The cutting beds are awash with a sea of self-sown Nigella or 'Love-in-a-mist'. The flowers are literally buzzing with bees - their open faces and their blue colour makes them an ideal bee-attractor.

Nigella
Love-in-a-mist

Nigella are really easy to grow and once you have bought the first packet of seed, you'll never need to buy another one (unless you want to try a different variety that is).

The only thing I had to do last year was to wait for the flowers to produce seed pods (when the seed is ripe, they will rattle) and then crush the pods and broadcast the seed over the cutting beds. As these self-sowers start growing over the winter, they flower nice and early and I can then pull them out to make room for spring-sown annuals later in June.

Roses cut flowers
Rosa 'Munstead Wood' with Nigella seedlings growing under and inbetween.

I haven't thinned out my seedlings and they are mingling in amongst the rose bushes, pushing their way up between the blooms - a lovely combination in the garden and in the vase.

The annual herb borage is another wonderful prolific self-sower which pops up everywhere in the cutting beds. If it's in the wrong place, I simply pluck it out or carefully transplant it to a more convenient location.

I am such a fan of these easy to grow plants as they are one less flower to sow in pots in my tiny potting shed. Other self-sowers that are good cutting garden plants  include forget-me-nots, feverfew, Eschscholzia, Panicum, Nasturtiums and cornflowers. You simply need to remember to let some plants go up to seed at the end of the season.

June flowers
June in a jug

I grow forget-me-nots in the garden borders as they are fabulous for hiding messy tulip foliage as it dies down.

Feverfew is a very useful filler flower with its tiny daisy flowers. A short-lived perrenial, it will flower for a second time if you cut it to the base after the first flowering.

The decorative grass Panicum 'Frosted Explosion' is a welome self-sower coming a bit later in the season in mid-late summer. It sees me through into the autum and  combines wonderfully with Cosmos and Chrysanthemums.

This year I am going to add Eschscholzia (Californian poppy) to the party. I've chosen an elegant creamy variety called 'Thai Silk' series 'Milkmaid'. It's quick to grow from seed so if I scatter some around in the beds now, I should see some flowers in about 8-10 weeks time.

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The tulips in the cutting garden first opened their blooms at the end of March with the early-flowering 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' varieties. It's now exactly a month on, the early tulips have just gone over but there are still lots of tulips in flower and a few more yet to fully open.

Tulip Exotic Emperor
Tulops 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' in the garden border

I love tulips so much that I grow them in the cutting beds (among the dahlias and perennials), in rows on our new allotment and dotted throughout the garden borders.

Tulip La Bell Epoque
Tulip 'La Belle Epoque'

Yes, the leaves can look unsightly as they go over, and you have to let the foliage die down but I think they are worth it, for the sheer variety of flower shapes and colours to fall in love with.

Tulip Little Beauty
Species tulip 'Little Beauty'

Species tulips such as 'Little Beauty', 'Lady Jane' and 'Turkestanica' are ideal edging tulips for cutting beds. These natural forms are smaller than the cutltivated varieties and have smaller leaves that die down quickly and don't get in the way of things. They are truly perennial whereas some cultivated varieties can stop flowering reliably each year.

Spring vase with tulips
Spring vase with tulips

Whatever type of tulip you go for - species or cultivated, lily-flowered or peony-flowered, there is a tulip for everyone. If you chose early, mid and late-flowering varieties, you'll get 4-6 weeks of flowers for cutting and have a beautiful garden display lasting 6-8 weeks.

Species tulip 'Lady Jane'
Species tulip 'Lady Jane'
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I feel like I am always raving about the benefits of Hellebores in the cutting garden. They are such a welcome flower in the depths of winter and throughout spring. If they freeze, they just thaw out again, undamaged. They're an important source of early nectar for pollinating insects and they reward you with stunningly beautiful flowers which can form the focal point of arrangements from January through into April.

Hellebore Yellow Sunrise
Hellebore Yellow Sunrise

But, (sorry!) they can be temperamental as a cut flower. You can't cut them whilst in bud, like most flowers, you need to wait for them to have been fully open for a few days. You can even wait until they start forming green seed pods in the centre. These pollinated flowers do last much longer in the vase but the flower colour does alter as the flowers age. I cut them young, straight into water. I slit the stems at the bottom and if they do wilt overnight, despite this preparation, I find that re-cutting the stems and searing the ends with freshly boiled water can rejuvenate them. If that doesn't work you can always dispense with the stem and float the flower heads in a large, shallow bowl. Or you could if you don't have a cat (Florence, you know who you are..) that likes to drink water out of any vessel other than her water bowl! Hellebores with cat hairs aren't so attractive.

Hellebore Loren
Hellebore Loren

The reason for focussing on hellebores in this post is that I have been treated to an early Mother's Day present of some new hellebores to plant out in the cutting garden. I am planting them in the dahlia and tulip bed where I am hoping they will enjoy the shade cast by the dahlias during the summer but will be free of towering dahlias from late autumn, all through winter and spring. Hopefully they will enjoy this mix of sun and shade as much as I enjoy their flowers.

Hellebore orientalis
Hellebore orientalis
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