November in the cutting garden

It had been a rather rainy, but exceptionally mild, November here in Norfolk up until the weekend when we had a taste of real Winter weather - a sprinkling of snow and our first frost. Although the arrival of the first frost does spell the end to annuals like Ammi, Sunflowers and Cosmos, there are still a variety of flowers that you can bring into the house, from forced bulbs like Narcissi 'Paperwhite' to branches of Winter-flowering shrubs. As I write this, I can smell the heavenly scent of Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'. The flowers are numerous and a pretty pink colour, and the scent is incredibly intense. I can smell them as soon as I enter the house. This is a great shrub to make room for in the garden.

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'
Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' has a delicious scent and is a great shrub for flowers over Winter

I've had some lovely vases of flowers for most of November, including a late crop of Cornflowers, which sprang up, self-sown, and a late crop of the Ammi majus which I struggled to get to grow earlier in the season so the late batch were all the more welcome. My annual Chrysanthemum 'Polar Star' never really got off the ground and my Zinnias have been a big disappointment with only a few blooms to pick sporadically. The true stars for this time of year have been my Scabious - 'Black Cat' and 'Tall Double White' which actually look like they might survive the frost for a while longer. My Dahlias have, I confess, been a bit neglected in their pots, so didn't flower for quite as long as I'd hoped. I have now brought the pots into the potting shed where they will over-winter away from the frost. I will plant them out again, this time into their own cutting bed, which will be devoted to Tulips and Dahlias, where I think the larger varieties will fare better.

Skimmia and Roses
Skimmia, Roses, Scabiosa and Ammi

I've already got flowers on the Narcissi 'Paperwhite' bulbs that I potted up in October. They have a wonderful scent and are very tall and elegant. They need some form of support. I've used hazel twigs and tied in the flowering stems with jute twine to give a natural look.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been planting small bulbs (Irises, Snowdrops and Muscari) in some small decorative containers and terracotta pots, every week or so in the shelter of the potting shed. Once in flower, I will bring them into the house for an early Winter display. By planting in succession, I should ensure a continuous display of bulbs for a few months at a time when there are no annuals to pick. After flowering, they can be planted out into the garden borders for flowers next year.

Paperwhite Narcissi
Paperwhite Narcissi

My Amaryllis bulb, planted last month has a green shooting tip and I'm hoping it will be in flower by Christmas.

November is the best month for planting Tulips but you can go into December with their planting. At this time of year, retailers start slashing the cost of Spring-flowering bulbs so there are opportunities for grabbing some bargains. I've invested in some new varieties this year and what a huge variety of Tulip flowers there are! From elegant Lily-shaped flowers, double Peony-like flowers and showy, frilly Parrot versions. Go for your favourite colours but grow a range of shades and flower shapes to complement each other in the vase. I'm going for the red, frilly, Parrot-flowered 'Rococo', 'Blue Parrot' -  a wavy, mauve-blue flower, 'Angelique' - a romantic, soft pink Peony variety and 'Showcase' which is a large, dark red, double form. I also have a blended mix of Tulips (varieties unstated!) in shades of white, pink and purple which were cheap in the supermarket. In the garden borders, I have the wonderful, and very popular, dark 'Queen of Night', alongside 'Exotic Emporer, 'Purissima' and 'Blue Amiable'. I mainly leave these for the garden display but can't resist cutting a few to bring inside. See my Pinterest page for pictures of all Tulips mentioned.

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Hellebores start flowering in Winter and on into Spring and make lovely cut flowers. They don't last long in the vase so I usually have a few potted up and placed on the table in the courtyard outside my patio doors so that I can still enjoy them from afar. If you wait until the flower ages and the stem gets woody, you can cut the bloom and it will survive a lot longer in a vase than when fresh. Other sources of cut material include Winter-flowering shrubs such as Skimmia japonica, Viburnum tinus, Viburnum bodnantense, Witch Hazel and Daphne odora. Try to include at least one of these in the garden as they bring a welcome splash of colour, usually coupled with a lovely scent if you want to cut a branch or two to bring inside.

Hellebore
Hellebore with a sprinkling of frost

I'm looking forward to December now and the opportunity to make some Christmas wreaths with some evergreen foliage and berries from the garden, along with some natural, homemade decorations.

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News from the Cutting Garden

Well, the school summer holidays are upon us and so this will be my final post to the website for a while. I will be turning my attention to entertaining my hyperactive 3-year-old daughter Rosie and attempting to lure my 7-year-old Ben away from his computer games.

