If you’ve ever dreamed of adding cut flowers to your vegetable garden setup, you probably have some favorites in mind. Just looking through Instagram feeds may inspire you to want to grow all of the flowers. Based on her experience, our garden contributor Jenna Rich, who owns Partners Gardens in New Hampshire with her partner Tyler, shares some of her favorites to add as a novice grower.
Read below to learn some ways you can succeed at adding cut flowers to your vegetable garden.
Choosing Flowers for a Cutting Garden
Here in New Hampshire, finding cut flowers that survive as perennials and can serve as good cutting flowers is tough, especially since Tyler and I learned to grow them in lovely Zone 6b, where we lived in North Carolina! In 2018, when we started Partners’ Gardens, I ordered lots of seeds and tried a lot of different kinds of flowers to see what did well here in our landscape and climate. I planted dahlia tubers that I didn’t pay enough attention to. I put in lots of random fillers but I struggled with germination as I was new to direct seeding. I put in early season stock, but didn’t realize it would attract flea beetles, as it is in the brassica family.
All of that being said, 2022 is my fifth year growing at Partners’ Gardens and I have certainly learned a ton over these past few years.
Here is my best advice from a novice flower farmer.
Research different types of flowers and their cold hardiness, considering your region’s climate.
Read the seed packets for recommendations on start times, how best to germinate (some need light!), and days to maturity.
Be sure you know when it’s best to plant your seedlings outside. Some actually prefer the cooler spring temps while others thrive in dry, hot summers.
Take into account the amount of full sun versus shaded areas your garden will offer.
Prepare your space well. You want your cutting garden to be weed free, amended so your soil is nice and healthy, and shaped. If you plan on planting on landscape fabric or compostable mulch, have that in place. You can do all of this early in the spring as soon as you can work the soil.
Try incorporating native plants in your design, as these will attract beneficial insects and birds who might have trouble finding other suitable snacks.
Design your garden in a way that it will flourish all season. Some flowers have a short harvest period while others will continue to grow as long as you deadhead them.
If you also grow vegetables, look up which flowers will serve as good companion plants. For example, alliums help to deter deer and other rodents from items such as lettuce. The deer in Nelson seem to really love organic Coastal Star romaine heads.
Grow what makes you happy!
Getting started building your cutting garden
Okay, so you’re ready to build a cutting flower garden. There are so many flowers to choose from that you’re probably wondering where to start!
Here are 10 easy to grow and low maintenance flowers:
Snapdragons. These will bloom pretty much all season. Pinched back, they will branch out and give you tons of blooms. They look gorgeous when in full bloom and last a long time in a vase. Madame Butterfly and Rocket Mix are our favorites.
Zinnias. These guys are really the summer favorite at our farm. They come in every color imaginable, are extremely prolific, and don’t need any staking. These are a long-lasting, cut-and-come-again flower that will have you wishing you had planted more each summer (and you should!). Benary’s Giant Mix and Oklahoma Formula are some of our favorites.
Sunflowers. There is a variety for everyone; so many types to choose from! You can leave these in the garden as food for bees and later, when they dry on the stalk, birds will eat the seeds, which is always fun to watch. All the varieties in the Procut series from Johnny’s Selected Seeds are great options and easy to grow. Jade is a small, buttercream flower that sends side shoots out after cutting the main head, making it a great option for cutting and then leaving for the birds.
Statice. Beautiful both fresh and dried, and comes in such gorgeous color palettes. This serves as a really great backdrop for a backyard bouquet.
Cosmos. We have always grown Versailles mix but last year we also fell in love with Double Click Mix. These do require some staking but they just keep on blooming all season long.
Yarrow. Another flower that comes in lots of fun colors. We have always had the pastels as well as the native white variety growing all around the farm, but this year we also added a Flowerburst Red blend and it has been an incredible producer with stunning bold colors in darker shades that complement our bright bouquets well.
Borage. We discovered this in 2020 as a fun and absolutely stunning edible flower that has a lovely cucumber taste. We did not know however, that pollinators go nuts for it! The plants are always buzzing. Also, it will come back each year (always a fun discovery to make).
Ageratum. This is a super fun pop of blue/purple that’s great for any bouquet. And the bees love this stuff! It does go by quickly so be sure to pick it early, before it fluffs out.
Strawflowers. Native to Australia, these can take droughts very well and seem to do well with lots of rain as well. They are very prolific, dry really well, and come in lots of amazing colors. They attract tons of butterflies, bees, and hoverflies. They tend to need a little support but it’s worth the extra step.
Nasturtium. I didn’t think of these as cutting flowers until I used them in table bouquets in small Mason jars. The way their vines draped over the jar was so whimsical and simple. I am a sucker for the Jewel Mix but would like to venture into trying other varieties that offer more muddled and speckled patterns. Although these are technically vining plants, they have always done well for us as a border plant as well. They are said to attract pollinators and hoverflies, a predator of pests like aphids, so you could try planting them near lettuce if you have an aphid issue.
Filling in your bouquets
As far as fun filler flowers, herbs actually make quite a great backdrop for bouquets! All types of basil, mint (we use Mountain Mint), cilantro, and dill are great and they add an amazing scent. What I love about using herbs is that they play multiple roles on the farm as both bouquet filler and dried for tea! We also use Sweet Annie, a stunning, glittery Artemisia annual known also as sweet wormwood, Persian cress, Feverfew and Statice on the regular.
There are so many others to choose from so try a bunch and see what works in your region and in your space!
Keeping Flowers in Bloom
When you start flowers from seed, you can delay their blooms by a few weeks by pinching them off above the first set of true leaves. This will force energy into the roots, creating long stems and encouraging them to branch out. It is worth the wait because you will have more flowers all season long.
The more you cut and deadhead your plants, the more growth and yields you will see. This allows you to enjoy their beauty inside and outside! One of my absolute favorite things about growing flowers is that the shades of blooms alter slowly throughout the season. Spring offers the contrast to greens and browns we crave after a long winter.
Summer brings bright and blooming colors. And then in fall, just like the leaves on the trees, the colors start to soften a bit and darken. The same variety that might have been bright orange or red turns more of a burgundy or brown shade, sometimes offering striations that didn’t exist earlier in the year.
The joys of having flowers on your farm
Flowers, as so many of us believe, are food for the soul. They are intricate, delicate, and beautiful. They are also strong, some having the ability to hold themselves up in high winds and even tolerate drought. Many of them start with the tiniest of seeds, taking many days or weeks to germinate under very specific conditions. They are food for pollinators and can serve as habitats for vital native insects. The color palette and design you can create in your space is endless. Creating bouquets to give to friends and family also brings great joy.
So while growing food is extremely rewarding and special in its own way, there is something incredibly magical about walking through a field of flowers you started from seed, cared for, kept safe, cultivated, and loved that cannot be described. I encourage anyone with outdoor space to add annual or perennial flowers to their design. You won’t regret it!