I started a perennial cutting garden this spring so today I’m sharing how things are looking so far and what I’ve learned!
It kind of dawned on me last year how much joy I get out of watching my perennials come to life and do their thing in the gardens all around our house. I realized that while I enjoy a few veggies here and there, perennials that are beautiful to look at are really where it’s at for me. Because our garden is so large, it seemed like a great idea to convert an even larger portion of it to perennials this season. I already added in a perennial herb garden a couple of years ago, and a bit of a combination herb/perennial shade garden early this spring. I decided that our largest raised bed would be perfect and would give me lots of room to experiments and allow things to grow and expand and I thought I’d share how it’s looking so far! So here’s how to start a perennial cutting garden of your own if this sounds like fun to you too!
Choose a Sunny Spot With Easy Access From All Sides
There are some great shade perennials that are lovely for cutting, but overall most blooming plants will thrive in a sunny spot, so something in full sun will be your best bet. If you want to mark off a section of your veggie garden just for perennial flowers and cut-ables, that will work out just perfectly. The other thing to keep in mind is to choose a bed that you can easily access from all sides so that you can actually get to everything to cut them. As perennials get more mature, they expand in size and it will probably become difficult to walk between them to access everything you want to cut.
We have open areas around our raised beds where we’ve added landscaping fabric and fresh mulch to keep the weeds away. We’ve punched a few holes in the fabric to accommodate pumpkins and grapes, but other than that, it’s just a nice, clear, walkable area.
Amend the Soil
Before you start planting, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re working with good soil. Since your plants will probably be in place for a good long time, this is your last chance to have full access to the soil with nothing in the way to be harmed by your digging and soil-turning. Since this is a cutting garden, you’ll want as many blooms as possible, so you want lots of nutrients to allow your plants to grow those blooms. If you have your own compost to work into the soil, that’s perfect. You can also buy nutrient rich garden soil from the garden centre. We removed about half the existing soil from this bed and used it to fill various holes that critters have made around our property, then we replaced it with garden centre soil specifically for flower growing. I also try to add some fresh soil to the bottom of my holes every time I plant something new, as well as top-dress all my plants around their roots with fresh soil every spring. This way I know that I’m always replenishing the soil and it isn’t getting too depleted.
Start Experimenting With Plants
One of my favourite things about gardening is that you never really know for sure what’s going to work the best until you try. You will run into plenty of disappointments, but many happy surprises as well. I started out by splitting and transplanting a few different plants from around our property that I knew I might like to have specifically for cutting. This actually gave me quite a good start for free.
My next step was to visit the garden centre and figure out what else to try. This is always a bit challenging because you may not know exactly what you want unless you’ve seen some plants in other gardens that you definitely know you love. There’s also this issue of actually being able to find what you have in mind. My best tactic for this type of a situation is to just go to the garden centre, and when I see something that catches my eye, simply google “______ cut flower” or “_______ in a vase” to see if it actually works as a cut flower and if I like it.
Some flowers will seem like a good idea, but will actually end up being delicious to bugs and critters in your area, so maybe the blooms won’t be as flawless for cutting as you would have hoped. You just have to try them and then you’ll know for sure! One little trick I love is to use organza bags to cover blooms just as they’re about to open. This protects them from some bugs as they bloom, but still allows water and sunlight to get through. And you can reuse the bags over and over again!
What I’ve Planted So Far
To be honest, my garden is really only half-full so far. I had one spunky little sunflower that seeded itself from seeds that dropped from last year’s flowers and I just let it grow, and then I stuck my dahlias in one end as well, just because I had the space. But the one is looking great, I think!
I have both tree peonies and herbaceous peonies that I transplanted from other parts of the yard. If you love peonies, these are great to add in as soon as possible because they’ll take up to three years to start to bloom in their new location. Both of the varieties I have are a medium pink, so I would love to add some white ones in this year as well, if I remember the next time I’m at a garden centre.
This is one that I wouldn’t have previously thought of as a cut flower, but I got a bouquet from a local flower farmer last year that had sedum in it and I absolutely loved it. Such a good one and long lasting in a vase too!
Purple Cone Flower
I had these in another garden for a few years and they didn’t seem to be doing too well there, but they seem much happier here so far. 🙂
I’ve had these in my garden for years, so I just split them and brought them over here. I love their energy in the garden and they’re great as a cut flower too! I also love that they take so well to being divided, so I’ll probably split the two that I have here next year again so I’ll have more!
I love these cheerful white daisies, but unfortunately so do the bugs. I’ll have to get out the chiffon bags if I want to save any this year, but I think I may also search for something similar that isn’t as delicious because I would love to have lots of these for cut flowers around the house.
Asters grow in ditches and on creek banks here like crazy near the end of the summer and I just love them. Our local garden centre had a native plant section and there were some of these asters so I picked them up. They’ll probably be eaten when they actually bloom, because they’re so well adapted to the area, but I’m interested to see if I can save any to cut because they’re just the cutest.
The red on these is maybe a bit bold for me to want to use it often as an actual cut flower, but I can’t get over how beautiful the foliage is! This is growing very happily and although I see bugs on it, I don’t see too much damage happening.
The list of things I’d like to add in here is long and I’ll probably just keep adding things and moving things around every year, but I’m excited to have gotten this little garden project underway and I’m even more excited to watch it fill in over the years as I get better and better with it. 🙂
Do you have a perennial cutting garden at home? What have you planted in there that you really love?
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- How to Grow Creeping Jenny as a Perennial
- The Creek Line House Gardening Archives
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.