Daydreaming about a garden brimming with flowers is probably one of THE best ways to spend a dreary winter day. Today we stopped daydreaming and actually put a few seeds into soil as our cut flower garden plan is set into motion. I sat down for a chat with Susannah Eisenbraun, our resident horticulturist and display bed guru. She’s the one responsible for making our cut flower garden come to life and keeping the Bowood grounds in tip-top shape. Here’s what she had to say about Bowood’s sophomore year cutting garden plan.
SR: What was considered when deciding the location of the garden?
SE: It is the largest, full-sun flower bed that we have. The bed itself is in a great central location, adjacent to our vegetable garden. We look at this as more than just a cutting garden but also a pollinator garden. The vegetables need pollination, as do all the other display gardens on our property. The flowers attract the pollinators that, in return, help to pollinate the other areas. The bed itself was in need of some re-working due to an infestation of bindweed among a handful of struggling perennials. So before we began last year, we spent a lot of time combating the bindweed, reworking the soil and preparing the space for this fun new project.
SR: What were some of your successes last year and what didn’t quite turn out as expected?
SE: Things that worked last year will be repeated this year. We did well with heat loving, tall exuberant annuals like- Zinnia’s, Celosia, Ammi, Scabiosa and Poppies. Flowers like Orlaya and Didiscus did not do well. We knew that they were not very heat tolerant to begin with but hoped that we could make it work. May ended up being so hot that there was really no chance for their survival. Last year we also had an unusual issue with a relatively easy to grow, cut flower staple- Cosmos. We had an ant population that moved in and continually built colonies at their base. It disrupted their root system enough that it caused some major issues with them. This year we will try the Cosmos again but monitor the ant situation closely.
SR: How are the flowers selected?
SE: Flowers were hand-selected by our owners Katherine and Lizzy. They chose flowers that would be successful and prolific but also fit their aesthetic. The flowers are used on-site for displays within the stores (we do not sell them) so they selected things that they loved and wanted to see in arrangements all summer long. Katherine also selects some of these flowers with the intention of drying them at the end of the growing season.
SR: How do you manage the timeline for seed starting?
SE: A calendar and a spreadsheet are the best way to do this. I lay everything out in a spreadsheet format with notes about how long each variety takes to germinate. I follow the seed packets closely and get this information straight from the suppliers. For seeds that are not directly sown, we start them in trays. We are lucky enough to have a farm that will start the seeds for us in their greenhouse, however, this can easily be done at home on your own too. I make this a project at home with my daughters and we start seeds in doors and outdoors in make-shift, milk jug greenhouses. (For a simple milk jug greenhouse tutorial- click here.)
SR: How do you come up with your garden plan/ layout each year?
SE: First of all, paths are super important. If you are going to be cutting, you need to have a proper path so you are not just tramping through the garden. Aesthetically, we want it to have that cottage garden feel but with more organization and functionality for cutting. We group together 15 – 30 plants in one patch so they are more easily cut and maintained together as a single variety. We taper them in height from tallest in the back to the shortest in the front. And to help with the overall cohesion, we are careful to plant coordinating colors along side one another.
After chatting about our game plan, Susannah and I went straight outside where she would plant the very first seeds of the season- Poppies. We look forward to updating you throughout our second year journey of cut flower gardening. We hope that you will check back as we share our successes, troubleshoot our problems and grow something beautiful.