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Planting My Bountiful,
Beautiful Backyard

"Greedy for fragrance, romance and color,
I may have gone overboard."

By Debra Prinzing
Hyacinths, pussy willow branches and dusty miller leaves

Hyacinths, pussy willow branches and dusty miller leaves. Photos: Debra Prinzing

Tulips, willow, and camellia branches

Tulips, willow, and camellia branches.

Plant a Cutting Garden

As you plan your own cutting garden, consider these favorites for 2012, named by members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers:

  • Queen Red Lime zinnia
  • Wentworth viburnum
  • Royal Sunset lily

For more ideas, check out the Cut Flowers of the Year from prior years.

Queen Red Lime zinnia

Queen Red Lime zinnia. Photos courtesy of ASCFG

Wentworth viburnum

Wentworth viburnum

Royal Sunset lily

Royal Sunset lily

I started my sweet pea seeds two weeks ago and now their brilliant green seedlings are several inches tall and ready to move from my seedstarting area in the garage out into the garden.

Greedy for fragrance, romance and color, I may have gone overboard. I chose about a dozen varieties of sweet peas. I'll plant them around the perimeter of my patio, where a beautiful white pergola serves as a trellis.

I will stretch vertical rows of twine for the tendrils to cling to, but I'll also set up Expandable Black Bamboo Trellises. These will work perfectly as vertical supports, suspended from the pergola's top beams.

Next week I'll sow new flats of flower seeds indoors or direct-sow them outside, depending on the weather. My list includes nasturtiums, amaranths, cosmos, sunflowers, nicotiana and zinnias. By planting something new every week or so — beginning after the threat of frost has passed — the garden will produce bouquets and bouquets of blooms all season long. There's a reason many of the most beloved favorites are called cut-and-come-again flowers. Clipping flowers makes many plants, especially annuals, produce even more blooms.

For the past several years, gardeners have been focused on the vegetable garden. But lately, it seems like people are rediscovering the cutting garden. Thank goodness! In my new landscape, which I inherited when we moved to Seattle's historic Seward Park neighborhood, I plan to rip out a mish-mash of groundcovers, perennials and herbs to make way for a hard-working cutting garden. My friend Kelly Sullivan of Botanique Flowers, a Seattle garden and floral designer, is coming over to help me map out the cutting garden. I need her help with a well-organized scheme that is both attractive and ensures lots of blooms.

It turns out that I'm not the only gardener eager for more flowers in my vase. Earlier this year, in the London Telegraph, Sarah Raven quoted Mr. Fothergill's Seeds as predicting cut flower seeds to be the big growth area in the next three years. "It has seen sales increases of around 15 percent in the past 18 months in all cut flowers species," she wrote.

"The British Isles and Europe tend to be five years (or more) ahead of the USA in trends," says Ed Hume of Seattle-based Hume Seeds. So, he hasn't yet seen the explosion of flower-seed sales. That observation was echoed in a recent New York Times article by Michael Tortorello, who wrote: "At the same time flower (seed) purchases fell, food-garden spending climbed 20 percent," he wrote.

Yet, after spending the past few years interviewing domestic flower farmers who use sustainable practices to grow seasonal crops, and eco-conscious florists who are sourcing their design ingredients from local fields, I am convinced that the pendulum is beginning to swing back to cutting gardens.

Even if food gardeners aren't obsessed with filling their vases like I am, their edible crops will benefit from the presence of pollinators. And what attracts pollinators but nectar sources: annuals, perennials and other flowering plants.