Once you know the best cutting garden flowers to grow at home, it can be surprisingly straightforward to create a bed or border which will supply enough flowers to fill vases from spring to autumn. Mix up colors, shapes and sizes for a stunning kaleidoscope of a flower garden, or alternatively, stick to a limited palette for a simpler feel.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a couple of meters of ground or a larger space for your flowerbed ideas, there are plenty of possibilities for every size and budget, and flowers to suit all levels of growing skill.
Bulbs demand nothing more than making a shallow hole in the ground, planting them pointed side up, covering with soil and waiting for them to sprout. Annuals (plants which bloom and die within a year) only require sprinkling seed into a seed tray or directly on the ground and they are the cheapest way to start a cutting garden. Perennials may take a little more time and patience to nurture, but they are an investment, as they will come back every year.
The best cutting garden flowers come in so many shapes and sizes, from saucer sized dahlias in hot pinks, purple and orange, to frilly spires of color such as delphiniums, lupins and gladioli. There are button-shaped blooms, including astrantia, and cheery open-faced cosmos. The key to a successful cutting garden, however, is choosing mainly ‘cut and come again’ flowers. With these blooms, the more you pick, the more flowers they will produce – a win-win situation.
Enjoy fresh flowers in your home with the top cutting garden flowers
Starting a cutting garden is fun and sustainable. Whether adding a few perennials to the periphery, planting dahlia tubers or sowing seeds, you will have the satisfaction of growing cutting garden flowers that you can display in your home.
1. Sweet peas
- Vase life: 3-7 days
With their ruffled petals, myriad colours and tendrils of foliage, sweet peas are a quintessentially English cut flower. These are hardy annual climbing plants which need a support frame: a cane wigwam is ideal. Young plants can be bought in April from garden centers, but you can also learn how to grow sweet peas from seed.
In autumn or spring, sow them in deep root trainers, which allow them the depth they need. Pinch out the growing tips when they get to about 4in (10cm) tall for a stronger, bushier plant.
Sweet peas are hungry, so when it’s time to plant them out (around mid-April), dig in plenty of compost first. Keep the soil moist, and tie them to the supports as they grow.
When it comes to picking in early to late summer, snip the flowers as they appear: the more you pick, the more they produce. Top sweet pea choice for florist Tracey Mathieson (opens in new tab), who has her own cutting garden in Northamptonshire, is ‘Mollie Rhilstone’ which has delicately blushed petals, a strong fragrance and long straight stems which are perfect for a vase.
A top choice for Amateur Gardening expert Anne Swithinbank is Lathyrus ‘Mrs.Bernard Jones’. 'This cultivar delivers frilly white blooms flushed clear pink,' she says.
- Vase life: 7-10 days
Sunflowers create a splash of sunshine in a simple jug on a kitchen table and if you are looking for a foolproof flower to create a cutting patch, you can’t go wrong with these favorites.
Simply sow them in the ground where you want them to grow, and then let them do their thing. Opt for a multiheaded variety which will supply plenty of flowers. Ones to try include ‘Harlequin,’ pale yellow ‘Vanilla Ice’ or a tawny ‘Red Sun.’ Watch out for slugs when the new plants are emerging.
Cut sunflowers before their blooms are fully open, and always remove the lower leaves from the stems before immersing them in water. There's more tips on how to grow sunflowers in our guide.
- Vase life: up to 5 days
For a late summer whoosh of color, it's worth learning how to grow dahlias. They come in a rainbow of jewel shades, blooming until the first frosts. Don’t let the look of wizened dahlia tubers put you off, as they are straightforward to grow.
There are two ways of doing it. If you have space, start them off in pots under glass in late winter to early spring, one tuber per pot, and plant out when the weather warms up. Alternatively, pop the tubers straight in the ground after the frost risk has passed – typically in early May if you have a climate similar to the UK.
In mild areas, they can be left in the ground over winter, protected with a layer of mulch. In colder areas, some gardeners lift the tubers once the first frosts have blackened the foliage. They can be dried indoors and stored in a shallow tray until the planting season.
