Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: From garden to vase

May/June 2010 California Country magazine

Plant ornamentals next to the edibles to double the fun in your garden.

It’s not summer without armloads of flowers for bouquets. My favorite spot for the annual cutting garden is the vegetable garden. The soil is great, it gets lots of sun and I visit it every day.

Instead of bare earth between the tomatoes, I plant clumps of cosmos. I surround the eggplant with zinnias and fill the corners of the beds with strawflowers, snapdragons and marigolds. I save a bed for sunflowers. Come summer, I’ll have a riot of color alongside the edibles and, what’s more, many ornamental flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden.

Look for plants that bloom over an extended period and that produce flowers with long stems. The great thing about annuals is the more you cut them, the longer they produce.

Topping my list are multi-branching sunflowers. They produce dozens of branches tipped with clusters of 3- to 4-inch flowers. The first flush of bloom is followed by a second. The long stems can be cut to fit any bouquet. Best of all, these sunflowers come in shades of cream, gold, red and, of course, yellow. For about $10 you can buy several packets of seed and have three months of flowers.

Other tried-and-true annuals include zinnias, snapdragons, marigolds, cosmos, cleome and strawflowers. They’re available as starter plants if you don’t want to bother with seeds.

But don’t stop with the common flowers. Peruse seed racks. Look in garden books. Combine your cutting annuals with roses, asters, yarrow, forsythia—whatever strikes your fancy. Be bold.

Finally, you’ll need greenery to act as a background or filler. The leaves don’t have to be exotic or flashy—in fact, the plainer the better. My favorites for foliage fillers include scented geraniums, camellias, incense cedar and nandina.

Pat Rubin is a long-time gardener and garden writer. Send questions or comments to her at

Tips on keeping flowers fresh

A few simple steps will help your arrangements last longer:

  • Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut flowers.
  • Cut stems at an angle. This gives the stems more surface to absorb water.
  • Remove any leaves that will be below the water level. Leaves submerged in water will rot. Snip away any spent flowers or tightly closed buds. Both can steal nutrients from the healthy flowers.
  • While getting the flowers ready to arrange, float them in a sink of tepid water.
  • Put hot water in the vase. A long-time exhibitor of flower arrangements at a local fair gave me this advice. She said the flowers will stay fresher longer.

Gardening to-do list for May/June

  • Flower seeds to plant now: sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, salvia and marigolds. Vegetable seeds to plant now: melons, cucumbers, squash, beans, corn and pumpkins.
  • Feed indoor plants with a slow-release fertilizer. Take them outside and give the leaves a bath and the plants a good soaking. Make sure they don’t get too much direct sunlight.
  • Prune spring flowering shrubs like forsythia and lilac after flowering to ensure a good crop of flowers next year.
  • Water early in the day to minimize evaporation. Morning irrigation also means plant leaves have time to dry before evening, so are less likely to be susceptible to disease.
  • Cut Shasta daisy stems to the ground after the plants are done flowering.
  • Thin fruit on trees. Start by removing every third or fourth one. Some experts say there ought to be about 6 inches between apples, peaches, nectarines and pears.
  • Watch for aphids. You can hose them off or use insecticidal soap to kill them.
  • Mulch to control weeds and to conserve moisture.
  • Cut spent flowers off annuals and perennials to keep them blooming.

'Tis the season for garden tours!

If you’d like an up-close look at some of the private gardens in the Golden State, you’re in luck. Many California homeowners fling open their garden gates this time of year to raise funds for a variety of worthy causes.

One such tour is being hosted by Soroptimist International of the Sierra Foothills. Stroll through seven beautiful, privately owned gardens in Nevada City and Grass Valley May 22 and 23. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the garden gate. For more information, call Barbara at 530-272-1826, e-mail or visit

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