Bulbs offer wonderful possibilities for cutting and their flowers follow one after another from late winter until well into fall. The small, early kinds, such as snowdrops, grape-hyacinths, glory-of-the-snows, and squills, so choice for intimate arrangements by a much-used easy-chair or the bedside table of a special guest, can be gathered from bulbs planted under shrubs or in a grassy area. A good handful will never be missed where they come up in hundreds.
Try lifting a clump of crocuses or snowdrops with a bit of surrounding turf and fitting it into a plain flattish container. It has just the air of informality for a late-winter breakfast table.
Daffodils and other narcissuses can often be picked from naturalized plantings without noticeable loss of floral effect, but if they are not naturalized lavishly in your garden by all means include some in your cutting compound. From tulip time on, the cutting garden should be the main source of cut flowers —and it is a real luxury to cut just the right flower stalks without concern for detracting from any decorative outdoor display. The quantity of each variety grown should be adequate for any possible indoor need.
The arrangement of the cutting garden should provide for a section devoted to perennials and a section to such short-term crops as annuals and biennials. In the first part plant lilies, tulips, eremuruses, and other bulbs that remain in the ground from year to year; in the second, those such as gladioluses and dahlias that are dug at the end of each growing season and are planted anew each spring. Just which kinds are treated as hardy perennials will depend to some extent upon where you live. From Philadelphia south montbretias may safely be left in the ground all winter; in colder climates they should be lifted and stored. In California tender agapanthuses and calla-lilies are hardy outdoors but not, of course, in Michigan and like areas.
Where space permits, plant in rows with sufficient space between to allow for stirring the surface soil with a cultivator during the growing season. If space is very limited, more flowers can be obtained from a given area by planting the bulbs comparatively thickly in beds five or six feet wide with paths two feet wide between. This necessitates hand weeding, but need for this can be reduced by mulching the ground with peatmoss, buckwheat hulls, old sawdust, or other suitable organic material that discourages weeds.
Nor need all bulbs occupy exclusively the area in which they are planted. 'Lilies benefit from having their roots and the lower parts of their stems shaded; they may with advantage be planted midway between rows of lower-growing perennials, such as peonies, that retain their foliage throughout the summer but do not spread rapidly. Daffodils, narcissuses, and other early-bloomers that lose their foliage by early summer may be lined out similarly between rows of perennials that do not make much foliage until spring is well advanced. Perennial babys-breath and monkshoods belong here.
In the annual section of the cutting garden intercropping can also be practiced with advantage if space is short. Later-planted gladioluses set between rows of early annuals before the annual flowers are cut will follow along and provide welcome second bloom from the same piece of ground. In rows midway between, where lines of dahlias are to be planted later, hardy annuals may be sown in early spring to provide a crop of bloom before the dahlias occupy all the space allotted to them.
Kinds to grow for cutting
In selecting bulbs for the cut-flower garden two things must be borne in mind: first, the kinds and colours you can use to advantage; second, the quantities you need. In the latter matter be generous, particularly with bulbs that have foliage on their stems that is cut with the flowers, as is the case with lilies. The removal of leaves weakens bulbs; if you plant plenty it will not be necessary to cut flowers from all every year and the individuals from which you do not cut will have an opportunity to build up strength.
When it comes to choosing kinds and colours much depends, of course, upon individual taste and preference. The style and decoration of your home should be the guiding factor. Many contemporary interiors dictate the use of stylised arrangements of flowers and foliage which lack frilliness and intricate detail.
Crisp, formal arrangements of gladioluses with their sharp bladelike foliage and massive cannas or cool calla-lilies combined with caladium leaves are examples. Traditional rooms are more often an ideal setting for more intricate arrangements which may have greater variety of form and colour.
Combinations of gladioluses, celosias, and zinnias; narcissuses with grape-hyacinths and just the right twigs from a flowering cherry; Dutch irises, day-lilies, and clematises; dahlias, tritomas, and autumn foliage lend themselves to harmonious relationships. If specific colours for individual rooms can be selected, so much the better. It is an interesting undertaking to plan a continuity of flowers to complement colour schemes throughout the house. Selections may even be made for favoured containers which have added beauty with just the right flowers.
