The bright colors and patterns of blanket flower, Gaillardia, resemble those of blankets made by native American Indians. The daisy flowers are typically two different shades of red, orange, yellow, brown or yellowish white. Not many varieties bloom with single colors. Taller varieties can get almost two feet tall, with slender but sturdy stems that are good for cutting. The narrow leaves are mostly basal, so do not crowd bloom.
The more popular varieties of blanket flower are perennial. Healthy plants can slowly get quite broad, and can self sow their seed to spread a bit farther. Annual varieties can not get as broad, but often self sow more efficiently than perennial types do. Once it gets growing, blanket flower does not need much water. However, regularly watered plants are already blooming. Modestly watered plants wait until summer.
If only it did not like such regular watering, the common white calla, Zantedeschia aethiopica, would be quite a sustainable perennial. Once established, it can be difficult to get rid of, particularly in well watered gardens. Even unwatered plants that die to the ground through dry summer weather are merely dormant and waiting for rain to regenerate and bloom.
The remarkably elegant blooms stand about two or three feet tall, each with a single spathe loosely wrapped as a flaring cone around a spadix that supports the indistinguishable diminutive flowers. The bright white spathe is often more than four inches wide, and can be twice as wide in shade. The spadix is only about three or four inches long, and as yellow as Big Bird. The spongy dark green leaves are about a foot or two tall.
‘Green Goddess’ blooms with a longer and recurved spathe with a green tip and margins. Colorful callas are actually different specie. All parts of all types of callas are incidentally toxic.
Flowers add such variety of color and fragrance to the garden that it is no wonder that they are so popularly cut and brought from the garden into the home. Even though larger quantities of flowers can be purchased from markets or florists without depleting those blooming in the garden, growing our own can be so much more rewarding. We may not be able to grow all the varieties of flowers that commercial growers can grow in greenhouses or other climates, but we can grow many other varieties of flowers that commercial flower growers do not provide.
Many flowers can be grown specifically for cutting, like vegetables are grown to be harvested. Some, like cosmos and daisies, can be grown in such abundance in mass plantings that it is easy to cut a few without anyone missing them. Other flowers, like roses and New Zealand tea tree, are merely by-products of plants that also function as shrubs, vines, trees and even ground covers.
Peruvian lilies are some of the best cut flowers, not only because they last so long after getting cut, but also because they bloom so much through such a long season that there are usually enough flowers for the garden as well as the home. The taller and unfortunately rare types grown by commercial flower growers are better for cutting than the more common ‘garden varieties’ are.
Callas are likewise among the better prolific cut flowers, but only bloom white. The colored types are neither as prolific nor as reliable. Believe it or not, lily-of-the-Nile makes good cut flowers when they bloom white or blue in the middle of summer. They are just awkward because their blooms are so round.
Gladioli are good either as cut flowers or for color in the garden, but unless they are planted in large quantities, they are not prolific enough for both. Like vegetables, they can be planted in phases (in season) to prolong the bloom season. Unfortunately, they need to be planted annually because they do not often naturalize. Those that do naturalize will synchronize their bloom season after the first season.
Several types of iris bloom more generously, and some are happy to naturalize, but only a few types are good cut flowers like Dutch iris are. Some bearded iris wilt within hours of getting cut.
If their strange tubers got into the garden last autumn, ranunculus should be blooming by now. Although their schedule suggests that they crave winter chill like other spring bulbs, they merely want to disperse their roots early. Then, they can bloom as winter ends, and continue until spring weather gets too warm for them. They mostly finish prior to summer.
If tubers did not get into the garden earlier last autumn, young ranunculus plants become available from nurseries late in winter. Although generally a spring annual, tubers, which go dormant by summer, have potential to regenerate perennially for subsequent springs. Digging and storing tubers through most of their dormancy might improve their potential.
Ranunculus bloom can be pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, cream or white. Flowers are plump and neatly dense with many papery petals, like little peony flowers. They stand on sturdy stems about half a foot to a foot high. Their finely textured basal foliage resembles parsley, but with a lighter color. Dormant tubers are tufts of short, plump and woody roots.
Although they will not bloom until summer or autumn, gladiolus are in season now. Their corms, which are like bulbs, are now available from nurseries, and are ready for planting. Unlike earlier spring bulbs, they need no chill, and should not generate new foliage until warmer spring weather. Corms prefer to be at least four inches deep, in sunny situations.
The most popular and common gladiolus, Gladiolus X hortulanus, are hybrids of several species. They bloom more impressively than their simpler parents, but are not as reliably perennial. Most corms bloom for only a single season, although some within each group may bloom for a second season or more. Blooms can get heavy enough to need staking.
Bloom can be bright or pastel hues of any color except true blue, perhaps combined with another related color. Individual florets are not large, but they share their floral stalks with several similar florets that bloom upward from the bottom. Long and pointed leaves stand upright, flaring only slightly to the left and right. The tallest gladiolus can get six feet high.
This is one of those annuals that could be a short term perennial if it gets the opportunity to do so. In most climates, stock, Matthiola incana, is a popular warm season annual that relinquishes its space to cool season annuals before it gets too worn in autumn. Locally, because it does not mind mild frost, it is more popular as a cool season annual for winter.
Floral color ranges through both pale and rich pastels of purple, red, pink, yellow, cream and also pure white. Flowers may be single or double. In close proximity, bloom is richly fragrant. Foliage is light grayish green. Individual leaves are somewhat narrow. Removal of deteriorating floral stalks before they develop seed pods prolongs subsequent bloom.
