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DIY summer arrangements

Bring colour indoors with home-grown fresh-cut flowers

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Photos by Amanda Muis Brown

Planting a dedicated cut-flower garden or incorporating more flowers for cutting in your beds and borders can help you keep fresh flowers at home without paying retail prices.

Jayme Melrose is co-owner of Props Floral Design and a business developer with Common Roots Urban Farm, both in Halifax. She says planning for cut flowers is different than that of a typical flower garden.

“In flower farming, plant spacing tends to be tighter than in a traditional flower garden with plants arranged in blocks or rows,” says Melrose. Cut flowers are often staked to keep plants upright and increase the number of stems in a small area.

Annual flowers are a popular choice for cutting gardens as they’re generally easy to grow, productive, and offer an assortment of flower shapes, sizes, and colours. You can grow them in a dedicated bed or interplanted with other plants in your gardens, including perennials, vegetables, and shrubs.

It’s not just annuals that make excellent cut flowers. You can plant hardy perennials like helenium, goldenrod, coneflowers, Japanese anemones, and ornamental grasses to yield masses of blooms for late-summer bouquets.
Most flowering plants need at least eight hours of sunlight and rich, well-drained soil. It’s OK if your soil is less-than-ideal, says Amanda Muis Brown, the author of the book From Seed to Centerpiece and the owner of Humble Burdock Farms in Steamville, N.S.

“Some annual flowers are secretly weeds in other countries, and will grow in poor soil conditions: cosmos, bachelor button, and zinnias,” she says.
If low light is your challenge, Muis Brown suggests perennial blooms like hosta, toad lily, and bugbane. “Everyone can have flowers,” she says. “You just need to get creative.”

Prepare the bed by digging in several centimetres of compost and flowering plant fertilizer to encourage production. You can seed or transplant annual flowers like zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, and marigolds into the garden. Do both to ensure the longest production of top-quality flowers.

Seedlings get a head start and provide an abundance of early to mid-summer flowers, while seeding extends your cut-flower harvest into late summer and autumn. Slower growing annual flowers like celosia, lisianthus, and amaranth grow best from seedlings planted in late spring.

As your plants grow, there are ways to encourage plenty of blooms. Annuals like zinnias, cosmos, amaranthus, and celosia benefit from pinching. Once the plants are about 30 centimetres tall, use sharp pruners to remove the top third, just above a set of new leaves. Your plant will grow multiple stems from below the cut, which means more blooms.

Healthy plants yield more flowers so feed annuals monthly with a liquid organic fertilizer. It’s also a good idea to deadhead. Removing spent flowers as they fade give the plant more energy to create new flower.

Once buds form, don’t wait until full bloom to harvest. “Most of the flowers in a cutting garden are harvested before full bloom,” says Melrose. This will help flowers last longer in a vase.

Must try late-season bloomers

Amaranthus: The showiest choices for late season bouquets. It grows up to 1.5 metres and yields large, dramatic flower tassels. Popular varieties for cutting include Love Lies Bleeding, Elephant Head, and Hot Biscuits.

Zinnias: One of the easiest annual flowers to grow creates long-lived cut flowers. The flower farmers love the recently introduced Queen series. Try cultivars like Queen Lime Red and Queen Lime Orange.

Sunflowers: Muis Brown is a big fan of sunflowers for late season bouquets. “They have such great colours and are long-lasting in the vase.” Leave some flowers in the garden for the birds and bees. For the longest season of blooms, sow fresh seeds every few weeks late spring through early July.

Dahlias: This late-season flower factory blooms mid-summer until frost. It produces bountiful flower sizes, shapes, and colours. Grow dahlias in garden beds or large containers. Place the tubers seven to 10 centimetres deep, and 60 centimetres to one metre apart.

Herbs: Dill is an essential culinary herb, but don’t underestimate its value as a cut flower. Dill self-seeds and adds texture through flowers and once it starts to turn to seed. “It also smells great, adds height to the garden, and the pollinators love it,” say Melrose. Muis Brown suggests including flowering stems of basil and coriander in bouquets.

Seed pods: Many flowers produce eye-catching seed pods as they fade. “Nigella, also called love-in-a-mist, is one of my absolute favourites,” says Muis Brown. “It has a lacy flower which turns into an interesting seed pod and you can use the blooms or the pods for interest in a bouquet.”

Niki Jabbour

East Coast Living