Planting an Organic Cut Flower Garden

Most of the time we plant gardens just to look at them. We go to the nursery and find little 6 packs of garden plants and organize them in the garden to grow and bloom in an artistic pattern. This works well, but it is so hard to bring those beauties inside and put them in a vase when they look so nice outside. With a cutting garden you are not trying to create a perfect landscape, rather you want a garden that will work for you and produce copious amounts of cut flowers. You can place your cutting garden in an unused corner of your yard, out of the way, so you do not feel like it
needs to look perfect.

Why are my plants so short?
You will notice that most of those nursery 6 packs produce neat compact plants with stems too short to make large floral arrangements. What you don’t know is the nursery industry has spun a conspiracy against tall plants. It seems gardeners like nice neat gardens, not sprawling tall plants that require a constant effort to keep them from flopping over in the slightest rain or wind. But, the best cut flowers come from tall plants not ‘dwarf’ plants so commonly found these days.  If you want to find the best cut flower varieties you will have to ask for them by name. They are still out there, but you will probably
have to avoid the big box stores and shop at your local nursery or online.

Here is  our Top 10 list of excellent cut flower varieties:

Dianthus Amazon Series (neon purple, cherry and pink)
I can’t say enough about this plant, it is essentially a 'super charged' sweet william!  It is incredibly hardy, it blooms in very cold weather and blooms all summer even in temperatures above 100 degrees! Bright, showy, tall with handsome foliage. As a cut flower it will last for weeks in a vase. Unlike most Sweet Williams, this dianthus blooms the first year and is perennial rather than biennial.

Rudbeckia Indian Summer:
Big beautiful daisy like black-eyed susan flowers on straight sturdy stems. Blooms all summer, and has excellent vase life. Re-seeds freely but is not invasive. Not really a consistent perennial, but with its re-seeding characteristic it comes back
every year.

Godetia Grace Series:
A spring bloomer only, but what a show! Tall stems that need support. Plant in early spring for late spring/early
summer bloom.

Foxglove (digitalis) Camelot:
Unlike most foxgloves, this series blooms the first year. Tall stems with graceful tubular flowers. Much more tolerant to
heat than most digitialis, blooms most of the summer for us.

Peony Coral Charm:
Expensive and hard to find, but worth every penny!  Magnificent large coral pink blooms which fade to white in the vase. Pick in bud to enjoy the entire show. Peonies take about 3 years to become established enough to where you can start
to cut flowers, so these take some patience.

Freesia Dukaat:
Bright yellow with a lovely fragrance of spicy apricot jam, this spring blooming bulb flower is amongst our favorite on
the farm.  Zone 5 or above only.

Sunflower Sunbeam:
An unusual green centered sunflower with sturdy tall stems. Blooms are medium sized for a sunflower and long lasting making them perfect for bouquets.

Zinnia Uproar Rose:
Tall zinnia with huge purple pink blooms. Ever blooming all summer and long vase life.

Snapdragon Rocket:
Snapdragons are an excellent example of the nursery industry’s desire to dwarf garden plants. Rocket is a superb cut
flower growing 3 feet tall and providing excellent vase life. Remember to provide support.

A great spring bloomer with long stems. Plant by seed in cool soils. Best to plant in the fall or late winter before soil gets above 60 degrees. Re-seeds freely. Available in purples, pinks and white.

Providing Support:

Okay now that you have found your excellent cut flower varieties and have lovingly planted your garden, don’t forget that they will grow tall and will need support. It is always easier to provide support for your plants before they get tall than to wrestle them after they are blown over.  You can support plants with sturdy bamboo poles, tomato cages or a grid of poly netting. In the cut flower business we use a grid of netting called Hortonova Plastic Trellis (  supported by 4’ pieces of 3/8 inch rebar driven into the ground. You essentially create a horizontal plane of netting for
which the flower stems can grow up through, a bit industrial but very effective. Remember this is not your show garden,
it is your cutting garden, it is okay if it looks a little rough.  The beautiful part will be in vases in your house!

