OK, we all know that the biggest reason to garden is for tomatoes. But one of my favorite reasons to garden is for the flowers. I love, LOVE to bring in a nice bouquet of flowers and set them on the kitchen table. These flower bouquets are not at all professional, just a jumble of pretty shapes, colors and aroma that brighten the room and make me smile.
The Language of Flowers
Not only do I like these flowers for their aesthetic appeal, but each flower has its own symbolic meaning. For centuries people have attached special
symbolic meaning to each flower in the garden. You probably already know that a rose symbolizes love and a violet symbolizes modesty. But did you know that a dandelion means happiness and a marigold means grief or jealousy?
During the Victorian age, it became quite the rage to give a bouquet of flowers chosen to convey feelings that could not be spoken aloud in polite company. There were several books written to help people decipher the language of flowers. One of my favorite books is The Language of Flowers, a story about a young woman who spent her life in foster care and has trouble connecting with others. But when she begins working as a florist, she finds that she has a special gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. Go. Check this book out and see if you don’t become as enchanted with flowers as I am.
Start from seed
The garden center has no end of bedding plants that will fill your yard with color, but most of them are not good for cutting. Bedding plants like petunias, violets and marigolds create a great splash of color to fill in all your flower beds around the house. But they are typically short-stemmed or are varieties that wilt or bruise easily, so you really can’t use them for arrangements.
That’s why I start most of my flowers from seed. For just a few dollars worth of seed, I get a tsunami of color to fill my flower vases all summer long and well into the fall.
Annual or Perennial?
You probably already know that there are two types of flowers: perennial and annual. The perennial flower will bloom year after year. You just plant it once and you get flowers forever. The annual flower blooms, goes to seed and dies by the end of summer. You have to plant it every year.
Well, actually there are three types: the beinnial flower will grow the first year and doesn’t bloom and produce seed until and the second year. Hollyhocks and delphiniums are biennials. But since they typically self-seed every year, you will have blooms every year as long as the ground is undisturbed. So it’s almost like they are annuals.
Well, OK. Technically there’s a fourth kind: the tender perennial is technically a perennial but it cannot survive cold winters. That means that it thrives hardiness zone 7 or above, but will die in any zones colder than that. So we treat those flowers like annuals. I say this because some of the flowers that I list as annuals may technically be a perennial, but they are so tender that they will not survive winters in most of the US.
Here is some of my frog collection. No, not the reptile frog. The flower vase frog.
These are supports for making flower arrangements. They help the flowers stay in place with little or no damage to the stem.
Since it’s time to be starting seeds indoors for spring planting, I’m going to start with annuals that I love for cut flower arrangements. Then in Part 2, I’ll talk about perennials that are good for cut flowers.
Zinnias are like the radish of the flower world. We start kids gardening with radishes becasue they are super easy to start from seed and practically fool-proof. Zinnias are the same. They grow quickly producing colorful flowers on a long, sturdy stem. If you cut at a joint or fork in the stem it will quickly produce two more stems with more flower ready to cut in a couple weeks.
Zinnias come in a huge variety of colors, sizes and shapes. There are three main kinds of zinnia flowers: single, semi-double, or double.
- Single zinnias have a single row of petals and a visible center.
- Double zinnias have numerous rows of petals and their centers are not visible.
- Semi-double zinnias are somewhere in-between, with numerous rows of petals but visible centers.
Zinnias also come in a variety of shapes, such as beehive, button, and what some call “cactus”–narrow, spiky petals. The colors are usually brilliant reds, yellows and oranges, although you can find more muted pinks and whites. You might also like some of the striking striped or spotted varieties.
Zinnias don’t like to be transplanted. But that’s OK. You can easily start them in their bed outdoors as soon as the soil temperature is 60°. Since you are quickly rewarded with fool-proof colorful flower this a good plant to help introduce children to gardening. If you want, you can try saving the seeds for replanting next season. But the colors will not always be true and you may find after 2-3 seasons
Some of the many zinnia varieties: Single, double, spotted and striped.
of saving the seed that they colors are dull and washed out.
Meaning: lasting affection, thinking of (or in memory of) an absent friend, constancy and goodness. (The meaning depends on the color.) This is why my grandmother had zinnias in her wedding bouquet.
Here is another great cut flower. They are easy to grow from seed and a great addition to your bouquets. Start seeds of statice flowers indoors, eight to ten weeks before the last frost date. They need to be hardened off for a couple weeks before you finally transplant them to their place in the garden. Most statice is purple, but you might find
varieties that are pink, yellow or even white.
