It’s fun to grow your own cut flowers.
You can either plant highly productive annuals among your border perennials and shrubs which will give you plenty for a vase or two a week or you can create your own cutting patch.
The flowers I am going to show you can be grown equally well for both options.
If you decide to create a dedicated cutting patch you need to consider the following:
Create a patch approx. 3 X 4M or (9 X 12 feet).
If you don’t have that much space then a smaller patch will work as well just with less flowers to pick or you can simply place the flowers amongst the beds and borders which is what I generally tend to do.
Please don’t be tempted to shove your patch in a shady corner or round the back of the shed thinking that you need to hide it. You really don’t, the flowers that I am going to show you are so productive that all you are really doing is deadheading a little early. The constant picking actually encourages more blooms, so providing you keep your plants well fed with the occasional slosh of tomato food around the roots the plant will actually produce more flowers and a better display in the garden as a result.
This will take about 2 hours’ work over the week once the season gets going.
It’s important to keep your patch or border weeded as the weeds will quickly rob the light and nutrients from your flowers.
This should produce, in the busiest months, 2-3 bunches or vases a week.
You can grow flowers for picking from March to November by supplementing the annuals with spring bulbs such as Hyacinths and Tulips or later in the season with Dahlias and Chrysanthemums.
Most arrangements need some kind of foliage. It must not be too dark or heavy such as evergreen shrubs like laurel which can overpower and drain out an arrangement.
Foliage does not have to be just leaves and some of the best foliage fillers are plants that have minimal understated flowers or those plants yet to flower that have themselves great leaves.
The idea is to create a background for flowers to shine and the key is to be happy enough with the foliage arrangement that it could stand up alone as a display.
All but the largest Euphorbias fit the bill brilliantly. As do Sedum’s.
During my ‘Chelsea Chop’ week I cut bucket loads of Sedum’s and rather than waste them by chucking them on the compost heap I created a house full of vases – they often last weeks and I end up changing the primary flowers to refresh the arrangement – they are an excellent foliage for the odd precious Tulip or Narcissus or later in the season Alliums.
Sarah Raven “In my opinion, the best foliage plant in the world”.
You must remember to wear gloves and be careful not to get the milky sap into your eyes.
These plants are probably best avoided if you have young children running about but otherwise I have never had any problems with them and they create wonderful displays. It self-sows and will even grow in the shade and I have found 2nd or 3rd year self-sows often make better plants, nature having placed itself in ideal conditions. Alternatives would be Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’ or Anethum Graveolens (Dill)
Cerinthe major var. purpurascens
Silvery leaves contrast with purple bell shaped flowers – invaluable as they flower in early spring.
They will often self-sow and flower later the same year so two batches for zero work!
I mix both these and Euphorbia’s with Tulips and Alliums for early vases.
Euphorbia Oblongata and Cerinthe Major fall into the ‘Hardy Annual’ category.
These are the backbone of the cutting garden and the easiest to do. They are tough and don’t go into a weak faint at the slightest cold snap. You can sow many hardy annuals in autumn where they will get off to a flying start then suspend over the winter before getting cracking again once the light levels increase.
Hardy Annuals can also be sown directly outside but don’t do this too early when sowing in spring as they won’t germinate if the soil is cold and wet and will likely just rot.
My beds and borders are so chocablock packed that I tend to sow everything under cover so I can create great stocky plants for instant impact in the garden that are then able to stand up for themselves rather than being smothered by the spring growing spurt and flowering bulbs.
Other hardy annuals include:
The Opium Poppy, elegant leaves with huge flowers this self-sows now in my garden and is just the job for hiding all the tulips and alliums as they go over before the Dahlia’s and perennials really get going. I just leave the seedlings and somehow amongst all those tulips emerges a wall of dark poppies. Enough for buckets of cut flowers and still more than enough to keep the garden looking amazing.
A quick run round with a trug once they are gone over and seeded gently for next year and the Dahlia’s are already up waiting to take the baton for the mid to later summer sprint.
These are so called bedding plants and they will flower solidly from mid-late June all the way into November providing we don’t get too many cold nights.
The name ‘cosmos’ comes from the Greek word for ‘ornament’.
This is by far and away the most productive plant of them all.
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’ has flowers of pure white, with delicate fresh-green foliage. This is the classic cut flower and you can get away with nothing else in the vase as the foliage does double duty.
If you want colour then you can’t beat Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ which has large, open, buttercup-like flowers of carmine-pink.
Cosmos are greedy for space and the more room you give them the larger they will grow. In previous years I have successfully restricted ‘Click Cranberries’ in a pot which was not staked.
To stake Cosmos use a large cane or similar plant support (there are many varied and lovely ones on the market for any style of garden) the plant will get super heavy over the season so do it early and tie in well (but not tightly – leave room for the stem to expand), don’t worry the support soon vanishes.
If you love the idea of Cosmos but you don’t want to be bothered with the staking then you are in luck…
Cosmos ‘Sonata’ is designed for pots and the front of the border. Being half the size of their bigger sisters they are much easier to manage but with the same outstanding flowers.
Cosmos ‘Gazebo’ promises the same short flowers as ‘Sonata’ but with much earlier flowers.
We are also trialling Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ this is a totally new Cosmos with unique soft-yellow blooms which again are produced in profusion on compact dwarf plants and will be a wonderful change from the usual shades of pink.
Cosmos can last 10 days in a vase and from July to November a 1m x1m patch can produce buckets and buckets of flowers over a season, you just can’t beat it.
This picture was taken in late November of my front border which is also my cutting patch, it is planted with:
Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Click Cranberries’, Cerinthe Major (for the 2nd time), Antirrhinum ‘White Giant’ and Dahlia ‘Mambo’.
