Bunnies, puppies, chickens, children, friends, and neighbors—and a whole lot of flowers. These are the things in Kate Graham’s Bluff Park yard and garden that bring her the most joy. They are all part of a home and lifestyle she has been cultivating and nourishing since she and husband Will purchased their house 13 years ago.
At the time, Kate was working at a corporate firm in marketing. But when children came along, it seemed to make more sense for Kate to stay at home with their growing family. To fill the hours of nap time, she gravitated toward her interest in gardening and began experimenting with various plants and flowers to see what worked—and what didn’t. “I’m not a master gardener, so there was a lot of trial and error involved,” says Kate. “But I am a researcher, and I was determined to figure out what worked for me.”
The Grahams’ yard isn’t large—just under an acre—and Kate’s garden is surprisingly a very small part of it. Her main planting bed is merely 14 feet by 49 feet. The rest of her planting area consists of border gardens that line her front walk and continue around the backyard playhouse along with roses that climb up the back of the house. “Anyone can do this if they do it wisely,” Kate says.
Kate’s flower crop is prolific enough to provide bouquets for 20 regular subscribers (weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly), special orders (she created 30 bouquets for Mother’s Day this year), and small weddings and celebrations on occasion. “I only grow things I can cut and use in bouquets,” Kate says.
Those cuttings vary throughout the year beginning with February blooms of winter Daphne, iris, daffodils, hellebores, and tulips. “Every space is used all of the time. When one flower fades, something else is ready to go,” says Kate.
Spring ushers in peonies and early roses, along with foxglove, forget-me-nots, bachelor buttons, and more. Summertime is zinnia season followed by dahlias and plenty of other varieties before and in between. “Seasonality is what makes the flowers so special,” Kate says. “Just like people who share their fresh vegetables, it’s fun for me to share what I have growing with my clients.”
In addition to her cutting garden, Kate preserves figs from the two small fig trees in her backyard (thus the name, Fig and Fern). “I can preserve 150-200 jars a season,” she says. “People really seem to love them. Like the flowers I grow, the preserves aren’t something you can get in a grocery store.”
Getting Your Cutting Garden Started
Kate insists that anybody can create a cutting garden—no matter their level of expertise. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Don’t plant one of 40 different things. Pick just a handful of varieties and plant them in sections to see what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t obsess over garden design. Kate’s garden is set against a chain-link fence. Rebar supports roses and dahlias, and the PVC pipes on her homemade sprinkler system are exposed. “There’s nothing super fancy about it,” Kate says. Similarly, she stores off-season bulbs in Tupperware containers in her garage. Seeds are wintered in plastic storage bags in her freezer.
Learn your zone. Birmingham is in USDA Hardiness Zones 7b and 8a. This means what may grow well on the west coast doesn’t necessarily thrive here. Kate suggests taking advantage of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ free resource library. “I also like taking field trips once a month to see what is blooming and take notes,” she says.
Find a mentor. “People who love flowers enjoy talking to other people who love flowers,” Kate says. “Find someone who has been gardening longer than you have and seek their advice. That knowledge will save you the heartache of trial and error if someone can share their wins and losses with you.”
Take note of what you already have; then use it, and build on it. A cutting garden is more than just a pack of zinnia seeds.
Create a cheat sheet. Kate keeps a spreadsheet of everything that grows in her yard. “Each plant and flower is listed, along with what sort of care each plant requires,” she says. Notes include when to plant, when to fertilize, etc. “It’s much less daunting with a guide.