The 400 Square Foot Cutting Garden: The Flowers
I’ll be going over the species that we’ll be using for our cutting garden.
While we could easily spend thousands of dollars on this project, I’ve decided to limit it to $!00 for seeds and plants.
Why $100? That’s within the budget for most people. Even a teenager wanting to start their own business could probably find $!00 in seed money (ha!) to get themselves started.
It’s also important to ensure that if you’re doing this as a business, you keep your overhead low.
I also decided to source from seed suppliers that don’t require a wholesale account and are readily accessible to the public.
After a lot of poring through seed catalogs and websites, I decided on Johnny’s Select Seeds as the best company. They have excellent customer service, a good selection of seeds, high quality product, and are very economical when it comes to their prices.
Now let’s talk about the flowers we’re going to grow.
Zinnias are a mainstay of all flower farmers and gardeners alike - and for good reason. When it comes to growing excellent focal flowers with good form and coloration, few flowers rival the zinnia.
Although initially a very simple daisy-like compound scrubby flower, years and years of breeding have developed the zinnia into a gorgeous many-petaled fluffy specimen that appears similar to a fancy gebera daisy or a matsumoto aster.
Even better than the color and shape is the ease of which they will grow for you. Whether in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida or Alaska, zinnias grow readily and quickly and abundantly. One of the easiest annual flowers to grow from seed, it may be overlooked initially but its role as a workhorse on the flower farm cannot be overstated.
Growing to a full blooming plant in two months or so, zinnias are loved for their cut and come again nature - meaning that the more flowers you cut from them, the more they produce. A single plant can produce a dozen beautiful long stems to cut, and in a few weeks you can cut even more from it. And from a few plants, you can cut armloads of zinnias all summer long, continuing to bloom until frost.
Although you can technically grow the generic zinnias that are a staple in casual gardens - State Fair, Cut and Come Again, Lilliput - my general thought is that these zinnias, while pretty on their own, give a very amateur appearance to arrangements. We have instead supersized, highly bred zinnias that are fluffy and full in form - perfect for making arrangements - Benary Giant ‘Deep Wine’, ‘Queen Red Lime’, ‘Queen Lime with Blush’, ‘Jazzy Mix’ and ‘Oklahoma Salmon’
Benary Giant Deep Wine
The Benary Giant zinnias are a mainstay for us, the large blooms reaching a good 3” in diameter, often appearing like thick chamois wheels, the petals appearing to be packed upon themselves like the feathers of a bird, or sometimes even appearing like a sphere of petals, almost like a ball-dahlia in appearance.
A Benary Giant zinnia is well worth its space and investment, since it will draw the attention and focus of any viewer - making it the perfect focal flower for your arrangements. And honestly, a few Benary Giants thrown into a bouquet is all you need to make it look amazing. Our favorite colors include the Deep Wine - a jewel toned zinnia that mixes well with all the other floral materials we are growing to create a rich and saturated and bold arrangement.
Zinnias - Queen Lime Red, Queen Lime with Blush
The Queen series was introduced a while back, immediately changing the way that people view zinnias. As opposed to the garish fruit-snack colored shades that we were all used to growing in the garden and seeing at the farmer’s market, the Queen series are multicolored big full zinnias that are different and wonderful and changing the way we view zinnias.
If I could only grow one series of flowers, it would be the Queen series - Queen Red Lime, Queen Lime Queen Lime with Blush and Queen Orange Lime varieties. Their multicolored, subtle hues and tight petaled forms give a far different appearance to the usual zinnias. Appearing antiqued with the muddy, pale, and dusty colors that are so en vogue right now, they add an air of sophistication and elegance to arrangements and bouquets they are a part of.
These multicolored flowers that have different hues are very important. They help to bridge the gap between colors that can be somewhat jarring or nonsensical on their own. For example, a Scabiosa ‘Dark Knight’ and white Cosmos ‘Purity’ is too striking when placed right next to each other - almost a black and white coloration that reminds me of a color combo out of the nineties - but if you’re able to blend it with a Queen Lime Red zinnia, it starts to create more variation and subtlety in the arrangement that allows the colors to flow and blend much more.
Just as the Queen Red Lime zinnia is bold and beautiful and demands attention, her sister - the Queen Lime with Blush - is the complete introversion of the Queen Red Lime as far as color with pale chartreuse petals covering the majority of the flower that are tipped with the faintest hint of blush towards the end.
