University of Illinois Extension

From Garden To Vase

One of the pleasures of gardening is to produce a colorful border of flowers to enjoy while you are walking around the garden or sitting on the patio or porch, said Greg Stack, Extension horticulturist.

"The other pleasure is to be able to take those flowers and bring them indoors to enjoy," said Stack. "The cutting garden allows you to do both.

"Cutting gardens are made up of a variety of annuals, perennials, both flowering and foliage, that are then gathered for use in flower arrangements. Cutting gardens were a part of just about every garden back in Victorian times, and they are just as appropriate now as back then and quite easy to put together."

Choosing a location can be left up to the gardener but most always it would be a sunny location as most of the cutting flowers enjoy a full sun location.

"Some gardeners prefer to put it in a less conspicuous spot as the flowers sometimes may not look their best all season; whereas other gardeners make it a part of the overall garden design," he explained. "Whichever you choose you will find that the cutting garden can fill the need for fresh cut flowers either for your home or take to a friend's house."

Just about any type of annual, perennial and some woody shrubs can be cut and brought indoors, but there are some that make exceptionally good cut flowers.


Ageratums are often thought of as short border plants but there are some tall varieties that make great cut flowers. 'Blue Horizon', 'Everest Blue' and 'Red Sea' are ageratum that grow 24-30 inches tall. 'Blue Horizon' is a mid blue while 'Everest Blue' is a true blue with sturdy stems. 'Red Sea' is the first red ageratum that opens a bright red and darkens to purple red.

Asclepias is one of the ornamental milkweeds that offers unique multi-colored flowers that resemble lantana. The 'Silky' series grows 24-36 inches tall and produces intensely colored blooms all summer in a sun location. An added bonus is the fact that it is a butterfly magnet in the garden drawing numerous butterflies to feed.

Celosia or cockscomb is another good cut flower. The traditional cockscomb types may look a bit "alien" in regards to flower appearance, but the plume types seem to offer a "softer", "gentler" look. Also called the feather types, they produce large, full plume like heads that come in a wide range of intense colors such as reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks. The 'Sunday' and 'Century' series are good plume types growing to 28-36 inches tall.

There are also celosia called the wheat celosia. These produce flowers that are thinner and spikier, often with a central flower surrounded by smaller spikes. The 'Celway' and 'Enterprise' series are wheat types that grow to 40-48 inches tall.

"Cosmos are old cutting garden flowers that are easy to grow and should be included for their bright, happy appearance and abundant pinwheel like flowers," he said.

'Sensation' and 'Sonata' are two series available and grow from 24-48 inches tall. They also reseed easily making them a return visitor to the garden year after year.

Gomphrena is a must for any cutting garden. Also called globe amaranth, the round, long lasting blooms can be used fresh and also can be dried. 'Fireworks' grows to three to four feet tall and produces intense hot pink blooms tipped in yellow. 'Strawberry Fields' is a shorter version growing to two to three feet tall and produces shimmering strawberry blooms. Helichrysum, also called strawflower, is valued for their use as dried flowers. The papery textured blooms can be called on to add color to indoor arrangements for a long period of time. The 'King' series of helichrysum comes in orange, red, yellow, white and rose. They are also heat and drought-tolerant garden plants.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks'
Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

"Marigolds bloom in the colors of the sun: yellow, orange, gold and russet," said Stack. "They have graced gardens for generations and are an easy, drought tolerant garden flower."

Cutting marigolds include the 'Gold Coin' series growing to three feet tall and 'Lofty Lady' a large four foot plant that produces large four-inch flowers on long strong stems.

"And what cutting garden is complete without some sunflowers? There are several sunflowers that grow from three to five feet tall and produce a wide array of different colored and shaped flowers," he noted.

'Pristine Hybrid' produces four to six inch flowers with dark centers and bright yellow-orange petals. They are also pollen free. 'Frilly' hybrid produces unique six-inch flowers with unique ragged narrow ray petals and curved secondary petals. It is a prolific bloomer. 'Little Becka' is a compact sunflower growing to 3 feet tall and producing a profusion of six-inch flowers with red and gold petals surrounded by a yellow halo.

"With a load of bright, vibrant flowers and a love of full sun and heat, zinnias might be one of the premier cut flowers for the home garden," said Stack. "There are any number of long-stemmed, large-flowered varieties to choose from."

Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime' grows to two to three feet tall and produces unique flowers with maroon red petals with a lime green center. 'State Fair' is a long time favorite producing large four to five inch flowers in a variety of colors. 'Senora' is a prolific blooming zinnia producing salmon flowers. For a white consider 'White Wedding' a brilliant white double zinnia.

Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime'
Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime'

A note about maintaining the quality of your cut flowers. The quality of the flowers is the best it will ever be at the time of harvest. After harvest the quality can only go down. So, in order to maintain the quality and get the most from your flowers a few simply steps should be taken to ensure maximum enjoyment of your flowers.

Try to harvest early in the day when temperatures are the coolest. Take a bucket filled with water to the garden with you. If you want to help extend the quality of your flowers even longer, think about adding one of the commercial floral preservative solutions to the bucket of water. As you cut the flowers, immediately put them in the bucket. Handling flowers in this fashion will ensure the blooms will not wilt beyond their ability to recover between the time you cut them and get them indoors.

Be sure to thoroughly wash the containers you use to harvest flowers. This reduces the chances of bacteria and algae from clogging the water conducting tissues of your flowers.

"So, why not consider devoting a little garden space for cut flowers," said Stack. "You'll be glad you did when you start to bring in armloads of fresh flowers to brighten up the inside of your home all summer long."