It’s that time of year again. I’m acting cool and subdued but on the inside I’m jumping up and down, squealing and yelling, “Flowers! All the flowers!”. Here in California we are experiencing another mild winter and early spring, which means flower garden plans and planting are already in full swing.
My order of summer flower seeds arrived from Johnny’s Selected Seeds a few weeks ago. I have them sorted in to groups of seeds that can be directly sown into the soil, and those that need to be started and then transplanted. Fortunately there aren’t a lot of seeds in the later category.
I’m mixing things up a little this year. In the past I’ve purchased a lot of variety packets, were you get a dozen or so flower varieties in one packet. It’s sort of like a surprise grab bag; you know you’re getting sunflowers, you just don’t know exactly what kind, and how many of each variety will be in a single seed packet. I’m finding as time goes on, that I’m getting more picky and controlling about what I have growing in my garden. For example, last year I planted Johnny’s Sunflower Collection, and while they grew beautifully and produced hundreds of blooms, there were just too many brown and variegated sunflowers for my taste, and not enough of the Teddy Bear sunflowers.
The same went for my zinnia varieties. I ended up with too many light pink and yellow zinnias. This year I decided to leave nothing up to chance and only purchase the exact colors and varieties I wanted.
My Bachelor Buttons are returning once again. I love these little flowers. I bought two packages of Blue Bachelor buttons so I could plant them in two rounds. I’ve found that Bachelor Buttons take off and bloom so fast, which is really nice! But if you don’t space out your planting you’ll run out of Bachelor Buttons before the summer is even half done, and you don’t want to run out of those happy blue flowers!
Bachelor Buttons are not “cut and come again” flowers; meaning you get one flush of flowers and that’s it. You get A LOT of blooms, but once they’re done you can’t clip them back and get a second harvest.
New to the cutting flower garden this year are Billy Balls. Love these sweet little guys with their bright mustard color and round shape. They’re also ideal because they dry so beautifully which means you can keep them for ages!
The one trick to the Billy Balls is they can’t be directly sown into the soil. You need to start them ahead of time in seed starting boxes, preferably with the clear plastic lid which creates a miniature greenhouse for your babies. These are my Billy Ball babies…still very, very tiny.
I also decide to try growing Yarrow this year. This is another flower that dries nicely and comes in such pretty colors! These also have to be started and then transplanted in 6 to 8 weeks. I’m getting a late start on these, which might be a problem…only time will tell.
I’m also growing Gomphrena. My friends Sharon, and Kelley had such good success growing these in their garden last year that I just had to try them! I wanted the all-white seed packet but Johnny’s only had the mixed seed packets left by the time I was ready to order.
This year I decide to stick with just the Double Click Cosmos. Normally I plant both double click and the Versailles variety, but I fell so in love with the double clicks last year, I decided to forgo the common Cosmos, so I’d have more room for these beauties…
The Dahlias will also be back. I can’t even imagine a cutting garden without Dahlias. Last summer I was kicking myself for waiting too long to purchase new Dahlia tubers for the garden. I promised I wouldn’t make that mistake again this year so I ordered 6 new varieties in January (I bought mine from Swan Island but I’ve also ordered them from Eden Brothers in the past). They should be shipped soon and planted in the next few weeks. I’m so excited about all the new colors that are going to be in the garden this year!
I thought I might take a minute to answer a few questions I’m frequently asked about my garden-
1. Where do I buy my seeds? I purchase all my seeds from Johnny’s Selected seeds, and I do so for a number of reasons. One, I’ve had such consistently beautiful and bountiful yields from their seeds. Whereas with other seed companies (like Burpee), planting feels like more of a gamble. Sometimes you get a packet of amazing seeds and sometimes you get a dud, and that is so disappointing! Second, they have an entire category just for cutting flowers, and that takes all the guess work out of picking flower seeds. Anything listed in the Cut Flower category are flowers that have long stems and a good vase life. I also like the way Johnny’s labels their seed packets with nice detailed instructions. They make sure to identify which seeds need to be started and transplanted, and which seeds can be sown directly into the ground.
2. What flowers do I recommend for a beginner? My list of easy to grow, sow directly into the ground, cutting flowers looks like this:
Cutting Sunflowers- don’t buy just any kind of sunflowers! Make sure they are for cutting otherwise they will wilt the second you pick them. I prefer the branching varieties. Usually cutting sunflowers are labeled as “single stem” or “branching”. Single stem sunflowers are lovely but you only get one flower per stem. Branching sunflowers will give you dozens of flowers per stem. My one warning about cutting sunflowers is they get huge! So make sure you plant them in a spot where they can spread out and get big.
Cosmos- Cosmos are hearty plants, with the most whimsical delicate looking flowers. They come in lots of unique shapes like the double ruffled and the sea shell varieties. If you buy the common single petaled Cosmos and start them from seed, they can sometimes be very slow bloomers. I spent two summers babying and coaxing my Cosmos only to realize they just needed more time. The double click and sea shell varieties don’t seem to have that problem.
Zinnias- I usually plant only the Benary Giant varieties but the State Fair are lovely too. They have smaller blooms. These flowers can handle the heat, and are the quintessential summer flower. The more you pick Zinnias the more you will get, which is why it pays to be a generous gardener.
Bachelor Buttons- (also known as Cornflowers) are an easy, carefree flower to grow. Again, you want to get the cutting variety, otherwise they won’t have nice long stems. They are fast growers too!
Dahlias- Dahlias look big and impressive and it seems like they should be fussy but they aren’t. They are delightful! If you plant Dahlia tubers in the spring you’ll have gorgeous blooms all summer long. The more you pick the more they produce. They do get really tall and bushy, and have a tendency to topple over if you don’t support them with twine and poles, or a large tomato cage. The best thing about Dahlias is they come back year after year (just like a bulb).
If you are interested in having a small cutting garden this year it’s certainly not too late! Here in California where our winters and springs are mild, you can start planting your seeds the first week of April (although I’ve been known to be impatient and plant as soon as the end of March with no ill effects). If you are looking for more information about cutting flowers Floret Farms is an amazing source of information and inspiration!