The same way that a Queen Red Lime gives more visual weight, the Queen Lime with Blush allows for a spacer, a visual lightness that allows the eye to relax. It functions much like a hydrangea or snowball viburnum would in an arrangement, giving the feeling of coolness, tranquility, and balancing out well the hot jewel tones.
While the Queen series zinnias are fairly uniform in their appearance, the ‘Jazzy’ mix is as wide and varied as possible. Doubles, singles, open eyes, more ball-like or pompon shaped, dark red, bright orange, solid colors with white edges and more combinations occur.
I love the color variety as well - everything from a buttery ivory to velvety burgundy to bronze, they are all bold and deep colors that lend a richness to any arrangement they are a part of.
They’re not terribly big - maybe an inch or two across - and they’re also not super tall or bushy like the Benary or Queen series. On the other hand, this is a good thing because they’re better able to combine into arrangements to create more of a show as opposed to hogging the spotlight, acting as a secondary flower to the primary flower to create a sense of rhythm (this is a nice designing hack - use different flowers of the same species to create a sense of cohesion and unity while also offering variety).
The other zinnias are actually a totally different species - Zinnia elegans, while the Jazzy mix is actually Zinnia haageana, and therefore has a very different growing habit. Acting more like a bedding or carpeting plant, it usually only gets to around 18”, which isn’t super tall but is useable enough for small arrangements. Instead of expecting long stems with big flowers that are fewer in number, you’re going to get large sprays of diminutive flowers that are delicate on their own, but definitely have a presence when massed together.
In the same way that ‘Jazzy Mix’ is smaller but more prolific, so are the Oklahoma series of zinnias. A favorite of flower farmers for years, the Oklahoma series are far more prolific, hardy, and longer lasting compared to the Benary Giants or the Queen series.
The Oklahoma flowers are one of the most consistent as far as flowering style - always producing at least a fluffy double flower form, sometimes also producing a more spherical shape, and even a beehive shape if you get lucky - all of which are perfect for tucking into arrangements. The coloration of the salmon variety is particularly nice - a blend of salmon, coral, peach, blush, dusty rose and oranges that are perfect for blending with other colors in a way that makes them unobtrusive - they are true team players of an arrangement.
Hands down one of the most prolific zinnias we’ve grown over the years, I’m not kidding when I say you’ll be harvesting buckets of these zinnias without even trying. They do well in the heat and humidity of Midwestern summers as well as they do in the dry heat and extreme sun exposure of the Southwest, and will reward you with hundreds of blooms off just a few plants. Their long stems and long vase life also make them an excellent variety to choose, and if I had to pick just one flower as a grower - this would be it.
Make sure to pinch the Oklahomas when small - they will reward you with sending out even more lateral shoots that will keep you well plied with a bounty of blooms all season long.
If you’re interested in learning more about growing zinnias, you can read up on growing gorgeous zinnias for floral design here
Gomphrena Strawberry Fields, QIS carmine, QIS orange
Gomphrena are a relatively underused flower when it comes to design and flower farming. It might be because they are lollipop shaped and don’t really have much of a curve or shape to their stem. It might also be because they are usually in bright colors that are hard to blend in some cases in with other flowers.
It might also be because they are arduous to harvest single stems. It may also be because it has a very specific “farmer” vibe to its appearance, since they grace farmer’s markets all across America.
I on the other hand am here to tell you that if you’re looking for a very prolific, colorful, hard as nails flower that will perform for you even in the hottest heat of the summer, then gomphrena are the plant for you. It cranks out sprays of stems, each tipped with the bright and colorful heads they are well known for.
It’s not so much the coloration that is problematic when it comes to designing with them - it’s more the lack of design knowledge that is an issue. I particularly like orange gomphrena tucked into arrangements - you don’t even really notice that they’re present. They are particularly sturdy in the vase, outlasting pretty much every other material without going limp or flopping even once.
As I mentioned, they are pretty much indestructible when it comes to growing them. Their large seeds makes them easy to sow, they like the heat and drought, they don’t need staking or netting, and you can pretty much neglect them while they will continue to produce stem after stem of happy button-shaped colorful flowers for you. We also like to dry large bunches of them for designing in fall and winter, especially into dried bouquets and wreaths.
Scabiosa ‘Dark Knight’
There are a lot of materials that we can choose from when it comes to growing flowers. While some of them, like the basil and the mint and the salvia are for providing a lot of bulk in arrangements to give them heft and the feeling of abundance, some materials are more for providing that special touch and magic to an arrangement.