This flower makes a perfect filler in the vase. The stems are very sturdy and thick, so you can use them to help support flowers that have a more delicate stem. They will help keep your flowers in place in the vase.
Statice is an everlasting flower. That means that if you cut it and hang it upside down for a week or so, it will be paper dry but still keeps its shape and color. Put it in a vase without water and you can have a bouquet of statice all winter long.
Meaning: Remembrance, sympathy, success
This is another favorite for my bouquets. Most of the varieties in the garden center do not grow very tall. But I plant plenty of tall varieties of snapdragons every spring. Potomac Early Orange, Black Prince and Apple Blossom are three that I choose for their colors. Or just get a color mix to make sure you have these delightful blooms in every color.
Snapdragons need light to germinate. The seeds are so tiny–about the size of a grain of sand. Sprinkle a few seeds on the surface of your potting soil and give a very light dusting of soil on top. Press with your hands so that the seeds make contact with the soil. Be sure to water from the bottom! Even a misting of water sprayed on top can wash your seeds away.
Who doesn’t love to hear a snapdragon talk?
brutal heat wave, you may find that the snapdragons growing in partial shade actually do better than the ones taking the full brunt of the summer sun.
For nice straight stems, you should provide some support for the tall varieties. I just put a couple 10-12″ twigs in the ground next to each snapdragon plant. That gives them something to lean up against instead of sagging down to the ground.
Meaning: Deception, graciousness
Cosmos flowers are ridiculously easy to grow. Plant the seeds directly into the soil as soon as all danger of frost is past. They take off so quickly, that you really don’t need to start them early indoors. They will bloom for months. The cosmos are a favorite of butterflies and humming birds.
You can find orangy and yellowy varieties. These varieties are hardier, more drought-resistant. But they also tend to have shorter stems, so I prefer to stick with the whites and pinks.
The white and pink varieties can grow as tall as four feet! They come in all shades of pink, from pale pink to deep crimson. Some white varieties have petals tipped with a pink edge. Some are a single row of petals, looking much like a daisy. Others are double
varieties, that look like miniature peonies. Then there are some where the petals are curled and look like trumpets.
Cosmos easily self-seeds. But if you are going to clean the bed out each fall or otherwise disturb the soil, you should save some of the seed at the end of the summer to make sure you have enough growing next year.
The stems are long but rather fine, so be careful as you are cutting and arranging that you don’t bend or break the stems.
Meaning: balance, modesty, joy.
Also known as Pot Marigold, not to be confused with French or African Marigold (below.) They are cousins, but calendula is a completely different plant. This flower really is not a great cut flower. But here’s why I like it anyway:
- it grows easily and profusely, re-blooming the more I cut them.
- it has medicinal use and can also be used as a natural die.
- the petals add a spicy taste similar to saffron to many dishes.
- it re-seeds easily, so all you need to do is plant some in an undisturbed corner of your garden and they will reward you year after year with cheerful, sunny blooms.
So, even though they aren’t the perfect cut flower—with a long, sturdy stem—they still deserve a place in your garden and your flower arrangements. I usually cut a few stems to tuck into the middle of a flower arrangement.
There are some varieties with a single row of petals but more commonly the flower head is densely packed with several rows petals.
There are two branches in the marigold family: Tagetes and Calendula. I’ve already talked about the Calendula above. So here we’re talking about the Tagetes marigold which includes the French and African varieties.
Like the calendula it has good uses besides being just a pretty flower. It has a strong smell that can repel unwanted aphids, mosquitos and even rabbits. Keep that in mind when you are using it in a bouquet. The scent may overwhelm the more delicate aroma of your other flowers. To get the most of this plant, intersperse this flower around your vegetable garden. It will add a spark of color and keep the pests away.
Most marigolds sold in garden centers are bushy little plants with short stems. But for my cut flower beds, I like to grow the tall varieties. The colors of these tall varieties range from brilliant yellow to a dark, almost red-orange. Some are yellow and tipped with a deep orange.There is also a pretty pale, almost white, variety call Sweet Cream that I tried last year.
And, like the Calendula, it’s an easy flower to start outdoors when the frost is gone. But I like to give them a head start and start them from seed indoors 4-6 weeks before the final frost.
Meaning: This flower can have completely opposite meanings. It can symbolize sunlight, which signifies a new beginning. But it also can mean jealousy, cruelty, sorrow and grief.
