As a twenty-something, I worked on an organic farm. Besides harvesting basil, I sometimes created cut-flower bouquets for market. When I needed filler material, the farmer directed me to snip from a pretty stand of ironweed. She also suggested I add some feathery asparagus foliage. Back then, it was all about making the most of what we had on hand and it worked.
Now, those old bouquets would fit right in with the “seasonal flower movement.” According to Erin Benzakein, founder of Floret Farm, “Flowers are just like food. The best results always come from using local, seasonal ingredients picked at their prime.”
“Plus, seasonal flowers have a story,” Benzakein adds. “There is a farm and a face associated with each bloom.”
Benzakein is also the author of Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms and A Year in Flowers: Designing Gorgeous Arrangements for Every Season. After years of her own floral trial and error, Benzakein now helps others build better bouquets.
“Nearly everyone struggled with the same things I had: how to approach color, basic mechanics, proper ingredient selection and, most importantly, confidence,” she says.
Regarding annuals, Benzakein always plants a mix of “cut-and-come-again” flowers—think cosmos and zinnias. She also plants “medium producers” like larkspur and snapdragons. And she includes favorite “one-hit wonders” such as liatris, flax and single stem sunflowers. Depending on their bloom times and duration, Benzakein succession sows flowers from each of these categories.
To help you track your own cut flower garden, she recommends keeping a bloom time calendar. This will give you a better idea about what kinds of flowers you’ll need to plant, when you should plant them and how often.
To begin, mark the last average frost date for your area. Next, consult the individual seed packets for the flower types you want to grow. Then, work backwards, marking when you’ll need to start seeds indoors or direct-sow in the garden.
In Cut Flower Garden, Benzakein writes, “All annuals can be re-planted at least once and often twice, usually allowing three to four weeks between plantings.”
Just as important as the flowers you grow? The greenery or filler material you produce along with them. Benzakein plants about half of her garden in flowers and the other half with foliage plants she uses to fill out her bouquets.
Scented geraniums and raspberry greens are two of her favorite foliage plants.
Caroline Grimble is lead florist at Bloom & Wild, a United Kingdom-based flower delivery service. For Grimble, filler material adds more than just shape to a bouquet. “I love to add grasses for texture and movement or herbs like mint or rosemary to add scent to an arrangement,” she explains.
Grimble also likes Bupleurum, a dual-purpose filler flower and foliage plant.
When you cut your flowers and how you treat them after cutting will affect the quality and longevity of your final product. Benzakein cuts hers in the early morning or evening when temperatures are coolest.
At these times, Benzakein notes, “Plants are the most plump and hydrated and will recover most quickly from the shock of being cut.”
Ideally, you should also choose flowers that haven’t fully opened and that have yet to be pollinated. (Once pollinated, flowers begin the process of setting seed. This can diminish bloom quality and speed the flower’s deterioration.)
Use clean, sharp clippers to cut each stem and remove lower leaves. “I always condition [cut flowers] as I go,” Gimble says. “I clean the stems before putting them into a clean bucket of water. It’s amazing how much time this saves later on and also means you can get a lot more into a bucket.”
In A Year in Flowers, Benzakein suggests keeping cut flowers and filler foliage in cool water for at least three to four hours or even overnight. This gives flowers time to perk up after cutting. She also recuts stems at an angle before placing cut flowers in their final arrangements.
Although longer stems can fetch higher prices, Grimble values varied stem lengths. “Play around with the heights of different stems…. Have some foliage drooping over the edge while other elements spire tall above the arrangement.”
To prolong your bouquets’ shelf life at market, keep their containers (and their water) clean. Also, if possible, display flowers in a cool, shady spot. Finally, keep them away from any ripening fruits or vegetables you may also be selling. (Ripening produce releases ethylene gas which can speed your bouquets’ deterioration.)