Scabiosa are one of those materials. It would take a lot of the thin, skinny, wiry stems to fill up a bouquet - but that’s not why we’re growing it. Those same skinny, wiry stems that make them seem rather insubstantial are also the way that scabiosa can integrate themselves flawlessly into any arrangement, weaving in and out and around the stems of other flowers.
Scabiosa are easy to grow, easy to maintain, and will produce in flushes. For us here in New Mexico, scabiosa will continue to produce the entire season, with the best flush of flowers coming from the first bloom in around June and then again in September and October once the weather cools down again. They will continue to produce all summer, adding their vertical element to your arrangements.
We’ve tried all the annual scabiosas and have found ‘Dark Knight’ to be the one we grow over and over and over again. With the strongest color, form and tallest thickest stems compared to all the other varieties, we end up using it in every arrangement we make over the season.
The nice thing about scabiosa is that you are able to pack in a lot of plants into a small amount of space - which again, is one of the main qualities we are selecting for in our species - so from a relatively small amount of plants you will be able to harvest a lot of stems off each plant.
If you find yourself unable to keep up with the harvest, you’ll find that the petals will start falling off, leaving you with a prickly seedhead that also works well as a structural or textural element in an arrangement. While we don’t like to usually let the seedheads develop since it slows down production from the plant, it’s a nice addition every once in a while when we get lazy about deadheading the scabiosa.
If you’re interested in learning more about growing scabiosa, you can read more in this in-depth guide to growing this fabulous little flower here.
Basil ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Lemon’
Out of all the flower materials that we’re growing, the basils are by far the most important and most invaluable when it comes to creating arrangements. They are the base and infrastructure upon which all the arrangements are created - without them, there is nothing.
I exaggerate a little bit, but at the same time they really do make the arrangement happen. Interestingly enough, you can even just offer a large bunch of flowering basil and you’ve pretty much got your bouquet or arrangement already made - adding just a few focal flowers and a couple stems for variety, and you’ve got a great arrangement.
Both of these varieties are very prolific and very easy to grow - either growing quickly from transplants or direct sowing - which will allow for you to quickly grow loads of material to fill up your arrangements.
‘Cinnamon’ in particular is a favorite of ours. We’ve grown other darker colored basils like ‘Aromatto’ and ‘Dark Opal’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’ but have had issues with hydrating them consistently - Dark Opal for instance is absolutely gorgeous, but has a 50/50 chance of flopping. ‘Cinnamon’ on the other hand, consistently hydrates for us, being one of the longest lasting materials (sometimes even rooting) in the vase.
The dark forest green leaves and dark purple stems and deep purple flowers make for a wonderful floral material. The glossy surface of the leaves with soft touches of burgundy and mauve contrast well with lighter colored flowers as well as combining well with burgundy and dark colored flowers as well. The flowering spikes that grow are wonderful vertical elements to bouquets, adding textural interest in addition to the foliage.
‘Lemon’ on the other hand is as light and fair as ‘Cinnamon’ is dark and bold. With chartreuse-lime green leaves, dusty light green seed bracts and pale white flowers as well as a slim upright growth habit and citrusy-lemon scent, there is a lot to love about it.
Although not quite as bulky or broad-leafed as ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Lemon’ is still a very productive, prolific and elegant foliage to grow. We love tucking tall straight stems into bouquets, a perfect accompaniment to white cosmos, Queen series zinnias and salvia viridis to create a lovely light colored summer bouquet.
Basil is fantastic because as soon as you harvest it, it grows back with lightning speed. Being a member of the Lamiaceae family - also including similarly productive and vigorous species like mint - it’s of no surprise that it is so productive. And it’s a good thing too, because basil will continually fill up your arrangements with its glossy leaves and tall spires of flowers.
Cosmos - ‘Purity’, ‘Dazzler’
Cosmos are, per square foot, the most productive cut flower you can grow. You can cut and cut and continue cutting buckets upon buckets of flowers from a tiny patch of cosmos all season long and you won’t even notice a difference.
One of the easier flowers to grow, cosmos are one of the more popular species of garden flower due to their large and easily handled seeds that can be direct sown. Small, airy leafed shoots pop up a short while later which eventually stretch up to seven feet, covered in blooms.
Each individual blossom is not long lasting - maybe a few days at most - but when you have multiple buds on a stem, they have the effect of lasting for as long as a week or more depending on how many buds there are on a stem. This gives the illusion of a long vase life, and in my opinion also adds to the romantic properties of a flower (although I’m a big fan of having petals strewn everywhere underneath an arrangement).
