All in all, my cutting garden did okay this summer. However, with the persistent dry conditions here in western North Carolina, I did have to water on a regular basis.
Let’s start with the sweet peas. This year I grew Lipstick, a designer sweet pea from Renee’s Garden. Introduced from England, this haute garden variety provided masses of classic, ruffled, cherry red sweet pea blossoms. These were borne on long stems that were just perfect for cutting. And it was easy to coordinate this color with the stems of other summer flowers.
Garden Orchids Perennial sweet peas from Renee’s are an antique variety that was favored by Thomas Jefferson. At maturity, its vigorous stems easily reached ten feet or more. At the ends of the stems were giant spikes of blossoms that were 1½ inches across. They came in a variety of colors, including rose, shell pink, and white. These were perfect for cut flowers.
In general, you will get better germination with sweet peas if you soak the seeds before planting. For the perennial types, there is one other procedure that can be used instead of soaking—exposing them to cold winter temperatures. This can easily be done by planting them during the fall months so they will come up the following spring. I have used both techniques, and they work very well.
The Lace Mantle sweet William also came from Renee’s. This turned out to be an ideal cut flower. It blooms the very first year the seeds are planted, which isn’t true for most sweet Williams. It provided fluffy blossoms in a number of shades, including various pinks and corals to purples, rose, velvety maroon, and pure white. Often, the veins or edges were trimmed in white, giving them a lace-like appearance. Borne on tall, stately stalks, these released a gentle, spicy fragrance.
Angels’ Choir Shirley poppy from Renee’s aren’t adapted to hot weather, so I sowed these as early as possible. Up to four inches across, the exquisite, double flowers bloomed in a variety of colors. Among these were corals, pinks, salmon, lavender, and white. Some were picotees. These opened on nodding stems.
A number of my favorite cut flowers turned out to be heirlooms, including Mr. Majestic marigold from Territorial Seed Company. This originated in Scotland. The blossoms featured bands of contrasting shades of color in a pinwheel fashion. Radiating from the center, the rich brown streaks provided beautiful accent on the gold petals. The strong, sturdy plants grew to about a foot in height, and were quite floriferous. They never quit blooming all season along.
My Whirligig zinnias, also from Territorial, were just perfect for cutting. These have become my favorite zinnia for cut flowers. All of these bicolor flowers were beautifully double. They easily reached three inches in diameter. At the tips of the petals there were contrasting colors. This mix produced blossoms in an unbelievable beautiful range of colors, including light and darker pinks, rose, orange, yellow, and white. Some of these reminded me of the vibrant colors of the sunset. The blooms weren’t the only source of color. At the base of the leaves where they are attached to the stem there were gorgeous tinges of pinkish-red.
One of the most reliable cut flowers I grew in 2006 was a 2007 All-America Selections (AAS) winner. Celosia Fresh Look Gold is a new addition to the Fresh Look series. Earlier, Fresh Look Red was awarded a gold medal by AAS. Fresh Look Gold is suitable for use as a fresh cut flower and as an everlasting. The fluffy, golden yellow blossoms opened on sturdy stems. Seeds and plants of this variety will be available from mail-order and online sources as well as at local nurseries and garden centers during the spring of 2007. This plant is easy to grow from seed. I started mine indoors about four to six weeks before the expected last spring frost, barely covering the seeds. They germinated in about one to two weeks.
My Sunset purple coneflower from Dutch Gardens is a hit. The robust, vigorous plants grew to around 2½ feet in height. They produced lots of blossoms in a new palette. Unlike the common wildflower with its pinkish petals, this bears dainty, quill-like, narrow petals that contrast nicely with the brown center. These were exquisite in summer bouquets.
The Forever and Ever hydrangeas from Zelenka Nursery are to die for. These included Forever and Ever Pink, Forever and Ever red, which are both mopheads, and Forever and Ever Double Pink. Their flower heads are as large as dinner plates. They bloom freely on new wood, and are wonderful for both cut flowers and everlastings. The Forever and Ever plants should be available at local garden centers and nurseries. These sturdy, dependable shrubs are thriving in the partial shade of my side yard. Depending on the pH of your soil, Forever and Ever Pink can actually produce blue blossoms. These shrubs helped to fill in those times when my perennials weren’t in bloom. The ever-blooming plants remain attractive throughout the growing season. By the way, Forever and Ever Double Pink makes a great container plant.