Try Some Unconventional Cut Flowers

P81214There is nothing like growing our own; whether vegetables, fruit or cut flowers. Most fruit and vegetables are grown to be eaten, so are not missed too much when harvested. Even colorful citrus fruit is better harvested than left out in the garden. No one wants to waste it. Flowers are not so simple. They are so colorful and fragrant in the garden, that it is tempting to leave them all out there.

Cosmos and many kinds of daisies are so abundant that there are plenty for both the home and garden. Gladiolus are not so fortunate. They bloom only once. Cutting the flowers to bring into the home deprives the garden of their color. What is worse is that cut gladiolus, although excellent cut flowers, do not last quite as long as they would in the garden. Roses at least continue to bloom.

Daylily can be a good cut flower, but individual flowers last only a day (obviously). This is not a problem in the garden because new flowers bloom daily to replace those that that have finished. Cutting stems not only takes flowers in bloom, but also takes the flower buds behind them that are waiting for their turn to bloom. However, not many, if any, of the unbloomed buds bloom once cut.

Many types of iris, except for Dutch iris, have the same problem. Attentive garden enthusiasts might leave iris to bloom in the garden, and might even groom fading blooms from fresh blooms on the same stems, and then cut stems to bring into the home when the last bud on each stem is just beginning to bloom. The last flowers are not as excellent as the first, but it is a fair compromise.

Cannas are not so functional. They are great in the garden for both flowers and foliage, but fade too soon in the home. Bougainvillea and crape myrtle stems likewise start to wilt and drop flowers immediately after getting cut, but for those who do not mind cleaning up after them, there are plenty of papery flowers to last a few days. The wilted tips of bougainvillea stems can be pruned out.

There are no rules to cut flowers. Lily-of-the-nile might seem like a silly choice, but works quite nicely for those who dare to try it. New Zealand flax flowers are not very colorful, but provide striking form. Zonal geranium and nasturtium work well with or without foliage attached. Lemon bottlebrush, photinia, New Zealand tea tree, bugle lily, various hebes, and all sorts of salvias are worth a try.

Vahz, Vawz or Voz

P81020‘V-A-S-E ‘ is probably how it is spelled, just like that which is pronounced exactly as it looks, or ‘vays’. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ just sounds fancier, . . . or bigger.

That is how I learned it. ‘Vays’ is the smaller version that is designed to contain one or only a few flowers and maybe some foliage. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ is the much larger version that is designed to contain entire bouquets or ‘floral arrangements’. Those that contain only dried flowers and foliage do not even need to hold water.

I learned this from those who were experts on the subject. My Aunt Betsy and her best friend Cathy were ‘flower children’. They rented an apartment in a hip and trendy neighborhood in western San Jose back in the early 1970s. The neighborhood was so trendy and hip that the neighbors were known as ‘hippies’. Aunt Betsy and Cathy outfitted their apartment accordingly, with wicker, shaggy rugs, and a big spider plant hanging from beaded macrame.

Of course, there was also a rather big ‘vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’. It was cheap molded plaster painted glossy chocolaty brown. It contained a billowy abundance of only two species of dried cut flowers, cattails and pampas grass, that had been sprayed with hair spray to prevent them from sharing their seed. It was as gloriously hideous as it sounds, and more than adequately expressed impeccable cultural refinement and a keen appreciation for the remarkably distinctive and exquisitely tacky style of home decor that was so prevalent at the time.

The cattails might have been collected on the side of Highway 80 in Auburn, near the home of Aunt Betsy’s Great Aunt Mamie. The pampas grass might have been found in Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos.


80905Their pastel hues and blends of pink, lavender, near red and white are so perfect for the middle of spring when cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus, begin to bloom. They are just as perfect as bloom continues right through summer and almost to autumn, when the tall and airy plants finally begin to wear themselves out. If they continue through autumn, they eventually succumb to frost in winter.