I've been cutting flowers from the garden practically every day for the last few weeks. My early hardy annuals are producing buckets of blooms. I've been leaving quite a lot of flowers for the insects but ensuring that I always deadhead when the flowers are over to ensure that the plants keep on producing. I've had plenty of flowers so that I can have a display in almost every room of the house and still had some spare to create some lovely little jam jar posies as presents for teachers at the end of term.

Jam jar posies make excellent and indiv
Jam jar posies make excellent and individual presents for teachers at the end of term

Mysterious plant deaths

I've just planted out a second batch of hardy annuals - a few more Cornflowers and some Ammi and Bupleurum to replace those that died off last month in mysterious circumstances. I thought I had the answer last week when I dug up a Cornflower that had been merrily flowering away but had gone yellow and floppy looking. Under the plant, I found what I initially thought to be a Vine Weevil grub, but soon realised was too big. After a lot of searching images of disgusting white grubs on the internet, I think it was actually a Swift Moth Caterpillar. These live in the soil and nibble on plant roots which may explain the Cornflower death. I didn't find any of these caterpillars when digging up other plants that had failed and they seemed to die off earlier so I think either another pest or fungal disease is probably at work there. I'm hoping that everything else will survive and we don't have too many more die-offs.

Annuals from the cutting garden
Sweet peas, Scabious, Cornflowers, Alchemilla, Gypsophila, Cosmos, Lemon balm, Lupins

Annuals

I'm currently picking Cornflowers, Sweet Peas, Lupins, Larkspur, Malope trifida, Gypsophila, Panicum grass, some lovely Nigella (Love in a Mist) and the odd early Cosmos flower.
Annuals that will take over from these as the main crops in a few weeks will be Zinnias, Scabious, Cosmos, Didiscus (Blue Lace Flower), Salvias, Coreopsis, Carnations, and Chrysanthemum 'Polar Star'.

Malope trifida 'Vulcan'
Malope trifida 'Vulcan', Pelargonium 'Lord Bute', Cornflowers, Lupins, Lemon balm

Perennials

Elsewhere in the garden borders, I am harvesting Lavender, Knautia macedonica, Verbena bonariensis, Perennial Scabious, Francoa sonchifolia, Oregano (now flowering), White and Pink Mallow, Sanguisorba, Persicaria, a few Dahlias that have just started blooming in their pots, Pelargonium 'Lord Bute', Galega officinalis and the first Fennel flowers.

Jobs to do

Aside from picking flowers (not really a chore!), I check my raised beds every day or two and spend 5-10 minutes on the following: deadheading, fishing out the odd weed, tying in new growth to supports, squashing aphids and replacing the odd plant that has reached the end of its life or has succumbed to the mystery disease with a seedling from the potting shed. I also try to give the raised beds a really good watering once a week and have fed the Sweet Peas and Dahlias with flower food every few weeks.

Raised Bed
Hardy annuals in my raised cutting bed. Amberboa, Malope, Cornflowers, Lupins, Larkspur and Cornflowers

What's next?

Well, I'll just keep picking my flowers from the raised beds and perennial borders and will look forward to the later flowering plants coming into bloom. I'll clear away spent plants when they cease to flower and put them on the compost heap. I'll keep on top of the jobs listed above - a little time spent every few days will do the trick.

I'll report back on progress after the summer - hope to see you then. In the meantime, I'll still share my cut flower pictures on Facebook and Twitter and have also been working on producing some Cut Flower Guides detailing everything you need to know about growing, cutting and arranging individual flowers such as Sweet Peas and Cornflowers.

Flowers from the cutting garden in July
July cut flowers - Cosmos, Larkspur, Cornflower, Sanguisorba, Galega officinalis, Mallow, Amberboa and Gypsophila
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We're approaching the end of June and we've had some pretty cold weather for what is supposed to be Summer. Yesterday and today have been lovely however, so could we please have Summer now?

Hardy annuals
My hardy annuals are now nearly all in flower and I'm really pleased with the varieties that I've chosen to grow this year. New for me this year are Amberboa muricata 'Sweet Sultan' with pale pink shaggy cornflower type flowers, the tiny white annual Lupin 'Snow Pixie' with delicate white spires of flowers on short stems and the amazing Malope trifida 'Vulcan' which has large magenta trumpet flowers with lime-green centres.

My blue and dark red Cornflowers are producing masses of flowers. They are so easy to grow and reliable and really do keep on flowering for a couple of months the more you pick them. My Larkspur are looking really healthy and are in bud but not flowering quite yet.