Many consider those narcissuses with short cups most useful for cutting but all varieties can be used effectively and it is important to grow a diversity of types to ensure a long season of bloom and a variety of form. Consider therefore the bunch-flowered kinds as well as those that bear but one flower on a stem. Plant the large trumpet daffodils as well as the poet's narcissus. . . . Include triandrus hybrids and even some of the double-flowered varieties.
Tulips with sturdy stems are best for cutting; those that have "weak necks," as have most parrot varieties, are less usable. Long-stemmed varieties are generally preferred to those of shorter growth although the early singles and early doubles, which are naturally low, are appreciated because of the promise they bring of a more lavish tulip season to follow.
Most May-flowering tulips are excellent cut flowers. The interesting lily-flowered and peony-flowered varieties are well worth planting. For earlier colour some of the taller species including Tulipa Greigii, T. Marjolettii, and T. Clusiana may be used in addition to the early garden varieties. Plant tulip bulbs eight or ten inches deep in the cutting garden to reduce the tendency bulbs have when planted shallowly of splitting up into smaller bulbs that fail to bloom at all or bear only small flowers.
The first spring after their purchase good quality, large-size hyacinths produce flower spikes too massive to be of much use in flower arrangements. In succeeding years their stalks of bloom are lighter, looser, and more graceful. It is good practice to use first-year hyacinths for formal effects in display beds and to transfer them to the cutting garden afterward or to purchase smaller-size bulbs to provide cut flowers. In the southern states Roman hyacinths, which have sparser-flowered spikes than the Dutch types, are hardy and are ideal for cutting.
To follow tulips closely plant Spanish and Dutch irises. Their bulbs are smaller than those of tulips and are much less expensive. Each produces on a tall wiry stem a solitary, lovely bloom and they are ideal for cutting. Colors include white, cream, yellow, bronze, lavender, blue, and purple. You must not confuse these irises with more common types that do not grow from bulbs. They are very different, less leafy and, as cut flowers, longer lasting. Although not as hardy as tulips they survive outdoors in sheltered locations in the vicinity of New York City if well protected over winter.
Most important of the winter-hardy bulbs that bloom in summer are the true lilies. Such variety exists that one hesitates to make specific recommendations, but a selection is surely a must for every cut-flower garden. The easiest to grow —and ease of culture is most important in a cutting garden—include the regal lily with white trumpet flowers flushed wine on their outsides and yellow in their throats, the tiger lily with recurved petals of orange-red that are spotted black, and Henry's lily with flowers that have orange-yellow, turned-back petals. The botanical names of these are respectively Lilium regale, L. tigrinum, and L. Henryi. A beautiful softer-coloured hybrid of L. Henryi called "T. A. Havemeyer" is as easy to grow as its parent. Its flowers are buff-yellow.
The pure white Madonna lily that blooms in early summer cannot be omitted, and L. speciosum and its deep-pink- and white-flowered varieties which supply such grand cutting in August should find a place in every cutting garden. There are many, many more that call for consideration, most notably some of the splendid hybrid types that have been raised by American breeders in recent years. Only a comparatively few years ago scarcely any hybrid lilies were known; today there are hundreds and the end is by no means yet in sight. Each year new and finer varieties are introduced. It is worth-while watching bulb catalogs of reliable dealers for these.
The stately spires of foxtail-lilies are lovely indeed for cutting. Those of stout-growing Eremurus robustus and E. himalaicus may be too massive for small homes but E. Bungei and its varieties and hybrids are elegant indeed and something a little different. Each three- or four-foot stalk terminates in a long tapering cone of hundreds of starry yellow or orange-yellow flowers. They need rather special planting conditions and protection against late frosts.
There are several other hardy bulbs well worth growing for cutting—a few of the flowering onions, for example ( especially Allium albopilosum and A. tuberosum) and alstroemerias if they will winter outdoors with you ( they scarcely will in New York City even in sheltered places).
Lycoris squamigera, which is often catalogued as Amaryllis Hallii, is one bulb you will not harm by cutting too much foliage along with its flowers—for it has no leaves at blooming time: its flower scapes rise naked from the ground. Grow for arranging with it perennial artemisia "Silver King"—the lavender-pink lilies of the lycoris and the silver-white foliage of the artemisia are marvelous when combined.
