I’m a big believer in ‘Garden BFF’s’ and freely intermix veggies and annual flowers in my garden beds. Growing cut flowers brings in plenty of good guys – bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and more, while the veggies provide us with months of homegrown meals. However, I always plant waaaaaaay too many flowers (on purpose) so that I have plenty of blooms to cut and bring indoors. Some of my favourite annuals for cut flowers include zinnias, sweet peas, cosmos, nasturtiums, and snapdragons, but last week I learned that, when it comes to cut flowers, not all are created equal.
In mid-August, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2015 Vegetable Trials in California with a fabulous group of writers and Diane Blazek, the Executive Director of All-America Selections and the National Garden Bureau. Together, we visited seven different seed breeding companies scattered along the coast from Los Angeles to Sacramento. My goal was to get a preview of some of the up and coming new veggie cultivars (stay tuned for more on these!) and learn more about hybrids and how they are created and selected. However, our first stop was PanAmerican Seed, the company that developed Wave petunias and Profusion zinnias, and as we walked out to their vegetable trial garden, I was distracted by bed after bed of their award-winning cut flower cultivars (can you blame me?).
Seed for specialty bred plants, like the below cut flowers, does cost a little more than traditional garden varieties (For example – 50 Jua Maya sunflower seeds will run about $4.95), but cut flower growers know that the bloom quality and size is worth the slightly increased expense. You may wonder whether these types of specialty flowers have a place in a home garden, but I was impressed enough that I plan on ordering several cultivars to try in my own plot.
Growing cut flowers: 3 unique picks:
Sunflower Jua Maya – This quick growing sunflower (about 45-50 days from seeding) has gorgeous gold petals that surround a dark chocolate center. It’s pollen free, so it won’t do anything for the bees and butterflies, but it will last for a long time in the vase without dropping pollen and making a mess. While chatting with the folks at PanAmerican Seed I also learned that the stems of this 4 to 5 foot tall sunflower are bred to be uniform and less thick than old fashioned types, and therefore take up less valuable vase space in mixed arrangements. Plus, there are fewer leaves that develop around the flowers of Jua Maya, which allows the leaves to complement the flower, but not overwhelm or hide it.
Potomac Snapdragons – Viewing regular garden snapdragons next to these superstars showed me just how much I had to learn about cut flowers. The snapdragons bred for cutting were much taller, sturdier and had a wider and more varied colour range. Shades of white, plum, appleblossom (my favourite!), red, rose, and pink. The plants were about 3 1/2 feet tall and each flower spike was over a foot long.
Katz Stock – As we neared the beds filled with Katz stock, a sweet perfume filled the air and we all breathed deeply. Sigh. Stock is an old fashioned annual beloved for its rich scent and long lasting colour, and speaking of colour, the range of these hybrids is exceptional – rose, cherry, apricot, and pure white. The plants grow about 18-inches tall, with full, dense flower spikes, an improvement over typical garden types. Once cut, they also hold their quality extremely well.
Are you growing cut flowers in your garden?