The festive trimmings have been taken down, the Christmas goodies have been gobbled up, the children are back at school and there is a way to go before spring. I have to confess that I do find January and February gloomy months and there aren't a lot of gardening jobs that need doing. Rather than sink into a pit of doom, I try to keep busy and do find a certain excitement in planning for the year ahead. There are some flowers that can be cut in the depths of winter, my favourite being Hellebores. These are stunning flowers and all the more useful for flowering in January and February. Once you have an established clump, you can cut a few blooms and enjoy their beauty up close.

Hellebores
Hellebores

Use these winter months to plan ahead - browse the numerous seed catalogues, clean your pots and tools in preparation for more busy periods and look back at what worked for you last year and what you can improve upon this year.

By spending a bit of time last autumn potting up spring bulbs, you may even have some pots of small bulbs like Crocus, Iris reticulata and Paperwhite Narcissi to bring into the house to cheer up the winter months. Seeing those little green shoots poking out of the surface is very encouraging on a cold, grey day.

Another way to banish the winter blues is to look back at pictures of your garden from the previous year and remind yourself of things to come. Just starting to peep up from under the soil are bulbs waiting to spring into action, perennials, that are no more than twiggy tufts at this time of year, will flower and bloom again and buds are forming on trees and shrubs, reminding us that they will once again be clothed in foliage and flowers.

Here's a review of just a few of the flowers I have grown in 2017. If you'd like to get the most out of your garden this year and have flowers to cut and bring inside, then please check back here for advice throughout the year or consider a 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop to get the most out of your garden.

 

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Winter berries
Viburnum opulus berries

Winter interest

We've had a few snowy days here in Norfolk this month which has caused much excitement among the smaller members of the family. An otherwise fairly bare garden looks wonderful cloaked in a dusting of snow. We like to spare a lot of seed heads and skeletons from perennials such as fennel and Sanguisorba (rather than cutting them down after flowering) as they look so nice with a covering of frost and provide some winter interest.

cut flower bed with snow
Cutting bed

In the cutting beds, I like to keep the sweet pea obelisks in place along with the metal supports that I use as they look quite sculptural in the beds over the winter months. Hidden under the layers of snow and soil are spring bulbs, including lots of tulips. Dotted about are biennial foxgloves, wallflowers and sweet williams that will survive the winter frosts and bloom in the spring.

Christmas Wreaths

I always make a fresh flower wreath for the front door from anything flowering in the garden in December. This can vary from late-flowering Chrysanthemums sheltering in the potting shed, the almost constantly flowering perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' and winter-flowering Viburnums. I usually use a base of clippings from the Christmas tree as quite often the lower branches need removing in order for it to fit into its pot or else I use yew cut from the hedge at the front of the house.

Fresh flower Christmas wreath
Fresh flower Christmas wreath

You will need to use either a moss base or a foam base which has been pre-soaked before use. It may need a good soaking every now and again to keep it moist so that the fresh flowers last the whole of the Christmas period. Cover this generously with the Christmas tree trimmings. Our tree is a Nordmann Fir and every year we choose it from the Elveden Estate where, for a small contribution to charity, it is pulled to your car by adorable Newfoundland dogs bedecked in tinsel and bells. This year we were a bit too late for the dogs as 6 year old Rosie spent so long choosing an outfit which was not at all appropriate for the frosty weather. We had to make do with a quick pet of the dogs that were being loaded into their owner's cars and Rosie pretended to be a dog and help pull the tree to the car. Not quite the same, but she was placated.

Back to wreath-making.. Over the base of fir, I added Viburnum tinus. With its delicate white flowers, it's a favourite winter foliage plant in the garden. I then added a few sprays of large and small rose hips from our hedge. I finished with some Leycesteria formosa which has racemes of flowers with dark pink bracts which look very seasonal and a few sprigs of Viburnum bodnantense. This variety of Viburnum is a fabulous winter-flowering shrub with fragrant clusters of flowers appearing before the leaves on bare stems. I often clip a few branches to place in a jug where it will scent a whole room.

Winter displays and crafts

There is little to do in the cutting garden over the winter months but every time I venture out to the compost heap with the green waste from the kitchen, I take a look at what is flowering and snip something to bring inside and display. Cyclamen, winter-flowering shrubs, Holly, Ivy, evergreen foliage and the first Hellebore flowers are all brought in regularly so that their beauty can be appreciated inside.

Crochet nativity
Crochet nativity

The time freed up in the winter is taken up with crochet projects. Last year, I made this little nativity scene (I decided that one shepherd was all I had room for). My next project is a crochet Snape figure from Harry Potter as requested by my Potter-obsessed daughter - wish me luck!

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for the gardener in your life take a look at my pressed flower pictures made from our cutting garden flowers in my Etsy shop or consider a gift voucher for a Home Flower Garden workshop.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2018!

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My obsession with growing my own flowers has extended to preserving some of them in order to enjoy them throughout the year - a thought that is especially welcome as yesterday we woke to a frosty garden. A hard frost signals the end of the tender dahlias, cosmos and zinnias that I've been cutting for months. They are so beautiful that it seems a shame to not enjoy them for longer.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower picture using Astrantia, Roses, Rose petals, Forget-me-nots and Cornflower petals.

My favourite method of preserving their fleeting beauty is to press them in a traditional flower press and display them in a modern glass frame. You could group your flowers to make a picture, such as my butterfly below, arrange them in a pretty pattern or just use one type of flower - the possibilities are endless. I've had so much fun making them that I've started selling my makes on Etsy.

Pressed flower butterfly
Butterfly made from real pressed flowers and petals

Pressing flowers

I press them for between 2-4 weeks in some large flower presses that I bought online. I started off with my six-year-old daughter's mini press but she was none too pleased and told me to get my own! Ensure that the cardboard used in your press is flat and not corrugated or you will leave an imprint in your flowers. Blotting paper is preferable to paper towels which again may leave an imprint.

Flowers from the press
Flowers fresh from the press

Bulky flowers such as roses and dahlias will not press well but I like to just use the petals. Strong, bold colours should retain their colour well after pressing but some, like blue cornflowers, do lose their colour as they age, often turning white in the press. Choose flowers with strong colours which you have observed keep their colour as they age in the vase. Good candidates are dark rose petals, larskpur which keep their colour beautifully, vibrant pelargonium petals, buttercups, marigolds and hydrangea petals which dry to give a lovely, antiquey hue.

I have had some success with retaining the colour of blue cornflowers and other flowers prone to fading, such as Iris reticulata, in a press that you use in the microwave - I got mine in the children's section of Toys R Us! I find this method good for flowers which don't retain their colour well with traditional presses but find that it can give the dried flowers a more wrinkled appearance over time and you have to be careful not to use a high setting and scorch the petals.

Once you start pressing flowers, you'll find lots of uses for them. I like making birthday and christmas cards with mine and have even filled some glass baubles with dried flower petals for hanging on this year's tree!

Christmas cards
Christmas cards using pressed flowers

Drying flowers

I've really grown fond of everlasting flowers such as Helichrysum bracteatum and Acroclinum. They look nice freshly picked and added to vases or you can dry them for using in wreath-making. These flowers keep their shape and colour really well and are easy to dry. Cut them before they are fully open as they will continue to open once cut. Tie them in small bunches with string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark cupboard for a week or so until they feel papery to the touch. They make nice floral wreaths for indoor decoration and look effective mixed with dried seed pods from poppies or love-in-a-mist. I use a hot glue gun to attach the flowers and seed heads to natural grapevine wreaths.

Autumnal wreath
Autumnal wreath with seed pods

 

 

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