Ornithogalum nutans is a charming grey-green flower that you may wish to grow in modest numbers to cut for unusual arrangements, and perhaps you would like a few plants of the pineapple flower (Eucomis) to furnish the unexpected when midsummer has passed. Camassias are other hardy bulbs that might fill a very modest amount of space in your cutting garden. There will be others, of course, in regions of mild winters, including such very well-worthwhile items as "St. Brigid" anemones and tuberous ranunculuses.
Of bulbs to plant in spring to give summer cut flowers gladioluses and dahlias are undoubtedly most important, with montbretias ( where it is too cold for them to remain out over winter), tuberoses, and cannas playing lesser roles. Where frosts are delayed until late fall, acidantheras are welcome additions and you may find it helpful to have Peruvian daffodils, summer-hyacinths, gloriosas, and tigridias in modest quantities.
Gladioluses almost span the spectrum in their colour range and, including the smaller-flowered varieties, offer considerable diversity of form. Very often those varieties which have flowers not too large and not too closely set on the spikes have greater artistic merit in arrangements than the more spectacular ones. Order gladioluses in named varieties in colours and types that please you. Plant them in double or triple rows spaced two to three feet apart with the two or three lines of bulbs that form each row six inches apart and with about four inches allowed between the bulbs in each line.
Sturdy stakes pushed in every few feet along either side of each row and connected by one or two strings drawn taut are the only support that is likely to be needed and even this may not be necessary if the bulbs are planted fairly deeply ( about 6 inches ). Plant gladioluses at about two-week intervals beginning when the trees first start to leaf in spring and continuing until the latest date that will leave the needed number of growing days ( which varies for different varieties and is usually given in catalogs) before fall frost is expected.
Dahlias come in a great variety of forms and colors and new ones are offered annually. For cutting purposes long, strong stems are important. Consider this when selecting kinds to grow. Giant flowers are of little value for cutting: they wilt too soon. Much more practical are medium-sized blooms of decorative and cactus dahlias as well as those of the pompoms, singles, colarette and other smaller-flowered types. Individual staking of all but the dwarf dahlia plants is essential.
Montbretias are treated exactly like gladioluses except that the bulbs are set more closely together. The rows may be eighteen inches to two feet apart, and the bulbs in them are two or three inches apart spaced over the flat bottom of a four-inch-wide drill.
The soil in a cutting garden should be prepared and maintained as for a good vegetable patch. It should have sharp underdrainage and be reasonably deep. Free it of perennial weeds and bring it into a mellow, fertile condition before planting. Nearly all bulbs resent fresh, rank manure but none object to the presence of some which is old and well decayed.
Use manure that has rotted to a black, nourishing amorphous mold, or rich compost that has decayed to the same degree, in generous quantities to build up the organic content of the soil. If these materials are not available substitute commercial humus or peatmoss.
Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer to incorporate with the soil before planting and it is safe and desirable to give an annual dressing of a regular vegetable garden fertilizer to those bulbs grown in the cutting garden. Be careful when using fertilizers containing quickly available nitrogen. These can be used effectively but the amount that bulbs can be given at one time without harm is less than for many other garden plants.
Above all remember that bulbs root downward from the level at which they are planted ( stem-rooting lilies root from above the bulb also ) and therefore it is of the utmost importance to have a good depth of kindly, fertile soil underneath them. The undersoil is of even more importance than the covering layer.
Care and cutting
The routine care of bulbs in a cut-flower garden is not markedly different from that which they need when grown elsewhere. The provision of ample supplies of water during dry periods that occur while they are in leaf ( both before and after flowering) is extremely important.
The application of dilute liquid manure water or liquid fertilizer at weekly intervals beginning with the appearance of the flower spikes and continuing until the first buds begin to open makes for larger stems and finer blooms. Timely attention in the matter of staking prevents crooked flower stalks; take care to keep stakes sufficiently far away from the stems that they are not thrust through the bulbs. Shading the blooms of tulips and gladioluses with heavy cheesecloth ( or with the special cloth that cut-flower growers use for cloth houses) helps them retain their colours better and prevents them from passing by so quickly.
The removal of foliage while it is yet green interferes, in direct proportion to the amount removed, with the ability of the bulb to manufacture the food it needs to store for the following year's effort. Never lift bulbs or clear away their leaves unless they have ripened and died naturally or have been killed by frost.