Requiring warm weather to really start taking off, you’ll find that cosmos just kind of sulks until the weather really starts warming up - and then it starts gaining momentum, exploding into a green cloud of foliage seemingly overnight. . It’s important that for designing into smaller arrangements that you give it a big pinch or chop initially - to promote many lateral side shoots that will provide long and cuttable stems for arrangements.
Another nice benefit of cosmos is actually its lush fluffy foliage. Appearing fern-like in texture, it is similar to a dill or asparagus fern - and can accordingly be used as a foliage design element in a bouquet or arrangement. When we use it as a filler or foliage, we cut an entire stem, buds and all, but leave the foliage on the stems to create volume and bulk in our arrangements.
I’ve chosen the two simple varieties of ‘Purity’ and ‘Dazzler’ in white and fuchsia tones respectively to match our two major color palettes that are forming - monochromatic white and jewel bold tones - to ensure that we can blend and mix as needed. I have seed leftover of these two varieties, so although Johnny’s doesn’t carry these in particular, they do have the substitute of the ‘Sensation Mix’ or you can choose single color varieties like ‘Rubenza’ and ‘Afternoon White’ to mimic these two.
Bachelor Buttons - Black and White
Bachelor buttons were one of the first flowers I ever grew. They are one of the easiest and hardiest flowers I’ve ever grown as well, and they always will have a special place in my heart when it comes to being a cut flower.
While I do love the bright blue traditional bachelor button, they don’t necessarily mix that well with the other flowers we’ve selected - so instead I’ve opted for the two colors of black and white that are much more amenable to our color palettes.
The black bachelor buttons are particularly nice, with a very deep burgundy purple color that is very striking with its silvery-grey stems and foliage. These black bachelor buttons I use similarly to scabiosa or chocolate cosmos - as little points of punctuation that help to draw the eye around and give the arrangement some grounding.
The white bachelor buttons on the other hand are light and bright, much like a corn cockle flower of the same color, adding a sort of grace and elegance to an arrangement especially when used on a long stem.
Both colors are equally vigorous and you’ll find yourself picking armloads of them off a relatively small patch. They are also one of the longest blooming hardy annuals - at around twelve weeks of bloom time - and for us a couple successions will get us through the entire growing season.
While you can pick individual stems of flowers, I really like to harvest an entire stalk of bachelor buttons with multiple buds and side shoots. I can either use the entire stalk if I’m making a larger arrangement, or I can then clean and cut off the laterals for use in multiple smaller arrangements.
If you sow bachelor buttons in the early spring (or late fall) then they will be very tall and robust when they bloom in late spring - almost bush-like in appearance and growing to four feet tall. If you sow bachelor buttons in mid spring to early summer, the plants will be shorter and more squatty with less branching but also thicker stronger stems.
It’s important to keep bachelor buttons deadheaded - they’ll start diverting all their energy towards seed and start to die off in the summer heat otherwise - but so long as you keep them deadheaded they should bloom for a very long time for you.
One of our favorite combinations is actually mixing bachelor buttons with cosmos and scabiosa - which are similar in form and function when it comes to arranging - to create a very light and airy arrangement. Even when we get some wonky stems - due to bachelor buttons toppling over in a wind or heavy rainfall - that tends to work in our favor by creating interesting lines and shapes.
Bachelor buttons last a while in the vase when the water is kept clean and fresh and topped off. You’ll start to notice the flowers starting to fade and go limp before the stems do, so feel free to either pick off the dying flower petals or leave them if the arrangement is close to the expiration date.
Our favorite foliage and filler, mint is such a useful and such a robust material to grow. Yes it can be invasive, yes it can start choking out other plants, but when harvested regularly and grown correctly, it will provide you with a seemingly endless supply of cut flower material.
We don’t mind mint being invasive - we simply pull the runners and plant them elsewhere - but if you’re worried about them being invasive, simply plow or dig down on either side of your row or bed to cut off any runners and prevent them from spreading outwards. The best part is that when you cut off runners, the mint plant will oftentimes focus on growing stems closer to the base of the plant, making your mint plant even more productive.
Our favorite variety of mint is apple mint - Mentha suaveolens. Not only is it large and tall with thick stems and easy to cut and harvest, but it also has a beautiful fuzzy leaf that appears silvery in the sunlight and also helps with its drought tolerance and easy hydration. As if that weren’t enough, it’s scent is nice and light and herbal. It even has a pretty bloom, a silvery-pale-lilac bottle-brush shaped inflorescence that works well into arrangements.
