The tulips and other spring bulbs in the garden are just coming to an end as we approach mid-May. The warm weather has finally arrived and there are so many flower buds forming in the garden. Biennials such as Honesty, Sweet Williams and Sweet Rocket all come into their own this month. They are invaluable flowers to have in the garden in order to plug the gap between the end of the spring bulbs and the beginning of flowering of hardy annuals. Hardy annuals sown in the spring will start to flower towards the end of this month or early in June, depending upon when you sowed them (and your geographical location).

Sweet Williams
Sweet Williams are highly fragrant and last well in the vase when cut

Many garden perennials also start to flower this month. I have Red Campion which is a great wild flower. It will happily flower in the shade and produces flowers throughout the summer.  Aquilegias provide welcome flowers now and will self-seed throughout the garden. My mixed hedge is a good source of flowers. The tiny white flowers of Hawthorn are known as the May flower and look lovely in the vase. Viburnum oplus has white flowers that look a bit like lace-cap hydrangeas and Viburnum lantana has flat clusters of tiny white flowers. Cut them all just as the buds are opening to last as long as possible and split the stems of these woody plants to help with water uptake.

Hawthorn flowers
Hawthorn flowers with Clematis montana and Red Campion

The first Alliums are just breaking out of their buds and will flower throughout May and June. I love the large fire-work flowers of Allium christophii planted along with the smaller intense purple A. purpureum and  white A. nigrum. The seed heads can be dried for fantastic displays later in the year.

Oxeye daisies can be a bit rampant but seedlings are easily pulled out from the soil if they stray too far. These beautiful daisies make lovely meadow-style arrangements at this time of year and if you cut them down after flowering, they will produce a second flush of flowers in the autumn.

The perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve' is a must for any cutting garden as it flowers practically year-round and is the best food source for bees. In the shady part of the border, I have some Tellima grandiflora which has thin spires of tiny green, fringed flowers, hence its common name of 'Fringe cups'. The flowers add some height to a flower arrangement while the fresh green leaves can be cut and used to soften the neck of a vase.

Nigella
Nigella flower

Nigella (Love-in-a-mist) is another flower that I wouldn't be without and, like many biennials, it self-sows really well. Leave lots to go up to seed and you won't ever have to buy any more seed! It has fabulous looking seed pods that can be collected and used both fresh and dried in displays.

The final buds ripening in my garden are those of my climbing Rose 'Open Arms' which I cut throughout the summer and autumn. I find that it doesn't suffer from the dreaded black spot common in some roses. This year we have planted more climbing roses to scramble through the hedges on either side of the garden. Climbing roses are wonderful for repeat flowering all through the summer.

Workshop flowers
Cut flowers arranged during my first 'Grow your own flowers' workshop

May has also seen the very first pupil through the door for my 'Grow your own flowers' workshop. It was a lovely day and we had fun arranging tulips with foraged Cow Parsley and cuttings from the garden - Forget-me-nots, Euphorbia, Tellima foliage, Erysimum, Hawthorn and Primroses. It's not too late to take a workshop and get started on growing your own this summer!

Jam jar arrangement made by my student Caroline in my first 'Grow your own flowers' workshop
Jam jar arrangement made by my student Caroline during the workshop
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April is a wonderfully exciting and hopeful time in the garden. Perennials are greening up, daffodils provide cheer and other spring bulbs like bluebells and grape hyacinths are in flower. The bees are buzzing in the sunny spells, the birds are singing and garden is full of life again.

Typically for April, its been a real mix of weather, with the occasional warm sunny day and then rain and sleet the next so you do need to hold off sowing or planting any half-hardy flower seed and seedlings that have been grown under cover until all risk of frost has passed. The Prince song 'Sometimes it snows in April' always plays in my head at this time of year and is a good reminder not to get carried away and put out any frost-tender plants. True and poignant following his tragic early death announced just yesterday.

Tulips
Tulips, forget-me-nots and grape hyacinths

For me, tulips are the stars of the cutting garden this month. There are so many different flower shapes and colours that you don't have to settle for the boring, uniform bunches of tulips on offer in the supermarket. Tulips range from the very elegant lily-shaped flowers to voluptuous, double peony-like flowers and showy, frilly parrot versions.

With careful selection of early and later flowering varieties you can have tulips in flower from the end March/beginning of April all the way through to the end of May so flowering time is an important factor when choosing which varieties to grow.

Tulips
Tulips with Bluebells, Muscari, Forget-me-nots and Hawthorn foliage.

I have a raised bed which I've dedicated to growing about 80 tulip bulbs. They are all cut like a crop as soon as the bud starts to show colour. I have a mix of varieties and have to confess that I don't know the names of a lot of them as they were part of a generic 'purple blend' from the bulb wholesaler. For this year I have added the red, frilly, Parrot-flowered 'Rococo', 'Blue Parrot' -  a wavy, mauve-blue flower, 'Angelique' - a romantic, soft pink Peony variety, 'Showcase' which is a large, dark red, double form and the unusual 'Exotic Emperor' which has green bracts surrounding the large creamy, white double flower.

