AUGUST 18, 2020FOLIAGE – THE SECRET TO FABULOUS BOUQUETS!

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GROW YOUR OWN CUTTING GARDEN: SUCCESS FROM SEED TO VASE

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When I first started growing flowers, like most people, I was completely enamored with all the beautiful blooms. I would go out into my garden and cut loads of flowers in different colors and drop them all in a jar. Voila! Perfect!

But eventually, something didn’t seem quite right. Why did my homemade bouquets look so… well, homemade? I wanted to make them look classier, a bit more polished looking.

That is when I discovered the importance of FOLIAGE. 

While out cutting flowers one day, I noticed all the sage growing in my herb garden. I clipped a few stems, added them to the flowers and WOW!!! The sage provided a wonderful backdrop to highlight all the blooms and I began to realize that foliage might even be MORE important than flowers!

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At my U-Pick Flower Garden, I often have visitors come up with their flowers and say “Help! I feel like I’m missing something.” I lead them over to my beds of foliage, cut a few stems for them and watch their eyes light up with joy as they see what a difference it makes!

Early on, I was advised that half of my cutting garden should be foliage. That seemed pretty extreme to me and I thought I knew better than the experts.

Silly me. That first season, I was always scrambling for more foliage. Since then, I’ve made it a point to grow WAY more foliage each season. I’ve now reached the point where I get more excited about foliage than I do about the blooms!

I hope when you’ve finished reading this blog post, you’ll feel the same way… or at least have a new appreciation for all that luscious greenery!

ANATOMY OF A BOUQUET/ARRANGEMENT

To achieve a full, lush, professional looking arrangement, it’s helpful to pay attention to the 3 main parts:

Focal: The center of attention, usually 1-3 main blooms. The rest of the arrangement is built upon the focal flowers.

Filler: The majority of the arrangement. These smaller flowers/plants compliment the focal flowers.

Foliage: The backbone/foundation of the arrangement. Provides structure, mass and enhances the flowers.

Here’s an example below….

Focal: Dahlia

Filler: Ammi, Celosia, Cosmos, Statice

Foliage: Lemon Bee Balm, Scented Geranium

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See how the foliage and filler really compliment the focal flower?

Here is a list of some of the foliage we grow at Three Acre Farm to get you inspired!

ASPARAGUS

Every spring during planting season, I walk past my asparagus bed about 18 million times a day and think “I really need to harvest that asparagus!” And then I don’t. And then the asparagus spears transform into these huge towering ferns… that actually look awesome bouquets! It makes me feel not quite so bad about missing asparagus season… again. 😉 

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BASIL

Basil makes a wonderful, long lasting foliage if cut at the proper stage and time of day. Be sure to cut it after the stems have become “woody” and cut very early in the day or in the late evening (coolest parts of the day). Basil cut in the heat of the day will wilt almost immediately and has a hard time recovering. “Mrs. Burn’s Lemon” is delightfully scented and a lovely lime green. “Amoratto” is a beautiful mixture of dark green/violet.

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BELLS OF IRELAND

One of my favorite foliages! Harvest when you see the tiny white flowers inside the “bells” begin to open up.

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BLACKBERRY FOLIAGE

If you have blackberry plants, they can do double duty as a fruit and foliage plant. Double points if you grow “thornless” blackberries, like I do 😉

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BUPLEURUM

When this is in season, I start every single bouquet with a stem of Bupleurum. The wiry, sturdy stems are the perfect base for weaving other flowers into. The bright cheery lime green color compliments nearly every color scheme.

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DILL

Perhaps Dill belongs in the “filler” category, but I wanted to mention it because it’s so fantastic. Allow the head to shed the little yellow flowers and wait until they form bright green seed pods. They truly sparkle in bouquets!

