Iris and Other Cut Flower Candidates

flag iris (Iris germanica)

flag iris (Iris germanica)

Q: I would like to know which flowers you think are best for cutting. I live in Monte Nido in the Santa Monica Mountains and we have a micro-climate that can and does go down into the upper 20s in January and February.
– Susan Conviser, Calabasas
A: Cut flowers come from tough plants that may be grown either in the ground or in containers, in full sun or partial shade, in sub-tropical or frosty climates. These plants are classified as herbaceous perennials and produce fleshy, underground reproductive structures known as bulbs, rhizomes, tubers and corms. Each season has its own herbaceous perennials from which cut flowers may be taken:
Starting this month, the least publicized, yet perhaps most glorious, herbaceous perennial begins to bloom. I am talking about the fleur-de-lis, the opulent iris, of course. Seldom seen in nurseries, this rhizomatous plant, also known as the flag iris, should not be confused with the Dutch iris, a weak bulbous specimen that will bloom for two successive years, at best, before it disappears from Valley gardens.
The flag iris, by contrast, will last a life time, as long as its rhizomatous clumps are divided every few years. There are hundreds of iris varieties available in the trade that are accessible from mail order and Internet catalogs. For everything you ever wanted to know about irises, you can contact the American Iris Society ( or our own San Fernando Valley Iris Society (
Because of their low water requirement, there is no plant more suitable for Valley gardens. Irises will bloom more with some supplemental water and fertilization, and should definitely benefit from our heavy rains, but they should not be heavily watered in the summer since, being of desert origin, their rhizomes will rot.
For fragrance, no plant surpasses ‘Paper White’ narcissus. Its scent is so strong that it will easily overpower any other odors in the vicinity. Jonquils, which will start blooming in late winter, are miniature daffodils with a spicy smell. And do not forget those winter-blooming birds-of-paradise (Strelitzia).
Hippeastrum is the cut flower of choice for late winter and spring gardens. These plants are known as amaryllis and produce gigantic trumpets of orange-red, pink and white. They spread slowly but, once they have naturalized an area, are beyond compare.
The work horse of the herbaceous perennial garden is the spring- blooming lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus). Although most famous for its 3-to-4-foot-tall porcelain-blue varieties, there are also violet and white cultivars, as well as dwarf types. These are also plants for a lifetime as long as they are divided every several years.
You can have a summer full of orange and yellow cut flowers if you plant a patch of daylilies (Hemerocallis). There are scores of daylily varieties, including burgundy- and double-flowered versions, although, like irises, you must go to mail-order and Internet sources to appreciate the full spectrum of this plant’s charms. At summer’s end, the naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna) blooms in fair-size trumpets of pink. In summer’s shade, you can be refreshed with the cooling white of calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica).
Peruvian lilies (Alstromeria) are mentioned here as fall bloomers in order to complete the seasonal garden picture for the cut-flower enthusiast, although they may be found in flower at almost any time of the year.

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