Fertilizers and pests:

Growing flowers organically is easy, in fact most flowers prefer a moderately fertile soil. All those chemical fertilizers are just going to make your plants too tall, weak and susceptible to pests anyway.  Start with well loosened soil mixed with
lots of well decomposed compost. Avoid those ‘pseudo’ composts with lots of bark. Bark is not compost and it will deplete your soil of nutrients. Good quality compost should be the consistency of coffee grounds. In most cases it is best to leave the pests in a cutting garden be. Many of them are beneficial and disrupting the bug/plant ecosystem with bug killers will just create more problems in the end. Be patient, let the critters balance themselves out and have some lemonade, your cut flowers will be better off without all that human intervention. However, you will need to do some weeding after you finish your lemonade. Be sure to pull all weeds, before they bloom and set seeds, to prevent a weed nightmare the next year!

Happy Gardening!


Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 10:28AM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] in | Comments11 Comments | References13 References

Maximize Vase Life of Your Organic Flowers

Flower Care Instructions:

The goal of caring for your flowers is to  provide the hydration and nutrition necessary to allow your flowers to look beautiful and last long.


Water Quality:   In general tap water is just fine, but avoid very hard or salt softened water

Clean Vases: Bacteria is the enemy of flowers, always start with impeccably clean vases. Use bleach to clean vases between uses.

Strip those stems: Leaves breed bacteria, remove all leaves that will be under water before placing flowers in a vase

More Water: Use large vases that hold lots of water. If you stuff many stems in a small quantity of water it will be very hard to keep the water clean and the flowers will not last as long. In our tests a single flower in a vase always out lasts the big mixed bouquet stuffed tightly in a vase

 Keep them Cool:  Keep your flowers in a cool part of the house.

Avoid Direct Sunlight: Flowers love the sun in the field, but once in a vase direct sunlight is very hard on them.

 Flower Food? Most flowers last perfectly well in plain water, but some need some extra sugar to allow them to thrive. We recommend flower food be added to the vase water for Zinnias and Dahlias. (By the way, flower food is mostly sugar with some citric acid to lower water PH and a powdered bleach to prevent bacterial growth in the sugar rich water)


Change the Water: If you wouldn’t drink the water, your flowers won’t either! Some flowers are ‘clean’ (lisianthus, anemone) and will not require many water changes and others (sunflowers, zinnias) are ‘dirty’ and may require daily water changes to keep the water clear.

Re-cut the Stems: After several days it may be hard to keep your vase water clean because the bottom of the flower stems are starting to get soft. Simply cut off the bottom inch or two of stem to get to ‘new’ stem and change the vase water.


Posted on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 06:55PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] in | CommentsPost a Comment | References8 References

Creating a beautiful wedding with Organic Flowers

116_1.jpgImagine walking through a wildflower meadow filled with every imaginable type and color of flower. Now imagine being able to dance through that meadow picking out your favorite flowers in any combination you want. As a florist, our job is to provide you with that meadow of choices and let you dream up your favorite bouquets. You may want to pick out all the red flowers or just white flowers or maybe you want a rainbow of all the colors and flowers available. When you start the process of choosing your wedding flowers, avoid the temptation to choose one or two specific colors. Rather, think of color ranges that your florist can work with to develop a mosaic of color that represents you and your wedding. Bridal flowers, like a sunset are not one or two colors, but hundreds of different subtle hues and shades which blend to create an overall image of beauty.

Begin the process of choosing bridal flowers by getting to know yourself. In the end, your wedding flowers should represent you, the bride, in style and sprit. Ask yourself, what are your favorite colors and color combinations, what are your favorite flowers, which seasons do you prefer? Just as importantly, what kind of person are you? Do you like your world to be exacting and organized or a little loose and free. Do you like exact symmetry or a bit of asymmetry? Look at the clothes you like to wear. Do you like solid colors, patterns, loose flowing clothes or snug figure forming clothes? Once you determine what you like and most importantly what styles and colors represent you as a person, you are ready to choose your flowers. Start by looking at wedding magazines and books and highlighting the bridal bouquets that you like. Keep in mind that many of the flowers in wedding magazines will not necessarily be in season on your wedding day. Whenever possible choose in- season and locally grown organic flowers to ensure vibrancy and freshness. When you meet with your florist, it will be very helpful to them if you bring some photos of the bouquets that you like.

