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!
Don't worry, I'm not going to bombard you with lots of strict rules and techniques. For the home, simple flower arrangements are more fitting than elaborate centrepieces with complicated wiring. I am often put off by artificial looking displays as they just don't seem right with natural flowers you have grown yourself. Your own flowers won't have ram-rod straight stems and uniform flowers but will have lots of character and scent. However, a few simple tips will make all the difference to your own creations.
Choice of Container
Jugs with a classic in-and-out shape have a narrow neck that will hold flowers in place easily. They are my favourite choice when arranging flowers. I have a range of sizes and colours but love simple enamel jugs. Vases or containers with wide necks need a lot of flowers to fill them and will require some form of hidden support. I love my little fig tin (above) and have used a ball of chicken wire hidden inside to support the flowers.
I don't use floral foam as it is not reusable or recyclable and some flowers, especially those with delicate stems, will flop if placed in foam. Other alternatives include creating a grid of adhesive tape across the top of a container which is hidden once filled or you can use metal flower frogs. These sit at the bottom of a vase and have stem-sized holes in them to hold flowers in place.
Small glass bottles make great containers for small bunches or for showcasing individual flowers which look great lined up. I also love using jam jars for a simple posy of flowers.
Try to keep the height of your flowers in proportion to the vase or container you have chosen. The arrangement should be at least as tall again as the vase. If your flowers are too short, the display will look dumpy, if too tall, it will appear top-heavy.
Place your foliage and fillers into the vase first to create a structure and support for the flower stems.
Use an odd number of flowers. 3-5 stems of each type will be more pleasing to the eye than an even number and looks more natural. Grouping flowers of the same type in an arrangement, rather than dotting them throughout a display can also look more naturalistic, mimicking their growth in the garden.
Trim your stems to different heights for a natural look. Shorter stems should sit at the edge of the vase whereas taller stems should be towards the middle. This will allow all the different flowers to be seen.
Position of vase
If your vase is going to be sitting with its back to the wall, only the front and sides will be on view so place taller stems towards the back and don't waste flowers by putting them round the back where they won't be seen. If the vase is for the middle of the table then it needs to look good from all angles. Your tallest stems should be in the middle of the arrangement with the height of flowers gradually decreasing towards to the outside of the vase.
We're approaching the end of June and we've had some pretty cold weather for what is supposed to be Summer. Yesterday and today have been lovely however, so could we please have Summer now?
My hardy annuals are now nearly all in flower and I'm really pleased with the varieties that I've chosen to grow this year. New for me this year are Amberboa muricata 'Sweet Sultan' with pale pink shaggy cornflower type flowers, the tiny white annual Lupin 'Snow Pixie' with delicate white spires of flowers on short stems and the amazing Malope trifida 'Vulcan' which has large magenta trumpet flowers with lime-green centres.
My blue and dark red Cornflowers are producing masses of flowers. They are so easy to grow and reliable and really do keep on flowering for a couple of months the more you pick them. My Larkspur are looking really healthy and are in bud but not flowering quite yet.
My Sweet Peas are looking really lush climbing up a frame of birch branches and I love the rich colours of the flowers. I've grown 'King Size Navy Blue' (a very dark purple - I'm not sure why seed producers are obsessed with producing blue varieties of flowers which are always, always not blue at all!), 'Matucana' which are bi-coloured - crimson and violet and 'Wiltshire Ripple' which are frilled, white flowers, splashed and streaked with deep claret. All three varieties have a lovely fragrance. Sweet peas have one of the very best scents of any flower. Yesterday, I took a sneaky day off and visited the gardens at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk and walked through a lovely rusted metal pergola swathed in gorgeous sweet peas which smelt heavenly. I don't have space for more than 3-4 varieties but it is fun to grow something different each year.
Unfortunately, I've also suffered some losses in my cutting beds. Virtually all of my Bupleurum, Ammi majus and Orlaya grandiflora plants, which started with healthy growth have slowly, one by one, turned brown and have died off. I'm not sure what has happened to them but it may be the unseasonably cold weather or some kind of pest or disease in the soil. All my other annuals in the same beds are flourishing so it's very strange and not something I've encountered before. I have sown some more of each type, which may still have time to flower this season, so I will see if they fare any better. All of these annuals make very good fillers (serving to bulk out a display with non-showy flowers and adding a light, airy feel to a vase).
My half-hardy annuals, which were planted out into two beds at the beginning of the month, are slowly increasing in size. These include Didiscus 'Blue Lace', Cosmos 'Click Cranberries' & 'Rubenza' and Zinnias 'Yoga' &'Art Deco'. I'm expecting flowers towards the middle of July (if the weather warms up!).
The Cosmos were planted into a bed that previously housed a crop of Tulips. I left them for as long as possible for the foliage to die down but it was still pretty green when I had to take the bulbs up. It's important to let Tulip foliage die down so that all the energy goes back into the bulb for flowers the following year. This being so, I carefully lifted the bulbs with foliage still intact and placed them temporarily in some plastic window boxes with some soil and put them out of sight at the bottom of the garden. Once the foliage had died off, I took the bulbs up again and let them dry out before brushing off any soil and storing in paper bags in a dark cupboard until late Autumn.
In the potting shed, I've sown some bi-ennial seeds for plants which I will plant out in September for flowers in early Spring next year. I've gone for the purple form of Sweet Rocket (it also comes in white) and two varieties of Sweet William - 'Single Mixed' (a mix of whites, pinks and dark red) and 'Sooty' which is a dark maroon chocolate colour. Other biennials you could sow now include Honesty and Wallflowers.
Jobs To Do
In terms of maintenance, I am tying in new growth on the tall annuals, such as Larkspur, Cosmos and the Sweet Peas, to their supports. Once a week, I give the cutting beds a really good soak with the hose. A good watering once a week is preferable to giving plants a little drink every day which only encourages shallow roots. You really want the plant roots to have to seek out the water further down the soil profile. Once the Dahlias are in flower (buds are just starting to form on my plants), I will give them a weekly feed of seaweed extract.
I haven't got a lot of weeds in the raised beds but if a stray one does appear, usually a fennel seedling that has self-seeded from elsewhere in the garden, I will pluck it out. That's it, just ensuring that flowers are picked every few days and not allowed to flower and form seed heads. Seed formation is an annual plant's whole 'raison d'etre' and once it has achieved this, there is no reason to keep producing flowers so pick them regularly and they will flower for months before exhausting themselves.
Elsewhere in the garden, I'm continuing to harvest the foliage of Lemon balm and Oregano and cutting flowers of perennial Scabious, Roses, Heuchera and Astrantia. Flowers have just started coming out on my perennial Knautia macedonica which will keep flowering the more it is cut for the next few months.