Celebrating Spring in a Backyard Cutting Garden

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This guest post was written by Debra Prinzing, founder of slowflowers.com and a leader in the locally-grown cut flower movement. In addition to being a speaker, educator, author and extraordinary networker, Debra is also a home gardener. Read on to learn about her spring cutting garden and watch her create a simple yet stunning table arrangement.

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(c) Missy Palacol Photography

Welcome to the Slow Flowers Spring Cutting Garden

My backyard “flower farm” is basically a cutting garden. I dream that one day it will supply all my desired design ingredients for floral arranging. I know many flower gardeners and floral designers are craving the same thing. To track my progress, please join me on Instagram at #slowflowerscuttinggarden.

We moved to this home in February 2017, so this will be the garden’s fourth season. At this point, many of the ornamental shrubs and perennials are still relatively young. Eventually they will provide me with a diverse mix of cutting material, but for now, I snip judiciously.

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Until the garden matures, I have the dual joys of working with instant-impact blooms from my own garden (tulips, daffodils, dahlias and annuals) AND sourcing seasonal, sustainable and local cut flowers from area growers. When I shop for extra flowers, branches and foliages for my designs, I head to the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farm-to-florist wholesale hub for local flowers.

I documented the 2011 opening of SWGM in my book The 50 Mile Bouquet and it has been my go-to source for gorgeous design elements ever since. The Market is open to the buying public and non-professionals like me on Fridays (10 a.m.-Noon), so I can purchase the same fresh, seasonal and local stems that florists buy.

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A few of the choices available at the Seattle Growers Market, seen here in late August.

How to Find Local, Fresh-Cut Flowers

If you don’t have a wholesale source for local flowers in your area, here are some tips for finding individual growers:

  • Check out the Slow Flowers network of 700 farms and florists listed on Slowflowers.com. You can search by zip code, city or state, and uncover a grower in your area who may sell buckets of fresh-cut, seasonal choices to DIY floral designers.
  • Visit a local farmers’ market to discover and meet farmers who might event let you visit their fields to shop.
  • If you’re in need of larger quantities, search the Slow Flowers directory’s “national-overnight delivery” category to find more suppliers of American-grown flowers.
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Debra grows bulbs in pots as well as in raised beds.

If you’re like me, the deeper you dig into the Slow Flowers Movement, the more you’ll want to expand your own cutting garden with an ever-changing supply of blooms to cut.

Assembling the Ingredients for a Spring Arrangement

To make the arrangement shared here, I shopped the Growers Market with my home garden in mind, choosing complementary spring flowers and foliage options that I knew would support my designs. Here’s what I purchased: Washington-grown butterfly ranunculus, white ranunculus, white anemone, mixed white and apricot poppies, plus flowering apple branches; and one bunch each of mint and scented geranium, both from California.

I cut a number of varieties of tulips and narcissus from my raised beds and raided one pot for an extra hyacinth. After visiting so many flower farms, I know there’s a best way to pick. You definitely want to cut tulips when the buds are starting to “color up” but are only partially open. This ensures at least seven or more days of vase life. The same approach can be taken with daffodils. Hyacinths are a little trickier, but I like to cut them when most of the florets are partially open.

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Composing an Informal Spring Arrangement

Once I had all the stems, I set them up on a long table for designing. For the mechanic inside the bowl, I used a “pillow,” which is a new flower arranging accessory designed by florist Holly Chapple in partnership with Syndicate Sales. The made-in-USA mechanic comes in a number of sizes and emulates the similarly-sized pillows Holly once made from chicken wire. It’s made of reusable plastic, with openings that are large enough to hold woody stems like the flowering apple branches, or in some cases, more than one tulip or narcissus stem. You can drop the pillow into your vessel or rest it on the rim without tape.

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This arrangement’s focal flowers are daffodils and hyacinths cut from my garden. The Delnashaugh narcissus is a late-blooming, double variety with sublime apricot-pink ruffles. The Gypsy Queen hyacinth is an heirloom variety with salmon pink petals and peach-buttery-yellow highlights. I added a few similar hyacinths grown by flower farmer Vivian Larson of Everyday Flowers in Stanwood, Wash., who also markets her flowers through the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

Celebrating-Spring-in-a-Backyard-Cutting-Garden-Longfield-GardensBecause spring flowers are so delightful to observe, smell and enjoy, I downplayed the use of foliage other than a few sprigs of scented geranium and a cluster of dark green leaves cut from a yet-to-bloom columbine in my perennial border. Here are some of my other design choices:

  • Vary heights of each flower for more interest
  • Emphasize the asymmetry with placement of flowering branches
  • Play up the role of quirky stems, such as a curved ranunculus that drapes over the edge of vase’s rim or an arching anemone that emerges above the other blooms

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This arrangement lasted for six days indoors, displayed on an entry table. I didn’t take time to completely change the vase water, but I did top off the water every two days, making sure every stem received plenty of hydration.

A Tip for Including Daffodils in a Mixed Arrangement

A note about daffodils. When I wrote The 50 Mile Bouquet, I included advice from Jan Roozen of Choice Bulb Co. Jan is a veteran cut flower grower who specializes in flowering bulbs. He advised that daffodils have hollow stems that contain a sap-like substance that gives the stem its turgidity. Once the flowers are cut, the liquid seeps out and will shorten the vase life of other flowers in an arrangement.

Jan recommends displaying daffodils in a vase by themselves. If used in a mixed arrangement, he suggests keeping the stems separate, in a small, water-filled plastic bag. Another option is to stand the stems in a vase of cool water for a couple hours. This gives them time to release most of their sap.

In the case of this spring flower arrangement, I didn’t notice any sap after I cut the narcissus. I took my chances and integrated them with the other flowers, with no negative results. I recommend you play around with the varieties you grow and cut to check whether they play well with others!

To learn more, you may be interested in reading: How to Design a Cutting Garden.