By Fiona Cumberpatch published
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 plot, 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.
So why not maximize your flowerbed ideas and create a stunning cutting garden? Read on to find out our favorite cutting garden flowers to add to your planting list.
The best cutting garden flowers
1. Sweet pea
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 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, 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.
Vase life: 3-7 days
They 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 a sunflower.
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: 7-10 days
For a late summer whoosh of color, follow our advice on 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.
Plant them horizontally around 12cm deep, ensuring that the ‘eyes’ face upwards. Allow sufficient room between each tuber. Check the plant label for height and spread, which varies between different types. Add a high-nitrogen liquid feed each week in June, then a high-potash fertilizer each week from July to September. Stake with canes to stop them flopping. Pick regularly in the growing season and the flowers will keep coming.
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.
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: up to 5 days
Cheerful everyday flowers don’t come any easier than Cosmos. They are available in lots of colors, 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.
There's advice on how to transplant seedlings in our guide.
Vase life: 5-7 days
Lilies have strong, tall stems and multiple flowers, which makes them an ideal choice for the best 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 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: 8-10 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 90cm.
Astrantia are perennials, best bought as young plants from a garden centre, 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 5-10 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 10cm apart and 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, with a deep mulch to protect them – head over to our guide to mulching to find out how to do this. In colder parts of the country, 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.
Vase life: 7-10 days
8. Sweet William
Despite their cute appeal for cottage garden ideas, sweet williams are sturdy flowers, making them an excellent addition to our list of the best cutting garden flowers. They have dense clusters of flowers on branched stems, but they are fairly low growing (up to 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, 5mm deep, and 30cm apart, 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: 14-21 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. Follow our tips on how to plant tulips and remember to plant them in groups for impact, at least six or seven, so you have plenty for a bunch.
In November, plant each bulb two to three times its own depth, 8cm apart, with the pointed side facing upwards and cover with gritty soil. Once they 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.
Top tip: If your 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.
Vase life: up to 7 days
10. Ammi Majus
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.
Sow the seeds directly into the ground in autumn for strong plants with more flowers the following summer. They can also be sown in spring, but wait until the end of the frosts.
They prefer sun or partial shade, and moist soil, so keep watering in dry spells. Ammi is a tall plant, growing up to 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: up to 10 days
What are the benefits of a cutting garden?
As well as ensuring a steady supply of flowers, creating a cutting garden with the best cutting garden flowers has other benefits, too. Shannen Godwin, from J Parkers, 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.'
Where is the ideal spot for growing the best cutting garden flowers?
When it comes to planting the best cutting garden flowers, the experts at J Parkers say you should 'choose a sunny area of the garden and apply moderate applications of general fertilizer over the space. This will help you to get tall, healthy growth and abundant flowers.'
Creating a dedicated area for a cutting garden is a good idea if you have space, as it will prevent you from depleting ornamental borders.
How can you make cut flowers last longer?
We asked the experts at J Parkers for their tips on 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.
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 best cutting garden flowers. Choose from carnations, sweet williams and pinks.
When should you cut the best cutting garden 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. The best cutting garden flowers will continue to develop in the vase. It’s best to pick in the early morning when the stems are full of water. 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.
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.
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