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Growing Green: Heirlooms for your Cutting Garden

This late spring has really delayed our work on the flower farm.  Flats of flowers are stacking up, crying to be planted in a warm, cozy spot, while many seeds have yet to leave their packets.  This year we are trying some new/old flowers, (heirlooms) and I am very excited to watch them grow.

What is an "heirloom"? The term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetable varieties that were being grown before World War II. Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated--meaning that unlike hybrids, seeds you collect from one year will produce plants with most of the characteristics of the parent plant. Many heirloom flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects, perfume the air and have medicinal or herbal properties as well. They can also have brighter colors, and longer lasting scent than many of the hybrids of today.

If you are interested in including a small heirloom cutting garden in your ornamental bed, perhaps you would like to try some of these varieties:

Godetia grandiflora, Flamingo Mix (aka Clarkia, Farewell-to-Spring): This 36”-42” tall annual comes in a variety of colors, including: Red, Lavender Pink, Salmon, Lavender, White, Rose Eye. Clusters of flowers are supported on stiff, straight stems, making them ideal for cuts.  They bloom late summer into fall, and prefer cooler temperatures to start. Space 12” apart in full sun.

Lychnis coronaria, Angel’s Blush: (aka Campion) These short lived perennials (hardy to zone 3) grow 24-35” tall, on fuzzy, blue gray stems.  Angel’s Blush flowers are pink-white, and bloom throughout the summer. (Nice for a perennial!) They self-seed freely, so once you have Lychnis, you will always have Lychnis. Space 18” apart and plant in full sun.

Agrostemma Githago, Purple Queen: (aka corn cockle): For those of you who like the look of Lychnis but prefer to avoid its self-seeding, try the annual variety, Agrostemma. These dainty, fuchsia colored flowers rise on rigid, green stems to a height of 24-36”. They bloom through midsummer in light shade to full sun.  Space 9-12” apart.

Salpiglossis sinuata, Kew Blue: (aka Painted Tongue): Slender 32” stems bear clusters of velvet-like flowers in an amazing shade of deepest purple-blue, each complemented by a central dark blotch. Blooming through mid-summer, these annuals will make quite an impression in your ornamental beds and bouquets. Plant in full sun, spacing 12” apart.

For more information about cut flowers, check out Lynn Byczyinski’s book, "The Flower Farmer" (2008)

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.