Time to say goodbye to January. I always find this month to drag on just a little too long. Last year, we did 'Dry January' which made it seem even longer! This year, we've learned our lesson and are going to do a dry February, it's no coincidence that it is the shortest month.. This January we've experienced some proper winter weather in Norfolk, with beautifully crisp, frosty mornings.

Winter frost
Winter frost in our garden

January for me is a time to reflect and plan. I've been poring over flower seed catalogues, making lists and planning what will go where.  This year, I've particularly enjoyed the Chiltern Seeds catalogue which has lovely descriptions and lots of useful advice. If you visit their website, you'll be able to view pictures of each flower variety and search by colour, height and other useful factors. Just be warned that you may be tempted to buy far more seed than you have space for.

Bulbs and early flowers

I always pot up some spring bulbs during the Autumn in the potting shed to bring inside for floral displays throughout the winter. So far I've had Amaryllis, Iris reticulata, Paperwhite Narcissi and miniature daffodils in flower but I'm looking forward (somewhat impatiently I might add) for the Hellebores and Snowdrops in the garden borders to open out into flower. I think Hellebores are my favourite winter flower as they are so elegant. They make great cut flowers although they can be a bit temperamental. If you find yours wilt once cut, they can often be revived by re-cutting the stem and searing the end in boiling water for 20 seconds before placing in cold water up to their necks.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata 'Pauline'

Jobs to do this month

Jobs for February will include washing the black plastic pots I  use for seed sowing, ready for the new season. I bring them all in, shove them in the bath, and scrub them with washing up liquid and hot water. Seems simpler than doing it out in the cold with a bucket.

Hellebores and spring flowers
Hellebores and spring flowers

I'll sow sweet pea and Antirrhinum (snapdragons) seeds under cover this month (I place my pots on a sunny windowsill). You can sow sweet peas in November and December too, but I always seem to forget this in the run up to Christmas. Snapdragons need a long period between sowing seed and producing flowers (18 weeks) so, while I leave off sowing the seed of other half-hardy annuals until early April, I make a head-start with these. Follow my tips for seed-sowing here or why not enrol on one of my workshops and learn everything you need to know about growing your own flowers for cutting. Everything from planning, through to sowing, harvesting and arranging flowers.

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Frost has been threatening over the course of the last few weeks and although there has been a slight sheen of white on the rooftops, we've yet to experience a proper frost. Time is ticking then for the last of my annuals which will be killed off once it does arrive. The cosmos, which are highly productive and need almost daily dead-heading, are slowing down and my dahlias are looking very bedraggled. As soon as they are blackened by frost, I will lift them and store the tubers in the potting shed for the winter.

November flowers
Dahlias, Cosmos, Zinnia buds and Borage

My zinnias have lots of buds that seem to take an age to open and I don't think they'll manage it before the weather turns. I'll pick them anyway for their beautiful buds. Zinnias are one of the few flowers that won't open further if picked before they are fully open.

A late-sown Borage is providing very fresh looking fuzzy foliage and delicate blue flowers. My Guara (sometimes known as 'Whirling Butterflies') is a beautiful plant. It's been flowering all summer and is still going strong. Its spires of flowers add a delicate touch to an arrangement.  I am even picking the odd sweet pea, larkspur and cornflower here and there which have been flowering ever since July.

Chrystanthemum for cutting
Autumn-flowering Chrysanthemums 'Littleton Red' and 'Smokey Purple'

What next?

Despite the inevitable loss of the dahlias and annuals at this time of year, there is still plenty to look forward to in the cutting garden over the coming months. There is evergreen foliage in the form of festive Holly and Ivy which can both be brought indoors for simple winter displays. Shrubs like Viburnum tinus and Skimmia japonica, are easy to overlook for most of the year but they shine in the winter months with their scented white flowers and attractive red berries respectively. Autumn bulbs like Nerine, Schizostylis (now Hesperantha) and autumn cyclamen and crocuses are very useful for a splash of autumn colour in the borders. Then there is the anticipation of beautiful Hellebores which can flower from December through into spring and are my favourite winter flowers. There's a great article about the beautiful new varieties on offer in the December issue of Garden's Illustrated magazine - if only I had more space!