This bed had been flowering a full 6 months and is easy to walk all the way around.
These are a world away from the Antirrhinum’s sold in the garden centre.
They are a knockout 4 feet tall. The seeds are quite expensive so you will want to take more care over the germination.
You can sow these in spring in the greenhouse or, on a warm windowsill or you can sow them in the autumn – I tend to do a bit of each so I can have the earlier blooms and then the later ones to pick once they are beginning to get a bit exhausted – I have had these growing until November for the last two years.
If the plant gets stressed it can develop rust so precautions are advisable. I really could not do without this plant; they need minimal staking to ensure you have straight stems for picking.
They have a vase life of 10 days with a tiny splash of cheap white vinegar in the water.
Zinnia ‘Giant Dahlia Mix’
These were new to me last year after having failed before and given up.
These are the most diva like of all the plants I am going to show you – I grow mine from seed but I keep them in the greenhouse just that bit longer than other annuals to really give them a kick start and protect them from any cold spells.
They also dislike root disturbance so it’s a good idea to sow them in individual cells in seed trays.
They really don’t like any cold at all and will collapse in a faint at the first frost. But my goodness they are worth the extra care.
My head has been turned.
I created a new flower border on the site of an old pond then bonfire. Just four months later it was ablaze with these magnificent Zinnia’s in eye popping colours.
All this from a free packet of seeds stuck to the front of BBC Gardeners World magazine!
The key is to keep them warm, so a site in full sun is a must.
Its also a good idea to stake them, their stems are very brittle so it’s impossible to try and prop them up later once they fall over.
The Zinnia’s pictured are ‘Hot Mix’.
This year we are trialling a whole host of different Zinnia’s to find out which are the very best to grow including some pale and green varieties – I can’t wait to see those!
Nurseries and garden centres will be packed full of annuals all summer long so it’s not too late to start your cutflower garden this year by buying in young plants. Be careful to check the eventual plant sizes on the labels before you make your way to the check-out as many bedding plants can be dwarf varieties.
Another plant to start now is biennials. These are plants and seeds which form roots and leaves in the first year, but only go onto flower the following year.
Don’t be put off by the hassle of sowing seeds and then having to wait a year – they are fantastic for filling the gap in spring between the end of the bulbs and the first of the annuals. So typically you would sow biennials in the summer for flowers next spring.
Foxgloves thrive in sun or shade. Use them as a vertical spike in any arrangement.
Any plants in the wrong place can be potted and moved.
Sweet rocket again thrives in sun or shade and is no relation to the salad leaf we all enjoy to eat.
This tall plant has clouds of flowers in either purple or white from late May. Both have a magical scent.
No cut flower garden would be complete without these stand out perennials.
This is the most talked about plant in my garden come mid-summer, technically a perennial and a tender one at that (TP). Its short lived so it’s wise to treat it like an annual and have fresh stock always in the pipeline.
It towers above almost everything else on light airy and surprisingly strong stems. No staking required!
It’s a magnet for bees and butterflies.
You will see this plant present in almost every picture of my summer garden. Other than protection from the harshest winter weather it needs little care and will grow in the driest poorest soils.
It self-sows but I tend to help it along by collecting the seed to sow undercover in spring. The seedlings grow quickly with very little care and attention and will flower the same year.
Is the mainstay of the spring garden, flowering even before the Tulips and continuing all the way through to July.
It looks outstanding when planted with Hyacinth ‘Purple Sensation’.
Plant this tender, and like Verbena bonariensis, short-lived perennial (mine normally last 3-4 years) in a pot or well drained neutral to alkaline soil where it will produce long spires of deep mauve flowers which look wonderful in an arrangement or even as a bunch on their own.
Propagation is through cuttings in the spring.
There is a huge array of Pelargonium’s to choose from and you would not immediately think of them as cut flowers but consider those long stemmed varieties.
They have a vase life of up to three weeks!
At Swan Cottage we have been trialling different varieties for a number of years and two come out head and shoulders over the others.
This plant has delicious rose-scented leaves with large hot, pink flowers – fantastic for six months at a stretch. If I had to choose just one this would be it.
The scent is intoxicating and I cannot walk past it without rubbing the leaves between my fingers!
This more delicate Pelargonium has pretty pale pink flowers and an amazing rose scent.
It’s a real wrench come December to finally bring them in. I have giant pots and by the end of the season the Pelargonium dominate making them real value for money.
In my greenhouse these plants continue to flower right through the winter and they are simple to propagate through cuttings.
Dahlias are a big part of the late summer garden at Swan Cottage and we have trialed over hundreds of different varieties over the years.
This dahlia has deep red black spiky cactus-like flowers. The flower spikes are long which makes it an excellent cut flower and a superb background flower for almost anything else – I often can’t keep up with the flowers and give bunches and bunches away to friends and family.
This dahlia reliably comes back year on year
You must remember to deadhead or the plant, thinking it’s done its job of reproduction, will stop flowering. If you forget you can tell the difference between the new buds and the spent flowers easily:
- New buds are round like a marble;
- Spent flowers are conical shaped buds – pointed at one end.
Dahlias are hungry and thirsty plants so make sure you feed and water them regularly and they will reward you with flowers until the first frosts. A good weekly slosh of tomato food or seaweed solution is ideal.
With careful over-wintering this dahlia will emerge in the spring bigger and better and the tubers can then be divided to create more plants.
Last year I planted some in pots, but by the end of the season those pots were 50L tree pots!
I lined them up against a fence which had a trellis and tied them in every week as required. This gave me a wall of flowers late into the autumn. The plants were then simply cut down and the pots stored in the shed to protect them.
In my next blog I will explain how to care for your cut flowers …………………………….
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