The 400 Square Foot Cutting Garden: Strategy
So now that I’ve convinced you that 400 square feet is going to be the way to go, how do we make it work?
It would be easy to just throw seed out into that plot and see what happens - at least in the beginning. I don’t recommend that approach - you’ll just end up with a wild and weedy mess that will be uncontrollable.
And that’s the important part about this whole venture - it’s all about control, about focus and about keeping things easy and organized.
In order to have success, we’re going to have a strategy. We are the commanders of this ship, and we need to be able to have a battle plan in order to succeed.
Here’s the overarching plan:
1) Use an intensive method of planting
2) Selecting the right varieties of flowers
By these two strategies, we’ll be able to overcome a lot of issues that might crop up with growing in a small area.
For example, if you planted an entire 400 square feet of bupleurum (humor me on this one) you would have a great spring crop… and then nothing until you can get something else planted in there. This would be ignoring the right variety of flower to grow, because you selected something that is both a one-hit wonder (blooms once then is done).
Another example would be if you spaced out your zinnias at the recommended 12” between each plant - you wouldn’t be able to fit many zinnias into your space - and you would have a very hard time dealing with the weeds that would pop up between your zinnias as opposed to if you planted them every 6” or so.
Let’s go over these two strategies in depth.
1) Using an Intensive Method of Planting
As part of our effort in maximizing our space, we will be planting flowers intensively. As I mentioned above, the recommended spacing is usually for planting out a small number of plants out into a landscape or garden bed. When it comes to growing flowers, you’re going to want to plant them closer - especially in this case, when you’re trying to use every square inch possible.
Personally, I find that the six inch spacing is pretty decent for most of the flowers we’ll be growing. There are some, like basil, that do well when clustered together even closer - we’re talking an inch or two together - while depending on your growing environment you may need to space out your plants further to prevent issues from powdery mildew or competition between flowers for resources like light and water.
The reason for planting intensively is to ensure that we’re using our space wisely, even foregoing pathways wider than 12” - which sounds super tiny, but I assure you is absolutely fine.
2) Selecting the Right Varieties of Flowers
Although there are many flowers that you can grow, there are some considerations that we took into choosing the species we are growing in our garden.
For one, we wanted to ensure that the flowers we choose are going to make good cut flowers in the vase. Not all flowers are created equal when it comes to this task. Take for example, morning glories - beautiful flowers, but will never last in the vase, wilting almost immediately after cutting them. Or there are some very pretty bedding dahlias such as those in the ‘Figaro’ series that are gorgeous to view but have very short stems that won’t allow you to arrange them at all.
There’s also the issue that we want our garden to be very productive. We want flowers that will continue to produce a lot of blooms for us to cut and enjoy. While we love peonies just as much as the next person, they only flower for maybe three weeks max out of the year - and after you’ve cut the flowers, the plants otherwise take up a lot of valuable real estate in a cutting garden. A zinnia on the other hand, will continue to produce armloads of blooms over the course of the growing season, blooming straight on until frost without slowing down.
There’s also the fact that some flowers are either are very tricky to grow, or take a long time to grow in order to get blooms. While we love baptisia, a cutting garden planted from small plants will take forever to get to the size where you can cut from them - and in the meantime you could have been growing a whole garden full of flowering plants. I would totally love to grow Meconopsis - the Himalayan Blue Poppy - but that will continue to be a pipe dream since it is notoriously finicky and difficult to grow for even people who live in their ideal environment.
Most of the flowers we are growing consist of quick, vigorous, colorful annuals that we are familiar with - zinnias, salvias, ornamental basil, cosmos, dahlias and ornamental grasses. They are all common flowers for the home gardener to grow, but it’s the perfect blend of focal blooms and color and texture that will allow us to enjoy cutting from it all season long.
Okay, so now we have our strategy of 1) intensive planting and 2) selecting the right varieties of flowers, the next step is the fun one - selecting our flowers to grow, which I will cover in the next post.