Individual flowers are as delicate as they look, but are prolific. New flowers replace older flowers a quickly as they fade. Deadheading promotes even better bloom. A few of the last flowers to bloom can be left as the season ends to sow seed for next year. However, fancy cultivars are not true to type, so subsequent generations will be more like the basic specie, with simpler flowers.

Cosmos likes full sun exposure, rich soil and regular watering. Mature plants are about two or three, or even four feet tall, although the most popular varieties stay shorter and more compact. The species name of ‘bipinnatus‘ refers to the pinnate leaves that are divided into very narrow lobes that are also divided into even narrower lobes. The collective foliage is very delicate, lacy and airy.

Flowers For Home And Garden

70524thumbThere is a difference. Hybrid tea and grandiflora roses were bred to be excellent cut flowers for the home. They bloom on long stems, and last well once cut. However, the rigid and thorny plants that produce these excellent blooms are realistically not much to look at. Floribunda, polyantha and climbing roses are more of a compromise with less ideal (perhaps) flowers on friendlier plants.

Conversely, bearded iris are spectacular while blooming out in the garden, but do not last so well as cut flowers. As colorful as they are, they perform best while still attached to the plants that produced them. Fading flowers might be groomed away from flowers that continue to bloom later, but are not a serious problem if allowed to linger. The garden is more forgiving than the home.

Where space allows, rose gardens or cutting gardens are areas devoted to the production of flowers for cutting and bringing into the home. Like vegetable gardens, cutting gardens might be hedged, fenced or partly concealed from the rest of the landscape. No one minds if the utilitarian plants within get deprived of their flowers, or need to be staked or caged like big tomato plants.

Taller and bulkier varieties of dahlia, delphinium, lily, Peruvian lily (alstroemeria) or sunflower that might be to big and awkward elsewhere in the garden can be right at home in a cutting garden. Compact and more prolific varieties of the same flowers work better in more prominent parts of the garden, and if prolific enough, can also provide flowers (although less spectacular) for cutting.

There are very few rules in regard to cut flowers. Many of us bring in bearded iris or daylily, even though they may not last more than a day. The buds below the flowers might bloom afterward. Blooming clematis vine, nasturtium (on or off stem), lily-of-the-Nile, zonal geranium, bougainvillea, bottlebrush, crape myrtle and even flower stalks of New Zealand flax, are all worthy cut flowers for anyone wanting to try them, especially if the garden provides enough to spare.70524thumb+

Improvise While Flowers Are Scarce

61123thumbMuch of the color in the garden through autumn and winter is provided by foliage. Some foliage turns color as the weather gets cooler. Some had been blue, gray, gold, red, bronze or variegated all year, and just happens to get noticed more now that there is not much other color provided by flowers. There are a few flowers that bloom now or even later in winter, but not nearly as many as there were in spring and summer.

Coral bark Japanese maple and red twig dogwood display colorful defoliated stems as the weather gets cooler. The colorful berries of firethorn (pyracantha), cotoneaster and toyon will ripen about the same time, providing bright red color until the birds get them. Otherwise, there might not seem to be much more to cut and bring into the home to substitute for cut flowers, and add to all the colorful foliage, twigs and berries.

Well, this is where things get less horticultural, and more creative. All those old flowers and flower stalks that should get pruned off, and maybe a few old leaves, might be good for more than compost. Blooms of hydrangea, Queen Anne’s lace and lavender can be cut just as they begin to deteriorate, and hung upside-down to dry. They lose much of their color, and shrivel somewhat, but are nice options to fresh flowers.

Old flower stalks of New Zealand flax and lily-of-the-Nile have striking form once plucked of tattered flower parts and seed capsules. New Zealand flax stalks are tall and straight. Lily-of-the-Nile stalks are like star-bursts on sticks. If the natural color lacks appeal, they can be spray painted! Seed capsules of red flowering gum (eucalyptus) dry in loose clusters with stems that are long enough to arrange like cut flowers.

Pine-cones, magnolia grenades (seedpods) and sweetgum maces (seedpods) that fall from their stems can be drilled, and attached to sticks. There are no substitutes for real flowers, but there are no limits to creative and even weird alternatives.