We've had a very mild winter so far here in Norfolk and every day that I venture into the garden in the morning, cup of tea in hand, I notice a few more signs of spring.
The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is one of the first hedging plants to flower and the blossom is a pretty addition to the hedge and to a vase to bring into the house. The first tiny blue Scilla flowers are emerging from the soil. They are unusual in that the flowers emerge from the bare soil before the leaves do.
The pale yellow primroses, usually a herald of spring, have actually been flowering away merrily since about November. I have a few as edging plants in the cutting beds as they don't take up a lot of space and the flowers are useful in tiny spring arrangements, lasting really well as a cut flower.
Last year, I planted some Hellebores in the dahlia bed, figuring that as they enjoy a certain amount of shade, they wouldn't be too affected by being shaded out by the towering dahlias during the hot summer months. Once the dahlias are cut down after the first frosts, the Hellebores gain access to some weaker sunshine during the winter and spring. It's worked really well and they are all blooming away happily. They really help to create vibrancy and life in the cutting beds during these winter months. I now have 14 different varieties in the garden and couldn't resist purchasing a few more on a recent shopping expedition to try the same idea up at our allotment plot. I cut some, leave some to brighten up the garden and press some of the beautiful flower heads for picture and card making.
I'm slowly adding to the clumps of snowdrops in the garden borders. These beautiful dainty flowers are a classic winter flower and there are a staggering number of varieties of snowdrops to grow. Mine are the common Galanthus nivalis supplemented by some double-flowered 'Flore Pleno' and the tall 'Elwesii'. I have invested in a November-flowering variety called 'Remember Remember' which I hope will clump up and justify the small fortune that I paid for a single bulb. I often pick just a few snowdrop flowers along with a few stems of colourful Cyclamen coum for miniature displays.
Each January, as a way of mitigating the gloom, I like to look back over the previous year and celebrate the successes, reminding me of all the flowers and joy from the cutting garden to come. At the same time, I can review anything that didn't quite work as planned and make changes for the growing season ahead.
As always, some years are better than others as a lot depends on the weather throughout the year. The best way to be prepared for the vagaries of the weather is to grow a wide variety of plants and sow successionally throughout spring and early summer. If your spring-sown annuals are suddenly knocked back by an unexpected spell of cold after a spell of hot weather (as happened to me last spring) you can sow another batch of seed which should quickly catch up and take over from any seedlings that don't recover.
2019 was a fabulous year for dahlias and sweetpeas for me. They thrived up at my new allotment plot where enjoyed the clay soil and full sun. At home in my cutting garden, I had great successs with biennial wild carrot which I will in future choose to grow in preference to annual Ammi majus. They both fulfill the same function as a beautiful lacy white umbellifer that acts a filler flower to set off other more showy blooms, providing a natural look. I find that Ammi needs to be sown regularly as individual plants don't produce for long periods where the wild carrot goes from spring into summer with little bother. I had less success with Cosmos which for some reason didn't want to germinate and then were very slow to get going.
Here are a selection of the flowers that I grew and picked last year, all from my relatively small family garden and a small bed on the allotment. I also include some pressed flower items that I make from the flowers that I grow. Speaking of which, I am contemplating running a craft workshop on pressing and drying flowers and ways to use them such as making pictures, cards and wreaths so if anyone is interested, please do get in touch!
Although I always find something to harvest and bring indoors during the winter months, there's no denying that there is a sharp decline in cutting opportunities once the first frosts have struck.
A sharp frost truly spells the end of the half-hardy annuals and dahlias and, while some hardy annuals can soldier on (I have still been cutting some late-sown cornflowers, chinese forget-me-nots and marigolds), they slow down in the face of prolonged cold weather. Now is the time to remove them to the compost heap and mulch the cutting beds with manure to add nutrients for future flowers next year.
These next few months are a time for reflection and forward planning. I have some hardy annuals overwintering in my potting shed, ready for planting out next spring. I've potted up some spring bulbs in large pots for early spring flowers to display by the back door. I always plant miniature Iris reticulata and crocuses in small terracotta pots to bring inside the house during January and February. I have also planted some quick-flowering Paperwhite Narcissi which I think may not be quite ready in time for Christmas but should flower soon after.
I like to dry flowers throughout the summer for display over the winter. Hydrangeas turn lovely shades of lime-green and dark pink, alliums produce very beautiful seed heads. I was very pleased with my experiments at drying some dark red ball dahlias which kept their structure and turned a lovely deep shade as you can see in the photo above.
There are still fresh flowers to cut such as tender, late-flowering Chrysanthemums which are seeking protection in my allotment polytunnel. I like to team these with dried Hydrangea heads or use them with the dark green foliage and scented white flowers of Viburnum tinus.
Chrysanthemums come in some very beautiful forms and follow on nicely from Dahlias for cutting right into December. They have a fabulously long vase life, lasting about 2 weeks. I often use them for a splash of colour on a Christmas wreath (if the moss base is kept moist). I am a particular fan of the spider Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red' and the pretty pale pink 'Avignon Pink'.
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