Cutting gardens: Where bouquets are born
Once there was a time when people routinely set aside a part of the yard to raise flowers for the vase.
Cutting gardens are an odd duck these days, but there was a time when people routinely set aside a part of the yard to raise flowers for the vase.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A well-planned and -tended cutting garden could provide months of floral treats, from the pussy willows and daffodils of March to the dahlias and salvias of September. Perhaps the renewed interest in vegetable gardening will lead to a revival in cutting gardens, which need the same sort of terrain (flat and sunny) and methodical attention.
But what would happen if an entire landscape was devoted to the vase? The result would be something like Bob Wollam's 11-acre spread on the rural fringes of Northern Virginia. Seven of the acres are given to raising cut flowers for local markets and florists.
A thick row of zinnias extends for hundreds of feet in a rainbow, much like the sequential color schemes of Gertrude Jekyll, the mother of the English flower garden. An acre or so of the panicled hydrangea covers a hillside in domed mopheads, now aging to a sublime rose color. I have never seen such a massing of the shrub. Elsewhere, sunflowers are in a sloping field in various stages of maturity, some still young so late in the year.
Here at Wollam Gardens, on the outskirts of Jeffersonton, Va., in Culpeper County, all the ways we segregate plants go out the window. Annuals, shrubs, and tropicals grow cheek by jowl for their flowers, stems, leaves and buds. This melange in the field becomes a harmonious medley in the vase, a transforming alchemy that has played to the human psyche for centuries. Dutch Masters painted impossibly eclectic floral arrangements, familiar to anyone who has walked the galleries of a great art museum or slept in a chain hotel. The framed prints, if we note them, speak to the bounty of the garden and the joy of being one's own florist.
For Mr. Wollam, a former marketing executive with Exxon Mobil, the enterprise has grown steadily over the past 18 years. He has two farm managers and half a dozen part-time helpers. He said that in spite of the recession he has seen sales grow by about 10 percent this year. He and his staff sell at eight area farmers markets and deliver to 14 florists. They offer packages for weddings and parties, and plans are in the works to expand further.
To those who think all flowers these days come from Colombia or through the Dutch flower markets, Wollam has news.
"It's certainly a terrific time for local flower growers. Our time has come. We have finally been able to break the noose of the importers," he says.
Some of Wollam's flowers are difficult or require a greenhouse. These include the lovely roselike lisianthus, the pastel-hued Icelandic poppies and the fragrant trusses of sweet pea. But other plants are within reach of the home grower: The decorative and waterlily forms of the dahlia, easy to grow with a little devotion, look fabulous when harvested.