The cutting garden is coming on nicely and the beds are filling up. I've planted out all of the hardy annuals now and they are getting bigger by the day. Every morning, my husband Jamie and I take a cup of tea and have a walk around the garden to see what has come into flower and every day there is something new to see.
The whole garden has been planted with cutting in mind and this year should be the best year yet as the garden borders have matured and our recent revamp of the cutting beds has provided more space. Buds are forming on the new shrub roses that we put in, we've harvested all the tulips and have been picking Forget-me-nots, Bluebells, Honesty, Ranunculus, Euphorbia, Perennial wallflowers, Aquilegia and Telima to bring into the house.
Now the weather has been warming up and the risk of frost is very low, I'll be planting out the frost tender half-hardy annuals to finish filling the cutting beds.
My Pinterest board shows all the annuals I have chosen to grow this year:
I can't wait until next month when the first annuals will be ready to pick - watch this space or check out my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for photos of all the flowers I've picked this year as well as information on 'Grow Your Own Flowers' workshops running this year.
A lot has been going on in the cutting garden since we finished our revamp last month. We've been planting up the beds with a mix of perennials, bulbs and roses leaving space for plenty of annuals - these have been grown from seed and are currently jostling for space in the potting shed and on my sunny windowsills until the weather warms up a bit.
We started by planting up the edges of all the individual cutting beds with small, low-growing perennials and bulbs. This gives the beds some structure and by restricting these plants to the edges, we still have plenty of space for lots of plants within the beds. We've chosen to line the central path with a mix of Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) whose acid-green, frothy flowers make a great back-drop for showier flowers, Lavender 'Munstead' a dwarf lavender, and a range of Primulas - drumstick primulas (P. denticulata), Primula 'Gold Lace Dark Red' and Primula cortusoides 'Primadiente' (Siberian primrose) an alpine with dainty pink blooms.
Primulas are great for providing early flowers for picking alongside spring bulbs. They form small mounds that are ideal for edging beds. We've interspersed these with the bulbs of Iris reticulata, Tulipa turkestanica, Ranunculus, Triteleia and dwarf daffodils. All these spring bulbs have small or strappy foliage and so are ideal for edging cutting beds. Lots of large, untidy foliage can get in the way when you want to plant annuals within the bed. With all bulbs, you need to let the foliage die down naturally so that energy goes into the bulb for next year's flowers so you do have to consider this when planting bulbs in cutting beds.
So far, we've planted three different shrub roses. We've gone for varieties that have beautiful flowers but also have other important attributes: i) high resistance to disease, ii) must be repeat flowering varieties so that we have flowers to pick throughout the summer and iii) must have a strong scent.
We've chosen 'Munstead Wood' with sumptuous, deep velvety crimson blooms and a strong Old Rose fragrance, 'Gertrude Jekyll', twice voted the nation's favourite rose, with beautiful, rich pink rosettes and superb fragrance and 'Comte de Chambord', warm pink, full-petalled flowers, opening flat with a delicious Damask fragrance.
The perennial bed has been planted up with Hellebores, Salvias, Achillea, Poppies 'Patty's Plum' & Pavaper rupifragum 'Orange Feathers', Briza media 'Limouzi', a grass with delicate flower heads, and Guara, all interspersed with self-sown Nigella seedlings which have been carefully transplanted from the old raised beds.
Another bed houses plants especially valuable for their foliage or for their small flowers that act as fillers (a backdrop for larger, showier flowers) - Euphorbia oblongata, Dill and some Autumn-sown Ammi majus.
We've added 2 chestnut pyramids supports for the sweet peas to clamber up, incorporating manure into the soil as these plants are hungry for nutrients.
Honesty and Stocks are both in flower and the Sweet Williams are just forming flower spikes. These biennials were planted out last September into our old raised beds and have been carefully transplanted into their new positions in the new beds. These plants are valuable for providing flowers before the annual flowers appear and after the tulips and spring bulbs are over. Others you could try are Sweet Rocket and Wallflowers. Sow seed for these biennials in June for flowers the following year.
