Betsy Arriola's garden nestles close to a cluster of charming cottages by a small roadside stand in New Ulm, Texas. The stand is stocked with colorful fall favorites from Betsy's cut-flower business, Country Petals. Blooms are sold on the honor system. Customers choose bouquets and drop money into a nearby can.
A talented floral designer, Betsy specializes in generous, airy masses of flowers. "Sweet peas are a local favorite, and they're easy if set out between October 15 and Thanksgiving," she says. (Refer to the seed packet for the best times to sow in your area.) Betsy adds, "Plant them early enough to bloom freely before hot weather arrives in late spring. 'Painted Lady' and 'Cupani' are two of my favorite sweet peas because of their ease of growing and intense fragrance."
Other great cool-weather choices include larkspurs, bishop's flowers (Ammi majus), Drummond phlox, cosmos, bells-of-Ireland, toadflax (Linaria sp.), and Shasta and ox-eye daisies. To save seeds from year to year, harvest them as they begin to dry, and store them in a cool, dry place till planting time.
The Perfect Plot
Betsy begins by amending her soil with large amounts of organic matter. She prefers using composted cow manure; however, any fine-composted material will work. A light application of a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 14-14-14 product, can be applied on top of the compost and worked into the soil at the same time. After raking the rows, water them well so that the soil can settle prior to seeding.
Soon after sowing, install support stakes or trellises for sweet peas and taller flowers. Thin young seedlings to about 4 inches apart to help them reach their potential. Once they begin blooming, cut the flowers often to encourage profuse production. Then, share your bounty with friends and others in your community.
BETSY'S EASY FIVE-STEP ARRANGEMENT
"Floral Designer's 5-Step Flower Bouquet" is from the September 2005 issue of Southern Living.