When cutting bulb flowers you must make a choice. If you take leafy stems as long as possible, cutting them almost at ground level, then the bulbs almost surely will not bloom the following year and they may be killed. On occasion, if the longest possible stems are important to have, you may be perfectly willing to face this loss—with gladioluses, Spanish irises, tulips, and other kinds that can be inexpensively replaced, for instance—but it is less likely that you will be willing to seriously harm or lose more expensive or rarer bulbs such as those of lilies.
In all cases it is practicable to take a little foliage when cutting without serious damage, but this should be kept at a minimum and should not exceed a sixth or eighth perhaps of the total leaf area. Stems that are without leaves as, for instance, daffodils, should be cut as low as possible.
Cut nearly all bulbs when their buds first open . . . in the case of those ( such as gladioluses and lilies) that have several flowers on a stem, when the first two or three buds open; the others will expand in water. Exceptions to this rule are May-flowering tulips. These should not be cut until the flowers attain almost full size; if taken too early the blooms remain comparatively small. Very early morning is the best time for cutting, the next best time being evening.
Handle each flower carefully for crushed or bruised petals cannot be repaired. Slice firm stems such as those of gladioluses slantwise. Unless they are needed at once, stand the freshly cut blooms in deep containers of water in a cool dark cellar out of all drafts for ten or twelve hours before arranging them in the house or using them in other ways. If you wish to keep flowers that are opening in the garden, they will last longer cut and in water in a dark cool place than in warm sunny weather outdoors.
Bulbs in cold frames and greenhouses
A cold frame is a great asset in a. cutting garden. In it can be grown bulbs that are not quite hardy enough to winter outdoors; from it can be had flowers both earlier and later in season than outdoor beds will supply. It can be. a simple affair—a rectangular box of stout planks covered with removable Cold-frame sash of standard six-by-three size.
The back of the frame should be nine inches or a foot higher than the front so that the glazed sash will shed water. A suitable height for the front is twelve inches. Provision should be made to increase the height of the entire frame by a foot or more on occasion so that flowers that have attained considerable height can be accommodated. This is easily done by setting a removable extension frame on top of the first, securing it, and placing the glass sash on top of this.
Locate the frame to face south in a. sheltered, sunny position where good drainage is assured; avoid low spots where water may collect. Extra cosiness can be assured in winter by banking soil or cinders against its onto. walls. In very cold weather the sash may be covered with heavy mats, blankets, or with a layer of salt hay or straw. The soil inside the frame should be light and fertile, and the bulbs planted as closely as possible, according to kind, so that maximum flower production from a limited area is assured. This means planting considerably closer than is usual outdoors.
In cold parts of the country such beautiful spring- and early-summer-flowering bulbs as ranunculuses, anemones, Dutch and Spanish irises, alstroemerias, and even ixias, sparaxises, and watsonias may be successfully grown in cold frames even though they are unreliable or impossible in the open garden. They supply grand cutting.
Perfectly hardy bulbs such as tulips and narcissuses may be had in bloom two to four weeks earlier from a frame than from the open ground. The same is true of summer-flowering gladioluses and montbretias; plant the last named in a frame three or four weeks before it is safe to plant them outdoors and you will cut your first blooms considerably earlier. The frame may be used in fall to protect from early frosts the flowers of late-flowering gladioluses and montbretias.
The management of a cold frame calls for
an understanding that its purpose is to protect bulbs that are nearly
hardy from severe weather; it is not to provide them with unusually "soft"
conditions. On all days when the temperature is above freezing ventilate
it thoroughly. On mild days in spring and fall remove the sash entirely,
replacing it at night if freezing temperatures may occur.
The two great groups that attract attention are: first, the "forcing" bulbs which are handled as advised for their pot culture on a different page, except that instead of being planted in pots and pans the bulbs are set closely together in four-inch-deep flats ( wooden boxes ); and, second, the cool-temperature freesias, watsonias, "baby" gladioluses, and others that need similar growing conditions, that are often planted directly in beds of soil in greenhouse benches but otherwise are grown in the same way as when they are cultivated in pots. Calla-lilies, Easter lilies, gloriosas, and some other kinds are a few of the possibilities that the greenhouse affords. In the small greenhouse these will usually be grown in pots.