The sustainable gardening movement has encouraged many of us to dabble in the "forgotten" art of growing food in our own backyards. Since we're going to all that trouble, why not tuck some pretty flowers in there while we're at it? Just as we want for our food to not have traveled great distances to reach us, we are beginning to covet flowers that haven't been shipped halfway around the globe.
Maintaining a cutting garden is a centuries-old pastime, but most of us aren't exactly flower farmers and can't spare the space to grow an abundance of blooms for arranging. So what does an average backyard gardener do? It's simple: You've got to think beyond just the flower.
Choose only a few tried-and-true seasonal bloomers to focus on in your garden; you want to concentrate on varieties that will pack a lot of colorful punch in your arrangements. Here, basic garden roses and heightening foxglove sit alongside lush ferns.
Depending on your garden zone, exposure, and season, some reliable cut-flower options might include:
Herbs are a staple material in nearly every type of garden -- but what you might not know is that they are fabulous additions to cut floral arrangements. Fragrance and flavor are their most notable strengths, but remarkably, when left to go to seed, these herbal powerhouses have some breathtakingly pretty blossoms. Use their leaves as an aromatic backdrop for showier garden blooms, and enjoy their flowers as delicate accent pieces.
Rosemary is a particular winner for cutting. With its architectural branches, spicy fragrance, and sweet little flowers, it adds a surprising bit of visual drama to a floral arrangement. Here, rosemary's spiky leaves pop out of voluptuous mounds of hydrangea blooms. Mixed with sunflowers, black-eyed Susan, or coneflower, it has an adorably rustic aesthetic.
If you have a garden, you're undoubtedly growing -- or at least trying to grow -- some of your own produce. While most of that good stuff is going to be used for what it's meant for (food), your extras can be fantastic additions to a floral arrangement. The branches, leaves, and vines of many fruits and vegetables are sturdy enough for cutting; test materials by cutting a small piece and placing it in a vase of water to see how it holds up.
Additionally, many fruits and vegetables can be placed on or wired to florists picks and inserted into arrangements as an unexpected focal point. Try fruits like citrus, grapes, apples, and pears, or root vegetables like radishes, carrots, beets, and turnips. Bear in mind that if you place these things on a pick (which involves inserting one end of the wooden pick deep into the fruit), the fruit will spoil quicker than normal.
Most fruit trees, bushes, and vines offer an astounding variety of materials that are perfect for floral design. Branches and citrus leaves are ideal fillers for arranging, as they are typically hardy when cut and a surefire way to amp up your design with dramatic height and form. Plus, depending on the variety and season, they may provide you with blossoms, attached fruit, and even autumn-changing leaves -- so many options from just one plant!
Here, a casual assortment of citrus branches (with young fruit still attached), Queen Anne's lace, and sea holly sprays dropped in a large jar is an easy, long-lasting option. Citrus greens, fruit, and sunflower blossoms are another simple, cheerful combination.
Spring-blossoming fruit trees also provide beautiful design materials. Crabapple, cherry, flowering quince, plum -- the list is nearly endless. If it blossoms, there's a pretty good chance it's great for arranging.
Surprisingly, many of the more fibrous salad greens make for great cut-arrangement filler. Kale -- both ornamental and edible varieties -- is a steadfast cut material that comes in an array of colors and curly textures. Swiss chard, with its saturated veining and sturdy stems, is another fabulous arrangement filler (and it looks perfect with coordinated blooms, like a hot-pink-veined variety paired with pink roses). Collard greens, turnip greens, and even romaine hold up well. Steer clear of using any leafy vegetables that wilt quickly in salads; they'll do the same in a vase.
Tomato greens certainly don't ever get as much love as their fruit, but they are just so very good as a cut greens material. The fuzzy, vinelike leaves and branches are surprisingly graceful as a backdrop to more traditional cut garden flowers, such as dahlias and fat garden roses. They look especially darling paired with zinnias, black-eyed Susans, or sunflowers. Leave a few tiny tomatoes (if you feel you can spare them) and blossoms on the vine, and you get even more garden-fresh flair in your arrangement.
Grapevine is one of the hardest-working materials in floral design. From wreath forms to garlands to floral crowns, this durable, flexible vine serves as a base structure to many complex creations. But it also happens to be a gorgeous greenery addition to more basic arrangements. Its wide leaves beautifully fill gaps between garden blooms, and its graceful vine tendrils add an enchantingly wild aesthetic as accent pieces. Even better, in the spring, look for clusters of tiny flowers that then turn into tiny grapes to use in your designs. Mature grapes can be wired to a pick (see above). In the fall when the leaves start to turn, they also make a gorgeous addition to autumn arrangements.
Cauliflower and broccoli are probably the last things you'd think about using in a floral arrangement. But they shouldn't be! Those wide, dense florets fill an arrangement just like hydrangea. Not to mention the fact that cauliflower comes in the most amazing colors besides the common cream: pink, purple, lime green, orange, and more. And how about broccoli Romanesco with its neon seashell-like spirals? The vegetable portion is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg with these plants. Both their leaves and, if left to bolt, their charming little yellow or white flowers can be incorporated.
Artichokes are rock stars in the garden, in the kitchen, and in your spinach dip. But surprisingly, these plants have loads of floral design potential. Not only do the actual buds make impressive additions to arrangements, but you should see those things when they actually bloom: stunning, enormous, otherworldly, electric blue thistles. And then there are the leaves: dramatic, sharp-edged, silvery greens that make a gorgeous structural backdrop to bright, graceful blooms, like dahlias.
Trees are, by far, the unsung heroes of the floral trade. From bare, architectural branches to versatile, seasonal foliage to jaw-dropping blooms, their uses are endless and oftentimes overlooked. Deciduous trees and shrubs (those that lose their leaves in the fall) are an ever-changing wealth of materials. In the spring, they'll provide you with budded branches, followed by blossoms or seedpods, depending on the tree. Summer will typically bring lush leaves and fruits, and fall will undoubtedly be filled with fiery autumn color.
And don't dismiss the beautiful bare branches of winter; they make stunning accents all on their own. Some very usable varieties include crepe myrtle, maple, mimosa, dogwood, forsythia, ginkgo, birch, rhododendron, and certain types of magnolias. Evergreen materials go far beyond wintry holiday arrangements. In warmer climates, you might have citrus, eucalyptus, acacia, and evergreen magnolias to work with. These trees and shrubs offer up gorgeous year-round leaves, as well as blossoms, seedpods, or fruits. Needled evergreen varieties, such as pine, cedar, cypress, or fir, despite being obvious choices for holiday designs, provide interesting texture to floral arrangements in every season and every climate.
Once you have a great selection of garden-fresh materials to work with, there are some measures you can take to help ensure your arrangement will hold up for as long as possible.