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February 16th 2017

Garden Planning: Part 2 Define and Assess

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I’m so excited to dig into garden planning today. If you missed yesterday’s post, be sure to hop back and read all about the planning kit we created, as we’ll be using this resource for the rest of the planning series.

You can download and print the kit for FREE when you preorder the Floret book (at any time, from any source worldwide).

And if you haven’t done so already, make sure you’ve answered these Six Important Questions. Write the answers down because you’ll need them to shape your plan over the coming days.

IMG_1550Alright, it’s time to dig in. The key to successful planning is balancing three key areas – your dreams, your limitations, and your needs.

First, it’s important to let yourself dream and scheme until your heart feels like it’s going to explode – in a good way! Let all of your ideas and wishes come out onto the paper. Don’t hold back, just let it flow. No editing here.

Floret_Sweet PeaNext, on a separate piece of paper, you need to get clear on what limitations you are facing at this point in your life, including time, land, money, help, kids, etc. When I started growing I had zero money, two small children and no help. But as the kids grew, so did my garden and the things I was able to grow. Naming your limitations isn’t meant to stop you from going for your dreams, but knowing what they are is vital. Otherwise you’re likely to bite off more than you can actually manage and will end up suffering rather than celebrating.

Floret_Bed Prep-6Finally, figure out what your needs are. For example, we grew flowers for grocery store accounts for many years. Our biggest customer, Whole Foods, wanted roughly 400-500 mixed bouquets per week along with an equal number of growers bunches (easy to grow annuals) and as many dahlias as we could muster.

At the time, I really, really wanted to focus on fancy flowers like garden roses and peonies. But I didn’t have the money to invest in expensive planting stock, or the precious field space to give up to a crop that produced for only a short window of time. On top of that, they wanted flowers as fast as I could produce them, so waiting 2-3 years for the first harvest was out of the question.

So instead, I focused my efforts on growing loads of fast flowering annual varieties that thrived in my climate, produced abundantly, and we’re very cheap to grow from seed. A small investment of money on the front end (compost, fertilizer, water, and seed) and a lot of hard work gave me exactly what needed to fill their orders and grow my little business.

floret_cutcare_cutting-your-flowers-3But to satisfy my longing for “fancy flowers”, every year I added a few roses, peonies, shrubs, vines and other goodies that I could use in my wedding and design work. I still got my fix without breaking the bank and cutting into prime real-estate in the field. As the business became more successful over time, I was eventually able to add all of the things I had longed for in the early years.

erinwalkMaybe you’re a floral designer who doesn’t have a reliable wholesaler in your area and you have a big backyard. I would suggest stocking your garden with lots of foliage plants that can serve as the base of your arrangements and then grow the hard to get varieties with unique coloring, or things that don’t ship well, like sweet peas, dinnerplate dahlias, and designer zinnias.

Or say you want to have fresh flowers for the house all summer long, plus enough to take to church and occasionally send home with friends, but you only have a few flower beds and you work full time. I’d recommend starting with some hard working, easy to grow workhorse varieties like zinnias or dahlias to tuck into your existing landscape and cut from all summer long.

After you’ve written out your dreams, your biggest limitations, and your needs it’s time to really dig in and make your wish list for the season to come.

Floret Cutting Garden Wishlist-3I generally have a running list of new varieties that I want to try which I add to throughout the season. Every time I visit a friend’s farm, or a nursery, or a public garden, the list inevitably grows. And once seed catalogs start flooding in, it quickly gets out of control.

To organize my thoughts, I land all potential varieties onto a fresh Cutting Garden Wish List. This is a place I let myself go crazy, and add EVERYTHING that looks remotely interesting, plus all of the tried and true workhorses that we rely on. I generally sort by types to make things a little easier later on. For example, I have a page just for roses, one for chrysanthemums, a few pages for dahlias, a few more for sweet peas, and then a big ole list of seeds. I note the variety name, how many I want, the source, the price and any extra notes. This is probably my favorite part of the entire planning process because I just let myself dream as big as I can without any limitations.

Floret Cutting Garden Wishlist-4Once I have the lists all written out I review my needs for the upcoming season. Last year, I was focusing on varieties that had unique colors, delicate shapes and some special trait that lent itself to flower arranging. Each year, the focus of the garden and what I need from it seem to change.

With my needs in mind, I then go through and star the varieties that have made the final cut. While I want every garden rose in the David Austin catalog, in reality I just need to find a few new sherbet toned varieties to round out the rose patch. And even though I think I need every single heirloom chrysanthemum in the King’s Mums catalog, it’s the incurve and spider types that will actually round out my fall bouquet. The process of weighing needs with wants is often tricky, and takes some time, but it is important to narrow your focus – I know, easier said than done.

Floret Measuring Beds-1The next step is to figure out exactly how much space you have to work with. You can use the Garden Planning Worksheet in the kit to do this or simply jot down notes on a piece of paper. I evaluate all of my current and potential garden sites by noting soil type, amount of sun, and the space dimensions. I pay special attention to how much full sun each area receives, if there is any standing water, existing root systems, unusual terrain or other site restrictions.

Floret Measuring Beds-2Then I get out a long measuring tape and measure the perimeter to determine the total square footage for each spot. All of this information will inform how I can lay out the garden and how many plants will fit in its spot. You might be in an area that’s covered deep in snow, but even some rough measurements will suffice for this part of the process.