Many garden varieties of stock stay relatively low and compact. Some may get no higher than a foot. Florist varieties that produce long stems for cutting might get as high as three feet. Overgrown plants get shabby after a primary season, but may regenerate from hard pruning. However, secondary growth is generally irregular and likely marginally reliable.
Gardens might be colorful throughout the year here. There is not much time between the latest of the autumn flowers and the earliest of the spring flowers. Winter flowers are glad to compensate for the lapse. Of course, there are plenty of flowers in spring and summer. Nonetheless, dried flowers are more popular now that there are fewer flowers for cutting.
The quantity of flowers blooming within a particular season might not be proportionate to the quantity of flowers available for cutting. Flowers that bloom through winter, even if as abundant as spring or summer flowers, do not develop as fast. Harvesting too many bird of Paradise flowers depletes the limited supply before something else can replace them.
Deciduous foliage that provides spectacular color through autumn is no substitute for cut flowers. Nor is the majority of colorful bark that becomes more prominent through winter. Some colorful berries can function like cut flowers, but only if there are plenty to spare in the garden. Conventional dried flowers that grew last summer may be useful about now.
For the venturesome and resourceful, unconventional dried flowers and other dried plant parts can also be fun. Such items, unlike statice, straw flower, lavender and other familiar dried flowers, might be byproducts of gardening. They might be derived from detritus that should otherwise go to compost or greenwaste. Some might even be products of weeds!
Pampas grass, both garden varieties and the invasively naturalized type, produces bold blooms that dry quite well. Because the leaves can cause such nasty paper cuts, flowers might be easier to harvest from a distance, with a pole pruner. Hair spray can contain the fuzz, so that it does not disperse indoors. Cat tails, if still intact, are compatible with them.
Floral stems of lily of the Nile, New Zealand flax, and some species of Yucca are striking even after bloom. After deadheading, they can become flowerless dried flowers. Fruiting structures are no problem to remove. If within reach, some palms may provide distinctive bloom trusses. Floral design can be as imaginative as gardening and landscape design.
The papery flowers of annual statice, Limonium sinuatum, are so popular as seemingly synthetic dried flowers that many garden enthusiasts are surprised to find that they are happy to bloom naturally in home gardens. The clear shades of blue, purple, pink, orange, yellow and white seem to be dyed. The one or two foot tall flower stems are outfitted with odd papery ‘wings’ that make the stems seem wider than they actually are. Deeply lobed basal foliage forms shallow rosettes. Mature plants are about one or two feet tall, and a foot or so wide. Bloom begins late in summer, and continues into autumn. Good sun exposure and good drainage are preferred. Seed can be sown directly, or young plants can be added to the garden early in spring.
Statice, strawflower and globe thistle continue to bloom later than most other summer annuals, and hold their flowers longer. Even after bloom, the flowers are so stiff and ‘crispy’ that they remain intact and colorful until they succumb to exposure to weather. If cut and brought in from the weather soon enough, they will last as dried flowers at least until fresh flowers start to bloom in the garden next spring.
Strawflower and larger globe thistle tend to wilt and droop from the weight of the bulky flowers, so should be tied in small bunches and hung upside down to dry. Perennial statice (which has larger blooms than annual statice) tends to flop to the ground, but the stems often bend only at the base so that the rest of the stem length stays somewhat straight. Smaller globe thistle and annual statice often dry standing up while still out in the garden.
Yarrow and English lavender can be dried as well, but lose most of their color. Lavender dries naturally in the garden. Yarrow can likewise be allowed to dry in the garden, but probably keeps a bit more color if cut while still fresh and hung upside down. Because yarrow blooms are so wide, they should be hung individually or in small bundles. Queen Anne’s lace has even wider blooms that curl inward as they dry, so they really should be hung individually.
Old hydrangea flowers that are only beginning to fade can dry surprisingly well if cut and hung individually before they deteriorate too much or start to rot. Some varieties retain color better than others. Some fade almost completely to an appealing brown paper bag.
There are not many roses this time of year, but when they do bloom, even they can be cut and dried while beginning to unfurl. Only a few small and tightly budded roses can be dried when completely open. Because they droop right below the blooms, roses should be hung upside down to dry. Dark colored roses get very dark as they dry. White roses turn tan. Pink and yellow are probably the better colors.
Cat-tails and pampas grass flowers are big, bold and dated cut flowers. Yet, for situations where big flowers fit, they are just as practical now as they were in the 1970s. Because pampas grass flowers shed, and cat-tails can explode (to disperse their seed), they should be sprayed with hair spray or another fixative to keep them contained. Pampas grass foliage has dangerously serrate edges that can give nasty paper cuts, so should be handled carefully, and displayed out of the way.
They start out simply enough, as weirdly twisted bare stems in fancy floral arrangements. By the time the last flowers fade, the submerged parts of these bare stems develop roots and perhaps leaves. These now rooted cuttings then graduate into pots or gardens. Most curly willow, Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’, is therefore unplanned. It is rare from nurseries.
Mature trees should not get much taller than fifteen feet, with awkwardly irregular branch structure. Regular pruning and grooming eliminates congested and structurally deficient growth. Alternatively, pollarding or coppicing during winter dormancy promotes vigorous growth. Healthy trees can drop overburdened limbs, and might live for only twenty years.
Curly willow, which is also corkscrew willow, is popular more for distinctively curly stems than as a small deciduous shade tree. Specimens that provide such stems for cutting do not need to be very big. If cut and dried while dormant during winter, stems can not grow roots in water. Nor will they require plucking to remove their leaves, which are also curly.