By Amanda Sessel Legare
My father had a huge vegetable garden, but he planted flowers as well. During the warm months there was always a bouquet or two in our home. I love the look of fresh flowers, but many garden-grown flowers are not suitable as “cuts.”
When choosing flowers to grow for bouquets I consider the vase life of the bloom and the color and shape for compatibility with other flowers. Some flowers last only a day or two in a vase. Others have soft or hollow stems that break easily, making arranging difficult. I like to combine spiky blooms with rounded blooms. White, blue/purple and light pastels blend in with just about all other flower colors.
Any flower that is good for drying will always last a long time in bouquets. Statice, strawflowers, yarrow, tall ageratum and gomphrena are good examples.
One of my favorite annual flowers for cutting is the underused lavatera (trimestris). They are pink and look quite delicate, but they will last at least a week in a bouquet. Asters are lovely, but I have always had to battle aster yellows, a fungal disease spread by leaf hoppers. (I don’t spray pesticides.) Zinnias do better for me, in particular the “knee-high profusion” series.
I grow small-headed sunflowers for mixed bouquets, making sure they are pollen free. My favorite is Soraya which has 4” – 6” blooms on sturdy stems. One plant can produce more than 20 flowers. Scabiosa (pin cushion flower) has a glamorous bloom that blends nicely in bouquets. In my garden they bloom right through the first frosts.
Spiky flowers like larkspur, astilbe, salvias or snapdragons add variety to any bouquet. Snaps are long-lasting in the vase and are available in hundreds of cultivars and in just about every color except true blue and black.
One of my very favorite perennials for cutting is lysimachia clethroides (“gooseneck”). Unfortunately, this plant is invasive, but does fine grown in rows with tilling between. The flowers are white, complimenting any bouquet, and they hold up well in a bouquet. Another long-lasting flower is the bloom from nepata (catnip) “Souvenir D’Andre Chaurdron”. My cats go wild over catnip grown from seed, but they have no interest in this perennial cultivar. The flowers are a spiky blue and when I cut them all back I get a strong second bloom.
Heliopsis (false sunflower) is a long blooming bright yellow flower. Monarda (bee balm) is long-lasting when cut before fully opened. Fall mums are also a sure bet for bouquets.
I am a sucker for natural looking, mixed bouquets. One way to enhance that look is to mix foliage cuttings with the flowers. Peony and astilbe foliage work well and hosta leaves add a dramatic flare. I read on the internet that raspberry greens will last for two weeks in a vase. We shall see.
If your bouquet is for your house, a gift, or an event, the best flowers in the world won’t do well for long unless all the foliage that goes below the water line is removed to prevent decay. If possible, cut the flowers in the morning or evening and put them into lukewarm water right away. Change water every couple of days if you remember.
You can buy floral preservatives which both provide food and destroy bacteria, the enemy of cut flowers. Or you can make your own, (which I have never done!) A friend swears by the following : 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon sugar (provides energy), 1 teaspoon household bleach and 2 teaspoons lemon juice (controls bacteria).
Amanda Sessel Legare operates Amanda’s Greenhouses and Perennials in Cabot, where she has field-dug perennials and four greenhouses. www.amandasgreenhouse.com
•Portions of this column previously appeared in Danville’s North Star Monthly.