Behind the Scenes: Cut Flowers

For the next couple OG columns, I’m going to focus on supremely summertime topics in the garden: flowers, vegetables and fruits. To kick it off, I caught up with Nicole Rosenberger, who owns Turtle Rock Gardens and is part of the Red Roots Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program. Her combination of annuals and perennials paints the county in blooms.

When I asked if she brought in any cut flowers for herself, she said: “I always have lots of cut flower around the house–I’ll never get tired of them! I grow them because I love them so much.  I mostly just have the cast offs from making bouquets though, rarely do I go out and make myself my own.”

Nicole grows a regular cadre of annuals, including zinnias (her fave), dahlias, snapdragons, lisianthus, nigella, cosmos, ornamental tobacco, celosia, amaranth, sunflowers, scabiosa, and marigolds. And when I asked if there was something she’d like to try, she said, “There are so many flowers out there I would love to grow but I only have so much space!  I try a few new things every year.”

That’s some pretty sage gardening advice that applies to everything in life: try a few new things every year.

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Behind the Scenes: Garden Yarns

I had a nice stroll down memory lane today, recalling how fun it was last spring when my friend Jenny called and asked if I wanted any bulbs. “Come on over,” she said. “Okay!” I replied. She gave me so many irises, ajuga, daffodils, daylilies, and nandinas that she had to follow me home with her trunk filled, too.

This week’s Optimistic Gardener talks about the importance of sharing plants among friends, and the stories those plants have to tell. Jenny’s irises are at least five or six decades and four generations old, and the red cannas Pat Decator is sharing with Denise Effrein are a century old. When I ran into Denise while on a walk, her car was filled with irises (from another friend down the way) and Pat’s canna lilies.

And then there’s Maggie Zwilling–my former supervisor at CCCC, a good friend, and to top it off, a real pistol–who found out I was writing about sharing plants and brought over about 30 gladiolus and rain lily bulbs. There are so many things in life to be thankful for, and good friends are definitely top of the list. Quite frankly, it feels as good to share plants as it does to receive them.

What plants are you sharing? What’s their story?

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Perennials: Baptisia

Let’s face it, anybody who knows me understands that I am going to have something in my garden called ‘Screamin’ Yellow False Indigo. Because, screaming. Turns out, this is a beautiful perennial. It’s easy to grow, brightens up its (expanding) corner of the garden, and is easy to split in the fall. I got mine two years ago, as two skinny shoots, from Growing Wild Nursery at the Chatham Mills Farmers Market. It’s thriving in our garden in three different sunny spots that drain well, and this fall I’ll be able to split it again — this time with my MIL. I’m going to trade it for some hellebores.

Lavender syrup

Lavender is one of my favorite plants … it’s an herb, it’s a flower, it’s a perennial, it’s a mosquito-repellent. It’s Mediterranean, and makes me think of our trips to Rome, Spain and France. If I close my eyes and walk through the lavender in our gardens, it transports me back to some of my very favorite memories with my very favorite people. Growing and caring for lavender is very easy, and best of all, now is the time to plant it! I discovered through trial and error (which I probably could’ve asked about) that it’s best to leave the lavender as it is in the fall, rather than trimming it back for the winter. If you trim it back, it’s done. Kaput. But if you let the branches and leaves get dried and dead looking, surprisingly, they green-up in the spring. Lavender is great for clipping and bringing inside, and either enjoying in a vase with water or letting it dry. Once dry you can sew it into eye masks or add it to potpourri (that’s old school). Or, if you’re like my son, make lavender syrup for coffee and to drizzle over vanilla ice cream. I also like a dash of it in a glass of Prosecco. 🙂

Lavender syrup:

Clip a handful of lavender leaves and flowers (equal parts of both). In a saucepan, add 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the lavender, and bring to a boil. Stir it regularly until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes), then turn it off and let it steep for half an hour. Pour into Ball jars or pretty glass containers through a strainer, and let cool completely. It’ll last for about a month in the fridge, so I find it’s better to make it in small batches so it doesn’t mold before I can use it all.

Plant a cutting garden

When planning my gardens, my goal is always one and done. By that I mean: plant evergreens and perennials and enjoy the fruits of my labor from the deck with a nice glass of wine. But every year I add a couple annuals in to my cutting garden, because zinnias. And cosmos. and globe amaranths. Annuals make the butterflies happy, they brighten up the meadow, and they give me pretty things to clip and bring inside. Don’t have a cutting garden yet? It’s easy. Pick a sunny spot with good drainage. Prepare your soil (it should be loose and weedless, add in compost and fertilizer if you’ve got it), plant your plants and cover with a light layer of mulch. Good plants for a cutting garden include bulbs like daffodils, gladiolus and tulips; annuals like zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers; and perennials like lavender, coneflower and coreopsis. Flowering bushes like roses and lilac are also great for clipping and bringing indoors–but consider anything that flowers or has interesting texture. Some of my oddball favorites are lantana, euonymus, lorapetulum, azaleas, and huechera.

What annuals do you plant in your cutting garden?