Baby’s breath or gypsophila is a riotous cluster of tiny daisy-looking flowers. Several branches grown from one main stem, making it a great filler for your bouquet. You don’t need to have as many cut flowers if you can tuck a few stems of baby’s breath in between the flowers.
I’ve had mixed results starting these from seed. They like dry, sandy soil. So once you get it to germinate,
it doesn’t require a lot of care to thrive. There are some perennial varieties but I’ve even less luck with these. Just four or five plants will keep your bouquets filled all summer long.
Meaning: Everlasting love
What a strange name for a stunning flower. A Chilean relative of the petunia, it’s also called Painted Tongue. Whenever I include this flower in my bouquets, it always draws attention and positive comments. This trumpet-shaped flower grows along a tall, thin stem in a variety of vivid colors.
That’s why I try to grow this flower every year, even though it’s not easy to grow. These seeds are incredibly tiny–even tinier than snapdragon seeds. So it’s no surprise that they are sown on the surface of the soil. But unlike snapdragons, they need complete darkness to germinate. So after sowing them on the surface, you need to cover the seeds until they germinate. I cut a lid from a plastic sour cream container to the right size and place this on top of the cell pack I planted the seeds in. The plastic lid is heavy enough to sit flat on top of the cell pack and blocks all light.
Then, about five days after planting I start checking for germination. After seven days, check at least 2-3 times a day. Because one minute there’s nothing and an hour later you’ll have a whole bunch of tiny sprouts. Did I say tiny? I mean almost microscopic. The sprouts are about as big as the seeds–a grain of sand–and easy to miss. But the thing is, once they sprout, they immediately need to have light. So make sure that your grow lights are 1″ (or less) above the seedlings. Otherwise they will quickly spring up in search of light and become tall, spindly and leggy.
But…once you get past the germination and they are growing under your grow lights, they are a piece of cake to grow and care fore. And since it’s almost impossible to find salpiglosis in the garden center, they are well-worth the extra work to start them from seed.
This pretty little flower looks like a pin cushion with a bunch of little pins sticking the middle–thus it’s common name: Pin Cushion Flower.
I include this flower in my list because it’s so easy to grow and comes in just about every color you can imagine. The pinks and purples are a nice fill for any bouquet. And the black variety (not really black, but a very dark purple) gives a nice dramatic accent to
your bouquets. They grow on long stems that are thin but aren’t easily broken or bent, so they are good cut flowers.
Scabiosa is easy to start from seed indoors. You can also save the seed at the end of the year, ensuring you’ll always have this lovely flower in your garden. In the late fall, secure a small paper sack over the head of a flower that is spent and about go to seed. Wait until the seeds are thoroughly dry and falling out before harvesting. The paper sack will ensure that the seeds don’t all fall to the ground before you can collect them.
Let’s make this an even ten and finish with Sweet Pea. Sweet Pea is sort of a vining flower, so I like to grow it on a trellis or the shepherd’s hook that holds my hanging plants. It has a beautifully heady aroma that I love. But it doesn’t really have long stems. The stems are 4-5″ long, so you can sometimes tuck them at the very bottom of a bouquet.
But I don’t grow these for regular bouquets. Instead,
I put them in a Sweet Pea frog. This is a ring-shaped vase that holds the short stems of the Sweat Pea and creates a pretty little wreath of flowers to sit on your table or dresser.
The seeds look like small black peas. Soak the seeds overnight, 6-8 hours. When they are swollen, drain seeds and put them in a plastic baggie with some soil inoculant. Shake so that the seeds are covered in the black dust. Soil inoculant is a bacteria that helps legumes access the nitrogen in the soil and assures vigorous growth. You can start them indoors or plant outside after all danger of frost is past. Plant about 1″ deep and space 4-5″ apart around a trellis, pole or garden pyramid.
Meaning: Blissful pleasure, good-bye, departure. That’s why this is a good flower to put on the table by your front door, as a nice “good bye” to your guests.
Starting flowers from seed is a pretty straightforward matter, especially if you
my Seed Starting 101 guide. But you may find that some flowers don’t start as easily as vegetable seeds. (Like the Salpiglosis mentioned above.) That’s why this A-Z guide: Flowers, from Seed to Bloom is my absolute favorite resource. Like the title suggests, it tells you everything you need to know to get the best results from your flowers. I couldn’t live without this book!
Next up: Perennials
Sometimes your seed-starting enterprise just doesn’t do well. That’s why it’s a good idea to include perennials in your flower-growing plans. If you have a good mix of perennial and annual flowers you are assured of a steady supply of flowers. Read about my Top 10 Perennials here.