Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Cutting Garden To Save My Sanity

 Before the pandemic, before the lockdown, inspired by my friend Jane and her fabulous cutting garden in East Hampton, I planted a modest cutting garden. At the very bottom of our garden, where there used to be a lawn.  With inadequate drip irrigation...there was a lot of cursing and hand watering at first.  

Some things from seed, most from 4 inch pots.

Some left over from last year (the Thomas Edison dahlias), some gifted by friends.

Tall blue salvia uliginosa, light and airy Nepeta six hills giant, a stiff mystery plant from Portugal with hairy lavender flowers, beginning to go to seed.

Fragrant blue sweet peas planted last fall climbed to the top of their trellis and spilled over.  I've been cutting long branches to try to get them back under control.  They have territorial ambitions.

Huge heads of mid pink scabiosa.  I should have cut this back by half when it was only two feet tall.  It's now over six feet and a constant battle to keep it upright.  And to keep it from going to seed.  

I'm not a fan of daisies but these Shasta daisies may change my mind...they don't need staking and they are cheerful.  Even when I am emphatically not.

And the fabulous Thomas Edison dahlias.  Planted in gopher cages, left to winter over in our sticky clay. They are the only dahlias to return year after year.  

Laid out on the outdoor dining table, ready to arrange.  I start with the filler, the smaller plants that will spill over the vase.  Their stems hold the flowers I want more upright... the pincushion flower (scabiosa is such an ugly word, sounds like a skin disease) and the daisies.  And that lovely blue salvia.

There were enough flowers for two arrangements. Well, almost.  Another trip down the long staircase to cut more sweet peas. 
Dahlias and other large flowers go in last, then into a dark cool room for a few hours.  Then in places where I can see them - rooms where I spend time, pass by often. Maybe something small in the bedroom, but I want to see them, to enjoy them.

So what have I learned?

First, the descriptions on the plants in the nursery (fabulous cut flower! Trouble free! Blooms all summer!) are often written by someone who either has never grown a thing, doesn't own a pair of shears, has never had a flower arrangement last for more than one day, or is on drugs.  Or is paid to exaggerate.  

Those plants that emphatically do not make good cut flowers? Dug up and given away.  So the second lesson?  Be ruthless.

Next: If you're growing it from seed it will likely set seed and expire - here, as the summer heats up.  In your garden, perhaps as fall approaches.  But in the heat of our long summers so many beautiful things - huge blue scabiosa from Annie's Annuals, fragrant sweet peas in rich burgundy, mallows and hollyhocks - all gone to seed.  And yes, I was diligent about dead heading.  It's been over a hundred here for more than a week.  If I could go to seed I would...

Shasta daisies are on hiatus.  Cosmos have mildewed and quit.  Coreopsis soldiers on, but I am not in the mood for school bus yellow flowers.  Not in the heat; not after months of them.

Roses are still going but they do not last nearly as long in a vase as the dahlias.  

Salvias shed.  Inside, it looks like an invasion of blue bugs under the arrangement.  I sweep the spent flowers into the sink a few times a day, and keep food out of their range.  Blue flowers and breadcrumbs? No.

I've learned a lot about cutting and conditioning too.

Leaves get stripped, especially those below the water line.   Stems re-cut and quickly dipped in Quick Dip,  a flower conditioner, then into warm water and placed in a cool dark spot for conditioning.  The laundry room if the dryer isn't going.  The guest closet. A dark bathroom. The wine cellar if my husband isn't looking.

What do you grow for cutting? What's blooming in your garden?  What makes you happy?