The ABC’s of A Cutting Garden
Gordonsville’s Virginia Rockwell of The Gentle Gardener
and local grower Joe Caputi of Charlotte’s Garden make it easy as A, B, C.


You can grow your own beautiful cut flowers and foliage for bouquets throughout your landscape, or create a specific area for cutting. We’ve been asked by our clients to share our secrets. Here are the A, B, C’s:

“A” is for Architectural Plants.These trees and shrubs are the ‘architecture’ of your landscape throughout the year, and also perform the same function in the vase: they provide shape, texture and bold color when arranging. When designing landscapes, the Gentle Gardener often recommends evergreen, long-blooming magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem”, a dwarf form of the huge Southern magnolia. “Little Gem” is a smaller, pyramidal, “instant gratification” magnolia: leaves are 3-5 inches long; within 3 years the tree bears lemon-scented ivory blooms the size of saucers rather than dinner plates, and the tree grows only 8’ wide and 20’ tall. “Little Gem” can even be grown in raised planters like those in front of the Town Hall in Gordonsville.

Other choices to grace your winter garden and holiday table, door or mantle include: ‘English’ laurel, prunus laurocerasus “Otto Luyken”, with 3” long glossy green leaves and a neat, 4’ wide and 3’ high vase shape, and ‘sparkleberry’ deciduous holly ilex verticillata x attenuata hybrids “Winter Red”, “Red Sprite” and “Sparkleberry”, which lose their not-spiky leaves to reveal beautiful clusters of red berries all along the stems. Most folks don’t even know these are hollies, nor do they know cornus alba sibirica, c. baileyii, c. sericerea, or c. sanguinea viridissima are all red or yellow twig shrubby dogwoods. The more you cut these dogwood stems to arrange at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, the more vivid red or yellow twigs grow back each year.

“B” is for Backyard Basics. With a little advance planting of bulbs and seeds in the cool of autumn, you can begin to cut flowers as early as March, and children can plant seeds directly into the spring garden for summer cut flowers. Fall planted daffodils (narcissus) and tulips are the easiest way to bring the first flowers of spring into our landscapes and homes. Deer don’t eat daffodils, but love tulips, so locate your tulip plantings carefully, or buy locally grown tulips.

Cutting Garden Flowers

Seeds to sow in fall such as larkspur, nigella (love-in-a-mist), and bachelor’s buttons are easy: plant directly into the garden in the fall and forget them! They’ll surprise you in late April through June, and reseed themselves, giving you years of effortless beauty. Plant seeds of perennial echinacea (purple coneflower) and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) in autumn, too. They are both perennial and reseeding, and will bloom in the first year if seeded in autumn.When the weather warms, it’s child’s play to seed zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, and amaranth for vibrant summer color. Sow in a circular ‘keyhole’ garden for children to enjoy their own ‘Secret Garden’.

Cut flower perennials (which return every year) to buy as plants for your beds and borders include: achillea (yarrow), liatris (gayfeather), monarda (bee balm or bergamot), peonies, phlox “David”, salvia and veronica. These give a variety of flower shapes and colors to keep both the landscape and the arrangements fresh throughout the summer.

“C” is for Cut Flowers for Connoisseurs: These flowers are usually grown by professionals like Charlotte’s Garden and are a bit more difficult to grow, but well worth the effort once you’ve mastered “A” and “B”. If you are short on time and expertise, pick one to try and buy the others from your local grower through florists and farmer’s markets specializing in locally grown produce, such as The Gentle Gardener.

Everybody loves Sweet Peas; however, Virginia summers are very hot and humid, not ideal for these cold loving blooms. Try starting seeds indoors and transplant in early April, or grow in your unheated greenhouse.

Other connoisseur varieties include: lisianthus (very difficult to start, but plants are also available), tuberose (gardenia-scented, nostalgic, easy to grow), and dahlia.

For more information, cut flowers to order, and a more extensive list of cutting garden plants and sources, and other resources, please contact The Gentle Gardener, or Charlotte’s Garden, www.virginiaflowers.net. Refer to this article to receive 20% off your plant or cut flower purchase.

Joe Caputi of Charlotte’s Garden, Louisa County, grows over 70 varieties of annuals, perennials and woody shrubs, from ageratum to zinnias, tulips, lilies, tuberose, dahlias, hydrangeas, and much more. Charlotte’s Garden flowers can be found at The Gentle Gardener in Gordonsville, the City Market in Charlottesville, and the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Richmond.

Virginia R. Rockwell, VSLD, is landscape designer and owner of The Gentle Gardener, where she creates landscapes, container gardens, and country weddings and events. She is certified by the Virginia Society of Landscape Designers.


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