Tulip 'Exotic Emperor'
Tulip 'Exotic Emperor'

In the garden borders, I have the wonderful, and very popular, dark 'Queen of Night', alongside 'Exotic Emporer, 'Purissima', 'Negrita' and 'Bleu Aimable'. I mainly leave these for the garden display but can't resist cutting a few to bring inside. When planting tulips in the garden, you can be left with messy foliage that needs to be left to die down in order for the energy to be directed into the bulb for next year's flowers. Planting in amongst perennials that will grow and cover the foliage is a good idea. I have drifts of biennial forget-me-nots that self-seed all around the garden and are invaluable for flowering at the same time and creating a frothy sea of blue which softens and disguised the tulip foliage as well as making a good cut flower in their own right.

Mixed tulips
Tulips in mixed border with Forget-me-nots and perennials.
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According to the Meteorological calendar, March 1st is the official start of Spring and that is good enough for me to shrug off Winter (though maybe not my layers of jumpers just yet) and embrace the new growing season. March sees the start of annual seed-sowing and every windowsill in the house will groan under the weight of seed trays and pots. I have a potting shed but it's unheated so I like to start my annuals off inside and then move them out to the potting shed (and eventually the cutting beds) when the weather heats up. This will free up space on the windowsill for a 2nd batch of seedlings.

Erysimum and Alliums
Perennial Wallflowers (Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve') and Alliums.

It's not all about annuals though - perennials, shrubs, grasses, herbs and bulbs all have a role to play too. Now is a good time to make plans for introducing new plants into your garden that look good but can also be cut and brought into the house.

Annual flower seed

Seeds are relatively cheap and although seed has to be sown each year, you can allow some flowers to go to seed at the end of the season and store seed to sow the next year, cutting down on your annual seed bill. I love trying new varieties so will always buy new seed each year but I have some stalwarts that I love and will always grow like Cornflower 'Black Ball' & Ammi majus, and I will save the seed from these.

Annuals are good for dedicated cutting beds, growing in pots and for plugging any gaps in mixed borders. Choose a range of flower shapes and colours and use early flowering hardy annuals (like Cornflowers, Scabious & Candytuft) and later flowering half-hardy annuals (Cosmos, Zinnias and Sunflowers) to prolong flowering time. Sowing in small batches throughout the Spring means that you can replace spent plants with new seedlings to continue the succession of flowers. In this way, you can have flowers from annual seed for a good 6 months from say June-October.

Seedlings in potting shed
Seedlings in potting shed

Perennials

Most gardens have a mix of perennials and shrubs in the garden borders. When thinking about good perennials to grow, go for those that offer a long season of picking. Knautia macedonica, for example, thrives if you keep picking the flowers, producing lots to pick and lots to leave on the plant to look good in the borders. Other good 'cut and come again' perennials include Salvias, Japanese Anemones and Cirsium rivulare. Try to include a range of flowering times from Aquilegia and Delphiniums in early Summer to Sedums, Heleniums and Verbena bonariensis, which flower into Autumn, followed by Hellebores which provide welcome Winter flowers.

Hellebores and Spring flowers
Hellebores flower in Winter and early Spring

Bulbs

Bulbs are essential for the cut flower garden as they can be packed into borders and many start flowering in late winter or early spring. Extend the picking season by planting early-, mid- and late-flowering cultivars of bubs. For example, with Daffodils, 'February Gold' reliably flowers in March, while 'Pheasant's Eye' flowers from mid-April and with Tulip varieties, you can choose different varieties that will keep you in flowers from April through to June. Bulbs can be forced by an initial period in cool and dark conditions before being brought indoors to flower from mid-Winter. I like to treat Iris reticulata and Hyacinths in this way.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata 'Harmony'

Shrubs

Evergreens and early-flowering shrubs such as Japanese quince (Chaenomeles), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Viburnum tinus, V. bodnantense and Daphne odora can provide invaluable cutting material in Winter and early Spring. Consider planting a mixed hedge in place of a fence to increase opportunities for cutting.

Climbers

Climbers not only provide flowers but some, like Clematis, bear attractive seed heads as well and they can be trained up trees or along walls and fences, taking up vertical space rather than a lot of space in your beds. I have a climbing Rose which flowers on and off over a long period in Summer and into Autumn - I was still picking the flowers into November last year.

Clematis and Hawthorn with Chives
Clematis, Hawthorn, Chive flowers, Aquilegia, Red Campion and Ceanothus - a mix of climbers, hedging, and perennials.

Planting plans

It's useful to roughly sketch out your garden, including all available planting space, and noting which plants you will keep which are either useful for cutting or will look good in the garden, or both. You'll then be able to see where you have space to introduce new plants. Using information on eventual height and spread of plants and flowering times, plan where best to place plants. A tool such as the Plant Finder on the Shoot Gardening website can be invaluable when choosing plants as it shows the eventual sizes, season of interest, growing conditions and even monthly care tips if you register for a free trial or subscription.

Mixed perennial border
Mixed perennial border designed by Miles Garden Design

If you need further help when planning your permanent planting, many garden designers offer a planting plan service to plan your beds and borders.  Tailored to your individual garden and likes and dislikes, you'll be able to achieve the perfect border for year-round interest both in the garden and in the vase.

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