Cutting garden flowers in June
Sweet peas, Amberboa, Lupins, Cornflowers, Scabious, Nigella and Lemon Balm foliage

Sweet Peas
My Sweet Peas are looking really lush climbing up a frame of birch branches and I love the rich colours of the flowers. I've grown 'King Size Navy Blue' (a very dark purple - I'm not sure why seed producers are obsessed with producing blue varieties of flowers which are always, always not blue at all!), 'Matucana' which are bi-coloured - crimson and violet and 'Wiltshire Ripple' which are frilled, white flowers, splashed and streaked with deep claret. All three varieties have a lovely fragrance. Sweet peas have one of the very best scents of any flower. Yesterday, I took a sneaky day off and visited the gardens at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk and walked through a lovely rusted metal pergola swathed in gorgeous sweet peas which smelt heavenly. I don't have space for more than 3-4 varieties but it is fun to grow something different each year.

Sweet peas
Sweet peas - Matucana, King Size Navy Blue and Wiltshire Ripple varieties

Unfortunately, I've also suffered some losses in my cutting beds. Virtually all of my Bupleurum, Ammi majus and Orlaya grandiflora plants, which started  with healthy growth have slowly, one by one, turned brown and have died off. I'm not sure what has happened to them but it may be the unseasonably cold weather or some kind of pest or disease in the soil. All my other annuals in the same beds are flourishing so it's very strange and not something I've encountered before. I have sown some more of each type, which may still have time to flower this season, so I will see if they fare any better. All of these annuals make very good fillers (serving to bulk out a display with non-showy flowers and adding a light, airy feel to a vase).

Hardy annuals
Hardy annuals bed - compare this picture with the one from last month - it's amazing how quickly they grow once they get going


Half-hardy Annuals

My half-hardy annuals,  which were planted out into two beds at the beginning of the month, are slowly increasing in size. These include Didiscus 'Blue Lace', Cosmos 'Click Cranberries' & 'Rubenza' and Zinnias 'Yoga' &'Art Deco'. I'm expecting flowers towards the middle of July (if the weather warms up!).

Tulips
The Cosmos were planted into a bed that previously housed a crop of Tulips. I left them for as long as possible for the foliage to die down but it was still pretty green when I had to take the bulbs up. It's important to let Tulip foliage die down so that all the energy goes back into the bulb for flowers the following year. This being so, I carefully lifted the bulbs with foliage still intact and placed them temporarily in some plastic window boxes with some soil and put them out of sight at the bottom of the garden. Once the foliage had died off, I took the bulbs up again and let them dry out before brushing off any soil and storing in paper bags in a dark cupboard until late Autumn.

Malope trifida 'Vulcan'
Malope trifida 'Vulcan' (bottom, centre), with Lupin 'Snow Pixie', Cornflowers, Scabious, Sweet peas and Pelargonium 'Lord Bute'

Potting Shed
In the potting shed, I've sown some bi-ennial seeds for plants which I will plant out in September for flowers in early Spring next year. I've gone for the purple form of Sweet Rocket (it also comes in white) and two varieties of Sweet William - 'Single Mixed' (a mix of whites, pinks and dark red) and 'Sooty' which is a dark maroon chocolate colour. Other biennials you could sow now include Honesty and Wallflowers.

Jobs To Do
In terms of maintenance, I am tying in new growth on the tall annuals, such as Larkspur, Cosmos and the Sweet Peas, to their supports. Once a week, I give the cutting beds a really good soak with the hose. A good watering once a week is preferable to giving plants a little drink every day which only encourages shallow roots. You really want the plant roots to have to seek out the water further down the soil profile. Once the Dahlias are in flower (buds are just starting to form on my plants), I will give them a weekly feed of seaweed extract.
I haven't got a lot of weeds in the raised beds but if a stray one does appear, usually a fennel seedling that has self-seeded from elsewhere in the garden, I will pluck it out. That's it, just ensuring that flowers are picked every few days and not allowed to flower and form seed heads. Seed formation is an annual plant's whole 'raison d'etre' and once it has achieved this, there is no reason to keep producing flowers so pick them regularly and they will flower for months before exhausting themselves.

Elsewhere in the garden, I'm continuing to harvest the foliage of Lemon balm and Oregano and cutting flowers of perennial Scabious, Roses, Heuchera and Astrantia. Flowers have just started coming out on my perennial Knautia macedonica which will keep flowering the more it is cut for the next few months.

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