Well, I'm pretty sure that in my last post I was complaining about the cutting garden having disappeared under 10 cm of snow. We are now experiencing the hottest April weather in 70 years! Not that I am complaining, its just that I (and my milk-bottle legs) am not quite ready for mid-summer temperatures when it feels like spring only arrived a couple of weeks ago.
April sees the first of the tulips in flower where they join the primroses, cowslips, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, drumstick primulas, Euphorbia amydaloides, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', pulsatillas and forget-me-nots. It is so satisfying to see the abundance of spring flowers, knowing that this is just the start. The bluebells, wallflowers, thrifts and foxgloves are following not far behind!
When choosing tulip varieties ensure that you choose some early flowerers (e.g. Exotic Emporer and Showcase), some mid-flowering types (e.g. Negrita and Paul Scherer) and some late flowering varieties (e.g. Angelique and Doll's Minuet). You can then extend the picking season for as long as possible.
Also this month: I am gradually hardening-off my hardy annual seedlings ready for planting out; I'm sowing batches of half-hardy annuals inside on my sunny windowsills; I am sneakily buying some little primulas, saxifrages and pulsatillas to edge some of the cutting beds; I'm pressing forget-me-nots and primroses in my flower presses for more pressed flower pictures and I'm getting ready to host another 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop next week.
I love September. It has an air of new starts and possibilities, more so, I feel, than in the New Year when the weather is a bit bleak and I feel like hibernating under the duvet rather than embarking on new projects. I really enjoy tidying up spent plants, collecting seed, leafing through the seed and bulb catalogues and planting out biennials and bulbs in anticipation of spring flowers. Or could it just be that I'm relieved that my children have returned to school, after the long summer holidays?..
Its not all about planning and planting for next year though - there are still lots of flowers for picking in bloom in the cutting garden. Cosmos, Zinnias, Dahlias, Scabious, Heleniums, Echinacea, Rudbekia, Asters, Chrysanthemums, Panicum grass, Roses and Verbena bonariensis are all looking good.
Earlier flowering annuals such as Cornflowers & Sweet peas have done their thing and can be removed to the compost heap, freeing up ground for planting either biennials, bulbs or for direct sowing hardy annuals.
Before clearing annuals, collect any seeds from your plants for either sowing in spring or for sowing now. Sowing hardy annuals in September will give you a head-start in the spring and you should get flowers up to a month earlier than if you sow them in early spring. I sow a few hardy annuals directly into any spaces in my cutting beds and also sow a few in pots in the potting shed. I'll then also sow a lot of seeds in the early spring as I like to hedge my bets. Autumn-sown plants do have to withstand slugs and the vagaries of winter weather so you do have to keep an eye on them. Last winter was so mild that the slugs were still out munching for most of it so you can easily find that all your lovely seedlings have been nibbled to the ground. More on seed-sowing here.
September is also the time to start planting spring flowering bulbs (all except tulips which benefit from going in the ground later on in November). I love nothing more than poring over the bulbs catalogues looking for new and interesting Tulip varieties for my cutting beds. I always plant up some small pots of Iris reticulata at this time of year which can be brought into the house for flowers during the winter.
During this month, ensure that you keep on top of watering and feeding plants and don't skimp on dead-heading. With dead-heading your Dahlias, Cosmos etc will go on flowering right up to the first frosts which hopefully are a few months away as yet.
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).
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.
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 (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.
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!