The cultivation of a cutting garden

September 26, 1999|By Carol Stocker | Carol Stocker,The Boston Globe

What do women really want? Well, an awful lot of them want to be able to walk out their back doors into a beautiful garden and cut a bouquet of fresh flowers. Sounds like a modest ambition, but it's trickier than one would think.

Many flowers wilt without conditioning, and it's a challenge to cut flowers out of a landscaped display garden without diminishing it. Pauline Runkle, who professionally arranges flowers, said she gets much of the material for her company, Floral Artistry, which specializes in corporate and private events, out of her home garden in Massachusetts.

Runkle's acre of planted flower beds, winding around another 3 acres, is a masterful example of smart planting. It yields mountains of unusual material for arrangements over a long season, while still looking lush.

Her garden is almost entirely composed of bulbs, shrubs, perennials and self-seeding biennials that can be planted now to provide cutting material next year. (Early fall planting is Secret No. 1 to a floriferous summer garden.)

Though Runkle indulges in a few high-maintenance delphiniums for the sheer glory of them, she tends to take a hard-nosed approach to getting the most cutting material for the least effort. What she tries to grow are flowers, berries and decorative foliage that are self-seeding, undemanding, that hold up for at least three days in arrangements, and that are expensive or impossible to buy from wholesalers.

It all starts with good soil. When Runkle and her husband, Joe, bought their house, her first act was to purchase eight trailer loads of loam.

April begins the cutting year in Runkle's garden, with pansies and unusual miniature daffodils, both of which she will place in small vials of water that give the stems extra length when tucked into arrangements.

May brings tulips. She always plants several hundred 'White Triumphator' lily-flowered tulips in the fall. She also likes the new grape hyacinth 'Valerie Finnis,' with its scent and unusual shade of light blue.

June is rose month. Runkle's favorite of the many luscious David Austin roses (modern reblooming hybrids of antique varieties) are 'Eden' and 'Heritage.' It is also the big month for self-seeding biennials, including white excelsior and yellow grandiflora foxgloves. Americans have been slow to embrace biennials, which sound inconvenient because they take two years to flower, then die. But because many reseed in perpetuity, clever gardeners like Runkle are discovering that they are a shortcut to maintaining a large flower garden without a lot of planting. Old-fashioned hollyhocks are her dominant biennial this month and a signature flower in her arrangements.

July and August bring fragrant buddleia, "the best thing in the world for a little bouquet by somebody's bed."

Fall is a rich time for arranging, with the berries of cranberry viburnum (V. trilobum), the inflorescences of artemisias and the colorful fall foliage of witch hazel. A plot of cute miniature pumpkins adds humor to the autumnal garden and the arrangements that come out of it.

Best bouquets

Pauline Runkle's list of the best flowers for growing for bouquets:

Biennials. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis scorpioides), foxgloves, and hollyhocks.

Catmint. Perhaps the easiest blue flower. Long-lasting. Fragrant gray foliage.

Cosmos. The best annual. Easy to grow and arrange. 'White Sensation' is choice.

Daffodils. Easy and perennial. Runkle likes the fragrant and diminutive 'Ice Wings,' 'Petral' and 'Thalia.'

Lady's mantle. The best filler because its green sprays make other flowers look more vivid.

Lilacs. Easy. Fragrant.

Lily-of-the-valley. Fragrant. Easy. Expensive to buy.

Peonies. Victorian beauty.

Roses. Give them three full years to establish themselves.

Tulips. An amazing range of types, mostly unavailable from florists. Her favorites include 'Swan Wings,' 'White Parrot' and 'Spring Green.'

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