The Best Cutting Flowers...

A bouquet lover's dream garden
No matter how well stocked your supermarket is, there are great cut flowers you aren't likely to see there. Charming blooms like cleome, cosmos, and bishop's lace full of personality and cottage-garden softness are too fragile to ship. But they're a snap to grow.

So indulge. Now's a perfect time to shop for seeds and get your plot ready. Here are nine unsung beauties to consider, a planting plan, and the secret to long vase life.

Nine unsung beauties

Cosmos (C. bipinnatus), left. Daisylike flowers, 3 to 4 inches wide, with tufted yellow centers; available in shades of white, pink, and dark rose. Charming appearance, proliferation of bloom, long season. For longer vase life, cut while yellow center florets are still closed.

Cleome (C. hasslerana). Large, rounded heads of pink or white flowers with long, protruding stamens. Dramatic flower, long season. Foliage has a strong, haylike scent. Dried seed capsules also useful in arrangements.

3. Phlox (P. drummondii), pictured with purple-tipped cerinthe. Large clusters of small flowers in pastel and bright colors, some with contrasting eyes . Great mixer; long season; clean, pleasant fragrance. Make sure you select a tall (about 1 1/2-foot) rather than dwarf (6- to 8-inch) strain.

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena). Spurred, 1-inch-wide flowers in shades of blue, white, and pink; followed by decorative seedpods. In mild-winter areas, resow in fall for a second crop.

5: Sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Large (4- to 8-inch) daisylike flowers with black centers, plus chrysanthemum-like forms; mostly yellows, also bronzes and chestnut reds. Bold blooms, long season. To avoid pollen stains on tablecloths, select pollenless varieties like 'Valentine' (left).

Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). Long (to 18 inches), pendulous ropes of red flower clusters. Good with bold companions like zinnias and sunflowers. Nice dried flower.

7. Zinnia (Z. elegans), left. Large (3- to 5-inch) blooms in every color but blue. Long season.

Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum). 2 1/2-inch-wide papery flowers look like prickly pompons. Available in pearly pastels and brights. Long season, excellent dried flower. Cut before the flowers are fully open.

Bells-of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis). Columns of apple green bells on long stems. Long bloom season. Flowers handsome when dried in the vase.

Beautiful bouquet fillers
Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum), left. Striking single or double flowers of pink, cream, lavender, and purple.

Annual clary (Salvia viridis Claryssa). 18-inch stems covered with showy pink, purple, and white bracts. Dries well.

Bishop's lace (Ammi majus). White, snowflake-shaped clusters. Good with everything.

Cerinthe (C. major 'Purpurascens'). Purplish upper leaves, tubular purple flowers.

A dream cutting garden
Front row: Lavender and blue cerinthe and darker love-in-a-mist surround phlox.

Second row: White cosmos are flanked by chartreuse bells-of-Ireland backed by white bishop's lace.

Third row: Zinnias grow on either side of salvia in blue, rose, and white.

Fourth row: Deep red love-lies-bleeding and cherry pink cleome flank pink and rose cosmos.

Rear: Sunflowers and strawflowers.

Planting your flower bed
Choose a site that gets plenty of sun and protection from wind. To improve soil texture, mix in some compost or other organic material.

Several weeks before planting, force out weeds: Irrigate the soil, wait for weeds to emerge, then hoe them out; repeat at least once.

Decide how many plants will fit in your area. Outline the boundaries for each variety by marking the soil with gypsum. Once danger of frost is past, you're ready to plant.

Make way for seedlings
Sow seeds according to package instructions. Water soil and keep it moist until seedlings emerge. Thin seedlings as directed on seed packets.

Cut flowers to spur production
If rainfall is scant, apply about an inch of water per week. Don't be shy about picking blossoms; the more you cut, the more the plants keep pumping out flowers. Clip any faded blooms you missed.

How to keep cut flowers fresh
Pick flowers early in the morning or just after sunset. Take a bucket of tepid water with you and place stems in it as you go.

Fill the kitchen sink with cool water and recut each stem under water. Pull off any foliage that will be below water level in the vase.

Fill a vase with lukewarm water and a floral preservative. To make your own, mix one part regular (not diet) lemon-lime soda to three parts water, or stir 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a crushed aspirin into 24 ounces of water.