cutflowers of summer


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Dahlia coccinea ‘Orange,’ Mendocino Botanical Garden

Thank goodness there’s not a crazy nativist strain complicating appreciation of summer’s most colorful annuals.
The only walls associated with these summer beauties might be the ones surrounding your cutting garden (you lucky devil!)
Cosmos, zinnias, and dahlias, the mainstay of summer vases, are all outsiders that emigrated via European explorer ships from Mexico and South America.
And how far they’ve come! Zinnias have even been germinated on the International Space Station.
And dahlias — well, the colors and shapes are sometimes almost too outre to be believed.
The more outlandish are generally grown for cutting, not for associations with other plants in the summer garden.
That’s because a flower as big as your head will require several stakes to keep from crashing face forward.
Smaller-flowered, more graceful varieties like “Bishop of Llandaff’ are often included in summer borders, but even these won’t thrive in dryish gardens like mine.
Here’s just a small sample I found at a local nursery’s dahlia cutflower contest last weekend that shows their incredible range.

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My first trip to the Pacific Northwest (in plant years, when Hinkley still owned Heronswood) included a stop at Swan Island Dahlias, whose catalogues I perused into tatters.
Their growing fields are a hallucinatory experience. In the UK, Sarah Raven has been a staunch champion of dahlias.
Floret Flower Farm provides detailed growing instructions here and also ships tubers.
On a much smaller scale, my little community garden plot is starting to favor flowers over edibles, with as many zinnias planted as beans and tomatoes this year.
To grow zinnias for cutflowers, my usual brand of tough love won’t cut it. With the possible exception of cosmos, the cutflowers of summer need the best growing conditions you can give them.

5 thoughts on “cutflowers of summer

  1. You are saying a lot of things in this post given to understatement. Very nicely said. Let’s say I agree. These dahlia pictures are delightful. I always associated dahlias with climates that are cool in the summer and somewhat marine even though they are the national flower of Mexico.

  2. I’d intended to give my raised veg planters over to cutting flowers but didn’t get very far as rosemary and herbs still dominate 2 or the 3; however, I got a fairly good showing from a crop of sweet peas (despite repeated interference on the part of the raccoons) but my sunflowers are sad and my zinnias are just getting started. I got some photos of dahlias at the SC Botanic Garden this weekend but they’re not as exotic as those in your photos. I’ve had poor results growing dahlias in my borders, probably because, as you said, tough love (and stingy watering) doesn’t cut it.

  3. I’m fixin to go out Mendo Coast Botanical the last week of the month and hope at least some of the Dahlias will be blooming. I planted all poms this year, but late so they have no flowers yet- one of those 11th hour decisions.

  4. @Jane, and here I thought subtlety was pointless these days! And I’m confused by the climate issues too. Despite their origins, the hybrids definitely seem to prefer cooler summers.
    @Kris, I think that area would make a great cutting garden — but judging by your in-a-vase posts you don’t really need one, the flowers are everywhere!
    @Kathy, I would so love to get to Mendo this summer but doesn’t look likely. Glad you’re going and expect photos!
    @Hoov, that is funny! The orange one, right? I noticed so many of the entries had the flower name as “unknown,” but I didn’t notice names of the growers.

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