Sunday, June 28, 2015

Planting a Cutting Garden by a non-expert

Many years ago, I was all gung-ho on planting a garden box.  Or rather, I was gung-ho on planting four, 8'x4' sized garden boxes to be exact.  I planted six tomato plants that year, yielding a crop of over 200 lbs of tomatoes among many other veggies, and I learned how to can things in a hurry.  It would have been hysterical if it hadn't been so frantic.  I remember walking door to door with flats of tomatoes, begging my neighbors to take them.

In the end, my mother came over for a hot, sweaty weekend of learning as we went, because she hadn't ever done a lot of canning in her life either- but she had the advantage of having watched her mother do it so she knew the basics and we went from there.

The point was, my "if you're going to do a thing, do it all the way" approach was a little overwhelming and I learned my lesson.  (Well, at least when it comes to gardening, anyway.)

The next year, we downsized our garden back to two boxes, removing two, and made a fire pit in the vacancy they left.  I turned one box into a cutting garden and the other was a veggie garden. (I didn't plant tomatoes... and you're not going to believe this but two tomato plants came back on their own and produced a TON of tomatoes.  I had no idea a tomato plant would come back on it's own but it did.  It was nuts.)  Fast forward to a few years later, and those wooden raised beds were rotting apart so we decided to line the house and fence with six smaller, more appropriately sized beds- (4'x2' each) which was the best decision we ever made when it came to planting.  I kept three boxes strictly for cutting garden space and that's what I'm here to chat about today.
 Firstly, I do believe that flowers are my love language.  Having them in the house all summer long, is one of my favorite things.  I combine herbs and cuttings from anywhere in the yard into bouquets and I love being able to simply walk around the yard and see what I come up with.
One of my dearest friends wanted more exact details.  She asked me what I planted, when I planted it and such.  As for what I plant- I've got a lot of perennials that come back, scattered all over, such as hydrangea, lilac, peony, lavender and greenery such as hosta, boxwood etc.  I've got azaleas, and other random bushes I frequently cut from for greens.

As for the cutting garden boxes themselves, I first got the idea nearly twenty years ago.  Adrain and I were newlyweds, renting the cutest little mother-in-law cottage, and our landlord's wife had planted a large flower bed at the back of her house that was strictly for cutting and bringing inside.  I thought that was a brilliant idea.  Why just grow things to enjoy when you're outside, and spend money to purchase flowers when you want something inside- or to give away? Flowers make the prettiest gifts and they work for all occasions.  After that, I vowed to myself that I'd have my own cutting garden someday so I could bring little jelly jars filled with home grown flowers to friends at BBQ's and enjoy beside my kitchen sink all summer long.

As a general rule, I don't use many flower starts, preferring to plant in early to mid-May, and working mainly from seed packets. I plant directly in our soil, rather than starting my own indoors, but I live in the Pacific NW where we often finish with any deep freezes by February and we have more mild weather year round anyway.   (You'll want to pay attention to your planting zone when planning when and what to plant of course.) I adore zinnias for their season long color display and tend to plant about 2-3 seed packets of these in May.  This year I did plant dahlias from starts and they haven't done well but it's been very hot and I forget to water well.  Oops.  I typically chose a wildflower mix seed packet for butterflies and/or hummingbirds and they tend to grow all kinds of pretties that I can't identify other than saying they make our bouquets lovely throughout the summer season.
 Honestly I'm pretty sure I planted a few other things that either didn't come up, or are in the process of coming up, and I can't remember what they are.  I always think I'll save the seed packets in my gardening book and refer back to them but then I don't and it doesn't matter anyway... what comes up gets enjoyed and what doesn't isn't missed. Ha!

 (I'm one of those gardeners that can't always tell the weeds from the plants and don't really care over much... just saying.  I also kind of randomly scatter seeds wherever when I'm planting. Which is also why I reminded you this post was written by a non-expert in the title.)

 This garden box had a bunch of things die, so it's looking a bit vacant at the moment.  As the summer progresses the zinnas will take over some of that space and it won't matter.
 As soon as the zinnia blooms are open I tend to cut them just above the second set of leaf clusters.  They keep coming back all season long, well into the fall and they don't seem to mind my careless approach to watering or not watering, which makes them my number one favorite to grow.
 I planted marigold starts in the corners for little pops of useful garden cheer.  I heard that they keep bad things away but I have always liked them so even if they were useless I'd probably plant them.
 This year, my herb garden was simple (basil, rosemary, thai basil, oregano, thyme and chives) but I've already included the fragrant cuttings from pruning it, into my bouquets.  I love adding basil, rosemary and oregano, along with flowering chives and lavender stems on occasion. 

 Once I've gathered cuttings of what is blooming, I bring them all inside and fill jelly jars, mugs, tumblers- whatever cute vessels I can find, and keep them all around the house.  I change the water every day in each vase, and pull out faded blooms, often adding in new cuttings to keep refreshing them.
 This was from one of the mixes I bought and I've been loving it's vibrant blue bells.

 I also tend to grab things from the veggie patch as well, such as the tops of the sugar snap peas.  They make pretty curling stems and tendrils in a tumbler with flowers.

So that's what I do when it comes to our cutting garden.  If you haven't put one in before, I encourage you to go for it even if your spaces are small.

Happy gardening!

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