October in the cutting garden

Even though we are well into Autumn and temperatures have dipped this past couple of weeks, there are still a multitude of flowers to pick in my cutting garden. The annual flowers will continue until we get the first frosts, which I'm hoping are a little way off, as yet.

Autumn berries
Rudbekia, Viburnum tinus, Viburnum opulus berries, Scabious, Cosmos

I've had a bit less time to spend cutting flowers since my youngest started school in September as I've started offering a garden maintenance service for the gardens that we've built at Miles Garden Design, in addition to upping the number of hours I am out working with my husband on the garden builds. I've been doing a lot of wheelbarrowing of bark, manure and turf during our latest build - it's a glamourous life! Still, when I have the opportunity, it is a luxury to be able to go into the back garden and pick an armful of flowers for the house while leaving lots in the beds and borders for the bees and other pollinators.

Annuals

There are an abundance of Cosmos to pick and a lesser number of Zinnias, which are usually really productive at this time of year, but for me are just producing a few flowers each week. I'm going to direct sow my Zinnias next year to see if this helps them fare better. I've cleared the beds of some hardy annuals which had come to the end of their flowering lives and have replaced these with biennial Sweet Williams (sown in the Summer) for flowering early next Spring. My Scabious are still flowering away, I have a few Ammi to cut for fillers and some late-sown Salvia viridis 'Blue' (Clary Sage) are producing lovely blue-purple bracts that make a nice linear addition to a vase. Chrysanthemum 'Polar Star' is producing some welcome daisy-like flowers. Coreopsis 'Incredible Tall Mix' and Rudbekia 'Cherry Brandy' are providing lovely Autumnal-hued flowers.

Salvia viridis
Salvia viridis with Cosmos, Roses, Ammi, Cornflowers, Dahlia, Malope, Nigella

Perennials

We have a number of Autumn flowering perennials in the garden borders - Helenium, Aster frickartii 'Monch', Verbena bonariensis and Sedum spectabile which are all good for cutting. I will only cut a few flowers from the borders to keep interest in the garden but these additions really add a little 'something extra' to vases of annual flowers.

Dahlias and Sedum
Sedum and Dahlias

Shrubs

My hedging and climbing Roses are all having a welcome second flush of flowers. They team really nicely with Dahlias and Sedums at this time of year.
I have a lacecap Hydrangea mariesii grandiflrora 'White Wave' which is only just getting established, having been planted in the Spring. It only has 2 flowers at the moment but they are stunning. I love the pure white of the flowers and look forward to next year when I'll hopefully have a few spare for cutting. In the meantime, I am cutting from my large Viburnum tinus with its small fragrant, white flowers and lovely glossy, green leaves. My Viburnum opulus in the hedge is covered in bright, red berries which look good in an Autumn display. The berries are also useful for adding a splash of seasonal colour to Christmas wreaths.

Climbing Rose
Climbing rose having a second flush of flowers this Autumn

Spring  bulbs

As mentioned last month, September is the best month for planting a lot of Spring bulbs but I usually go into October with my bulb planting. I've planted the majority of my Daffodil bulbs but couldn't resist purchasing a few more varieties which I am hoping to get in the ground this week. This year, I've gone for Narcissus 'Avalanche' - a multi-headed variety flowering in March. Multi-headed Narcissi are a sensible choice where space is limited as you get more flowers per stem and hence more flowers from fewer bulbs. I'm also going to plant some Narcissi 'Paperwhite' outside to see how early these will flower and some more inside in pots in the potting shed to bring into the house, in the hope of an early display in Winter.

I've planted some 'Thalia' which is a Victorian variety of the wild Narcissus triandrus. It's a pure white daffodil with two or three heads and has a wonderful scent too, making it ideal for cutting.

Daffodils
Narcissus Thalia

Whilst I appreciate the cheery yellow of Daffodils in the Spring, I love to grow more unusual white forms as it is very easy to buy a cheap bunch of yellow Daffodils to display in the Spring, but you'll be hard-pressed to find any white ones for sale. If you are giving over space in the cutting garden for Daffs, why not go for something harder to get hold of?

Having said this, I have planted a few 'February Gold', which I am hoping will live up to their name and flower in February when there aren't many flowers to cut. This variety dates back to 1923 and has bright yellow blooms, with outer petals that are slightly swept back from the darker yellow trumpets.

Small bulbs such as Iris reticulata and Muscari are ideal for planting around the edges of cutting beds. It's essential to allow bulb foliage to die down before you cut it back as this period of replenishment of the bulb's starchy food reserves is critical to future flowering. If you plant bulbs around the edges, you can leave them in place to do their thing and still have space for sowing / planting annuals in the bed.

 

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Green foliage makes an ideal backdrop against which to display your flowers, mimicking how flowers would grow in the garden. It adds bulk to an arrangement, can tone down bright colours and is a useful framework for supporting your flower stems. I always add my foliage first and thread the flower stems among the foliage 'scaffold' when creating a display.

Herbs and annuals as fillers
Ammi majus and Lemon balm as fillers.

Evergreen foliage

Evergreen foliage is ideal, as there is something to pick all year, but it can be hard in a residential garden to find space to grow shrubs and trees. If you are picking foliage all the time, you may leave your shrubs looking a bit bare, so go gently. I have a large, established Viburnum tinus, which we inherited with the garden, which can take a fair amount of cutting. I love the dark green, glossy foliage but I tend to wait until it produces creamy white flowers in the Autumn before using it. It has a wonderful fragrance to the flowers making it a welcome addition to bring into the house in the dark months of Winter. Other good evergreens include Rosemary, Box and any clippings from hedging plants. Experiment with the existing shrubs that you do have. There is a useful article by My Garden School about the best shrubs for cutting.

Great foliage plants

Herbs provide some of my favourite foliage to use during the Summer. Lemon balm, Borage and Oregano will all keep producing new foliage if you cut them. Once they are looking tired in mid-summer, you can cut the foliage back to the base and they will sprout up again giving you new, fresh foliage to use.

Autumn cut flowers
Ammi and Panicum elegans 'Frosted Explosion' adding bulk to this Autumnal display.

Fillers

These include plant material, other than foliage, which provide an interesting backdrop to your flowers. Plants to try include the unopened flower buds of annuals such as Helianthus 'Vanilla Ice', Scabious or Cosmos, which all look interesting in bud form. You can try green flowers like Dianthus barbatus 'Green Trick' with its fuzzy, lime-green pom poms, the tiny acid-green flowers of Alchemillla mollis, Euphorbia oblongata, Bupluerum, Fennel or Dill  or other annuals with tiny flowers such as Ammi majus or Ammi visigna. Some flowers, like Cosmos, come complete with their own foliage which you can leave on the stem (provided it is above the water line in the vase - if you leave on foliage below this, the water will quickly spoil, see Conditioning.)

Cow parsley makes great filler material
Cow parsley in May.

Foraged Wild Carrot or Cow parsley are excellent fillers and abundant in the hedgerows. I've grown the grass Panicum elegans 'Frosted Explosion' for the first time this year and I will definitely grow it again. It adds a lovely airy feel to displays. There are lots of interesting grasses you could try such as Briza maxima (quaking grass) and Agrostis nebulosa.

For further inspiration and pictures of all the plants mentioned in this post, visit the Homeflower Pinterest page.

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