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Designing a Cutting Garden

A bountiful new cutting garden was first on our wish list for the Victory Garden, and expert Margaret Hensel was on hand to help us — and you — design one

cutting 1


The Victory Garden has always demonstrated the important link from the garden to the kitchen. This season, we'll also be making the connection from the garden to the vase. With renovations to the vegetable garden well under way, first on our wish list of additions was a cutting garden.

Author and cutting-garden expert Margaret Hensel came on board to help us reach that goal. On the show, she explains to Roger Cook the different phases of the process, and how careful planning and organization will help you create a cutting garden you'll be thrilled with. Although you may have less space to work with for your own cutting garden, the one Margaret designed for The Victory Garden should serve as a good example of how to go about it.

garden sketches

Phase 1: Planning & Preparation

* Select the location for the cutting garden and evaluate site conditions, such as sun, rainfall and wind
* Decide approximately how big you want the garden to be
* Prepare the soil, preferably with plenty of organic matter, including compost and decayed leaf mold
* Stake out the outside dimensions of the area — in our case 10 feet wide and 36 feet long — using string and stakes and surveyor's flags to mark key areas
* Determine the location and width of your paths. Bear in mind ease of access and room enough to work comfortably, while still keeping an intimate look and feel
* Measure and stake out the paths with string and stakes. In our case we have two 3-foot-wide paths entering the cutting garden from the vegetable garden, joining up with a 2 1/2-foot-wide path running the length of the cutting garden. This arrangement of paths creates beds that are wide enough to accommodate a variety of plants while easily accessible for working and picking flowers.

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Phase 2: Choosing Plants

* Transfer the measurements of your planned cutting garden and paths to a large sketch pad. Draw it to scale, making 1/2 inch equal to 1 foot (or whatever scale is comfortable for you to work with)
* Gather your reference materials — books on perennials and cutting gardens and perennial and annual catalogs
* On a large sketch pad make a chart. Draw out 3 columns and title them, respectively, FEATURES, FILLERS and FOLIAGE
* Next, divide the columns into good-size rows and title them MAY, JUNE, JULY, AUGUST, and SEPTEMBER (with additional months if your growing season is longer)
* Start writing into your chart the perennials you think you'd like for the cutting garden. You can later edit this list down to your final selections for planting. (Also see Margaret's Criteria for Selecting Perennials.)

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Phase 3: Designing & Planting

As she planned the overall design of our cutting garden and began to place the various perennials and annuals, Margaret kept the following considerations in mind:

* To create dramatic focal points at the end of each path, she selected dahlias and big, bold perennials and annuals with interesting foliage.
* At the corners of the two paths entering our cutting area from the vegetable garden, she selected perennials that would sprawl and soften the edges of the path creating the look and feel of a cottage garden
* As with regular perennial borders, try to place taller plants to the rear of the borders, but also bring a few taller plants forward to avoid having the whole thing look too regimented and stiff
* Distribute the early- and mid-blooming plants throughout the garden to create a balance of seasonal bloom
* Repeat some perennials on either side of the path to give the garden a sense of continuity
* Pay attention to the quantities of perennials you might want for cutting and drying
* Draw out the plan so that perennials and annuals are closely planted, which gives the look and feel of a cottage garden with many plants mingling. It also maximizes the available growing space, helps shade the ground and conserve moisture, and leaves less room for weeds to get started.

Margaret's Choices for a Smaller Cutting Garden

The following plants were used for the 4x9-foot plot Margaret demonstrated on the show. These are also great plants for your own smaller cutting garden. They will create a long season of cutting blooms and provide plenty of flowers.

8 Alchemilla mollis 'Lady's Mantle'
3 Achillea 'Terra Cotta'
4 Astrantia major
5 Chrysanthemum 'Becky'
2 Eryngium
3 Iris siberica 'Snow Queen'
4 Lysimachia clethroides
3 Malva alcea 'Fastigiata'
6 Nepeta sibirica
6 Penstemon 'Husker's Red'
2 Peonies (to be planted as one plant): 'Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt' or 'Seashell' or 'Nick Shaylor'
Annuals, zinnias, 'Park's Pick' and statice

Margaret Hensel is the author of English Cottage Gardening for American Gardeners (2000).

This segment appears in show #2702.

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Published August 31, 2007