We're nearing the end of British Flowers Week. The campaign, created by New Covent Garden Flower Market, now in its 3rd year, promotes British flowers and foliage and the UK cut flower industry. It's a celebration of seasonal, locally-grown flowers and foliage which aims to "shine a spotlight on the best of British Cut Flowers."
Personally, it has seemed like a really long week to me as Rosie, my 3 year old, has been home from nursery with the chicken pox. And very irritable she has been too. However, she has been "helping" in the garden, in between tantrums, pulling up big handfuls of Ox-eye daisies by the roots to make a 'rangement', as she calls it.
British cut flowers are enjoying a resurgence in demand with people appreciating the value of locally-grown, freshly cut flowers, mirroring the demand for locally produced food. By buying British flowers you will be supporting local industry and encouraging wildlife and biodiversity.
More than 80% of flowers bought in the UK are imported. The average supermarket bouquet may have travelled 20,000-25,000 km before arriving in your living room. Large flower farms in South America and Africa grow flowers on a vast scale to supply the demand for cheap flowers across the world all through the year. It may seem that we now have a huge choice of flowers, but just as fruit and vegetables are grown for uniformity and shelf-life, the same applies to flowers. You won't find flowers with anything other than straight stems, chemicals like silver nitrate will have been used to increase flower life and natural scent will have all but vanished.
How can you find these British-grown flowers and foliage? Just look for independent flower shops across the country or it is possible to buy direct from an artisan flower grower though the Flowers from the Farm website.
If you visit the British Flowers Week website, you can download a free wall planner which lists the large variety of British-grown flowers available throughout the year, showing what you can expect to be available each month. You may be surprised at the array on offer. Flowers include Agapanthus, Bluebells, Cornflowers, Lilies, Lupins, Sedums, Poppies, Tulips and Violets.
If you are really inspired and want to display something a little different in your vases then growing your own flowers is hugely rewarding and inspiring. A little word of warning - you may become addicted!
I love growing herbs to use in flower arrangements as they add lovely scents and textural interest from both their foliage and flowers. In addition, you can use them in your cooking, to make herbal teas and tisanes or even your own herbal remedies. If you are establishing a cutting garden at home, space is often limited so growing plants that have another use is a great bonus. Herbs are often important food sources for wildlife attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies - yet another good reason for growing them. Herbs really benefit from having their foliage cut and will produce new foliage all through the Summer.
Herbs can be annual or perennial. Perennials include Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Lemon balm, Mint, Chives, Fennel, Lovage and Sage. Annuals you can grow from seed include Coriander, Dill and Parsley - herbs that you don't usually see in flower as they are cut before this occurs. All three produce lovely delicate umbels of flowers that add lightness and frothiness to a display. This year we've grown some annual Borage for the first time and it is flowering its socks off at the moment. It has stunning blue flowers with a cucumber like taste that can be scattered in salads. I love the furriness of the stems and flower buds. The furry buds add a hazy softness to an arrangement.
I grow Fennel, both the green and bronze varieties, in my garden borders. They are useful perennials for adding height to the border and are loved by hoverflies - they will be swarming with them in the summer. It is a great filler for flower arrangements and I find it's an excellent alternative to Euphorbias for adding a zingy greeny-yellow touch, which is such an excellent foil for other flower colours. We leave the Fennel skeletons over the winter in the garden to add interest at this time of year. They look stunning covered in frost.
Evergreen perennial herbs such as Lavender and Rosemary provide interest in the garden year-round and are easy to look after. Spikes of Lavender flowers add height and scent to an arrangement. Rosemary, traditionally associated with remembrance, is useful for winter greenery and for adding to Christmas wreathes. 'Miss Jessop's Upright' is a tall variety good for cutting.
My favourite herb for the cutting garden has got to be Oregano (good in pizza and pasta dishes). It is a mecca for bees, which is reason enough, but it also produces scented, pale purple flowers which have surprisingly long stems. It will flower from late June all through the Summer. I used it as a staple flower last year in my friend's wedding flowers where it featured in the bouquet and the button holes, along with the yellow Fennel flowers.
Cutting and Conditioning Herbs
Soft-stemmed herbs need a good soak overnight and some stems will benefit from searing in boiling water for 20 seconds before being left to have a good drink of water before arranging. Woody stems often need splitting an inch at the bottom to increase the surface area available for water uptake.