When you choose your florist ask them a few questions before you schedule your consultation. Ask if they have photos of their work which you can look through. Being able to look photos at of bouquets your florist has created will give you an idea of their design style and the types of flower with which they like to work. If you already know what kinds of designs you want, go ahead and tell them on the phone and see how enthusiastic their response is and if they are agreeable to your ideas. Some florists require a minimum charge for weddings so make sure that your budget meets their minimum. Since consultations are a significant time investment, make sure your florist has a fairly good chance of matching your style and budget before you schedule a consultation with them. Most florists offer free consultations, but some charge a small fee, ask up front so there are no surprises.

Now for the fun part! Once you have chosen a florist that you really like you can start to put together all the components of a beautiful wedding. I like to start with the bridal bouquet because it tends to set the tone for the entire wedding and it is the most personal of all the bouquets. Once the bridal bouquet is chosen you can start to brainstorm bridesmaid’s bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages. Bridesmaid bouquets can be similar to the brides or completely different. A common misconception is the bridesmaid’s bouquets must match their dresses. The bouquets should accent the dresses, but they do not have to match the color, in fact it generally looks better if they don’t. Boutonnières are for the groom and groomsmen and can be anything from a single rose to a beautiful dusty miller leaf. My favorite fall boutonniere is a clutch of purple, red and orange ornamental chilies with a camellia leaf! Corsages for the Moms are still very common, but the trend is to have them carry a small posy of wedding flowers instead. With the ceremony bouquets chosen, it is now time to decorate your reception.

Flowers for the reception can exactly match the wedding flowers, or for a more informal look you can choose entirely different flowers for your reception. Go for fun and bold centerpieces using a combination of seasonal flowers and accents. This will highlight the celebratory atmosphere of your reception. The reception is a great place to give your florist creative freedom to design bouquets that highlight their artistic style. For vases, anything goes, from galvanized and terra cotta pots to antique wine bottles. For a classy look, choose sterling silver pots or julep cups filled with flowers. Many florist have an inventory of vases with which they can design your centerpieces. After the wedding you can return the vases or pay an extra fee for after reception pick up. Let your flowers be an opportunity to have fun with your wedding and to express who you are and your creative spirit.

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Posted on Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 11:13AM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] in | Comments1 Comment

Beautiful Organic Lilies!

IMG_0568.JPGAhh lilies! By far my favorite of all the flowers we grow! I suppose it is because of this love, that lilies have become a signature crop of California Organic Flowers. Lilies are bold, bright, fragrant (oriental lilies) and continue to bloom in the vase. The first difference you will notice about our lilies are the number of buds. Most store or florist lilies only have 2-4 buds mostly because they use small bulbs which are cheaper and because it is easier to ship and pack lilies with fewer buds. At California Organic Flowers, we choose the largest bulbs with the most buds to ensure that your lilies bloom and continue to bloom for as long as two weeks. We also truly believe that organically grown lilies are bigger, brighter and more vibrant than there chemically raised cousins. Sometimes for wedding work, we have to buy lilies from other growers and are generally appalled at their skimpy little buds and sickly green foliage. Proof once again that like people, flowers look their best when grown outside, and given a healthy diet and lots of love!

There are three main types of lilies, Asiatic lilies and Oriental lilies and Trumpet lilies. Asiatic lilies come in a rainbow of colors, yellow, red, orange, white, pink and salmon colors and are not fragrant. Asiatics tend to have smaller blooms than Orientals and have more buds. Orientals are large fragrant lilies that come only in pinks and whites. One of the most popular Oriental lilies is the Stargazer lily, which is a stunning crimson blushing to white. Trumpet lilies are mainly used as white Easter lilies and have a wonderful sweet fragrance and tend to be, well, trumpet shaped. There are literally hundreds of varieties with in each of these main categories so I won’t try to list them all, but some of my favorite Asiatics are: Elite (orange), Blackout (deep red) and Nello (tequila sunrise orange). In Orientals, I love red merostar which is a stargazer type with reflexed petals; I also love a deep magenta variety called Sumatra.

