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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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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Like many keen gardeners, having packed our garden full of plants, we are always finding or reading about new plants that we'd like to grow but we just don't have space for. Everything we grow in the garden borders is chosen to be suitable for cutting but also to put on a good garden display. In addition, we have an area half-way down the garden which is purely dedicated to growing plants for cutting (a mix of annuals, tulips and dahlias). These are housed in a series of raised beds with a wide central path running between them - originally designed to give our children room to zoom up and down on their bikes and trikes when we moved here about 7 years ago. The raised beds are built from railway sleepers and recycled wooden pallets - initially to grow veg in but gradually taken over by me as my passion for growing flowers took off!

wide path through cutting garden
Wide path through cutting garden

When looking at the space, we decided it was time for a remodeling of this area to house as many cutting beds as we could fit in. It wasn't great timing as the raised beds were packed full of spring bulbs and biennials but sometimes you just have to go for it when you have the time. So, it's 'bye-bye' to raised beds with wide paths and 'hello' to more, ground-level beds with smaller brick paths between. We're going to have almost double the planting space which will make room for a rose bed, a dedicated perennial and herb bed, a whole bed of dahlias and lots of space for annuals, foliage and fillers.

Days 1-2

We made a start on a Monday at the beginning of February when the sun was shining and it was very spring-like. Once we started digging we were reminded of just why we went with raised beds in the first place - very little soil and lots and lots (and lots) of rubble!

rubble
All rubble and no soil!

We're leaving one raised bed in place for now as it is crammed full of tulips and I can't bear to lose the flowers this April and May. Everything else growing in the beds has been carefully lifted and temporarily potted up or bagged up. We may lose some flowers this year but, as I keep having to remind myself, it will be worth it in the long run and whatever happens, we will be ready in time for all the annual flowers which will keep us in flowers from June until the first frosts.

DSCN2425
Bulbs, perennials and biennials from one of the raised beds have been potted up until the new cutting garden is complete

Day 3 Erm.. There is an awful lot of rubble to move about and we've found what we suspect are the remains of an old out-house buried under the raised beds on one side. On the plus side, we've salvaged lots of bricks and found a lovely old glass bottle but there's a lot more work than initially thought. There's no going back now though and we're already planning what to plant once it's finished!

Days 4-5 My lovely husband has been working hard all weekend and the garden is gradually taking shape. Some of the old raised beds were quite rotten so our fire pit has come in handy for getting rid of the wood. We've added a gold ring to our collection of finds!

Cutting garden revamp
Raised beds have been dismantled, hardcore for central path in place and soil ready to be shifted about

Days 6-7

The cutting garden is gradually taking shape. Lots of soil and rubble have been moved around - the rubble relocated under the pathways. Brick paths are being laid - a central wiggly one and some narrower ones dividing the cutting beds into sections. When planning a cutting garden, it's important not to make the beds too wide. About 1-1.2 m is the ideal width so that you can easily reach into the middle of the bed without having to trample the soil.

Days 8-9 The final paths have been laid, soil has been redistributed and the new cutting area is complete, save for the area where our final raised bed full of tulips, grape hyacinths and scillas has been left until the tulips have come into flower and been cut. Once they are over, we'll carefully lift the bulbs, complete with their foliage and replant them so that the foliage can die down naturally. We'll then be able to demolish that bed.

Brick path
Our cat, Otto enjoying the new central path in the sun

Day 10 We've started putting in some of the plants that have been languishing in plastic pots and compost sacks. We've lined the edges of the central path with some cuttings of chamomile and we've planted a row of small perennials along the edges of the beds running along the central path. We've used dwarf lavenders, drumstick primulas and Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle).

Day 11 The new cutting garden is finally complete and is planted up with the bulbs, biennials and perennials from the old raised beds and everything looks really healthy after a dose of rain. I'll give you the low-down on exactly what we'll be growing this year in my next post.

New cutting garden
New cutting garden!

 

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