Chelsea week is drawing to an end and this year at the Flower Show, 90% of the flowers in the Floral Marquee have been grown in Britain. Getting flowers with different flowering times such as Tulips, Daffodils, Sweet peas and Alliums to be in peak condition for this week is a herculean effort and you can read more in this excellent post by the Physic Blogger. Marks and Spencer gained a Gold medal for their 'Blooms of the British Isles' exhibit and are selling lovely Chelsea bouquets featuring Stocks, Alchemilla mollis and Allium 'Purple Sensation'. At a price tag of £30 though, you could use that money to buy some annual seed and grow, not just one bouquet, but 2-3 vases full of flowers each week all through the Summer.
So, why not get inspired and try your hand a growing your own British blooms this year? May is a great time to direct sow annual flowers outside and if you sow now, you could be harvesting your own flowers in 8-12 weeks. You just need some spare soil - weed-free, sheltered and in the sun. Just follow the instructions on the back of the seed packets and keep an eye out for slugs. Check out my first Cutting Diary article for more information.
This time last month, I had just planted out my first batch of hardy annuals in one of the 3 raised beds in my cutting garden. They're putting on growth quickly now and I'm eagerly anticipating flowers in about 3 weeks. That's Cornflowers, Amberboa muricata 'Sweet Sultan', Malope trifida 'Vulcan', Ammi majus, Bupleurum rotundifolium, Larkspur 'Stock flowered mix', Lupinus 'Snow Pixie' and Orlaya grandiflora. I am just hardening off a second sowing of Ammi and Bupleurum which I sowed due to poor germination the first time. I'll plant them at the end of this week and they'll soon catch up with the first batch.
My half-hardy annuals (Cosmos, Sunflowers, Zinnias, Carnations, Chrysanthemums and Panicum grasses) are all a good size and have been moved from the house into the potting shed so I have clear window sills for a change). I've pinched out the growing tips on the Cosmos, Sunflowers and Zinnias to prevent them getting too leggy and to produce sturdier plants. I will start hardening these off next week for planting out at the end of the month when I can be sure that all danger of a late frost is over.
Even though the plants in my first bed are still fairly small, I have already added individual stakes for the taller annuals - a mix of bamboo canes, birch branches and rustic metal hoops. When the plants grow taller, I will tie them in with jute twine. It is best to stake sooner rather than later as firstly you won't damage established root systems when pushing in the stakes and if you leave it too late you may find that a Summer wind can quickly snap the stems of tall plants like Cornflowers and Cosmos. The removable chicken wire mesh frame will add a small degree of support for the plants (it's at a height of about 15 cm above the soil) but it is primarily a cat deterrent. We have our own cats and a lot of neighbourhood cats that see a raised bed and think it would make a nice toilet - sorry if this is too much information, but there's nothing worse than encountering buried treasure when you are planting your seedlings!
I potted up my dahlia tubers in early April, some in large terracotta pots where they will stay and a couple in large plastic pots as they will be transferred into a raised bed when space is freed up at the end of July. Some are already producing leafy growth, but I will keep them in the potting shed until all danger of frost is over, keeping them in the light and in moist compost.
One Dahlia tuber will produce lots of flowers as long as you just keep picking them. This year, I'm growing the lovely dark red, cactus flowered Dahlia 'Nuit d'ete', 'Sam Hopkins' a dark red form, 'Roxy' with a simple, magenta flower and 'Blue Bayou', an anemone flowered form with lavender outer petals and deep purple pin-cushion centres.
I will be planting 2 Dahlias in the raised bed that is currently home to my half-hardy annuals which will flower from June-July. In this way, this one raised bed will have housed 3 separate crops from February until October/November - first, early flowering bulbs - Daffodils & Iris reticulata, followed by my first batch of half-hardy annuals, and then the Dahlias, along with Carnations 'Giant Chabaud mixed' (a half-hardy perennial which can be treated as an annual) and Chrysanthemums 'Polar Star' - beautiful tricolour flowers with each white flower having an inner yellow halo surrounding a darker, central cushion.
May and June are good months to sow biennials such as Sweet Williams, Sweet Rocket and Honesty. These will put on growth this year and flower early next Spring. This may all seem a bit of a faff as you have to wait for flowers, but they are all worth growing as they provide flowers early in the season before Spring sown annuals have started flowering. If you let some go up to seed, they will self-seed and you can lift the seedlings and arrange them into orderly rows where you would like them without needing to sow again. I missed the boat last year with mine so will ensure I grow a few of each in the potting shed once I have planted out all the annuals at the end of this month and there is space for some new pots.
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