Hellebore
Hellebores - great in borders but also do well in pots are are excellent for cutting

Chrysanthemums

This is the first year that I have grown Chrysanthemums and I'm left wondering why I haven't done so sooner. If you pick the right varieties, they can really extend your cut flower season. I've had some lovely flowers from my early flowering varieties 'Littleton Red' and 'Smokey Purple' (see earlier photo) but it is the sea urchin types like this 'Saratov Lilac' (below) that I am really looking forward to coming into flower. There are plenty of buds and some are just breaking but these plants are frost tender so do need bringing in under cover if you want to be able to pick these flowers in November. Mine have been growing in pots and have now been brought into the potting shed where I am hoping they'll be ready to cut soon.

Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemum 'Saratov Lilac' - this one got knocked off the plant when it was barely open and has gradually unfurled in the vase

Bulbs for the house

Over the last few months, I've been periodically potting up small spring bulbs - Crocus, Iris reticulata and Muscari in small terracotta pots which I keep in the potting shed for flowers a little earlier than if they were planted in the ground outside. When they start to bloom, I'll bring them into the house for some welcome colour in the depths of winter. I love the smell of Hyacinths which are great for forcing into flower in time for Christmas but I find that the scent gives me a terrible headache so I won't be growing any this year. However, I love to grow Narcissus Paperwhite. These are also strongly scented but don't have the same effect on me. They are easy to grow and I have a few pots on the windowsill which are shooting at the moment and should be in flower in about 6 weeks time. I will be planting up a few more to have a succession of flowers throughout the winter. You can store the bulbs in the fridge to retard their growth until you want to pot them. Amaryllis are another popular, easy to grow bulb for growing inside over the winter months.

Paperwhite Narcissi
Narcissus Paperwhite

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I love September. It has an air of new starts and possibilities, more so, I feel, than in the New Year when the weather is a bit bleak and I feel like hibernating under the duvet rather than embarking on new projects. I really enjoy tidying up spent plants, collecting seed, leafing through the seed and bulb catalogues and planting out biennials and bulbs in anticipation of spring flowers. Or could it just be that I'm relieved that my children have returned to school, after the long summer holidays?..

september-flowers

Its not all about planning and planting for next year though - there are still lots of flowers for picking in bloom in the cutting garden. Cosmos, Zinnias, Dahlias, Scabious, Heleniums, Echinacea, Rudbekia, Asters, Chrysanthemums, Panicum grass, Roses and Verbena bonariensis are all looking good.

Earlier flowering annuals such as Cornflowers & Sweet peas have done their thing and can be removed to the compost heap, freeing up ground for planting either biennials, bulbs or for direct sowing hardy annuals.

Cosmos
Cosmos & Zinnias

Before clearing annuals, collect any seeds from your plants for either sowing in spring or for sowing now. Sowing hardy annuals in September will give you a head-start in the spring and you should get flowers up to a month earlier than if you sow them in early spring. I sow a few hardy annuals directly into any spaces in my cutting beds and also sow a few in pots in the potting shed. I'll then also sow a lot of seeds in the early spring as I like to hedge my bets. Autumn-sown plants do have to withstand slugs and the vagaries of winter weather so you do have to keep an eye on them. Last winter was so mild that the slugs were still out munching for most of it so you can easily find that all your lovely seedlings have been nibbled to the ground. More on seed-sowing here.

Mixed tulips
Tulips in mixed border with Forget-me-nots and perennials.

September is also the time to start planting spring flowering bulbs (all except tulips which benefit from going in the ground later on in November). I love nothing more than poring over the bulbs catalogues looking for new and interesting Tulip varieties for my cutting beds. I always plant up some small pots of Iris reticulata at this time of year which can be brought into the house for flowers during the winter.

During this month, ensure that you keep on top of watering and feeding plants and don't skimp on dead-heading. With dead-heading your Dahlias, Cosmos etc will go on flowering right up to the first frosts which hopefully are a few months away as yet.

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