Florist and flower grower Tracey Mathieson recommends ‘Karma Choc’ which has velvety dark red petals on strong stems, with bronze foliage, and a sweet chocolate scent.
For Amateur Gardening expert Anne Swithinbank, ‘Chat Noir’ (pictured above) is hard to beat as a cutting garden flower. 'For vases I like the smaller singles, waterlily-shaped blooms and cactus types like this long-stemmed, deep red cultivar with narrow, pointed petals. A good investment, dahlias return to growth year after year but may require lifting and frost free storage where deep frosts are common.'
Our top tip? Dahlias flop in a vase unless the last inch of the stem is placed in boiling water for about 20 seconds after cutting.
- Vase life: 5-7 days
Cheerful everyday flowers don’t come any easier than cosmos. There are so many different types of cosmos to choose from, with seed companies developing new varieties all the time. Choose from simple white ‘Purity’ with single flowers on long stems, or try the colorful frilly ‘Pink Popsocks’.
Cosmos are annuals, best sown in seed modules under cover in April. They should germinate within a week, or less. Keep one strong seedling per module and pinch out the growing tips if the seedlings start to get too leggy. Plant out in mid to late May, in a sunny spot. Cosmos will flower from midsummer to autumn. Keep cutting the blooms, and they will keep on flowering for you.
Amateur Gardening's Anne Swithinbank recommends growing Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Apricot Lemonade’ (above). 'The crimp-edged petals of this half hardy annual are soft apricot, shading to pink at the centre,' she says. 'From midsummer to mid fall they show well against intricate foliage and though long-stemmed, plants are sufficiently compact for container growing. Sown in warmth and raised under glass, these showy Mexicans grow well planted 12in (30cm) apart. Try bunching them with cherry-coloured penstemon and ladies mantle.'
- Vase life: 8-10 days
Lilies have strong, tall stems and multiple flowers, which makes them an ideal choice for cutting garden flowers. They grow from bulbs so they are a super-easy choice. There are many different types of lily, but Asiatic Hybrids are the most straightforward if you're considering learning how to grow lilies.
Plant the bulbs in sun or part shade, any time between autumn and March. Dig a hole about 8in (20cm) deep and place the bulbs in, pointed side up. To get a natural effect, it’s a good idea to put them in clumps of three or five. Sprinkle some grit in the hole to ensure good drainage.
Watch out for tiny scarlet beetles, and squash them if you see one. These are lily beetles which eat the flowers and foliage. Once established, lilies will come back year after year, adding a touch of exoticism to the cutting garden. When you cut a lily, leave a third of the stem behind, as this will feed the bulb for the next year.
- Vase life 5-10 days
These are dainty, subtle flowers which make a wonderful addition to a cut flower bouquet. They have neat, button shaped blooms on sturdy stems, and will grow as tall as 35in (90cm).
Astrantia are perennials, best bought as young plants from a garden center, rather than grown from seed. Plant them in spring, in dappled shade and in moist, fertile soil. Astrantia ‘Buckland,’ with a pale pink flower, is one of the longest to bloom and will tolerate drier conditions.
- Vase life: 7-10 days
There’s nothing subtle about gladiolus but these lofty, flamboyant flowers, also known as ‘sword lilies’ will make a real splash in a cutting garden. They grow from corms, so planting is as simple as digging a trench, adding some well- rotted manure and placing the corms inside, around 4in (10cm) apart and 4-6in (10-15cm) deep. This can be done from May to July, and staggering the planting is a good idea, so they don’t all bloom at once.
Gladioli do need moisture as well as rich soil, so keep them well watered. In milder areas, the plants can be left in the ground over winter – mulching with a deep layer will give them the protection they need. In colder parts of the UK and other similar climates, they will need lifting and drying over winter.
Although they have a reputation for being gaudy, there are some stunning colors available. ‘Green Star’ is modern and fresh, ‘Plum Tart’ is a deep velvety scarlet, and 'Peter Dean’ has gorgeous ruffled apricot flowers.
