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Sharing a list of what I consider to be the best flowering shrubs for cut flowers.
Prior to last year when I made floral design my full time career I worked in landscape design for many years (well, 6 years…many by my standards!). I got my Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at university and spent my evenings reading books about plants and garden design. However, in the past year my plant focus has shifted from landscape design to floral design and I look at plants in new and different light.
As a landscape designer we choose plants for their shape and form but rarely, if ever, for their flower. My design style with plants is very architectural; mass plantings of shrubs and perennials that create shapes of texture and colour in the garden and also provide year round interest.
I would always laugh at my mom for constantly wanting to plant roses in her garden – ‘but roses have suuuch ugly form!’ I would tell her. And, while I now LOVE going out to her garden to pick fresh roses for weddings (seriously, they are like living gold), I stand by my statement about their form. I know that personally planting things like dahlias are not for me either, I’m not a fan of their pin straight form; the blank patch they leave in the winter; and the maintenance involved with digging up their tubers in the fall just to replant them in the spring. As a fair-weather gardener (I admit it!) and someone who isn’t looking to grow flowers on a large scale with the sole intent of cutting them, I’m looking for maximum beauty and minimal maintenance. I have a feeling I’m not alone there!
I am currently planning the additions I’m going to make to my own small cutting garden this spring and find I am drawn largely to perennials and flowering shrubs that I can integrate into the regular gardens around the property. These are things that you plant once and they continue to do their thing year after year. The shrubs suggested on this list are garden staples that will give you strong form and structure in your garden, multi seasonal interest but also the added bonus of being beautiful cut flowers throughout the year too. These shrubs for cut flowers are all plants that I have in my own garden and will be adding more of this year.
Forsythia is best known for the bright yellow flower it produces in the spring and is one of the first colours you will see in the garden. Aside from the few weeks of yellow it tends to be pretty nondescript for the rest of the year. When planted in a cluster at the back of your garden or in a hedge it can definitely satisfy a purpose in the garden and bring a nice bit of brightness early in the season. From a cutting stand point, the yellow blossom covered branches are lovely in arrangements or in a vase on their own in the spring. After the flowers are finished, forsythia produces greenery that is great for arrangements and bouquets all summer long. A definite foliage staple!
There is no way I could make a low maintenance flowering shrub list without lilac. It’s actually my favourite cut flower (yes, I have a favourite!). Lilacs bloom in mid-late May and make me optimistic that summer is on its way. As a shrub they grow tall but become sparse at the base making their form not my favourite. Lilacs are well suited at the back of the garden, growing against the side of a building or along a hedge or forest edge. They’re beautiful when in bloom but not something you need front and centre all year. Lilac flowers are wonderful for bouquets and arrangements and when they are finished flowering their greenery is great to use throughout the summer. However, the greenery is best in an arrangement in water as they wilt quickly. Avoid using lilac greens in bouquets or installs where they won’t have a water source.
Viburnum is another spring staple. It produces rich branches of white and green balls (similar look to hydrangea but smaller and with multiple flowers per stem) in the late spring. It’s beautiful spilling over the sides of a vase. The shrub form is similar to that of a lilac and most varieties can grow quite large if given the space. And guess what? Their foliage is excellent in arrangements too! However, in my garden it’s fairly insect prone and isn’t usable in the later summer once it’s leaves have become bug chewn.
faded pink viburnum add to this dramatic wedding archway
Spirea comes in many different varieties. From a cut flower perspective my favourite is the bridal veil. You will recognize it for the huge plumes of white flowers that it produces at the end of May through early June (and the the subsequent disaster of white flowers it leaves on the ground afterwards!). When spirea is in season there is really nothing better in an arrangement (if I do say so myself ;)). The plant form of a spirea is wild and wacky, it is not one that I suggest you prune into a hedge but rather find a location that would allow you to embrace the loose form. It makes a lovely wild hedge or a cluster within your perennial garden. Like the others, after flowering, I love to use the greenery in arrangements – the long slender shape is perfect in bouquets and old growth is very hardy out of water (bright new growth wilts quickly).
Image by Maria Lamb
Image by Maria Lamb (bouquet by me)
white bridal veil spirea adds texture to this bouquet
This list of shrubs for cut flowers could not be complete without hydrangea. It’s truly the most giving of all the low maintenance flowering shrubs and there are many beautiful varieties. Annabelle, Limelight, and lace cap are some of my favourites. Hydrangea are great within the garden bed, in a hedge, or along the front of the house. I like them planted en masse (no surprise, that’s how I like everything!) because they make for a dramatic row and produce so.many.flowers. Hydrangea are excellent for cutting in the summer when they are blooming; in the fall as they fade to pink and green; and even in the winter once they have turned brown. DO NOT cut back your hydrangea in the fall. They provide great winter interest in the winter garden and, in my opinion, look just as beautiful when they are dried out and brown as when they are fresh and white.
A limelight hydrangea turning pink in the fall
Dried out annabelle hydrangeas complete this winter arrangement
There you have it, my 5 favourite low maintenance flowering shrubs for your cutting garden!
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