After years of laboring over boring projects in our yard likecollapsed retaining walls and irrigation, I’ve finally reached the fun part: flowers. I have slowly added to my landscape over the last couple of years, but this year was a full force planting effort. I was inspired by The Cut Flower Garden and read every page, alongside my other favorite Square Foot Gardening Book.
Both of these books stress the importance of soil preparation, and in clay filled Colorado this is mandatory. My yard is full of raised beds, and the main garden area is conveniently nestled along our giant retaining wall, which was mostly filled with pretty decent soil (not native clay).
Early this Spring I spent a lot of time building up raised beds, but also dug down and heavily amended the soil plots for cut flowers. For the in ground sections I went with the recommendations from the Cut Flower Garden book. You can see the freshly planted flower beds below. I put in numerous bags of compost, some topsoil, a little peat moss, and some vermiculite. I felt like a bold soil chef not following a recipe. Each section is about 2.5′ wide and 6′ long. The length doesn’t matter, but you do need space between each row for the flowers to fill out.
Below is the same flower area after a few months of filling out. From the front of the bed to the rear you can see black eyed-susans, giant zinnia, cosmos and dahlia (mostly un-bloomed).
Cut flowers all summer
In addition to filling my own vases I’ve also gotten to send bouquets home with visitors. Flowers make me happy, and sharing flowers with others also makes me happy. For those who are interested in growing their own, I thought I’d list some recommendations of what grew best for me. Keep in mind I live in Colorado, an arid dry climate. If you live somewhere humid, your list will likely be much different (hydrangeas… swoon).
Rose, echinacea and sweet pea bouquet
This bouquet was harvested in June and includes a mix of a peach hybrid tea rose, an old english cream rose, echinacea, and sweet peas. Sweet peas don’t like intense heat, so I started them in early March. If you live in an area with dry hot summers you will have to do the same. Put this on your “to plant” list if you live somewhere with milder summers or if you’re also a crazy person willing to construct mini greenhouses for yourself.
Echinacea is incredibly easy to grow wherever you live (barring places like the arctic circle). Added points for its incredible vase life and pest resistance.
Sadly I do not know the name of the peach hybrid tea. The flowers have an incredible fragrance and this bloom was 5″ wide. The cream colored roses were a David Austin variety, any rose with that label seems to always grow well. The only downside to roses is that Japanese Beetles are a huge problem here, and this time of year I am at full war with their shiny green bodies.
Sunflower, borage, cosmo, zinnia and black eyed-susan bouquet
The sunflowers below are called “Autumn Beauty” and they are the best variety I have ever grown. They are prolific producers and have an incredible vase life. The only down side is they have gotten crazy tall, making cutting them a challenge. The borage and cosmos grew back from a wildflower mix I had thrown in the garden last season. The zinnias are the “giant” variety, although they really aren’t as giant as I thought they would be. I love the fun colors and vase life. The black eyed-susans were started as seeds in march. I plan to grow them again, but might try one of these fun varieties.
Autumn Beauty Bouquet
Here’s another giant sunflower bouquet, there are a few rudbeckias (black-eyed susans) in the mix as well.
Sunflower rear view
Here is a fun back view of the sunflowers. I love how this image shows the light filtering through their giant solar panels.
Because you can’t read read the Cut Flower Garden and not grown Dahlias, here is a view of one of my favorites. The majority of my Dahlias came from an annual tuber sale that the Colorado Dahlia society hosts, this one came from the grocery store. The dahlias are just starting to bloom so this is one of the only images I have at the moment.
This bouquet came out of the garden today. The green aster filler was compliments of the grocery store, the other flowers include the Autumn Beauty sunflower, giant zinnias, rudbeckia, cosmos and delphinium (a second bloom for the season). The lighting for this image was less than ideal so I did a little photo playing.
Although all of the pictures above are of flowers, I did grow some vegetables as well. Here’s a run down of what I plan to grow again, flowers and produce combined.
Vegetables I would plant again:
- Cherokee Purple tomatoes (right): These are amazing! I started them as seed indoors and put two in my garden. I spaced them according to the Square Foot gardening recommendation, but next year each plant is getting 4 square feet.
- Peaches and Cream corn: I only planted about 10 stalks, next year I’ll double that. I placed these in the sunniest area of my garden near the sunflowers in order to give other plants a little protection from our intense Colorado sun. Friends I know have had a lot of issues with being able to harvest their corn before the rabbits and squirrels, our wheaten terrier has taken care of that for us.
- Scarlet globe radishes: I was excited to sauté these in some butter, but my youngest deemed them “triceratops food” and he went out regularly- in costume -and at them all. I hope to get to eat some next year; my triceratops said they were delicious.
- Carrots: I started these in the same hoop house as the sweet peas. They seemed to enjoy maturing before the mid summer heat. I found the Royal Chantenay variety did the best.
- Lettuce: I had so much lettuce; 3 square feet produced plenty for our family.
Vegetables I would not plant again:
- Charentais melon: I planted 3 plants, started them all in peat pots so as not to disturb the roots, and I have one tiny melon that is not looking promising
- Pole beans: We have a ridiculous number of Japanese Beetles and they have skeletonized these plants despite my daily war, the beans that did grow weren’t terribly tasty
- Eggplant: I planted this knowing full well they don’t like how dry it is here. I like a challenge, but I doubt I will actually get an eggplant despite my best efforts.
Annual flowers that I would plant again:
- Rudbeckia (aka black-eyed susans): while these are considered perennials I have seen many flower farmers recommend they be treated as annuals. The seeds you buy from stores are highly hybridized and if left on their own they will revert back to the more simpler native version.
- Giant zinnias: I bought a double blooming variety. Although mine didn’t “double” as much as advertised on the package, they were stunning and had great vase life.
- Classic zinnias: these petite zinnias are white (shown below), yellow, and bright orange. They are called “classic” because they are the original, non-hybrid version. These performed really well and looked amazing as a border planting.
- Snapdragon: I fell in love with these even more this year and am excited to try some new varieties next season. Fun fact: while these flowers will sometimes come back the following season, they are prone to a rust disease if you let them do so.
Annual flowers that I would not plant again:
- Forget me-nots: these grew fine for me, I just wasn’t impressed with them compared to everything else I planted
- Bells of Ireland: I direct plant the seeds outside after soaking them as instructed; one out of twenty grew. Perhaps I would have been successful if they had been started indoor
- Double click cosmos: These are the fancy, multi-petalled cosmos. I planted half a seed packet and got two plants that look like mutant dwarf zinnias next to the usual variety. My traditional cosmos from last season self seeded and are thriving.
Planning for next year
I’m looking forward to planting my favorites in addition to trying out some new varieties next year. I am especially interested in a number of flowers found in the Johny Seeds catalog. If you have some favorite varieties or flower growing tips of your own, feel free to post below in the comments!