I was recently asked, “What is a cut flower?” and while it seemed straightforward, the question caused me to pause. The simple definition of a cut flower is any flower or bud cut from a plant for decorative purposes such as flower arranging. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to delve a little deeper. I wondered when humans started cutting flowers and how they used them. I was curious about the history and evolution of the flower arrangement, so I did a little research.
It turns out that the earliest known flower arranging dates to ancient Egypt. As early as 2,500 BCE, Egyptians placed cut flowers in vases and made elaborate arrangements for burials, processions, and table decorations. They put a lot of emphasis on selecting flowers based on their symbolic meaning. The Greeks and Romans also enjoyed arranging flowers into garlands and wreaths for weddings and as prizes to winners of athletic competitions in the ancient Olympics. In ancient China, flower arrangements were used in religious teaching and medicine. And flower arranging arrived in Europe around 1000 CE when Europeans placed flowers and foliage in chalices and urns in a cone-shaped design with ribbon. It fascinates me that we still use cut flowers for similar occasions and in similar forms all these years later. Our love affair with flowers has stood the test of time.
Another recent cut flower-related question I received was, “What are your favorite cut flowers?” This question was equally straightforward but not as easy to answer. While I had mentioned my favorite flowers in a previous post, I have never discussed my favorite cut flowers specifically. So, a reader suggested that I create a post centered around the question, and I thought this was an excellent idea! While choosing favorites can be tricky (I love them all!) I nevertheless put myself up to the task. I considered many factors such as ease of growing, bloom time, vase life, versatility, if they were pollinator-friendly, and aesthetics. In the end, it wasn’t easy, but I narrowed my list down to ten of my favorite cut flower varieties and some that didn’t make the top ten but deserve honorable mention. So, let’s dive in!
Tulips & Daffodils: I grouped tulips and daffodils because they are both bulbs that are grown similarly. These bulbs are planted in the fall and reward us with some of the most beautiful blooms early in the spring when we are craving flowers the most. These cut flowers are easy to grow and harvest, have a long vase life, and come in many colors and varieties. What’s not to love?
Zinnia: The heat-loving zinnia is another favorite cut flower of mine. They are easy to grow by direct seeding or transplanting, are an excellent choice for succession sowing, have a long vase life, and have a long bloom window. Zinnias are also pollinator magnets that provide nectar to many butterfly and bee species. They can bloom until the first hard frost, and they are a wonderful cut-and-come-again flower, so the more you cut, the more blooms you get. Zinnias also come in many colors, shapes, and sizes.
Coneflowers: Again, I grouped these flowers to include rudbeckia and Echinacea, which are related. My absolute favorites are the ‘Deamii’ black-eyed susans and ‘Autumn Sun’ coneflower. These cut flowers are typically perennials returning each year, which is a big plus as they are reliable, bloom prolifically, and fill the gap between annual blooms. They have a long vase life and are favorites of pollinators. They are versatile in bouquets and often add a nice pop of color.
Yarrow: Yarrow has recently become one of my favorite cut flowers. It is a great filler flower in bouquets, comes in many color options, and has a long vase life. Yarrow is also a perennial that pollinators adore. I’ve found that yarrow will give you a second flush of blooms later in the season if cut back. They are hardy, bloom for an extended period, and also make excellent dried flowers. However, they can be a bit aggressive in their spread, so keep them in check.
Cosmos: Super easy to grow; cosmos remain one of my favorite cut flowers. Their lacy foliage and daisy-like flowers look beautiful in arrangements. They come in various shapes and colors and bloom continuously throughout the season. Pollinators love them, and they add an airy feel to bouquets. Deadheading spent blooms provides the best results, and seeds can be easily saved for the next season.
Laceflowers: This is my first year growing laceflowers, and I am head over heels in love! This family includes flowers such as Ammi majus, Daucus carota, and Orlaya. These Queen Annes’ Lace lookalikes are lovely as cut flowers. They have a long vase life, are highly productive, attract pollinators, have a long bloom window, and give bouquets a soft, airy, lacy texture element. My absolute favorite variety is ‘Dara’ with its ornate flowers in plum shades.
Veronica: I love spike-shaped flowers in arrangements, and veronica tops my list of favorites. Veronicas are easy-to-grow perennials that come in several color choices, from white to pink and purple. Pollinators flock to them; they are versatile and beautiful in bouquets and have a great vase life.
Hydrangea: Hydrangeas make excellent cut flowers and look amazing in your landscape. They come in many colors and shapes, can act as the star or supporting cast in arrangements, and bloom for a long time. Some extra care does need to be taken when harvesting to prevent wilting but afterward will have an excellent vase life. They also dry well and are a fantastic flower for dried arrangements.
Gomphrena: Gomphrena has become one of my favorite filler flowers in bouquets. These colorful globe-like flowers add little pops of color, and the foliage also looks nice in arrangements. Pollinators love them; they bloom prolifically all season long, and they dry well, making them a great addition to dried arrangements.
Celosia: Celosia comes in several forms, including plumes, cockscombs, and spikes. My favorites are the spiked varieties ‘Ruby Parfait’ and ‘Flamingo Feather.’ They will repeat bloom when cut and bloom all season long. They add a nice element to bouquets, and you can easily save the seeds for the next season. Celosia also dries well and has a long vase life.
Honorable Mention: Several cut flowers didn’t make my top ten for various reasons such as pest pressure or ease of growth (ahem, yes, I’m talking about you, dahlia, the garden diva). Nonetheless, they are excellent choices for a cut flower garden; I grew and enjoyed them all. These runner-ups include sunflowers, verbena, sweet pea, delphinium, peony, dahlia, nigella, scabiosa, phlox, ranunculus, anemones, and snapdragons.
Foliage: If you want a well-rounded cut flower garden, don’t forget the greenery! Foliage helps fill out a bouquet and adds the perfect background for your flowers to shine. Some of my favorite foliage for arrangements include hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor,’ baptisia, ninebark, herbs such as lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, Hosta leaves, smoke bush, variegated dogwood, ornamental grasses, and weigela.
There you have it! A list of my favorite cut flowers I grow and enjoy in arrangements. There are so many fantastic cut flower varieties out there, many of which I haven’t even tried yet! So, who knows, if you ask me again after next season, I might have some new favorites! After all, you don’t know until you grow!