January is a time of reflection but and when I think back to the previous growing season, I have to admit, I was feeling a bit underwhelmed. I had memories of scorched sweet pea seedlings due to an overly hot, late spring and then a second batch of sweet peas that just didn't take off as the summer was a scorcher and dry to boot. The dahlias were very slow to flower and suffered in the heat, only really flowering well once we were into mid-September. The cornflowers and Ammi majus were short and lack-lustre, sulking in the record-breaking temperatures.
So, it was with trepidation that I looked back through my photos taken of the garden and vases of flowers cut from it. I didn't have to worry - all through the year there were an abundance of flowers to cut (there are at least 2 photos for each month of the year). Ok, so all the tulips flowered during the same 2-3 weeks of the late spring but flower they did. Despite the lack of stalwart favourites sweetpeas and cornflowers, there were plenty of other flowers to be picked. The Cosmos being a prime example of a flower that didn't mind the heat and drought.
I have already bought most of my flower seed for the coming year, although I am sure I will be tempted into making an impulse buy after flicking through all the flower seed catalogues that have been dropping on the doormat lately.
I have decided not to grow Zinnias this year as I have found, that however I grow them (in pots or direct-sown) they simply don't produce enough flowers from each plant for the space that they take up in my cutting garden. In their place, I plan to grow extra strawflowers (Helichrysum) and a wider variety of colours of larkspur which keep their colour so well when pressed.
This year, we have a newly acquired allotment and although I have promised my husband that I won't fill it with flowers, there is surely some space for some tulips and a row of dahlias in amongst the vegetables??
Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.
Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.
As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.
I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.
Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.
Autumn is my favourite season and although some flowers in the garden are going over (I have just dug up my exhausted Larkspur and Calendula) the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos, Zinnias and Helichrysum are producing buckets of flowers.
I must admit that I was heartened to hear that Monty Don's dahlias hadn't fared well this summer with very few flowers being produced. With the exception of my vigourous yellow waterlily dahlia called 'Glorie Van Heemstede' which has been in constant flower, my other dahlias have either been slow to get going or have looked on the verge of giving up. My previously reliably flowering 'Sam Hopkins' has this year so far produced a grand total of 3 flowers (and one of those was ravaged by earwigs!) The other dahlias do all look like they might be taking off now so perhaps I will be rewarded with some late flowers, providing they survive the current high winds battering the garden.
Although it is sad when an annual comes to an end, the space that is created once you have dug them up and composted them, is an opportunity to plant biennials which will establish their roots and then overwinter ready to flower early next year. I don't like to have bare ground in my cutting beds, so the early flowering annuals are replaced either by binenials such as foxgloves, wallfowers, sweet williams or sweet rocket or with some late-sown annuals which will flower from now until the first frost.
Back in June, I sowed a few pots of Chinese Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum) and '10 week' Stocks and they are now both about to come into flower so I have some more annuals to take over the baton from the Larkspur and Calendula and to create a fresh look as we travel through Autumn into Winter.
Also just starting to bloom are a variety of Chrysanthemums - more in the next blog post...