Annuals for Bouquets


Every year in early  March, Pete and I discover a FedEx package on our front porch. It typically arrives on a cold and blustery, perhaps snowy, day. It may be winter outside, but I know that spring will be found inside that box. I run downstairs, grab a large vase, and rush back to the kitchen, where I fill the vase with warm water. I eagerly tear open the package. Then, carefully extracting the bundles of flowers from the box, and sliding the rubber bands off to separate them, I snip off the ends of each stem with a pair of kitchen scissors  and arrange the as yet unopened daffodils in the vase. Thanks to some wonderful friends, over the next week or so, cheerful yellow flowers will provide the perfect antidote for Colorado’s late springs.

There’s something about having a bouquet of flowers in the house that makes life better. Why else would we send flowers to people who are ill or grieving? The softness of the petals, the floral scents, and the pure colors— while flowers won’t solve the world’s problems, they’re a reminder that life can be beautiful.

Flowers are very welcome, but buying them on a regular basis doesn’t fit into a tight budget. In our house, they’re a special treat, reserved for anniversaries or perhaps Mother’s Day. That just isn’t often enough for my gardener’s soul, so I came up with a workable solution. I grow my own.

Not wanting to leave holes in my landscape, I choose to combine my cutting garden with my vegetables. Those beds already have gaps where I’ve harvested something, so I don’t mind adding some decapitated annuals. That doesn’t leave me a lot of room these days—with our city-sized plot, I only have two raised beds to work with, but it’s enough for an ongoing assortment of cut flowers from mid-summer until frost. (The rest of the year, I make due with flowering houseplants.)

While we all have our favorites (and there are plenty to choose from), here are a few I love most:

Zinnia elegans_HudsonGardens-CO_LAH_6364When it comes to cutting flowers, zinnias are hard to beat. They come in almost every color, are easy to grow, and last a long time in a vase. The local garden center may have seedlings, but those are usually dwarf bedding plants. I want the old-fashioned tall ones, such as ‘Cut and Come Again’ or ‘State Fair.’ Last summer I grew three-foot tall ‘Scarlet King.’ The cut flowers lasted over a week, which is a win in my book. The blossoms I didn’t cut lasted for week after week, and were still looking just as gorgeous when a hard frost finally did them in. To maximize our short growing season, I start mine under lights about a month before I transplant them into the garden in late May.

Stock (Matthiola incana) is an old garden flower that is rarely grown these days, but deserves to be more popular. The flowers are pretty enough, arranged along a long stem in shades of white, pink, and lavender, but it’s the fragrance that overwhelms the senses. Every time I inhale that scent, I’m five years old again, remembering my dad coming home with a huge bouquet for my mom. Again, make sure you buy seeds for a tall variety. The annual plants can tolerate some cool weather, so you can set them out around your last frost date.

Antirrhinum hyb_Snapdragon_DBG_LAH_0156With dragon “mouths” that open and close when squeezed, snapdragons (Antirrhinum) are fun as well as beautiful. You have a choice between the traditional shape and the newer “butterfly” flowers with a more open appearance. Snapdragons can withstand a frost, so you can plant them early. They’ll keep blooming all summer if kept well-watered during the hottest days, and revive once the weather cools again in the fall. Different cultivars range in height from six inches to four feet, and most garden center seedlings are for shorter plants, so you may have to grow your own taller varieties. Seedlings are slow to grow, so start the fine seeds indoors in late winter.

Sweet Peas
Lathyrus odoratus_Sweet peas_CoSpgs-CO_LAH_6185These are my favorite flowers. My earliest gardening memory—I was around three at the time—is planting sweet pea seeds along our back fence. Unfortunately, they don’t do well in Colorado. Like the peas we eat, they prefer a long, cool spring, and ours are anything but. (Our daughter, who lives north of Seattle, grows them every year, so if I want a “sweet pea fix,” I just have to plan a visit.)

Like stock, sweet peas are lovely enough, but their fragrance is pure bliss. As a cut flower, they only last a few days, which is why they’re typically not sold commercially, but the vines keep producing until they succumb to mid-summer’s hot weather, so you can always go out and pick another armful. Some of the newer cultivars are being bred for  larger flowers and/or shorter vines, and their signature scent often gets lost in the process. Look for varieties that mention scent in their description.

The flowers you pick from your yard may not be the same as the ones you find at the florist, but you’ll have double the satisfaction—you will have beautiful bouquets and you grew them yourself!

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