Monday, June 30, 2008

Bouquets from Your Garden

I enjoy making bouquets for myself and occasionally am asked to supply arrangements for weddings and large events. Because I have perennials growing in the fields, there’s usually something to choose from, and this article will talk about how to make a long lasting bouquet and my favorite flowers for that purpose.

The best time to cut flowers is in the cool of the morning or in the evening. Morning flowers are turgid and less likely to wilt. For a big job I typically cut flowers in the morning, let them “rest” with preservatives in a cool place during the day, and make the arrangements that evening.

The rule of thumb is to cut newly opened flowers without pollen showing. Once the flower is pollinated it immediately begins the process of fading and forming seed.

Using clean scissors, it’s best to put the stems in warm water which greatly increases water uptake. In the field I cut long stems and strip off the bottom leaves to help prevent decay. Once the bouquet is made I cut the stems one more time.

Floral preservatives definitely prolong the life of a bouquet. They supply food and acidifier. Plants take up acidified water (ph 3.5 - 4.5 ) much faster than nonacid water. If you want to make your own preservative, add 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and one crushed aspirin tablet to 24 ounces of water. The aspirin helps prevent bacteria and you won’t get that nasty smelling water. Another recipe I have seen is to combine 1 cup regular 7-Up, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon household bleach.

Besides appearance, the most important component of a bouquet is that it be long lasting. Generally flowers that dry well also last a long time in bouquets. Yarrow, gomphrena, astrantia and larkspur would be examples.

As I write these words my Siberian iris are blooming away. I cut them in a bud stage, just as they are starting to open. By the time they are delivered most will be blooming. The buds are pretty as well but this flower is not particularly long lasting . Iris and peonies generally bloom at about the same time and are a nice combination.

One of my favorite “cuts” (below, left) is lysimachia clethroides (gooseneck). It can be an invasive beast and I grow it as a row crop, tilling on each side, but it compliments any bouquet and easily lasts at least a week.

‘Becky’ shasta daisy, which won the perennial plant of the year in 2003, (below, right) is also terrific for cutting. Unlike many other shastas, it stays upright and has a long bloom time and is also long lasting in bouquets.

Another excellent perennial for long bloom and good cuts is ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis. Monkshood provides blue spikes, which compliment any bouquet. Bee balm comes in shades of red and pink. Astilbe is lovely, but after 4-5 days it wilts for me. I’m not crazy about liatris as a flower, but it certainly is long lasting in bouquets.

I like to use foliage in my bouquets and often use the silver stems of Valerie Finnis artemesia and branches from the burgundy-leaved ninebark.

One of the best cuts in the fall is golden rod. People think this flower is a main cause of seasonal allergies. Golden rod is NOT responsible. The pollen is heavy and sticky, designed for insect pollination, not wind. Its peak blooming period coincides with the peak of ragweed season, which is wind pollinated. The only way to get goldenrod pollen in your nasal passages is to stick the flower up your nose! Wind-blown ragweed pollen is the most common culprit for allergies.

Of course there are all kinds of great annuals for cutting, among them zinnias, asters, snap dragons and the later blooming salvia. I fail at growing zinnias. They get powdery mildew and my asters get aster yellows no matter where I plant them. Celosias are fun for bouquets and later in the season there are all kinds of grasses that look nice.

I am a great fan of lavatera. The blooms look like small hollyhocks and it is easy to grow. There are many sunflowers now available just for cutting. I particularly like Sonja which is 3 1/2 feet tall with tangerine orange blooms. I also like the tall blue ageratums for bouquets.

If you don’t happen to have cut flowers on hand, fresh bouquets are available at most farmers’ markets. Next month I will write about perennials that bloom late in the summer.

For gardening questions you can e-mail me at or call me at 426-3783.


Past Perfect Vintage said...

thank you - lovely tips on cutting flowers I can actually use!

Past Perfect Vintage said...
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