Cutting gardens used to be like vegetable plots, separated from the flower border, planted in utilitarian straight rows and generally accorded second-class status.
But, today, cutting flowers have come out of the closet. And why not? They're pretty in vases and lovely in borders as well.
Were I allowed to grow only one summer flower, and it had to decorate both the house and the garden, I would choose gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) . Developed from black-eyed Susans, these cone-centered blooms measure 4 to 7 inches across and come in shades of gold, orange, brown and deep bronze.
I'm growing from seed Rudbeckia Green Eyes, a tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two) that promises 5-inch blooms with yellow-pointed petals and olive-green eyes. Maybe it's silly to grow gloriosas from seed when I have dozens of volunteers coming up from previous years crops. Although these self-sown seedlings are excellent plants, unlike some volunteers that revert to wild status, I couldn't resist those Green Eyes. Next year, perhaps, I'll try Nutmeg, which the catalogue assures will produce double blooms in rich autumnal hues.
Fortunately, I'm not limited to just one selection, so my cutting garden will include blooms that complement gloriosa daisies, such as blue salvia ( S. farinacea ) , blanketflower ( Gaillardia ) and tall marigolds. Another choice for summer bouquets is the perennial yarrow ( Achillea , "Cloth of Gold"), with its flat, mustard-colored, long-lasting blooms.
Continuing with sunny colors for the cutting garden is a new cosmos called Golden Goddess ( Bidens ferulaefolia ) that I'm growing from seed and should be showing color soon. The catalogue of Thompson & Morgan, British seeds men who have obviously acquired Yankee marketing skills, describes Golden Goddess splendiferously:
"Blooms en masse unabated from June through December, covers itself with 2 1/2-inch flowers of classic natural symmetry, assumes perennial appearance and quality, blooms profusely for cutting and bedding, tolerates heat and resists pests and diseases." If it's even half that good, I'll be satisfied.
Another new summer bloomer is coreopsis Early Sunrise, a shorter, earlier version of the prize-winning Sunray. Although just released this year, Early Sunrise is available as small plants in nurseries, so you won't have to grow it from seed.
In arranging coreopsis, cosmos and other flowers with wiry stems, I like to crumple some chicken wire for the mouth of the vase. Amazing how well it holds flowers in place for casual, country bouquets.
Flower Arranger's Tips
Gudy Kimmel, an accredited flower show judge who also teaches flower arranging at Harbor College and South Coast Botanic Gardens, gave me tips for summer bouquets.
Kimmel favors small blooms, such as border carnations, miniature gladiola and garden pinks. She finds it difficult to work with huge flowers, such as giant dahlias, preferring instead dahlia pompon varieties or dwarf semi-double forms.
One of Kimmel's favorites for the summer cutting garden is montbretia ( Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ), a South African bulb with swordlike leaves and long-stemmed flowers in orange, yellow and red tones. Although these bulbs cannot be found in every garden center, two sources are Green Thumb Nursery in Canoga Park and Burkhard's in Pasadena.
Probably the best of the new flowers for arranging, according to Kimmel, is lisianthus ( Eustoma grandiflorum ). Developed from prairie wildflowers, lisianthus is a flower arranger's joy, staying attractive in a vase 10 days or more.
Many of these cutting flower selections can be planted immediately to take advantage of our normally cool, overcast weather in May and June. Not only will they get off to a good start, but they will provide color in late summer when nearly everything else is gone.