Each January, as a way of mitigating the gloom, I like to look back over the previous year and celebrate the successes, reminding me of all the flowers and joy from the cutting garden to come. At the same time, I can review anything that didn't quite work as planned and make changes for the growing season ahead.

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Crocus in pots make lovely spring displays indoors

As always, some years are better than others as a lot depends on the weather throughout the year. The best way to be prepared for the vagaries of the weather is to grow a wide variety of plants and sow successionally throughout spring and early summer. If your spring-sown annuals are suddenly knocked back by an unexpected spell of cold after a spell of hot weather (as happened to me last spring)  you can sow another batch of seed which should quickly catch up and take over from any seedlings that don't recover.

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A large haul of dahlias from my allotment

2019 was a fabulous year for dahlias and sweetpeas for me. They thrived up at my new allotment plot where enjoyed the clay soil and full sun. At home in my cutting garden, I had great successs with biennial wild carrot which I will in future choose to grow in preference to annual Ammi majus. They both fulfill the same function as a beautiful lacy white umbellifer that acts a filler flower to set off other more showy blooms, providing a natural look. I find that Ammi needs to be sown regularly as individual plants don't produce for long periods where the wild carrot goes from spring into summer with little bother. I had less success with Cosmos which for some reason didn't want to germinate and then were very slow to get going.

Here are a selection of the flowers that I grew and picked last year, all from my relatively small family garden and a small bed on the allotment. I also include some pressed flower items that I make from the flowers that I grow. Speaking of which, I am contemplating running a craft workshop on pressing and drying flowers and ways to use them such as making pictures, cards and wreaths so if anyone is interested, please do get in touch!

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My obsession with growing my own flowers has extended to preserving some of them in order to enjoy them throughout the year - a thought that is especially welcome as yesterday we woke to a frosty garden. A hard frost signals the end of the tender dahlias, cosmos and zinnias that I've been cutting for months. They are so beautiful that it seems a shame to not enjoy them for longer.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower picture using Astrantia, Roses, Rose petals, Forget-me-nots and Cornflower petals.

My favourite method of preserving their fleeting beauty is to press them in a traditional flower press and display them in a modern glass frame. You could group your flowers to make a picture, such as my butterfly below, arrange them in a pretty pattern or just use one type of flower - the possibilities are endless. I've had so much fun making them that I've started selling my makes on Etsy.

Pressed flower butterfly
Butterfly made from real pressed flowers and petals

Pressing flowers

I press them for between 2-4 weeks in some large flower presses that I bought online. I started off with my six-year-old daughter's mini press but she was none too pleased and told me to get my own! Ensure that the cardboard used in your press is flat and not corrugated or you will leave an imprint in your flowers. Blotting paper is preferable to paper towels which again may leave an imprint.

Flowers from the press
Flowers fresh from the press

Bulky flowers such as roses and dahlias will not press well but I like to just use the petals. Strong, bold colours should retain their colour well after pressing but some, like blue cornflowers, do lose their colour as they age, often turning white in the press. Choose flowers with strong colours which you have observed keep their colour as they age in the vase. Good candidates are dark rose petals, larskpur which keep their colour beautifully, vibrant pelargonium petals, buttercups, marigolds and hydrangea petals which dry to give a lovely, antiquey hue.

I have had some success with retaining the colour of blue cornflowers and other flowers prone to fading, such as Iris reticulata, in a press that you use in the microwave - I got mine in the children's section of Toys R Us! I find this method good for flowers which don't retain their colour well with traditional presses but find that it can give the dried flowers a more wrinkled appearance over time and you have to be careful not to use a high setting and scorch the petals.

Once you start pressing flowers, you'll find lots of uses for them. I like making birthday and christmas cards with mine and have even filled some glass baubles with dried flower petals for hanging on this year's tree!

Christmas cards
Christmas cards using pressed flowers

Drying flowers

I've really grown fond of everlasting flowers such as Helichrysum bracteatum and Acroclinum. They look nice freshly picked and added to vases or you can dry them for using in wreath-making. These flowers keep their shape and colour really well and are easy to dry. Cut them before they are fully open as they will continue to open once cut. Tie them in small bunches with string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark cupboard for a week or so until they feel papery to the touch. They make nice floral wreaths for indoor decoration and look effective mixed with dried seed pods from poppies or love-in-a-mist. I use a hot glue gun to attach the flowers and seed heads to natural grapevine wreaths.

Autumnal wreath
Autumnal wreath with seed pods

 

 

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The nights are drawing in and I've started a new crochet project so it must be autumn! Autumn is a lovely season in the cutting garden and really is the last hurrah before winter sets in. The arrival of the first frost will spell the end for a lot of cut flowers (although there is always something to cut - think Hellebores, winter-flowering shrubs and early-flowering bulbs like Snowdrops and Crocus.)

Chrysanthemums and Panicum Grass.
Chrysanthemums and Panicum Grass.

All the more reason to celebrate the wonderful, richly-coloured autumn flowers while they are here. In fact, it is vital to keep picking and dead-heading dahlias and annual flowers if you want them to keep producing flowers all the way through the autumn. Dahlias really are a must-have at this time of year as they flower all summer and autumn long. With their wide-range of flower type and colourways, there is a Dahlia to suit everyone.

Feverfew, Salvia, Stocks and Poppies
Feverfew, Salvia, Stocks and Poppies

Successional sowing

Back in early summer, just as my first hardy annuls were coming into flower, I sowed some quick-growing Icelandic poppies and '10 week' Stocks and have been rewarded by a fresh crop of very summery-looking flowers, as seen in my lovely little pottery jug above.  Successional sowing will make the most of your cutting garden as just as your first crop of annuals is waning, a new crop can take over.

Autumn Flowers

Asters and Sedums are classic autumn flowers which I grow in the garden borders. They are joined by Guaras, Salvias and Verbena bonariensis which all have a long flowering period. If you have limited space in borders, as we do,  it's a good idea to choose plants that have a long season of interest.

Dahlia Merckii with its tiny lilac flowers
Dahlia Merckii with its tiny lilac flowers

In the dedicated cutting beds, the Dahlias are looking stunning and annual Cosmos, Zinnias, Scabious, Helichrysum and Statice are all still producing flowers after a good 3 months of constant flowering. Chrysanthemums are very useful for late flowers and come in some lovely autumnal colours. Some late-flowering varieties will flower into December if you bring them into a greenhouse, potting shed or conservatory before the cold weather sets in. Autumn-flowering cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) provide welcome colour in pots or at the front of borders.

Cosmos & Zinnias in the cutting garden
Cosmos & Zinnias in the cutting garden

Preserving flowers for the winter

Pressing flowers, drying everlasting flowers (such as those in my autumn wreath) and harvesting seed-heads are all brilliant ways of enjoying the beauty of flowers during the winter. Next month, I'll focus on my latest obsession with pressing and preserving cut flowers to make pressed flower pictures, cards and dried flower wreaths available in my Etsy shop.

Autumn wreath
Autumn wreath using dried Helichrysum flowers

 

Pressed flower pictures
Pressed flower pictures

 

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