Now to confuse things a little, I am going to introduce you to two more types of lilies which are hybrids of Asiatics, Orientals and Trumpets. A Hybrid is basically when two or more plant varieties are reproductively crossed to highlight the positive attributes of each. Think of your favorite two bands and put them on stage together and you have a hybrid!

My favorite Hybrid is the OT or Orientapet. By hybridizing Orientals and Trumpets, the result is huge blooms and an unbelievably wonderful fragrance. I grow one variety called Conca d’ Or that has seven inch blooms! When I bring these to the farmers market, they shock and awe folks from miles away and sell out every time. Another benefit from OT Hybrids is they are available in more colors than Oriental lilies, including yellow, soft orange and bicolor red and yellows. The last variety of lily is the LA hybrids which are a cross between Asiatics and Trumpets (also know as long folium, hence the L in LA). Unfortunately, LA hybrids do not inherit the fragrance from the Trumpet side of the cross, but they are a nice large flower available in many colors and similar in many aspects to Asiatic lilies. t">


Posted on Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 11:05AM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] in | Comments4 Comments | References6 References

Winter at California Organic Flowers

Winter at California Organic Flowers.bouqNarciscus.jpg

Compared to most of the country, our winters hardly qualify as a ‘real winter’. When my wife Julia and I moved here from Eastern Idaho, where winter lasts seven months, we thought we had landed in the Bahamas. But, we soon learned that Californians consider it cold here and escape to Hawaii for relief from winter! To be fair, we do get this nasty cold fog that settles in the Sacramento Valley and it is as wet and bone chilling as anyone could need. But, for the most part, winters here are a bit like a long cool spring. In fact, the first rains in October trigger the growth of spring bulbs like narcissus (paper whites) that start blooming in January. Yes, that is correct, those cute little fragrant daffodils that most of the country forces inside in little pots grow perfectly well outside here in California. My favorite paper whites are not white at all. I like the Grand Soleil D’ Or, which is a Tazzeta Narcissus and blooms with yellow petals and an orange cup. But the best attribute of Grand Soleil D’ Or is its wonderful sweet fragrance. Unlike the 'white' paper whites which have a ‘some love it, some hate it’ fragrance, Grand Soleil D’ Or is deliciously reminiscent of spring hyacinths. Our Grand Soleil D’ or is generally available in January and February.

Even in our mild winters, a little help is needed to coax flowers into blooming in December and January. We plant some of our crops into 100’x20’ poly covered greenhouses to give them a bit of extra warmth and to protect them from frost. Our greenhouse is a nice toasty 75’ when it is sunny and 55’ outside. Of course, when that nasty valley fog roles in, the greenhouse is of little help! Fortunately we get more sun than fog most years and our happy sheltered plants prosper. Our main greenhouse crops are freesia, ranunculus, anemone, tulips and Dutch iris.

Anemones are always our first flowers to bloom in the winter. In fact it is a tradition of ours to bring the first anemone into our home and put it by itself in special hand blown bud vase. It is the first bloom of winter and very appreciated.  With the help of our greenhouse, our first anemone bloom in early December.  You can find bouquets of anemone on our website from early December until March. Anemones come in rich primary colors of royal purple, deep magenta, fuchsia pink and bright red. Very simple to care for, like most bulb crops, anemones have a long vase life and rarely cloud the vase water. Nonetheless, like all cut flowers, it best to change the vase water regularly to extend the life of your bouquet. Arrange anemones by themselves in mass in a clear glass vase so you can see their smooth graceful stems under water. My favorite vase for anemones is a simple ginger jar vase which affords just the right angle to display their bright blossoms.

By now most flower lovers are familiar with Dutch iris. With my Dutch heritage, I am partial to these lovely flowers. Deep primary blue and rich golden yellow are the main colors for Dutch iris. And it is fortunate, because those two colors compliment each other perfectly. Dutch irises express a wild grassy look and are a perfect compliment to any bouquet. They are not as long lived as many flowers, so we always ship them in bud stage so you can see their full transformation from pencil stage where just a tip of blue is showing to full bloom five days later.



Posted on Monday, September 3, 2007 at 08:25PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] in | Comments3 Comments | References37 References