I have to admit that I'm a bit of an impatient gardener and, early in the season, tend to be found out in the garden coaxing (ok, maybe threatening) flower buds in the hope they will open just a little earlier as I can't wait for the annuals to start flowering.

Summer Flowers
Borage, Sweetpeas, Feverfew, Cornflowers, Triteleia and Ammi majus

Come early Summer, however, when the cutting garden is in full swing, there is so much to pick that I often wish things would slow down a bit. If I were running a cut flower business, then I would be cutting most blooms before they are fully out, just breaking from the bud, to prolong their cut flower life. A true cutting garden would be rather devoid of actual flowers out in full bloom.  As I pick just for the house, I can afford to let some flowers bloom and be left for the enjoyment of all the bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects that come to feed on the pollen and nectar. As the cutting garden is near the house, you also want it to actually look good in addition to being a 'cut and come again' bed for cutting.

Larkspur, sweetpeas and cornflowers
Larkspur, Sweetpeas and Cornflowers

As long annuals are dead-headed they will keep flowering for you for 2-3 months so I pick every day or so throughout the summer months. I cut the flowers, straight into jugs of water, in the evening when it is cooler. First thing in the morning is best, but I am busy wrestling my youngest into her school uniform at that time so I leave it until the evening when life is more relaxed. I cut them, trim the lower leaves and leave them in tepid water up to their necks overnight, before arranging them (informally) the next day.

Filler flowers
Flowers grown as 'fillers' - Alchemilla mollis, Ammi majus and visnaga, Euphorbia oblongata and Dill

I grow a range of annuals and perennials in the cutting beds so that I have a mix of foliage, 'filler' flowers (small flowers that create a backdrop for showier blooms) and larger, statement flowers like Roses and Dahlias.

I vary the annuals that I grow from year to year as there is always a new variety to try or something I am intrigued by when looking through the seed catalogues in the winter months.

I always grow Sweetpeas, Cornflowers, Ammi, Scabious, Larkspur, Cosmos and Zinnias in some form. This year I'm also growing Calendula 'Snow Princess'  (a pale yellow form of Marigold) and some white Antirrhinums (snapdragons). The other cutting beds house Lavender, Roses, Dahlias and a few perennials such as Guara, Achillea, Salvia, Coreopsis, Alchemilla mollis, Thrift and Oregano.

Pressed flower art
Pressed Flower Picture in my Etsy shop

I am also growing some 'everlasting' flowers (flowers that dry to a papery feel and keep their colour and shape well) as I want to experiment with making some dried floral wreaths for indoor display. Will these will eventually for sale in my Etsy shop alongside my pressed flower pictures. I've gone for Helichrysum bracteum 'Scarlet', a lovely deep red colour, Helipterum roseum 'Pierrot', white with dark centres and Acroclinum 'Double Giant Flowered Mix'which come in white and pink forms with a yellow centre (used fresh here with Cosmos, Ammi, Sweetpeas and Scabious).

Everlasting flowers
Acroclinum and Helipterum everlasting flowers can be used fresh or dried in displays.
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Dried Flower Wreath

Dried flower wreath
Dried flower and seed head wreath

The festive period brings a host of opportunities for some crafting. I'm no Kirstie Allsopp but I do love spending a bit of time making a few decorations with cuttings and clippings from the garden and some materials foraged throughout the year.

I have written about displaying seed heads before. For this Christmas wreath, I've used some of the seed heads I collected earlier in the year (poppies, Nigella, Scabious 'Ping Pong' and Crocosmia), along with beech nut cases and a few dried flower heads of feverfew and hydrangea. I've used a bought grape vine wreath for the base. It's great for poking in the stems of dried materials. I haven't used any glue or wire to secure the materials but you could use some to make it a bit more robust.

Fresh flower wreath

I've got some lovely sea-urchin type Chrysanthemums growing in my potting shed (they've been flowering since November and should flower on into January so they are a good choice if you have some space to grow them under cover). They make fantastic additions to foam wreaths (the floral foam provides the cut stems with water), looking like bright baubles over a base of yew, golden ivy, Vibrbum oplus and holly clippings from my garden hedge. You'll need a foam wreath base (I've re-used one from last year but they do have a limited life-span). Give it a good soak in a bath then hang up over the bath taps to drain before placing on some newspaper. It's then a case of poking in the stems of whatever greenery you can find in the garden to cover all the foam before placing your fresh flower stems at intervals around the ring.

Fresh flower Christmas wreath
Fresh flower Christmas wreath with Chysanthemums, ivy, holly, Viburnum opulus and yew

Budget wreath

My final wreath is a simple and cheap option, requiring no pre-bought wreath base. I have simply cut long lengths of trailing ivy from the garden and formed it into a circle, holding here and there with a small amount of thin florist's binding wire (rescued from last year's wreaths). I've then wired in a few holly clippings, poked in the stems of some Viburnum opulus berries and attached three foraged pine cones with the florist wire. Tied up with a length of red ribbon (you could also use garden twine) that I had in my craft stash, this wreath has cost me nothing but if you bought the wire and ribbon it would still cost about £1 to make! (I found some binding wire for £1.99 online but you only need a small amount of it and it can be used in years to come, ditto the ribbon).

Budget Christmas wreath
Festive budget wreath using the minimum of materials

Pressed flowers

I've had great fun pressing flowers from my cutting garden to make into pictures for my walls and have started up an Etsy shop to offer them for sale. They are a great way to enjoy the beauty of flowers all through the year.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower pictures

I saw these tiny frames for sale and thought they'd be ideal for hanging on the Christmas tree. Just a single dried flower or leaf in each frame, looks very effective. Simply glue in place with a tiny dab of clear-drying glue.

Dried flower frames for Christmas tree
Dried flower frames for hanging on the Christmas tree
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Although it's only October and we are experiencing some lovely Autumn weather here in Norfolk, my mind can't help thinking ahead to the Winter and the first frost which will spell the end of my annual flowers and dahlias.

There will still be flowers to pick from the cutting garden to display in the house over the winter months (Hellebores, Snowdrops, Cyclamen etc..) but production does inevitably slow down. A lovely way of prolonging the season is to display the dried seed heads of flowers grown in the cutting garden.

The spectacular, explosive seed heads of Allium christophii dry with a fabulous purple tinge to the flower spikes. Sprayed silver, they make great hanging Christmas decorations but I do prefer them 'au naturel' for displaying year-round.

Allium seed head
Allium christophii

Smaller, but still impressive, are the seed heads of Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong' which I have grown for the first time this year, purely for their seed heads. The actual flowers themselves are a rather underwhelming wishy-washy lilac colour whereas the seed heads, with their papery cups encasing each seed, are very unusual.

Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'
Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'

Poppies dry easily and are very sculptural. I love the frilly end cap.

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Nigella or 'Love-in-a-mist' produce lovely balloon-shaped seed heads, some with attractive vertical strips.

Nigella seed heads
Nigella seed heads

How to dry your own seed heads

Allow some flowers to go up to seed and pick the seed heads when they are fully ripe but before they start to degrade and weather. Mature seed heads of poppies and Nigella will rattle, Scabiosa 'Ping Pong' will feel papery, whereas the heads and stems of Alliums will have started to fade in colour. It's important to harvest them on a dry day as any moisture will cause them to go mouldy. Pick with as long a length of stem as you can (you can cut them to size later). Tie the stems together in small bunches (singly for large Alliums) and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place such as a shed or airing cupboard. They should be ready in 2-3 weeks.

 

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