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EUPHORBIA (“SNOW-ON-THE-MOUNTAIN”)

I grew this for the first time this year… and I’m torn. The foliage is STUNNING and everyone swoons over it. But…. I feel like I need to wear a hazmat suit while harvesting it. The stems leak sticky white sap that irritates skin. And can cause major eye irritation. And it gets SUPER wilty if I cut if after the sun is up. Not sure if I’ll grow it again.

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FLAX

Yes, this is the same plant you get “flax seed” from. The plant sends up little blue flowers, but I wait until those are gone and harvest the seed pods instead. They look so sparkly and playful in bouquets!

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FROSTED EXPLOSION/SPRINKLES GRASS

This grass is magical. A few stems here and there, and your bouquet shimmers. 

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GRAPEVINE

We grow Concord grapes in the garden for eating/juice…. but the foliage is beautiful too! It looks lovely with the fall blooming flowers.

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LEMON BALM (MELISSA OFFICINALIS)

A member of the mint family, this stuff will spread like crazy. The good news is it smells AMAZING and you can dry the leaves to make tea. Not so bad after all! Wait until the stems are “woody” and firm before cutting, and cut only in the cool of the day.

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LEMON BEE BALM (MONARDA CITRIODORA)

This is a fun looking plant that can double as a flower or foliage. The gray/green/pink color scheme looks great with almost anything. It has a tendency to wilt, so harvest in the cool of the day and wait until the stems are “woody” and firm.

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LOVE-IN-A-PUFF

This dainty, delicate looking vine is so much fun. The little lantern-like seed pods are adorable, playful and festive. Inside each seed pod are 3 round seeds with hearts on them. No joke! “Love-in-a-Puff” indeed! The tiny white flowers are adored by pollinators. 

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MINT

Mint spreads like CRAZY, so be forewarned…. But it’s lovely in bouquets… and mojitos 😉 “Apple Mint” is a great variety for cut flower use. 

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MOUNTAIN MINT (PYCNANTHEMUM PILOSUM)

Apparently there are other types of Mountain Mint that flower farmers swear by… but I planted the wrong kind. Ha! Anyway, I’m glad I made the mistake. I adore this Mountain Mint. It smells fantastic, doesn’t spread aggressively like regular mint, and the stems form beautiful flowers later in the season. A winner in my book!

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NINEBARK

When I first started flower farming, I asked a florist what was her favorite foliage to work with. Without hesitation, she said “Ninebark. Plant as many as you can. They are AMAZING.” She was right. Ninebark is actually a large shrub, so you’ll have to find one at your local plant nursery. Be sure to not cut more than ⅓ of the plant each season. “Autumn Jubilee” is my favorite.

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ORACH (ATRIPLEX)

This is actually a type of spinach. Instead of harvesting the greens, allow the plant to “bolt” and go to seed. The seed pods look like glitter in bouquets!

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OREGANO

Oregano looks unassuming until it forms it’s lovely little while flowers later in the season. They look fantastic in bouquets and add a nice herbal scent. 

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PENNY CRESS

These “weedy” looking plants form fun, playful looking seed pods that add great textural interest to bouquets. They can also be dried! This is a “once and done” plant – you get one stem per plant. 

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PERSIAN CRESS

The more sophisticated cousin of Penny Cress, Persian Cress looks elegant and sparkly in bouquets. They grow fast and it’s best to plant/sprinkle more seeds every week for a continued harvest.

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PLECTRANTHUS

I’ve grown Dusty Miller for years now, but can never seem to get it to grow tall enough to use in bouquets. I’m so glad I found “Silver Shield” Plectranthus instead! The stems easily get 18-24” long and they hold up well (over 2 weeks!) if harvested in the cool of the day and when the stems are more mature. The beautiful silver-green color is fantastic!

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SAGE

Regular old garden sage is a lovely plant to work with. In the spring, they send up beautiful violet blooms. If you cut the plants back after blooming, they will reward you with gorgeous silver-gray foliage. Cut in the cool of the day and when the stems are “woody”. 

