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Originally published Friday, June 28, 2013 at 11:02 AM

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Think of your flowers as bouquets in waiting

Get out there and snip away on herbs, vegetables, shrubs and branches as well as flowers, says Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton.

Special to The Seattle Times

A flower farmer's favorites

Diane Szukovathy of Jello Mold Farm shares her shortlist:

Peonies: Pick peonies at the "marshmallow" stage when flower buds are soft, but not yet open. Top picks include 'Coral Supreme,' 'Raspberry Charm' and 'Sarah Bernhardt.'

Helleborus orientalis: "Never met one I didn't like in a vase, and they're pretty useful in the garden, too." The trick for getting a long vase life with hellebores is to cut them after they have matured some and the main flowers have dropped their stamens.

Sweet peas: "Where else but Britain can you get sweet peas to bloom into September? They love our climate, especially the Spencer varieties." 'April in Paris' is exquisitely fragrant. Keep sweet peas deadheaded, and they will bloom and bloom.

Roses: "The very fragrant David Austin varieties still break my heart. Some of my favorites that grow well in our climate are: 'Abraham Darby,' 'Golden Celebration' and 'Jude the Obscure.' I also included these because they will repeat bloom all summer, making good use of limited real estate."

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine': This is one monarda that doesn't get powdery mildew for us. Flowers are a bright raspberry red that attracts hummingbirds by the drove, and the foliage has a wonderful minty fragrance. Long vase life, too.

Helenium: Particularly H. autumnale varieties because they bloom in early fall, with a lovely range of red, orange and yellow tones. Pick when open, but not too mature and they will last 10 days in a vase.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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THE NEW cutting garden is your entire garden, from ground covers to tree branches and everything in between. And here's the bonus: Planting with an eye toward bouquet-making will so perk up your garden. No more blob-like plants with stems too short for cutting. You'll sharpen your eye for colors, combinations and scent. There's nothing like bringing a sweet-smelling flower indoors where you can swoon over it 24/7 to make you a fragrant plant devotee.

There's been lots of talk lately about cutting gardens being the new, new thing, but most of us don't have space or time to cultivate a traditional, flower-filled one that looks good only a few months of the year. And there's no need.

I got into gardening so I'd have the fresh flowers I craved for bouquets, and ever since, my gardening and flower arranging life have been pleasantly synchronistic. Each inspire and inform the other, to the crazy extent that I all too often dig up and rearrange plants to echo a color or textural combo I've noticed for the first time in the vase.

Please don't worry about cutting from the garden. In fact, get out there and snip away on herbs, vegetables, shrubs and branches as well as flowers. Thoughtful cutting shapes plants while thinning to let in air and light. You'll be surprised to find you can cut a nice, big bouquet and not even notice the plunder.

If you're not already an organic gardener, you soon will be. Who wants to set a vase of anything but the cleanest flowers on the kitchen table? Most store-bought flowers have been doused in chemicals, grown in hothouses and shipped halfway around the world. Nothing is more local and "greener" than the plants you cultivate organically in your own garden. Thankfully, we have better environmental choices now with the Seattle Wholesale Grower's Market encouraging local flower farmers. Still, nothing beats stepping out your door in the morning to gather dew-fresh flowers you've grown yourself.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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