flowersHome Ec

Home Ec: Skip The Store & Grow Your Own Flowers

by Grace Bonney

One of the most incredible things about gardening is that with a little extra work, you can often grow your own things for a fraction of what they would cost in a store. Living in NYC, I got used to paying incredibly high prices for flowers, both because of the high markup and because of the distance they often traveled to get there. Cut flowers make me so happy that I worked them into my budget as a part of regular life (in exchange for not buying new clothes) and got used to sometimes paying $10-$12 a head for truly special flowers, like giant tree peonies or fritillaria. But now that we live in a rural area and have access to some space to grow, I’ve been making plans for a small cutting garden so I can grow my own flowers and not only save money, but learn something and enjoy the journey of watching them sprout from seeds and tiny plants into full grown beauties.

So for today’s Home Ec, I decided to focus on flowers you can easily grow at home — or even in a window box if you don’t have outdoor space. All you need is a little patience and some dirt and next season you’ll have beautiful flowers you can cut and display at home. xo, grace


This post and the Home Ec section are brought to you by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day. Visit the Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Home-Grown Inspiration section featuring 20 DIYs, including seven from Design*Sponge!

Know Your Zone: To get started, you need to know what you can grow in your yard or in your window box. This map, provided by the Arbor Day Foundation, will help you find what zone you live in. Then when you're looking for plants, you can be sure to check which zones they thrive in. Nothing's worse than spending money on something that can't handle your dry/cold/humid climate and then dies.
Consider the Seasons: In order to ensure you'll have flowers blooming as long as possible, be sure to select flowers that bloom in a range of times. You'll want to choose some early bloomers (like Hellebore , Daffodils and Lilac), summer bloomers (like Zinnias and Ranunculus) and plenty that will bloom in fall (like Lillies and Anemone). Also keep in mind a good mix of stem heights, so you have some variety in your arrangements. If you grow all short flowers it will be hard to make a larger-sized arrangement. Image from Design*Sponge at Home.
Pick a Spot: The vast majority of flowers need a lot of sun, so spend some time finding the sunniest spot in your yard (or the window that gets the most direct sunlight) to plant your flowers. Image from Garden Cart DIY on DS.
Make a Plan: To ensure you give your plants enough space, that the timing is right and that things will look nice together, make a simple map of what you'll plant where. This can be colored out like this or it can be a simple chart of what to plant and when. This will help you remember where things are and what is supposed to bloom when. Image via Pike Nurseries
Prep your Soil: If you're like me and you're starting with a backyard that hasn't been worked or cared for in a while, you'll need to make sure you prepare the ground so it's a fertile place for growing. I started by ripping out any old bulbs (and moving them to a new spot), grass and weeds. Then you'll need to rake the soil a bit to get the top layer loose. Then add at least 3-4 inches of organic material like soil and mulch to create a bed for your flowers. (If you're doing a window box, just start with a rich, organic soil mixture from your local gardening shop).
Start Planting: Once you've got your soil prepared and your plants chosen (I always like buying small seedlings or young plants, but you can always start from seeds, too!) start planting them in your flower beds, window boxes or whichever vessel you're using. Follow the suggested spacing on the package or tag to ensure you don't overcrowd them. Image via DS tips for window gardening.
Snip and Encourage Growth: Be sure you continue to snip flowers and remove dead or wilted buds/blooms. The act of removing and pruning these plants will encourage them to grow fuller and will encourage new blooms as well. Even wilting flowers and leaves can be beautiful in an arrangement, so don't be afraid to add a few that are on their way out to your centerpiece.
Enjoy your flowers and replant! Be sure to cut stems long so you have room to arrange them and create something special and be sure to add new plants if you're planting annuals (plants that will complete their life cycle within one year). I prefer to plant perennials whenever possible because they will come back at least one more time the following year. Photo via Frances Palmer (her pot and her flowers from the garden).

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  • Hi Grace, I’ve started my own cutting garden this summer too! I was trying out the life of a flower farmer, but I admit with a full time job and hellish commute it hasn’t been exactly as restorative as I expected, ha ha ha. I know I will be enchanted once they start blooming though! I’ve planted sweet peas, dahlias, stock, bishops lace, delphinium, and lots of different sunflowers.

    Please keep us updated on your cutting garden!

  • This is wonderful and a great reminder to enjoy beauty in life. Growing up on a working farm, pretty things were restricted to flowerbeds around the house, and they are still pretty after all these decades. But now I feel like if I cut flowers, there aren’t enough left outside. So the only solution is to PLANT MORE! I love helpful articles like this.

    If you are lucky enough to live in a rural area, and better yet have some livestock, you can have a steady supply of manure compost. Ideally each year the pile should be turned to make it break up better. In a couple years you have gorgeous black soil. We haven’t used commercial fertilizer ever. The drawback is that there are often a lot of weeds included, but they pull out of the soft soil easily.

    This year I’m planning to plant a row of flowers to go along with the rows of vegetables. I’m dreaming of picking dinner and a centrepiece at the same time!

    Thanks so much for the inspiring pictures!

  • Hi. I too have just started my own garden as well. I am inspired but you all have planted. Bougainvillea’s, lilies, and other field flowers.

  • Hi. I too just started my own garden. I am inspired by what you all have planted. I am enjoying bougainvillea’s, lilies, and other Florida field flowers.

  • I agree that gardening on a budget is possible, especially when you consider that flowering perennials will bloom year after year. That is my dream garden – perennials that rotate through the seasons. I’ve been gardening for a few years now and so far have something flowering in my garden from about February to October or November. It is a small space but I have managed to pack quite a bit in and am always looking for ways to incorporate something else. It’s a work in progress. Funny thing though, I still find myself buying flowers from the Tuesday outdoor market! Happy Gardening Grace!

  • Oh to have a garden!

    I’m a total flowers fiend and while I do have space to do this in at my place (on the outskirts of Hoboken), we’re renting so we dont have much choice in the types of flowers planted, plus picking them would be a bog no-no.

    I am happy though that my landlord just had a bunch of pansies and lilies planted, but I still opted to drop $20+ on 6 peoniesto bring into my kitchen and home office. They’re absolutely gorgeous and well worth it.

    Someday, I’ll have my own garden and will pin this post for then. :)

  • This is very helpful. Thanks, Grace!

    Any chance you will be doing a post on how you’ve set up your own garden and some of your plant picks? We’re buying a house (also in Ulster County, actually), but I’ve never really gardened before and don’t even know how to make a realistic plan.

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