The tulips have been about 3 weeks earlier in flower than this time last year. Usually, by choosing a mix of early, mid and late-flowering types, you can be picking tulips until the end of May but we may struggle to get past the first week of May! I've planted tulips in the beds where we will either be growing Dahlias or later flowering annuals like Zinnias so that the tulip foliage has time to die down before these plants get going.
Although it is nearing the end of April as I write, we've had a hard frost and numerous hail showers so don't be tempted to plant out too early! When the weather warms up a bit, I'll plant out my hardy annuals and once all risk of frost is past (towards the end of May), I'll plant out the frost-tender half-hardy annuals and the 9 varieties of dahlia which are currently sprouting in pots under cover. More about that next month, but for now here is a list of the annuals I have grown this year so you can see the abundance of flowers to come:
Like many keen gardeners, having packed our garden full of plants, we are always finding or reading about new plants that we'd like to grow but we just don't have space for. Everything we grow in the garden borders is chosen to be suitable for cutting but also to put on a good garden display. In addition, we have an area half-way down the garden which is purely dedicated to growing plants for cutting (a mix of annuals, tulips and dahlias). These are housed in a series of raised beds with a wide central path running between them - originally designed to give our children room to zoom up and down on their bikes and trikes when we moved here about 7 years ago. The raised beds are built from railway sleepers and recycled wooden pallets - initially to grow veg in but gradually taken over by me as my passion for growing flowers took off!
When looking at the space, we decided it was time for a remodeling of this area to house as many cutting beds as we could fit in. It wasn't great timing as the raised beds were packed full of spring bulbs and biennials but sometimes you just have to go for it when you have the time. So, it's 'bye-bye' to raised beds with wide paths and 'hello' to more, ground-level beds with smaller brick paths between. We're going to have almost double the planting space which will make room for a rose bed, a dedicated perennial and herb bed, a whole bed of dahlias and lots of space for annuals, foliage and fillers.
We made a start on a Monday at the beginning of February when the sun was shining and it was very spring-like. Once we started digging we were reminded of just why we went with raised beds in the first place - very little soil and lots and lots (and lots) of rubble!
We're leaving one raised bed in place for now as it is crammed full of tulips and I can't bear to lose the flowers this April and May. Everything else growing in the beds has been carefully lifted and temporarily potted up or bagged up. We may lose some flowers this year but, as I keep having to remind myself, it will be worth it in the long run and whatever happens, we will be ready in time for all the annual flowers which will keep us in flowers from June until the first frosts.
Day 3 Erm.. There is an awful lot of rubble to move about and we've found what we suspect are the remains of an old out-house buried under the raised beds on one side. On the plus side, we've salvaged lots of bricks and found a lovely old glass bottle but there's a lot more work than initially thought. There's no going back now though and we're already planning what to plant once it's finished!
Days 4-5 My lovely husband has been working hard all weekend and the garden is gradually taking shape. Some of the old raised beds were quite rotten so our fire pit has come in handy for getting rid of the wood. We've added a gold ring to our collection of finds!
The cutting garden is gradually taking shape. Lots of soil and rubble have been moved around - the rubble relocated under the pathways. Brick paths are being laid - a central wiggly one and some narrower ones dividing the cutting beds into sections. When planning a cutting garden, it's important not to make the beds too wide. About 1-1.2 m is the ideal width so that you can easily reach into the middle of the bed without having to trample the soil.
Days 8-9 The final paths have been laid, soil has been redistributed and the new cutting area is complete, save for the area where our final raised bed full of tulips, grape hyacinths and scillas has been left until the tulips have come into flower and been cut. Once they are over, we'll carefully lift the bulbs, complete with their foliage and replant them so that the foliage can die down naturally. We'll then be able to demolish that bed.
Day 10 We've started putting in some of the plants that have been languishing in plastic pots and compost sacks. We've lined the edges of the central path with some cuttings of chamomile and we've planted a row of small perennials along the edges of the beds running along the central path. We've used dwarf lavenders, drumstick primulas and Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle).
Day 11 The new cutting garden is finally complete and is planted up with the bulbs, biennials and perennials from the old raised beds and everything looks really healthy after a dose of rain. I'll give you the low-down on exactly what we'll be growing this year in my next post.