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SCENTED GERANIUM

Hands down, Scented Geranium is the MVP on my farm. People are always surprised when I show it to them because it looks so unassuming…. But add just one stem to a bouquet and WOW! That’s exactly what it needed.

Most flowers have no scent and that is a real bummer. So, instead, I always try to add some scented foliage to the bouquet to delight the senses. Scented Geranium plants come in a HUGE variety of scents. My favorites are “Attar of Rose” (rose scented), “Orange Fizz” (orange scented – for real!) and “Sweet Mimosa” (earthy, floral scent).

Scented Geranium is grown via cuttings, not seed, so you’ll need to buy a plant at a nursery. 

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SHISO/PERILLA

This culinary herb widely used in Japanese culture also looks beautiful in the vase! Allow the plants to mature and begin forming flowers/seed heads, otherwise they will wilt. Harvest in the cool of the day. 

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SPIREA

If you have any of these shrubs in your landscaping, they are great for foliage… and even their spring blooming flowers look beautiful!

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SWEET ANNIE (ARTEMISIA)

This herb has a delightful sweet scent. The lacy foliage develops tiny yellow flowers later in the season. Can be dried for herbal wreaths. 

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COMMENTS (29)

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Susan Rooney 4 months ago · 0 Likes  

Having moved to an apartment, I am starting a mainly cutting garden (some vegs) in our community garden. I was looking for ideas for foliage, and this article gave me all of the information I needed and more. I’m so thankful for it.

One comment I will make is that it would be nice to have the botanical name for each plant. Your Mountain Mint was a fortuitous mistake, but usually it is better to know exactly what one is looking for.

You have given me so many great ideas that I might have to annex the adjacent plot next year!

lashell staley 6 months ago · 0 Likes  

Hi Lori, great post. I grow some of these for fill. I just finally found seed for the correct mountain mint! Which varieties are you direct seeding beside dill? I love dill. Also I really like Sweet Annie for the fragrance. But…it is a bug magnet here. Do you have that problem? Thanks!!!!

Lori Hernandez 6 months ago · 0 Likes  

Lashell, glad you enjoyed it! I direct sow Cress, Flax, Dill, Bupleurum, Love-in-a-Puff, Orach and Shiso.

My Sweet Annie never does real great here and I’m not sure why. People say it’s an invasive in their garden. I wish it would invade my garden! Don’t notice any issues with it attracting bugs….

Laura VanWyk 7 months ago · 0 Likes  

Thanks, Lori. I enjoyed this post. I live near you and am wondering if you know a nursery in the area that sells the scented geranium.

Lori Hernandez 6 months ago · 0 Likes  

Hi Laura,
Glad you enjoyed it! Scented Geranium can be hard to track down. You could try Creekside Growers in Middleville. I’ve seen them there in the past.

Or you can order plants online and have them shipped to your house. I think Select Seeds and Mountain Valley Growers would be able to help you out!

Olivia 10 months ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you for this blog post! So much helpful information in here… and great pictures! I am on edge, ready to try all of these next year.

Lori Hernandez 10 months ago · 0 Likes  

Olivia,
You’re welcome! Glad to help out and grateful to find a fellow foliage lover 😉

Gayle A year ago · 0 Likes  

False indigo is one of my favorite fillers especially since the flowers are one of the first in the season. Thanks for the beautiful thoughts!

Lori Hernandez 11 months ago · 0 Likes  

I put in about 50 of these plants this spring, because I friend highly recommended them as a foliage plant. Can’t wait for them to grow!

Shirley James A year ago · 0 Likes  

I so enjoyed this article! I have the hope of having a similar business as yours and am gathering information anyway I can. This has given me so many different filler plants and I am so grateful for you sharing. May God continue to bless your business and use you to bring so much joy to so many people with your gardens flowers!

