— Pam Eagles, Wake County Extension Master Gardener • April 2017
Recently while my friend Ellen and I were out to dinner, we began to talk about gardening. Yeah, what a surprise, you might say. Anyway, while touching on some of our favorite plants, we landed on cutting gardens. That led to a question: What is a cutting garden?
My yard is full of garden rooms here and there, but I have realized I do not have vases of florals throughout my home. I do not take flowers to family and friends as a pick-me-up. Why not? I plant, nurture, weed, feed and deadhead, but I do not cut flowers. I do not cut my roses to enjoy inside. Hollyhocks and lilies are pruned when fading and thrown on the compost pile.
Gardeners, we should be sharing and enjoying the blooms of our labor. This spring, let’s plan a cutting garden.
If you have roses, you know they are labor intensive. You should have cut them back in February. Begin feeding once leaves are out, and watch for aphids and treat as weather warms. Do not water roses from above with the hose or watering can during the growing season because this water contact on the leaves can promote black spot. Regardless of your care, you will see black spot during the cool, moist growing season, and you must treat immediately. The leaves will show spots and begin to yellow. Then they will fall off, and you must pick them up and throw them in the trash immediately. Do not put on your compost pile; we do not compost disease. Allowing the disease to perpetuate weakens the plant. There are sprays on the market to use if and when black spot becomes a problem in your rose garden.
It is important to prune roses; cutting out overlapping, dead or crowded canes. This increases air circulation, decreasing disease. Remember to plant your roses where at the very least they get the morning sun – and preferably all-day sun – for healthier plants. Roses are probably the most labor intensive of what we are going to call cutting garden plants for our purposes. The rose garden labor becomes the norm, and the prize of beautiful roses makes the work worthwhile for true the rose lover.
Do you grow peonies in your garden? They are just breaking the ground now, the beautiful red and green foliage reaching up. It will not be long before they have clumped and buds appear. As the buds appear, so will ants. Let the ants enjoy. They are nature’s peony protectors, gathering nectar from the buds while ridding the pests from the plant. Peonies are beautiful, big bloomers. They thrive on neglect. Plant them in a sunny spot with pretty good soil and enjoy. They take a couple of seasons to establish, so do not plant this year and expect a profusion of blooms in return. While the blooms do not last very long as cut flowers, they do offer a wow for a couple of days inside. Try them in your garden. After bloom time, the lush foliage is beautiful on its own. As with most plants, fall is the best planting time, but they are more readily available in spring. Prepare the soil and keep them watered for the beautiful bloom results you want.
How about calla lilies? Do you admire them in the grocery store? Have you picked up a pot, enjoyed until the blooms are spent and then tossed into the trash? Plant them in a sunny garden spot to enjoy all summer. Callas are easy to grow, offer a variety of colors and are excellent as cut flowers. That makes them winners in our garden.
We are not Southern without a hydrangea or many in the garden. I am fortunate to have an offspring from my husband’s grandmother’s garden in our yard: a true blue old-time hydrangea. It is just putting out new leaves but will be blooming before we know it. So pretty in a vase. Try it as a base flower and mix in other plants.
Lilies, irises, zinnias and daisies all look pretty in a vase or even an old pickle jar. Add a pop of salvia and some cuttings from nandina or maybe an azalea or variegated acuba – and you will have an arrangement to enjoy or to be enjoyed by the recipient of your thoughtfulness. You might recall nandina and acuba are the same shrubbery we trimmed and added to our overwintering containers.
So, gardeners, we now see our favorite plants – perennials, annuals and even some shrubbery – can and should be cut, shared and enjoyed. Plan a cutting garden and hit that garden center soon.
Pam Eagles is president and founding member of the Community Gardeners of Rolesville Garden Club. She lives in Rolesville, where she gardens with three dogs and a cat.