Luckily for us as growers, mint is so vigorous and productive that it multiplies very quickly, filling beds in one growing season. It also roots very easily - one of the easiest plants to propagate via cuttings, sometimes rooting in just a couple of days - and we can easily make a 72 cell tray from a couple stems of mint that will go on to become giant patches of mint later on.
We start harvesting mint when it starts to flower - sometimes we can harvest it beforehand, but we always make sure that the stems are nice and thick before we start to do so. Even still, sometimes it needs a bit of encouragement when hydrating, so we always dip the cut ends in boiling water for around 10 seconds or so to help the mint take up water - this enables them to get a nice and deep drink of cool water.
Mint is going to be one of the most long-lived items in your vase. We’ve actually had mint start to root in the vase - which goes to show you just how hardy and vigorous it is. It works well in arrangements and in bouquets, playing well as a hardy and beautiful foliage. And did I mention the scent that draws everyone in and is a pleasant surprise when you move the arrangement from room to room?
Don’t worry about it being invasive or getting out of control - that only happens when you don’t harvest enough of the mint. If you keep cutting stems from it, you’ll be able to keep it from getting too vigorous and spreading. We always dig a trench around our mint bed so that we are able to chop off any runners in the spring that try to escape
Strawflower, Sultane Mix
Strawflowers are a really interesting flower since they serve two functions for us - both as a fresh flower, as well as a dried one. They are known for their shape as a dried flower - being one of the few compound flowers that you can actually dry without worrying about the withering of their petals - but can be used just as effectively as a fresh cut. They last forever in the vase, and truly will last forever if dried and added to dried arrangements.
Their flowers are interesting. Brightly colored with a glossy, satiny texture (reminding me of the gleaming stems of straw, which explains their name) they transform from a perfectly spherical globe all the way to a daisy-like bloom, their petals overlapping in layers much like a large fluffy bird.
The petals are surprisingly hard and crisp, almost like a stiff parchment paper, and they also make a noise like rustling paper if you run your hand over them. The prototypical everlasting flower, their low moisture content ensures that they dry easily. Coming in a range of colors from dark purple to bright red to pale rose silver and peach all the way to white, there are a wide range of colors to mix and match with other materials.
Needing a long and cool establishment period (but still sensitive to major freezes, which will kill them off) strawflowers are best planted in early spring before it starts getting too hot outside. Make sure to cover them with a bit of floating row cover if you are going to be getting a hard cold snap that will freeze things. On the other hand, strawflowers will shrug off light frosts once established - and they do very well in the cold and cool.
Once established, strawflowers are a relatively low maintenance crop. Aside from keeping them harvested and deadheaded, a crop of strawflowers will produce for you all summer long until frost. Pinching them to produce more stems is important, as is keeping them deadheaded and cutting down at the base of the plant to ensure numerous long stems are produced by the plant.
Clary Sage (Salvia viridis)
This hardy and productive plant is a little known, little grown flower - which is a shame, because it is such an easy plant to grow and is an absolute lifesaver when it comes to making bouquets.
Clary sage will bloom well before anything else starts blooming and will continue all the way up until frost - beating out pretty much any other material in terms of both window of harvest as well as productivity. You can cut and cut and cut from these plants and they will continue to reward you by pumping out long stems of deep purple, bright pink and bright white vertical spires.
In fact, the most challenging aspect of growing clary sage is keeping up with it - I’ve had rows get away from me because I couldn’t keep up with harvesting. But this is a good thing!
Clary sage is wonderful because it definitely adds that “wildflower” look that we desire in our arrangements. Just adding a few stems of this to any bouquet or arrangement will immediately give it the garden esthetic that makes your arrangement look casual, yet fancy at the same time.
You can use clary sage in an arrangement as a vertical element - their spires of color certainly add a great vertical shape to any arrangement they are part of - or you can also use them as a foliage or as a filler too, depending on your esthetic.
If you’re using it as a foliage, clip the stems before you start seeing color on the bracts - unless you want to include it as part of your arrangement - and you can treat it the same way you would a mint or a basil or other foliage.
If you’re using it as a filler, I’d advise adding a lot of stems together to create a feeling of rhythm and repetition in your arrangement. Don’t worry, your clary sage will continue to produce all the way until frost!
When harvesting, ensure that you using a boiling water treatment to ensure the longest vase life possible. We generally wait until the stems become a bit woody at the base - meaning they start feeling very stiff instead of floppy or succulent - before harvesting, which incidentally is at the same time it starts to flower.