Early each year, I like to look back at the flowers that I grew last growing season. The winter months are an ideal time to reflect as there's not a lot to do out there in the bleak, muddy, occasionally snowy, cold, wintery weather - can you tell that I am not a fan of winter?
It's mid-February and I am itching to get sowing and growing, but regrettably, it's not quite time to start sowing this year's batch of spring-sown annuals. If you wait until early March, when the days are drawing out, the seedlings won't have to strain to find the light. This will stop them getting all leggy and ungainly.
I have taken the time to look back at all the flowers I picked from the cutting garden and allotment last year - from January (snowdrops and cyclamen) all the way through to December (chrysanthemums).
This serves primarily as a way to cheer me up and show me that in a few weeks time I will be picking tulips and early-flowering perennials and then the flowers will just keep on coming. I can also remind myself which flowers I particularly liked, which flowers looked good and lasted well in the vase and which ones were best suited to pressing and drying.
Here is my photo record of the flowers that I grew in 2020 - which is your favourite?
It's amazing what a difference a small impulse buy at the supermarket last night has made to my spirits today.
In addition to my weekly shop, I bought a small pot of cheery, bright yellow Winter Aconites. In the past, I have shied away from their intense yellow (I find pale yellow a lot easier on the eye nestled among garden plantings) and they just hadn't featured in my winter flower wish-list.
This year however, they are a revelation. They have a gorgeous honey-like scent for starters. Close up, they are a beautiful flower with multiple stamens and a healthy, glossy sheen. Most importantly, they are flowering in January and February when other flowers are scarce.
I have a feeling that they will last well as a cut flower and they look lovely displayed as a mini bunch of flowers.
Most importantly for me, I am hoping that they will retain their bright yellow colour when I press them. I have nearly run out of yellow pressed flowers from the stacks of flowers that I pressed over the summer and have been scouting around for yellow flowers to put in my flower presses. I have a primrose which is flowering early but I need more yellow!
I've decapitated most of the flowers in the pot to sacrifice to the flower press but have left a few flower-heads on and will plant them out near the Hellebores where they should thrive in the partial shade. I have a feeling, that a few more pots of these diminutive flowers will make their way into my shopping trolley next week.
I don't just use fresh flowers for creating displays in the house. I seem to have an ever-growing collection of dried flowers and seed heads - giant, starry Allium christophii heads, sculptural opium poppies and the balloon-shaped heads of Nigella (love-in-a-mist). The good thing about them is that you can just chuck them on the compost heap if you tire of them or they get really dusty and grab yourself some fresh ones. Alliums come back every year and are best left to dry on the plant and then harvested before they get too weather-beaten. Poppies self-seed so you can have fresh seed heads each year and once you've grown the prolific self-sower love-in-a-mist, you'll be hard-pressed to get rid of it from the garden. Don't worry, it's easy to weed out or move seedlings if they pop up in the wrong place.
Alliums look fabulous just on their own in a single-stem vase or vintage glass bottle. You can even suspend them from the ceiling at Christmas-time, spraying them silver or gold if you're feeling adventurous. You'll find information on drying seed heads here.
I also grow a range of flowers that are suitable for drying. My favourites are Helichrysum or 'everlasting flowers'. They come in a wide range of colours and retain their colour and shape perfectly. You can use them as fresh flowers, dry them with the stems for display in a vase or use them for decorating dried flower wreaths or for adding a splash of colour to your Christmas wreath. I'm a fan of having wreaths on the wall throughout the year.
The best flowers for drying are those that retain their colour once dried. Varieties with thin petals and single flowers will dry quickly and successfully. Examples are larkspur, feverfew, sea lavender (Statice) and winged everlasting (Amobium alatum). Grasses like bunny's tails (Lagurus ovatus) also dry beautifully.
How to dry flowers:
Bundle together small bunches (about 8-10 stems) and tie them at the bottom of the stems using a piece of garden twine about 20 - 30 cm long.
Make a loop at the other end of your twine and use it to hang the flowers upside-down somewhere warm and dry in the dark. I use what used to be an airing cupboard but you could use a garage or something similar.
Leave until all parts of the flower are completely dry (usually about 1-2 weeks depending on the flowers used).
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