Take some time to think about the season ahead and what you want and need from your garden. It may seem daunting right now but planning pays off in spades in the long run. Next in the series we’ll put pen to paper and start drawing out the garden of your dreams!

If you’re looking for some great new plant sources, here are a few of my favorites: David Austin Roses, Heirloom Roses, King’s Mums, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden Seeds, Arrowhead Dahlias, Uprising Seeds and Adelman Peonies.



  1. Matt on

    Excellent post. I am relitivly new to growing cut flowers ive been growing and selling anuals and dahlias for a few years now and was wondering if you had a post with specific info on growing peonies and roses for cutting?

  2. Lindsay on

    Wonderful advice! I wanted to see if you could recommend a cover crop for in season planting? Thank you!

  3. Brigette on

    Thanks for the post! I was wondering- will planting over a leach field and septic tank limit the flowers I can use? My only sunny space is in our front yard over the field and tank. From everything I’ve read, I can plant over them, but will that negatively effect the flowers planted? Thanks!

  4. Tania López on

    Hello! Beautiful pictures. Excuse my poour english. Greetings from Galicia.

  5. NicoleBex on

    Fantastic post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Kudos!

  6. Lindsey on

    So much great info, I love soaking up all the knowledge you share, thank you! I’m curious, have you ever tried seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom? I have not, but I am liking the selection they have.

  7. Carolyn Lacerra on

    Hello, I was just noticing your low tunnel conduit supports. How wide and tall are they? do you use 10′ conduit to make them? Thank you!

  8. Angela Wilson on

    I clicked on the David Austin Roses link and died and went to heaven.

  9. Debi on

    Book is ordered – planning has started! Thank you for this valuable information – heading out to the farm this afternoon to measure the “flower patch”. Last year’s flowers added so much to our organic veggie farm, that hubby (the farmer) is giving me an extra bed or two!

  10. Sonja Hakanson on

    As a 2nd year flower farmer, the information you are sharing couldn’t be coming at a better time. I was able to download the garden planning kit as well as the information on harvest and vase life. The information is clear and exactly what I have been looking for. It’s accessible but also goes into depth for people like me who are growing commercially. I also work at as a florist, and the information helps me handle flowers there as well. I’m looking forward to receiving my book and I hope that it will be as informative as the downloads and your blog posts.

    What I hope to see more of in the future is focus on sustainable practices and soil health. A glaring problem in the local floral movement is a lack of organic certified seeds and floral preservative products. If someone out there has an idea for floral preservatives that can be certified organic, go find some investors and get your idea out there!

    I truly appreciate all the hard work the Floret team has been doing to share all your hard earned knowledge. I look forward to growing my floral business with the help of Floret and all the other farmers in my network.

    Come to the Midwest for the MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainability Education Service) Organic Conference sometime!

  11. Annie on

    I have just discovered this amazing site and your bountiful farm! WOW! Can’t wait to get the book! I am in my second year of growing cut flowers on my allotment in the UK, mainly for the joy of it, for my home and to spread some love to my friends and colleagues. So many wonderful plants to grow – it’s hard to rein myself in and be realistic. Last year my favourites were corn cockles which were amazing – so sturdy and tall, and dahlias – of which I plan to grow many more. I love sweet peas and anenomes but cannot get any stem length on them at all – how on earth are you managing to grow such tall ones? I would love it if you would share that secret.

  12. Laura Funk on

    I love that you give suggestions for people with such a wide range of reasons for growing flowers. Thank you!

  13. Grace on

    Great advice!! I would love know which roses you have had the most success with especially the david austin roses. I have been adding roses each year to my garden but some have ended up being duds and got shovel pruned after 4-5 years. they are such an expensive investment knowing which ones others have had success with would be so helpful!!!!

  14. Alicia on

    Thanks so much for all the great information, you know what your doing!! Its coming at the perfect time :)

  15. Alicia on

    I am loving all this amazing information you are giving out!! I am so excited yet very nervous about starting my first cut garden. I am a freelance florist and hope to improve my “fancy” flower selection. I had pre-ordered your new book and was so happy to be able to download that 20 page garden design because it will come in handy right now. We mapped out a small little plot in my yard last weekend and my dad is going to help build a fence around it this weekend to keep my dogs out. I am so excited to have found you and all your knowledge!! I have ordered a variety of seeds (and more) from you and put them in seed trays to sow. Nothing has sprouted yet so I am a little sad/unsure of how long it actually takes AND not sure if I did it correctly. Oh well, trial and error. :)

  16. Helen on

    Thank you so much Erin! I love the idea of writing down the limitations of your situation – I wrote down strengths as well. Oh and I think I just spent half my day dreaming of all the garden roses and peonies I could have, if only… Thanks for another great post, looking forward to the rest of this series!

  17. Shannon on

    Love the information, thank you! Waiting eagerly for my book. I’m starting a cutting garden (hopefully) from scratch right now, although the planting date for my area has mostly passed, excited to see what I can do for the fall flowers and beyond.

  18. Riane on

    This was great information! I fell in love with big beefy garden roses but realized that not only are they a big investment to start my business but the freezing winters of RI aren’t the best environment. We have the perfect environment for peonies and growing annuals are affordable and fun! Its nice too hear little tidbits of how you started your farm as I have many of the same limitations (space, 2 kids etc.) Thanks for the awesome info!


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