Lori Hernandez 11 months ago · 0 Likes  

Shirley,
So glad to hear this was helpful! Thank you for your kind words!

holly A year ago · 0 Likes  

What a great read!Im just starting off in the world of cut flowers and foliage. I’m growing Love-in-a-Puff and am perplexed how to harvest it?!! It’s hard to find an end that also has the pods on them without cutting off a giant chunk of the plant. But it is so beautiful and fun. 😊 I’ll definitely order some ninebark to add to my foliage. Thanks for the information!!

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Hi Holly, thanks for your kind words! As for Love-in-a-Puff…. there’s no good way 😉 Just pull and cut. It will make more to replace the stems you cut.

I did hear someone suggest growing it a hanging basket, which allows the stems to trail down, making it much easier to cut. That might be the ticket!

Sue A year ago · 0 Likes  

Thanks for the great ideas! I made a bouquet this morning that included blackberry foliage and carrot foliage! It definitely makes a difference.

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Yes! What a fun idea to use the carrot foliage. I bet it looks perfect!

Sally A year ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you for this blog and all of your blogs. I live in Northern Canada yet I find your garden and mine are blooming and struggling at the same times. Your weekly blog keeps me inspired to keep going with my little cut flower business when I think there is no hope. Thank you so much please keep blogging.

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Hi Sally,
Thanks so much for sharing! Yes, there are so many struggles… but it all makes the joys that much sweeter. We’ve had a strange year and I’m STILL waiting for my dahlias to start producing well. Oh well… so it goes! There is always hope in gardening…. it’s called “Next year” 😉

holly A year ago · 0 Likes  

What a great list of foliage! I planted some of these this year and plan to try some of the others you mentioned. Thank you for the wonderful information.

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

You’re so welcome! I Finally think I planted enough this year, but I’m always looking for more ideas, especially with shrubs and trees

Erin Evans A year ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you so much for this! I am ordering seeds for my backyard / friends-and-family garden next summer and I don’t have enough foliage at all. Time to add a bed to my plans and up my seed order!

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Yes! You’ll be so glad you did! When I harvest for bouquets, it’s about equal amounts of buckets of flowers and foliage. If I run out of foliage, I have to stop making bouquets – it’s that important!

Rob Sherriff A year ago · 0 Likes  

I’ve been reading your blogs with great interest Lori as I’m also a very keen cut flower grower in Suffolk, UK. I sell bunches of cut flowers by the hundreds from my home, mainly dahlias, sweet peas, chrysanthemums, alstroemeria, and dried flowers that local florists just love. I really must add foliage to my growing season and this is the perfect blog with which to start. Many thanks for sharing your expertise and tips and I sympathise with you and the dishonest persons taking flowers without payment. I’ve just put in cctv and caught the person who has been doing it for years at last!
Keep up the brilliant work.
Cheers
Rob

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Hi Rob,
Thanks for your kind words! Yes, you’ll be so happy about growing foliage. My first year, about all I had was sage, and I’ve grown to love it. Mint and oregano are great too. It’s a great way to use some of those herbs that I don’t get around to using in the kitchen.
Grateful to hear you were able to put a stop to the theft at your home! Many blessings as you continue your good work of bringing brightness and beauty to the world.

michele A year ago · 0 Likes  

I forgot, most importantly —-you’re flowers are absolutely beautiful !! It is obvious they are loved.

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

Oh, thank you! Yes, they certainly are.

Anne Durham A year ago · 0 Likes  

Such a thorough and helpful post. Thank you for sharing!

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

You’re so welcome!

michele A year ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you so much for all the interesting ideas, now I know names( for some of the arrangements I order from the florist), to include in my requests . I am not a fan of baby’s breath , roses or roundy moundy arrangements. I am always looking for different fillers and greens. I also enjoy pods , feathers and sticks in my arrangements. Thank you again

Lori Hernandez A year ago · 0 Likes  

“Roundy moundy” 😉 Ha! Love that. Like you, I prefer a more loose, natural looking style. The foliage is key to creating that look!Newer PostSeed Saving for BeginnersOlder PostEndless Summer: An Ode to Everlasting Flowers

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