25. CUT FLOWERS: Stray Cat Flower Farm, Baby’s Breath and Other Everlastings

Gardeners like to snip the last flower blossoms and make autumn arrangements indoors. Do you? If not, you may change your mind when reading about Stray Cat Farm.

In my first garden book, The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening, I shared the story of Diana Doll at Stray Cat Flower Farm in Burlington’s Intervale, close to my community garden. Since Diana began growing flowers 30 years ago, she's experimented with a variety of flowering plants and shrubs on her two-acre plot.

Flower-Arranging Tips from Diana:
Use small clippers for soft-stemmed flowers and loppers for larger woody branches.

Thrillers, fillers and spillers - Thrillers give height and overall structures, fillers give mass and bulk, and spillers add texture and soften edges. Design with your container in mind and cut stems that complement the shape. If possible, spread cut material out on a flat surface and organize by plant type. A floral preservative will help prolong the blooms.

I personally have used the pressed sap from willow branches as a preservative. It will prolong the vitality of blooms in a vase.
I call it willow water. Aspirin comes from willows.

Diana uses a wire mesh ball to support stems in small containers as well as a nest of coated chicken wire to hold flowers upright in a candy dish. Floral tape and regular tape can also be used to form a grid over the top of a vessel to hold stems. She also uses metal or glass frogs — little cages made with wire or sharp pointy spikes or glass discs with holes for placing the stems in.

Here are a variety of Diana’s fresh-cut flowers: Zinnias and cosmos are popular. Dahlias are one of the most popular late-season cut flowers, and for good reason, with shapes ranging from pom-pom to cactus spike and petals in nearly every color. If you grow your own, cut the buds that are just opening to ensure a long bloom period.
Ageratum Blue Horizon is a great filler; try growing with purple heliotrope, black and blue salvia, and orange calendula. Benary's Giant Series zinnias are tried and true. By October, these stalwarts are fully branched, with raspberry, red, carmine rose, bright pink, wine and purple double flowers on plants that grow as high as four feet. (These may require staking mid-season.)

If you're looking for something totally different, try growing amaranth, which is one of the favorites I grow in my perennial garden. Red Spike amaranth produces burgundy flower panicles that resemble feather dusters. Old favorite Love-Lies-Bleeding amaranth has unusually long, cascading strands and is best used in a tall display.

Hibiscus Mahogany Splendor is a favorite at Stray Cat Flower Farm. It's a dramatic plant with cut leaves that resemble a Japanese maple. The dark foliage makes a good backdrop for sunflowers and tawny ornamental grasses.
By late September, most perennials have come and gone, but there are a few late bloomers, most notably Japanese anemone, New England asters, cold-hardy chrysanthemums, and sedum. Others include black-eyed Susans and Russian sage. All work great for filling up vases and containers for indoor blooms.
While color and shape are important, scent is too. Fragrant mints and scented geraniums work well. Coneflowers are a common garden plant offering four seasons of interest. In late September, cut the stems down and pull the petals away from the cone. Use the rigid cones to add texture and density to bouquets.

Wild blue indigo plants produce showy seedpods, and many ornamental grasses are good to cut for their interesting seed heads. Purple fountain grass is one of the best for its soft, foxtail-like spikes. Don't forget about berries, leaves, and stems. Sumac is interesting for its deep coral seedpods.

When picking your own shrubs for a cutting garden, look for ones with interesting foliage. Purple ninebark, a multi-stemmed native shrub, looks great paired with panicle hydrangeas. Place in a large bucket by the front door.

Winterberry, the deciduous holly that's native to the eastern U.S., produces red or orange berries that color up once the cold weather hits.

Source: Adapted from "Fall for Floral" by Charlotte Albers, Seven Days (9/18/2018)

Diana Doll
Stray Cat Flower Farm
www.straycatflowers.com The business was sold in the summer of 2020.


We’re all familiar with the baby’s breath plant (Gypsophila paniculata), from bridal bouquets to cut flower arrangements that use the small, delicate white flowers, fresh or dried, to fill in around larger blooms. But did you know that baby’s breath flowers can grow easily in your garden? You can learn how to dry your own baby’s breath for making arrangements at home and to share with friends simply by growing baby’s breath flowers in your garden.

Growing baby’s breath is simple and you’ll likely find it a useful garden specimen. Learning how to grow baby’s breath can be a lucrative hobby, especially if you sell it to florists and others who make professional arrangements. Growing baby’s breath in a full sun area is relatively simple if the soil pH is right. The baby’s breath plant likes an alkaline or sweet soil. Soil should also be well-draining. If your baby’s breath plant does not perform well, take a soil test to determine the soil’s alkalinity.

They grow rapidly and will come into bloom about 8 weeks after germination. Sow new baby's breath every 2 to 4 weeks to assure continuous bloom for the summer. Baby's breath, also called gypsophila, is an annual or a perennial, depending on the variety. Gypsophila elegans is an annual that grows up to 2 feet

In Vermont, I grow baby's breath as a perennial; new plants come up every year from the same root system. It spreads via seeds, not a spreading root system, but one plant can produce well over 10,000 seeds.

I grow everlastings, varieties that are ideal both as fresh-cut flowers and for air drying for decorations.

Everlasting varieties are available through garden centers and seed catalogs although the latter, I've found, usually have a larger selection. For best results, read the seed packet before planting, and follow directions carefully. A few of these varieties can be started indoors as transplants, but for most, sow seeds outdoors after the danger of frost is past.

Here are some of my favorite everlasting varieties:

STRAWFLOWERS--Most gardeners fall in love with the vibrant colors and shapes of strawflowers. This annual enjoys full sun, is easy to grow, and is perfect for dried bouquets and floral wreaths. It comes in many colors ranging from soft pink to deep rose, pale yellow to gold, lavender, and silvery white to cream.
BABY'S BREATH--This prolific perennial, also known as gypsophila, offers delicate bursts of tiny white flowers. It is a popular addition to both dried and fresh bouquets and was once available only to commercial florists. Plants like full sun and can grow to heights of two to three feet tall.
CHINESE LANTERNS--This fast-growing perennial is easy to grow from seed though should be given a bed of its own as it tends to take over the garden and may overshadow slower growing perennial plants. It's popular with gardeners for its orange-red, lantern-shaped flowers and requires a site with partial to full sun for best results. Bloom time is late July and August.
STATICE--This is another well-liked dried flower variety, which produces tiny, papery-textured flowers in shades of white, peach, lavender, and rose on long, stiff stems. It's native to salt meadows but will do well in any well-drained soil, provided it gets enough water and sun. Statice prefers cooler temperatures and may grow from one to three feet tall, depending on the variety.
MONEY PLANT--This biennial is known by many names including honesty, satin flower, or silver dollar plant. Although it does produce tiny, fragrant flowers in the spring, it's grown largely for its flat, silvery, two-inch seed pods ("the money"). At maturity, plants are one and one-half to three feet tall. It likes light shade.

ACROCLINIUM--The flowers of this annual resemble asters or daisies but are generally smaller and more delicate. It grows best in well-drained, average-to-dry soil that gets full sun. Expect blooms about eight weeks after planting.

All of these dried flower varieties will hold their color and shape well if cut at the peak of maturity, handled gently, and hung upside down in a dry, shady place to air dry. Do not cut flowers on a wet or damp day. Depending on the variety, flowers will take from two to six weeks to dry.
Source: Everlasting - Dr. Leonard Perry University of Vermont
Plant and Soil Science