I've added some pictures of just a selection of my favourite flower arrangements from my cutting garden last year. I've enjoyed over 100 jugs, vases and posies of flowers from February through to December. I've calculated that I spent under £30 on seeds, compost, flower feed and organic slug pellets over the year, which is considerably less than it would cost to buy that number of flowers from the florist or supermarket. This is all without the air miles, pesticide usage and loss of character and scent that you get with imported flowers. Growing your own flowers comes with the additional benefits of providing a food source for bees and other pollinating insects, being able to use flowers that you would never see in a shop, and the pleasure of sowing seed and watching it grow. In 2016, I'll be growing all my old favourites, but trying out some new varieties of annuals, Tulips and Dahlias, so watch this space!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
September in the Cutting Garden
After a long Summer holiday, my children have gone back to school, so let me fill you in on what has been going on in my cutting garden over the Summer and what I'll be cutting this month as we proceed into Autumn.
The hardy annuals, which were flowering so well at the beginning of the Summer, are still producing a good number of blooms but are showing signs of slowing down. In a couple of weeks, I will clear these annuals and plant out my Sweet Williams which are growing on well in the potting shed. These include Cornflowers, Amberboa muricata (which have suffered a bit of mildew on the leaves but are still producing useful blooms) Lupins and Malope trifida. My Larkspur have already been taken out as they were looking very weedy and yellow.
The real stars at this time of year are my Cosmos and Scabious. I have a mix of Cosmos 'Click Cranberries' and 'Rubenza' which, while I love the colour of the flowers, have seemed a bit weedy in comparison with Cosmos 'Purity' which is romping away. It could be that they are being overshadowed by the taller growing 'Purity' so I will grow them in separate beds next year. My Zinnias should be doing really well, but have been a bit disappointing, with some plants failing completely and some just producing the odd flower here and there. They are bulking up slowly so I may be rewarded with more flowers later this month. Zinnia seedlings dislike root disturbance and can sulk if you grow them in pots and then plant them out. This is what I did this year, so next year I will try sowing them directly where they are to grow and see if I can produce better plants.
It's not all doom and gloom though. The big successes this year have been my Scabious 'Black Knight' which I love, with its large dark red, velvety flower heads. In contrast, the less showy but very elegant, Scabious 'Tall Double Mix - white' is a small, pure white, pincushion flower which looks lovely dotted throughout an arrangement. My Didsicus (Blue Lace Flower) have produced lots of lovely lacy flowers and they continue to look good once the petals have fallen off. I have been leaving a lot of them on the plant until they reach this stage as the spidery flower structure is stunning.
I've grown Panicum grass for the first time this year and really like the frothiness of the flowering seed heads. I also have some late-sown Salvia viridis and Ammi majus starting to produce useful foliage and filler material in my cutting beds. I planted these out after taking out the Larkspur and some Bupleurum seedlings which had failed. It's really useful to have some replacement seedlings on hand to replace any plants that fail to perform or fill any gaps. If you sow a few extra annuals when the first batch of hardy annuals are just coming into flower, they should be ready to plant out when other annuals may be going over.
Other annuals worth a mention that are now appearing in my arrangements, are Coreopsis 'Incredible Tall Mix', with its almost Helenium-like flowers in a range of yellows and reddish-browns, and Rudbekia 'Cherry Brandy'. I didn't have much germination success with my Rudbekia, with only one seedling coming up, but I absolutely love it's dark cherry-red blooms and it looks great with the Coreopsis.
I've had a bumper crop of Dahlias this year. I've grown them all in pots and have watered them almost daily when it has been dry, but we've had a lot of rain over the last few weeks so this means less watering. I also give them a liquid feed every couple of weeks as they are hungry plants, especially if grown in pots. Elsewhere in the garden borders, I've been cutting lots of Fennel and Oregano as filler and foliage material, Knautia macedonica, Lavender, Mallow, Verbena bonariensis, perennial Scabious, Heleniums and Japanese Anemones.
I'm looking forward to my Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flowering later this month. The plants are small, as they were planted in the Spring, but I love the form of them and they are great for some Autumn colour in the garden.
Jobs for September
Keep picking, dead-heading and watering where necessary. When annuals start failing - typically the hardy annuals you planted out first - like Cornflowers, annual Lupins, Amberboa and Larkspur, pull them out and compost them and replace them with any bi-ennials that you have grown or can buy from the garden centre. I've got some Sweet William 'Sooty' - a dark maroon/chocolate form and Sweet William 'Single Mixed' with a range of different shades from pale pink to red. Other bi-ennials that make good cut flowers include Sweet Rocket, Foxgloves and Wallflowers.
I will start sowing some hardy annuals (Cornflowers, Ammi and Sweet peas) to over-winter for planting out early next spring once I've planted out my bi-ennials and have more space in the potting shed.
You can also start planting spring bulbs such as Daffodils, Crocus and Muscari, if you have space in beds and borders. Leave any Tulip bulbs until November as they will be less prone to Tulip Fire if you plant them later when the weather is colder. Tulip fire is a fungal disease caused by Botrytis tulipae, which produces brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves. It is so named because plants appear scorched by fire. I've been pouring over the bulb catalogues and it is easy to get carried away but I've been trying to visualise how the flowers will look in the vase together before making any final decisions. I'll cover more on bulbs in my next post.