeds kept sliding down the hill. I think I planted green bean seeds at least three times, but I harvested very few beans. Some years are like this. Next to the non-existent beans, I sowed flower seeds. These tiny seeds hung on and grew. Celosia, Amaranth, Nicotiana, five kinds of zinnias, including ‘Queen Red Lime,’ ‘Burpee Rose Giant Cactus’ and Zowie! Yellow Flame. My favorite of these, by far, was Burpee Rose Giant Cactus. They were huge and wonderful. My second fave was ‘Queen Red Lime’ with its antique good looks. I also planted a couple of zinnia mixes. It made for a field of beautiful flowers in so many colors. People driving by slowed down just to look, and the butterflies visited all day everyday. In the midst of this butterfly mecca, I planted two yellow, tropical milkweed plants for the Monarchs. I didn’t have much hope that they would come, but come they did.

Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime,' one of my favorites, has this crazy kind of Victorian coloration. It looks good with lots of fall-ish flowers.
Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime,’ one of my favorites, has this crazy kind of Victorian coloration. It looks good with lots of fall-ish flowers.

Next to the zinnias, I sowed seeds of celosia, cosmos, and sunflowers. Then, I did something dumb. I sowed hollyhock seeds which was a freshman mistake. Most hollyhocks take forever to get going, and some varieties don’t bloom until the following year. An exception to this is Alcea rosea ‘Indian Spring’ mix which often blooms the first year in my hot climate. My hollyhocks were a waste of time. If I had somewhere to put them, I could dig and move them to another spot to bloom next year. Perhaps the new side border?

Cool Crayon Colors mix zinnias from Renee's Garden seeds.
Cool Crayon Colors mix zinnias from Renee’s Garden seeds.

Again, it’s that time thing. I’m prepping for a garden tour on October 17 so that probably won’t happen. Anyway, if you’re going to till and replant an area after the first year, start the hollyhocks indoors first, or buy some plants and transplant them.

Unusual banded sunflowers. Love them.
Unusual banded sunflowers. Love them.

Beneath the sunflowers, I grew melons and squash. It took the squash bugs awhile to find these, but eventually they did. Squash bugs are an Oklahoma gardener’s nemesis. I sowed more squash seeds three weeks ago in the potager. I might get a few squash this year yet.

You wouldn't think cosmos could hold up a bumblebee, but they definitely do. They are so easy to grow from seed.
You wouldn’t think cosmos could hold up a bumblebee, but they definitely do. They are so easy to grow from seed.

So, that’s my cutting garden. To recap, here are some of the best flowers for a cutting garden:

  • Sunflowers
  • Tithonia Mexican sunflower
  • Celosia. I grew an old variety. 
  • Cosmos
  • Zinnias
  • Calendula (Plant and harvest early.)
  • Amaranth (So many to choose from.)
  • Hollyhocks. Buy plants unless you grow one that blooms in the first year from seed, and you have a long season.
  • Nicotiana langsdorffii and the purple flowering one are great in the cutting garden.
  • Dahlias. I didn’t grow my dahlias in the cutting garden, but a good one for hot summers is ‘Juanita.’ Old House Gardens has a good article on Dahlias for Hot Nights. I’ve grown several of these, and they performed well.

 

Cutting garden. Dahlia reminds me of Juanita, but it's not. Taken in the Getty garden in California.
Dahlia reminds me of Juanita, but it’s not. Taken in the Getty garden in California.

Of course, there are plenty of perennials for a cutting garden too. Shasta daisies, Phlox paniculata, Monarda didyma and black-eyed Susans make great cut flowers. I have these all over the perennial garden. Don’t forget interesting foliage either. Smoke tree is a good filler as is asparagus foliage. Use your imagination and cut beautiful bouquets from your garden all summer long. Pretend you live in an episode of Downton Abbey. I did.

22 Replies to “Sow a cutting garden”

  1. Hey Dee. So glad I found your wonderful blog. I am a 30 something with total garden fever. I love having someone in my area posting what they are doing, and when they are doing it. I’m just sorry I have to be out of town for the garden tour. Thanks for all you share!

    Emily

  2. I am also loving that rose giant cactus zinnia! Beautiful. I grew the queen red lime zinnias once, back when I had an inch of space to sow seed successfully, and they were truly stunning. How nice to have a cutting garden – a great space solving solution. I myself am “consolidating” my vegetable garden to less space to account for that quirky universe thing of time speeding up and seeming to have less of it. I need to make a lot of changes to my garden over the next couple years. I like seeing successful solutions, Dee. Bet you enjoyed beautiful bouquets!

  3. Now see, this is something I’ve always wanted! But right now, I’m awaiting knee surgery, so I’ll just have to put it off for now. But hubby is already in the process of expanding the veggie garden, and I’ve called dibs on some of the extra space for at least a small cutting garden. That will have to do for now! Like you, I’m a huge fan of Queen Red Lime zinnias. Aren’t they lovely? I also enjoyed Tequila Lime, they’ve been real troopers for me.

    1. Robin, good luck on the knee surgery. I can’t wait to see you garden next season when you’re up and well. I’ll try Tequila Lime next year. I do love zinnias. They are the happiest of flowers.

  4. I did the same thing last season – turned half my veg. garden into a cutting garden, although I have lots of perennials in mine as well as annuals. I loved the Zinnias, Calendulas and Cosmos, and I also found that Iceland Poppies will keep flowering for months even in the heat if I cut off every flower before the petals fall – I got hundreds of blooms from a handful of plants well into summer. I tried Tithonia, but the seeds never came up. As everything else was successfull, I’m going to blame the seeds! It’s Spring here now, and the early annuals are flowering from volunteer seedlings. I can’t wait to see how the cutting garden grows in the next few months.

  5. Cutting gardens are so much fun. They take little care and even if you don’t cut them you have lots of color in the garden all summer. I so want to plant some of those big cockscombs. Hopefully next year.

    1. Hi Lisa! Yes, they are such fun. I don’t know why I thought they were hard to create. I just did. Now, I realize it’s just a matter of planting the seeds directly outside. This was my favorite garden space this year. Yes, you should plant those. They are the bomb diggity. ~~Dee

  6. This post speaks to me, Dee. We’re going through similar life changes and garden adjustments. I love having a cutting garden, too, and the flowers come in handy for flower duty at church. I wasn’t happy with the Zinnias I planted this year (well, they were beautiful, but the size of the blooms didn’t measure up), so thanks for the ideas for next year! I skipped Zinnias one year and regretted it–never again! They’re a staple for me now. 🙂 Lovely photos!

    1. Beth, I’m so pleased it speaks to you. I want to see your cutting garden next year. I always have Zinnias. I miss their cheery faces otherwise.

  7. So beautiful! And I truly love the idea of growing a cutting garden alongside your edibles. I appreciate the hollyhocks reminder. Have made that mistake and felt sad when they never bloomed.

  8. My son took all the half-used and old packets of flower seed, mixed them together, and sowed them as a cover crop in the vegetable garden. In our climate, seed sown annuals such as cosmos and zinnias don’t start blooming until late August or early September, but we have been cutting bouquets all autumn long. It’s been fun to see what pops up where.

  9. Hi Dee,

    Nice post! I’m a big fan of cutting gardens – there’s nothing like fresh flowers in the house and it prevents me from stripping my perennial gardens too. My new favorite addition are gladiolus. I’ve been buying giant bags at big box stores and staggering the planting times. I also have zero guilt about not lifting them in the Fall because they’re relatively inexpensive.

    Regards,

    Caroline

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