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!
September, one of my favourite months in the cutting garden and a time to catch up with all those jobs that there has been less time for during the school holidays. I've been weeding, deadheading, watering and taking out some of the plants that have seen better days like the sweetpeas and wild carrot.
Recent days have definitely aquired a little nip of autumn chill in the mornings and evenings. I quite relish the thought of donning a cardigan after the hot summer days and the whole garden does seem to breathe a sigh of relief now it's not quite so hot.
I'm continuing to harvest jugfuls of flowers including large numbers of richly-coloured dahlias, gorgeous Panicum grass 'Frosted Explosion' with its 'firework' seed heads, purple Zinnias, electric-blue larkspur, Cosmos in shades of dark and bubblegum pink , gorgeous blue Chinese forget-me-nots, dark-red Scabious, lime-green Nicotiana and classic blue cornflowers.
While there are still an abundance of flowers to harvest, it is also a time of planning for next year. September is the ideal time to sow some hardy annuals ready for early flowering next year. I'll sow pots of larkspur, cornflowers, marigolds and Eschscholzia in the potting shed and keep them over winter before planting out in the spring. You can also direct-sow outdoors if you have space in your cutting beds (I don't have any space until the first frosts kill everything off so prefer to plant in pots).
Autumn is of course, also the time when spring bulbs start appearing in shops and this year I have lots of space for rows of bulbs up at my allotment. I grow them in the cutting beds at home in amongst the dahlias but have run out of space so I'm really excited at the prospect of planting even more tulips along with daffodils which I haven't grown a lot of thus far. I often wait until the tulip bulbs are reduced in price in November as they don't mind being planted quite late in the year. If you plant them before Christmas, you'll still have a good display come spring.
The tulips in the cutting garden first opened their blooms at the end of March with the early-flowering 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' varieties. It's now exactly a month on, the early tulips have just gone over but there are still lots of tulips in flower and a few more yet to fully open.
I love tulips so much that I grow them in the cutting beds (among the dahlias and perennials), in rows on our new allotment and dotted throughout the garden borders.
Yes, the leaves can look unsightly as they go over, and you have to let the foliage die down but I think they are worth it, for the sheer variety of flower shapes and colours to fall in love with.
Species tulips such as 'Little Beauty', 'Lady Jane' and 'Turkestanica' are ideal edging tulips for cutting beds. These natural forms are smaller than the cutltivated varieties and have smaller leaves that die down quickly and don't get in the way of things. They are truly perennial whereas some cultivated varieties can stop flowering reliably each year.
Whatever type of tulip you go for - species or cultivated, lily-flowered or peony-flowered, there is a tulip for everyone. If you chose early, mid and late-flowering varieties, you'll get 4-6 weeks of flowers for cutting and have a beautiful garden display lasting 6-8 weeks.
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