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Full bloom.

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This spring, bring on the beauty--and get out your vases. Here's our complete guide to planting a cut-flower garden.

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Over the years, we've grown everything from heirloom tomatoes to beer hops in the Sunset Test Garden. But when garden design assistant Lauren Dunec Hoang started thinking about bouquets for her wedding, we realized it had been decades since we devoted our garden to one very obvious thing: cut flowers.

So we set out to create the ultimate cut-flower garden, one that would provide the blooms for Hoang's wedding and beyond. We started by asking expert growers for their picks. Nicholas Gitts of Oregon's Swan Island Dahlias, for example, recommended the aptly named 'Bride to Be' for its snowy white blooms. Annie Hayes of Annie's Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, California, suggested lime green Nicotiana langsdorffit, which can't be found in a typical nursery. "The best way to find amazing cut flowers is to scour seed catalogs or find specialty growers," she says.

After weeks of planning, we settled on not one but three garden plots: one for shade, one for a narrow space, and one as a full-blown "farm." Each takes the guesswork out of bouquet making, with focal points, foliage, and filler flowers growing together. The blooms wound up in the arrangements shown throughout this story, as well as in the bouquet Hoang clutched as she walked down the aisle. The best news: A cut-flower garden is a lesson in abundance. "No matter how many we cut," says Hoang, "there were always more flowers on the way."

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In the garden

In one of three cut-flower plots we planted in the Sunset Test Garden, bright pink 'Jitterbug', pale pink 'Chilson's Pride', and 'Tiny Treasure' dahlias stand with the help of bamboo stakes. Behind them, wispy Sensation cosmos reach almost 6 feet tall.

In the vase

Our homegrown dahlias were the starting point for this arrangement. Also in the mix are Champagne-colored 'Cafe au Lait' dahlias, spiky centers of spent coneflowers, and 'Alba' pincushion flowers. 'Green Tails' amaranth spills over the sides, while unripe blackberries and Thai basil sprigs add edible, aromatic touches.

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In the garden

In the sunniest part of the Test Garden, we planted long rows of flowers. Beds measure 3 feet wide, keeping the harvest within arm's reach. Far left, the dahlias and cosmos stand tallest. Next to them, nicotiana dangles its lime green bell-shaped flowers. Zinnias burst from the center bed, while to their right is lacy corn cockle, a less-weedy Queen Anne's lace substitute, and lime-leafed feverfew.

In the vase

Zinnias unify this combination, graduating in color from white to lime to coral. They're interspersed with unripe figs and blackberries, white dahlias, mint, Peruvian lilies, holly ferns, and coneflowers in various stages of bloom.

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In the garden

The perennial shade garden, opposite, will thrive for years. White Hydrangea paniculata shows off in the back. Chinese foxgloves offer oversize digitalis-like blooms in the middle, and mixed varieties of coral bells in front add handsome foliage and delicate pink flowers.

In the vase

The garden gave us everything we needed for this bouquet. The hydrangeas provide shape, while pink flowers and the coral bells' lime green leaves keep the arrangement bright.

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In the vase

This casual bouquet is like sunshine contained. It features a multicolored 'Autumn Beauty' sunflower, which is surrounded by 'Big Bear' sunflowers, orange Mexican sunflowers, golden sneezeweed, white feverfew, rosemary, and 'Green Tails' amaranth.

In the garden

Sunflowers' skinny habits and varying heights make them a perfect choice for a narrow spot of sun. We planted six varieties in a bed; fluffy 'Big Bear' blossoms are shown opposite.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:618
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