Round Robin: Plant a Cutting Garden for Spring

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ATLANTA, Georgia—In April and May, my garden enjoys the full force of spring. All the perennial herbs are in bloom, the biennials are towering spikes, and many of the annuals are coming into flower. The ultimate pleasure is to cut flowers from my own garden to bring indoors and to give away to friends and family. Tall, spike flowers such as Lady’s rocket, larkspur, basil or salvia, contrast well in arrangements with the flat-topped umbels of dill, fennel or parsley. Round daisies of purple coneflower or black-eyed Susans look nice with with pinks, feverfew or unusual shapes such as nigella. Finely cut foliage of artemisia varieties, lamb’s-ears and lavender contribute silver-gray foliage that is both handsome and aromatic.

The problem is, picking flowers from the herb garden reduces the floral show outdoors. This paradox particularly manifests itself when I’m expecting company or when the garden is scheduled to be on tour, and then I find myself bringing in extra flowers for table arrangements.

The perfect solution to this problem is to tuck in a separate cultivated area specifically as a cutting garden. Located out of the public eye, it can be planted in utilitarian rows or blocks, easy to weed and care for and easy to harvest. A cutting garden typically is planted in widely spaced rows that are easy to move between while planting, thinning, fertilizing, deadheading and, of course, harvesting flowers and foliage. Because they are not intended for display, they are easier to maintain and require much less attention than the ornamental herb garden.

To keep those flowers coming non-stop, pick blossoms regularly. Deadhead those that remain and fade. This prevents them from forming seeds that slow flower production. As soon as the blossoms from one stand of annual herbs have been cut, pull the herbs, cultivate the bed and plant new seedlings to provide cut flowers for the weeks to come. For example, replace early pansies with warm-loving cockscomb celosia or cilantro with dill.

The pleasure of my herb garden is made portable and cheerfully shared with friends and family in the form of these cut flower herbal bouquets.

Geraldine Laufer is a horticulturist, lecturer, author and herb gardener in Atlanta, Georgia.