8. Sweet William
- Vase life: 14-21 days
Despite their cute appeal for cottage garden ideas, sweet williams are sturdy flowers. They have dense clusters of flowers on branched stems, but they are fairly low growing (up to 15in/40cm), so they suit a front position in your garden borders.
The seeds can be sown directly into the ground, once the soil has been raked finely. Choose a spot in full sun. Make some very shallow lines and carefully sow the seed, as evenly as possible, from May. Sweet williams are biennial plants, so they bloom in the second year, but they are worth the wait.
Although they make a lovely cut flower, don’t be tempted to pick them all. By leaving some flower heads on the plants, they will self-seed for the following year.
Try ‘Nigricans’ for a dark velvety purple, or ‘Auricula Eyed Mix’ with mauve petals and a pale centre.
- Vase life: up to 7 days
Tulips are one of the best cutting garden flowers for spring. They’re not a ‘cut and come again’ flower, but they do make a welcome splash of color before the rest of the garden hits its stride.
Grown from bulbs, they prefer a spot that gets sun or partial shade. Remember to plant tulip bulbs in groups for impact, at least six or seven, so you have plenty for a bunch.
Once your tulips have gone over, leave the foliage to turn brown and die back for about six weeks as this is when the bulbs store food and it makes it more likely that the tulips will come back with more flowers the next year.
If your cut tulips flop in their vase, put a penny in the water and they will soon stand tall again. Top them up daily as they are thirsty flowers.
10. Ammi Majus
- Vase life: up to 10 days
These lovely, lacey annuals are having a fashionable moment. Sometimes described as ‘posh cow parsley,’ their delicate white flowers create dreamy clouds, seeming to almost hover above a vase.
'Bishop’s flower is a hardy annual from the cow parsley family originating in Southern Europe and North Africa,' says Anne Swithinbank. 'Good, well-drained soil ensures a display of fern-like foliage and umbels of white flowers. Sow into modules or direct to soil in spring, ready for planting out 12in (30cm) apart. For a bouquet effect, plant at 6in (15cm) spacings with cornflowers in a container. Do bear in mind, that it can cause skin irritation and toxicity to pets.'
They prefer sun or partial shade, and moist soil, so keep watering in dry spells. Ammi is a tall plant, growing up to 3ft (1m) so it’s a good one for the back of the flowerbed.
Leave some of the flowers to self-seed and you will have another crop the following year. Try ‘Graceland,’ or ‘Queen of Africa.’
- Vase life: 5 days
With their origins in Mexico, dazzling half hardy zinnias enjoy growing in warm, sheltered positions.
Sow zinnia seeds under cover in early spring straight into modules, as seedlings resent disturbance. By late spring, make direct sowings into warmed, good but well-drained soil, where they will bloom from midsummer into fall.
'For strong stems of large purple-pink blooms that blend especially well with citrusy colours, try Zinnia elegans ‘Purple Prince’ AGM,' says Anne Swithinbank.
- Vase life: 7-10 days
Tiny snapdragon seeds require a late winter or early spring sowing, scattering them thinly, covering sparsely and germinating at 60-65˚F (15-18˚C).
Keep seedlings cool and bright to avoid damping off disease and transplant them grid-fashion in a seed tray before potting. Ordering young plants avoids the fiddle. Plant 12in (30cm) apart for spires of lightly scented bicolored cherry and white blooms all summer.
One of Anne Swithinbank's favorite options is Antirrhinum ‘Lucky Lips’.
13. Baby's breath (gypsophila)
- Vase life: around 10 days
With its origins in Central and Eastern Europe, herbaceous perennial baby’s breath is an old-fashioned cut flower favorite. 'To last more than a year or two without rotting, plants must have a light, well-drained soil,' says Anne Swithinbank.
'Plant in spring into a slightly alkaline soil in a raised garden bed for branching stems of tiny double white flowers creating a misty, ethereal effect from mid to late summer. Gypsophila paniculata ‘Bristol Fairy’ is a good option to try.'
