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Green foliage makes an ideal backdrop against which to display your flowers, mimicking how flowers would grow in the garden. It adds bulk to an arrangement, can tone down bright colours and is a useful framework for supporting your flower stems. I always add my foliage first and thread the flower stems among the foliage 'scaffold' when creating a display.

Herbs and annuals as fillers
Ammi majus and Lemon balm as fillers.

Evergreen foliage

Evergreen foliage is ideal, as there is something to pick all year, but it can be hard in a residential garden to find space to grow shrubs and trees. If you are picking foliage all the time, you may leave your shrubs looking a bit bare, so go gently. I have a large, established Viburnum tinus, which we inherited with the garden, which can take a fair amount of cutting. I love the dark green, glossy foliage but I tend to wait until it produces creamy white flowers in the Autumn before using it. It has a wonderful fragrance to the flowers making it a welcome addition to bring into the house in the dark months of Winter. Other good evergreens include Rosemary, Box and any clippings from hedging plants. Experiment with the existing shrubs that you do have. There is a useful article by My Garden School about the best shrubs for cutting.

Great foliage plants

Herbs provide some of my favourite foliage to use during the Summer. Lemon balm, Borage and Oregano will all keep producing new foliage if you cut them. Once they are looking tired in mid-summer, you can cut the foliage back to the base and they will sprout up again giving you new, fresh foliage to use.

Autumn cut flowers
Ammi and Panicum elegans 'Frosted Explosion' adding bulk to this Autumnal display.

Fillers

These include plant material, other than foliage, which provide an interesting backdrop to your flowers. Plants to try include the unopened flower buds of annuals such as Helianthus 'Vanilla Ice', Scabious or Cosmos, which all look interesting in bud form. You can try green flowers like Dianthus barbatus 'Green Trick' with its fuzzy, lime-green pom poms, the tiny acid-green flowers of Alchemillla mollis, Euphorbia oblongata, Bupluerum, Fennel or Dill  or other annuals with tiny flowers such as Ammi majus or Ammi visigna. Some flowers, like Cosmos, come complete with their own foliage which you can leave on the stem (provided it is above the water line in the vase - if you leave on foliage below this, the water will quickly spoil, see Conditioning.)

Cow parsley makes great filler material
Cow parsley in May.

Foraged Wild Carrot or Cow parsley are excellent fillers and abundant in the hedgerows. I've grown the grass Panicum elegans 'Frosted Explosion' for the first time this year and I will definitely grow it again. It adds a lovely airy feel to displays. There are lots of interesting grasses you could try such as Briza maxima (quaking grass) and Agrostis nebulosa.

For further inspiration and pictures of all the plants mentioned in this post, visit the Homeflower Pinterest page.

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Tulips and Hellebores
Tulips, Hellebores, Euphorbia and Forget me nots

Follow my simple tips to make your jugs of flowers last for as long as possible.

  1. If possible, especially in the height of Summer, cut your flowers either early in the morning or in the early evening when the sun isn't at full strength and the rate of transpiration (water loss through the leaves) is at its lowest.
  2. Use proper flower snips or secateurs so that you don't damage the stems which will interfere with water uptake. Cutting stems at an angle will increase the available surface area for water uptake.
  3. For most flowers, pick before the flower is fully open when the petals are just emerging from the bud. Exceptions are Dahlias, Zinnias and Roses which may not develop fully from a tight bud.
  4. Carry a bucket 1/3rd full of water to your cutting patch and plunge your cut blooms in straight away to prevent water loss and wilting.
  5. Ensure your chosen container is clean before use as a build up of bacteria will shorten the life of your flowers. Hot, soapy water is fine and I use a bottle brush to get into any hard to reach places.

    Cut flowers
    Cut flowers before arranging
  6. Some flowers need Conditioning to maximise vase life. Most benefit from spending a few hours (or overnight) in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, bathing in water up to the first flower bud. Searing the stems of soft and sappy plants such as Euphorbias, Hellebores and Poppies in boiling water will help prevent the dreaded flopping - place the bottom inch of stem in a jar of boiling water for approx 20 seconds while protecting the flower from the steam.
  7. Remove any foliage from the stem which will sit below the water line as it will decay and promote the growth of bacteria. Commercial flower food or your own mix (a tsp of sugar and a few drops of bleach or vinegar) can be added to the water to discourage bacterial growth and provide nutrients.
  8. Change or top up the water in vases regularly and if necessary, re-cut the flower stems of any flowers that have wilted as this might be enough to perk them up again. If you don't want the fuss of having to rearrange your flowers all over again, carefully push the flowers to one side and hold the vase under a gently running tap until all the old water overflows and has been replaced with new water.
  9. Keep jugs of flowers out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources such as radiators as high temperatures dramatically shorten the life of cut flowers.
  10. Some flowers and foliage are naturally long-lasting once cut such as Larkspur whereas others like Sweet peas and Cornflowers have a shorter life-span. You can edit your arrangement throughout the week - remove stems of flowers that have gone over, or snip them off if it is hard to extract them, and replace with some newly cut flowers. If your foliage is long-lasting then you can always re-cut the stems and use it in a totally new arrangement.

The important thing is to have fun and if you feel like picking some flowers in the middle of the day and just plunging them into a milk bottle then don't worry - your flowers may last  a day or 2 less but as you are growing your own displays for a lot less than it would cost you in a supermarket, you won't mind. It's a good excuse to pick some more!

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