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Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.

Comos 'Dazzler' in late October
Comos 'Dazzler' in late October with double rainbow

Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.

November flowers
Cosmos, '10 Week' Stocks, Chrysanthemums, Rosemary & Sedum in a jam-jar arrangement made by a student attending a workshop in November.

As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.

Chrysanthemums snug and warm in my tiny potting shed.

I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.

Chrysanthemums in November
Chrysanthemums 'Avignon Pink', 'Tarantula Red' and 'Pandion Bronze' with Rosemary and Viburnum tinus.

Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.

Fresh Christmas Wreath
Fresh Christmas Wreath with Chrysanthemums

Autumn is my favourite season and although some flowers in the garden are going over (I have just dug up my exhausted Larkspur and Calendula) the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos, Zinnias and Helichrysum are producing buckets of flowers.

Dahlia 'Pink Silk' with Sweetpeas, Feverfew and Zinnias.

I must admit that I was heartened to hear that Monty Don's dahlias hadn't fared well this summer with very few flowers being produced. With the exception of my vigourous yellow waterlily dahlia called 'Glorie Van Heemstede' which has been in constant flower, my other dahlias have either been slow to get going or have looked on the verge of giving up. My previously reliably flowering 'Sam Hopkins' has this year so far produced a grand total of 3 flowers (and one of those was ravaged by earwigs!) The other dahlias do all look like they might be taking off now so perhaps I will be rewarded with some late flowers, providing they survive the current high winds battering the garden.


Although it is sad when an annual comes to an end, the space that is created once you have dug them up and composted them, is an opportunity to plant biennials which will establish their roots and then overwinter ready to flower early next year. I don't like to have bare ground in my cutting beds, so the early flowering annuals are replaced either by binenials such as foxgloves, wallfowers, sweet williams or sweet rocket or with some late-sown annuals which will flower from now until the first frost.

Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'
Biennial Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'

Back in June, I sowed a few pots of Chinese Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum) and '10 week' Stocks and they are now both about to come into flower so I have some more annuals to take over the baton from the Larkspur and Calendula and to create a fresh look as we travel through Autumn into Winter.

Also just starting to bloom are a variety of Chrysanthemums  - more in the next blog post...


Chances are, you'll already have some useful plants for cutting in your beds and borders - shrubs with evergreen foliage, perennials from which you can cut some stems and bulbs which can make excellent cut flowers. Spring is an ideal time to take a look at your garden and make plans to introduce a few more plants that will look good in the garden as well as provide you with a few cut flowers for the house.

Flowers in Winter / early Spring
Flowers in February using a mix of perennials, shrubs and bulbs from the mixed border

Mixed borders

The key is to include plants with a wide range of flowering times, from early Spring bulbs, through to Autumn-flowering perennials, alongside evergreen shrubs for foliage to ensure there is something to cut throughout the year. You'll want to pack in groups of annuals, perennials and bulbs suited for cutting without affecting the overall appearance of the border. Bulbs are excellent for extending the picking season and can be packed into spaces under shrubs and between perennials. Make the most of any shady spots, planting Hellebores, Alchemilla or Astrantia which tolerate shade well.

Cutting garden bed
Dedicated cutting bed in July

Cutting beds

If you have space, dedicate a part of the garden to growing just cut flowers- raised beds are ideal. This avoids depleting beds and borders, as well as providing a more intensively productive area for the cut flower gardener. You can plant or sow in rows to make weeding, staking and picking easier.

Pots and containers

Pots are invaluable if you want to squeeze in more planting space. Bulbs do well in pots and when they have finished flowering, they can be moved out of sight while the foliage dies down. Creating a 'bulb lasagne', allows you to pack more bulbs in - plant big, late flowering bulbs at the bottom of the pot, cover with soil, add a layer of smaller bulbs which flower earlier and so on up the pot with the smallest and earliest flowering bulbs on the top layer.DSCN0528

Hellebore grown in a pot in the courtyard

I grow some smaller varieties of Dahlia like 'Roxy' in pots for invaluable late season flowers and pots of herbs are great for using as Summer foliage - think Oregano, Lemon balm and mint.
I often buy small pots of Spring flowers in bloom  - Snowdrops Primroses, Hellebores, Anemone blanda & Primulas, from the local garden centre, which I transplant into terracotta pots and have in flower on the table in my courtyard. After flowering, I plant them into the garden borders. Buying a few each year is a good way to gradually increase the number of flowers for cutting in your garden.

Hedges and climbers

Consider planting a mixed hedge in place of a fence to increase opportunities for cutting. A mix of shrubs like Viburnum oplus, Hawthorn, Holly and Dog Roses will provide you with welcome blossom, flowers, foliage and berries at various times of the year. Grow climbers like Clematis or a rambling Rose through the hedge to further increase the number of flowers you can cut.

Guelder Rose
Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose) as part of a mixed, native hedge

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