14. Phlox paniculata
- Vase life: 5-7 days
'Compared to annuals, herbaceous perennials have shorter flowering periods but are worth slotting into the backbone of a cutting garden,' says Anne Swithinbank.
'Phlox paniculata are prized for their tall, sturdy stems of fragrant mid and late summer blooms. ‘Blue Paradise’ is a lovely cultivar with darker eyes.
'For healthy clumps, plant in good, moist but well-drained soil types and don’t allow encroachment from weeds or nearby plants.'
Our guide on how to get rid of weeds and stop them from spreading has lots of useful advice.
What are the benefits of a cutting garden?
As well as ensuring a steady supply of flowers, creating a cutting garden has other benefits, too. Shannen Godwin, from J Parkers (opens in new tab), a leading retailer of garden plants, says: 'Being surrounded by flowers on a daily basis is as much a hedonistic phenomenon as it is a practical and functional one, as the benefits of being green fingered are well documented. Once more people realize that they can grow their own flower patch to refill their vases, they won’t be likely to spend money on commercially-bought bouquets again.'
When should you cut flowers?
Most flowers are best cut when they are still in the early stages of flowering. They should be past the tight bud stage, but make sure you snip them before they are wide open and the pollen can be seen. Cutting garden flowers will continue to develop in the vase.
In terms of what time of day is best, Anne Swithinbank advises 'picking when the stems are full of water in the early morning or evening. If plants are droopy, water first and pick later.' Avoid cutting flowers in the heat of a summer day.
Want to grow flowers that you can eat as well as display in your home? Check out our guide to edible flowers too.
How can you make cut flowers last longer?
'Strip unwanted foliage from the base of stems and place in a bucket of tepid water in a cool, shady spot,' says Anne Swithinbank. 'Some people add flower food designed to feed and help prevent bacteria from blocking water uptake. More importantly using clean vases, change the water and keep flowers out of full sun.
'Collect vases of many shapes and sizes and if stems need supporting, use old-fashioned ‘flower frogs’ or chicken wire instead of non-biodegradable florists foam.'
The experts at J Parkers also have these tips for extending the life of your blooms.
- Cut the stems and retrim every few days to refresh their lifespan.
- Prune the flowers constantly to remove anything that is wilting or has started rotting to prevent the spread. You can use a small set of the best secateurs to do this.
- Use flower food every time water is changed every few days, and put them in room-temperature water.
- Keep fresh cut flowers away from direct sunlight or heat sources.
- Mist them regularly with a fine spray.
- Add a few drops of vodka in the water to slow down the flowers’ ageing process.
How do you stop tall stemmed cutting garden flowers from toppling over?
'For a cutting garden, we tend to choose taller cultivars with longer stems that need supporting,' says Anne Swithinbank. 'One method is to fix wide-gapped netting over developing plants 14in (36cm) off the ground, stretching it between canes. Stems grow through and disguise the netting. Twiggy sticks work for some plants, while tall dahlia and tithonia are best secured to individual canes.
'Avoid over fertilizing plants, as too much manure or nitrogen-rich fertilizer causes weak, sappy growth. On good, well-conditioned soil a couple of high potash feeds during summer will be sufficient.'
Which cutting flowers last longest?
Flowers from the dianthus family have a vase life of 14-21 days, making them one of the longest lasting cut blooms and a top choice for the cutting garden flowers. Choose from carnations, sweet williams and pinks.
An experienced freelance journalist, editor and columnist writing for national magazines and websites, Fiona now specialises in gardens. She enjoys finding and writing about all kinds, from the tiniest town plots to impressively designed ones in grand country houses. She's a firm believer that gardening is for everyone, and it doesn’t matter if you have a single window ledge or an acre, there’s always peace and joy to be found outside. The small town garden of her Edwardian terraced house is currently a work in progress as she renovates the property, but her goal is always to fill it with flowers, climbers, colour, fragrance – and as many of her treasured vintage finds as she can possibly fit in.
- Anne Swithinbank Gardens writer
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