Choose your flower varieties

by Deanna Williams

This is my favorite part! The reason you’re growing a flower garden is going to have a lot to do with how you start this next step. If you’re experimenting or growing for yourself, start by selecting some of your favorite flowers. Knowing you’ll love the flowers you’re growing, it will bring you so much more excitement through some of the slower steps of planning and starting seeds. If you are growing to provide flowers for events or weddings, think about current trends and colors.

If you’re feeling really overwhelmed about where to start or you’re wanting to just add some simple varieties to have fresh bouquets at home this summer, feel free to scroll to the bottom section! I’ve added my top five favorite varieties to start out with!

Once you have some favorites written down on your wish list, it’s time to strategize a little bit.

I take into consideration different flower types as well as how they can be used as ingredients when designing arrangements. It seems like a lot and it takes me hours of planning every year. But all of the planning I do ahead of time saves me during the growing season. I don’t have to stress bout gaps in the growing season or worry about running out of a type of foliate or flower. Because if you run out of a major ingredient, you’re kind of dead in the water and it makes it hard to do anything but wholesale what’s left in the field.

I have a spreadsheet each year that lists the varieties I’m growing and any information I might need to quickly reference during planting and harvesting. I keep track of plant types, bloom frequencies, design ingredient category and always make sure I can quickly see the plant spacing and days to maturity. Below is a summary of the different plant types and design ingredients to take into consideration when choosing what you want to grow.

Flower types for a cutting garden

Hardy annuals

Hardy annuals are my favorite flowers to grow. I’m in zone 6a so we ave snowy winters, cool springs, a short summer, and inconsistent falls. Hardy annuals are short-lived but they’re some of the first annuals that come into bloom each year. They can be planted in the fall or early spring and, for us, will usually last through the Fourth of July! Some of my absolute favorite hardy annuals are Queen Anne’s lace, Larkspur, and sweet peas. Sweet peas are my favorite flower to grow. Hands down.

Tender Annuals

Annuals are sown in the spring after your last frost (ours is usually early to mid-May). These are going to be your workhorses through the summer and are the most affordable cut flowers to grow and they grow fast! If you’re wanting to experiment or are new to growing flowers, focusing on annuals is a great path to take. The best annuals to start with are going to be zinnias, cosmos, and celosia.

Bulbs, Tubers & Corms

Bulbs, tubers and corms are usually planted in the fall or spring and sit in the ground establishing roots before sprouting. Once they sprout, they grow quickly and are usually the show-stoppers in the field! In our zone we can leave bulbs in the ground but have to dig and store corms and tubers. These are going to be your tulips, narcissus (daffodils), ranunculus, anemones and dahlias.

Biennials

Biennials have a tricky growing cycle, but fill the gap that usually occurs between last spring and early summer. They’re planted in late summer and will grow foliage that they carry through the winter and the following spring they’re bloom for up to eight weeks! Common varieties are foxglove, sweet William and Canterbury bells.

Vines

Vines are low maintenance and wonderful to grow if your’e planning to offer design services or sell to local florists. They’ll give your arrangements a lot of interest and more movement. I grow clematis and hops in one of the rows along the driveway.

Woodies

Woodies can offer a lot of support in arrangements and most of the produce beautiful blooms and berries. They’re a bit of an investment up front, but they come back every year and can be used all year round! Most of the woodies I use are snow berries, Oregon grape, and wild elderberry. If you don’t have much growing space or funds for these they’re some of the easiest to forage!

Design Ingredient Categories

Structural Foliage

Structural Foliage is what gives your arrangements their framework. It’s what gives you a guide for the shape and size of what you have to work with. A good rule of thumb is to look at your woodies as being your best options for structural foliage. My favorites are Mock orange, raspberry greens and crabapple branches.

Supporting ingredients

Supporting ingredients are what is going to give your flowers something to nest in. They mimic the set framework from structural foliate and can be just about any foliate. I love to use herbs because they bring familiar scents into the arrangements. Lemon basil, Greek oregano, and mint are perfect! If you’re wanting something that’s not an herb, buplerum, eucalyptus and amaranth are my go-to’s.

Textural ingredients

Textural ingredients are just what they sound like. They bring interest and texture to your arrangements. These will be your vines, berries, pods, and foliate that has movement. In our area Love-in-a-mist, porcelain berry, and rose hips grow incredibly well.

Supporting flowers

Supporting flowers make up most of the flowers in a bouquet or arrangement. I like to kind of cluster them together and design them similarly to how they grow in nature. These are going to be heavy-lifters. They’re not the blooms that get all of the oohing and ahhing, but you couldn’t have an arrangement without them. Sweet peas, zinnias, cosmos, and Larkspur are some of my favorites to grow and work with.

Focal Flowers

Focal flowers come front and center when you look at an arrangement. They’re showy and typically larger than supporting flowers. They’re everyone’s favorites! Roses, peonies, dahlias, ranunculus and lilies are all great examples of focal flowers.

Airy Accents

Airy accents are my favorite part of floral design. They’re not bold and they don’t carry a lot of fragrance, but they sparkle and add movement and magic to arrangements. I could build arrangements with nothing but these twinkling bits because I love them so much! My favorites are flowering tobacco, cress, sea holly, ornamental grasses and forget-me-nots.

flower details screenshot
Screenshot from my flower details list showing the plant type and floral design ingredient category

Finalizing the flower list

Take your current wish list of flowers and write down the plant type and design ingredient next to it. From here, start to fill in some gaps. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to really start, choose a seed source and start going through their varieties so you can get familiar with what you love. I like to use Johnny’s (they have a whole tab for flowers and an entire section dedicated to cut flowers) or Floret.

Start by making a list of what you feel drawn to, and then build from there.

Go easy on yourself. This step can take days, or even weeks (months if you have the time). It’s a lot of going back and forth and tracking. If you are just wanting to grow a couple things to have fresh bouquets through the summer, below is a small list of annuals I recommend you start with. They grow quickly and easily and serve as great training wheels!

  • Zinnias – have a Benary’s Giant color and an Oklahoma or Zinderella color. Any of the Queen lime varieties are wonderful to have too heading into the fall.
  • Basil – Mrs. Burn’s Lemon or Cinnamon
  • Bachelor’s Button – Classic Romantic and Tall Blue Boy (these are edible too, so tons of fun to have in the summer!)
  • Celosia – Flamingo Feather and any plume variety
  • Feverfew – any variety!
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