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.

Cutting garden in April
Cutting garden in April

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.

Primula
Primula 'Gold Lace Red'

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.

Ranunculus
Ranunculus, one of the bulbs planted around the edges of the 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.

Perennial poppy
Papaver rupifragrum 'Orange Feathers'

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.

Tulip Queen of Night
Tulip Queen of Night looking lovely with apple blossom in the garden borders

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:

Scabiosa 'Fata Morgana', Orlaya grandiflora, Larkspur 'Giant Imperial Mixed', Nigella 'Black Pod', Helipterum roseum 'Pierrot', Calendula 'Snow Princess', Cornflowers, Antirrhinum 'Royal Bride', Zinnia 'Yoga', Zinnia 'Pale Mix', Limonium sinuatum 'Iceberg', Maurandia wislizensis 'Red Dragon', Helichrysum bracteatum Scarlet, Moluccella laevis, Clarkia purpurea 'Burgundy Wine', Cosmos 'Rubenza', Cosmos 'Purity' and Acroclinum 'Double Giant Flowered Mix'.

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Here are my favourite garden perennials which also make great cut flowers. It was hard to narrow the choice down to just 10 but these are the ones that I really value in my garden. They have to perform in the garden (look good and have a long season of interest) and make excellent cut flowers. If they are also good plants for bees and other pollinators, then all the better!

Top 10 perennials for cutting

  1. Christmas / Lenten Rose (Helleborus niger / H. orientalis) - Beautiful flowers that are in bloom when there are a scarcity of flowers in the garden. Depending on the varieties grown, hellebores can provide you with flowers from December all the way through to the end of spring. An important early food source for emerging bees.
  2. Lady's Mantle  (Alchemilla mollis) - Great as a foliage plant and as a filler element (fillers are small flowers that bulk out an arrangement). Grows happily in both the sun or shade. I grow it in both situations for a prolonged flowering period (those in the shade will flower a couple of weeks later than those in sun).

3. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - The yellow umbels of flowers are great as fillers in a vase and I love the height that fennel adds to a garden border. The hoverflies adore it. We leave the expired flower stalks on the plant over winter for sculptural interest.

4. Perennial wallflower (Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve') - Ours flowers on and off practically all year round (I used the flowers in my Christmas wreath last year!) A very important food source for pollinators as it is so long flowering.

5. Red campion  (Silene dioica) - A pretty wildflower that will grow well in shade so it is possible to have flowers for cutting in shady spots. With deadheading, it flowers all summer long and adds a natural look to a vase of flowers

6. Masterwort (Astrantia) - Another perennial that is happy in shade. It has beautiful architectural flowers that last well in the vase and can be dried.

7. Oregano (Oreganum vulgare) - Great for cooking but it is the lilac clusters of flowers that I value. They are great filler flowers for arrangements and the foliage is a lovely fresh green colour.

8. Oxeye daisies (Luecanthemum vulgare) - Can be a bit rampant as will self-seed everywhere but seedlings are easily pulled out. We have established clumps that flower in early summer for months. Will produce a 2nd flush of flowers later in the year if you cut them back after flowering. Long-lasting in the vase.

9. Giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) - You need space in the border for this large perennial but it produces gorgeous, large lemon yellow flowers. They are a mecca for bees and each flower can accommodate up to 4 bees at a time, as I  have been witnessing this summer!

10. Burnet (Sanguisorba) - I love the red bobble headed-flowers of this plant which wave about on top of wiry stems. Long flowering all through the summer and adds interest to a vase of flowers giving it an individual feel.

For more information on creating your own cutting garden from choosing which perennials, annuals, shrubs and bulbs to grow, to planning the layout, sowing seeds, harvesting and arranging cut flowers, please contact Jane about attending a 'Grow your own cut flowers' workshop.

Cut flowers
Garden perennials Oxeye daisies, Alchemilla mollis and Sanguisorba mixed with annual cut flowers
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I love May as it is the month that a lot of garden perennials such as Aquilegias and Oxeye daisies begin to bloom and there is suddenly a lot more material to cut. However, June is the month when the hardy annual flower seedlings - Cornflowers, Sweet peas and Ammi, which were sown back in March and have been cosseted since then, finally all start to flower. These annuals really do flower their socks off for months if you keep picking the flowers or dead-heading any that you leave on for the bees and other pollinating insects.

May cut flowers
May perennials

I vary the annuals that I grow each year, as I like to try new varieties, and there will always be some new amazing flower that I will see when browsing the seed catalogues  which I simply must have! This year I'm growing Phacelia campanularia (with bright blue flowers), Cornflowers 'Polka Dot' (a mix of blues, whites and pinks) and 'Black Ball' (dark, wine red),  Godetia 'Crown Double Mix' (pink tissue-like flowers), Ammi majus 'African Queen' (the classic white umbellifer which makes excellent filler material), Candytuft 'White Pinnacle' (with sweet scented, white flowers), Amberboa muricata (a pale pink, shaggy thistle type flower) and Malope trifida 'Vulcan' (a trailing plant with magenta flowers with a green eye).

 

All these annual flowers will be featuring in arrangements this month which I will post on my Facebook page in order to demonstrate the wide variety of cut flowers that anyone could grow in their own back garden, in combination with garden perennials, shrubs, bulbs and herbs. Herbs like Mint, Lemon balm and Oregano all provide useful foliage or filler flowers this month to mix in with your annuals.

Flowers end June
Sweet peas, Amberboa, Lupins and Cornflowers with Lemon balm foliage in June

 

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