The flowers took a while to get into full swing this year and it was August before I felt that there were an abundance of flowers to cut. It's a complete joy to be able to pick something from the garden every day, whether it's a handful of sweet peas or a bigger bunch for a more ambitious display.
Larkspur 'Misty Lavender' tops my list of the annuals that I have grown this summer. It has a gorgeous, muted lavender colour which manages to be quite vintage in feel. In the flower press, it fades to a soft grey which is an unusual colour for a pressed flower. I like it this way but will also be microwave pressing some to preserve more of it's lavender hue.
I've grown a lot of cornflowers this year in traditional blue but also some white and pink ones to ring the changes.
Statice (Limonium) makes a lovely cut flower but is also grown to use a a dried flower as it keeps its vibrant colour well after drying. I bought a mixed pack of 'bright shades' but apart from a deep blue one they are all white or lilac. They do seem to be toning in nicely with my larkspur and cornflowers so I shouldn't complain.
I don't just use fresh flowers for creating displays in the house. I seem to have an ever-growing collection of dried flowers and seed heads - giant, starry Allium christophii heads, sculptural opium poppies and the balloon-shaped heads of Nigella (love-in-a-mist). The good thing about them is that you can just chuck them on the compost heap if you tire of them or they get really dusty and grab yourself some fresh ones. Alliums come back every year and are best left to dry on the plant and then harvested before they get too weather-beaten. Poppies self-seed so you can have fresh seed heads each year and once you've grown the prolific self-sower love-in-a-mist, you'll be hard-pressed to get rid of it from the garden. Don't worry, it's easy to weed out or move seedlings if they pop up in the wrong place.
Alliums look fabulous just on their own in a single-stem vase or vintage glass bottle. You can even suspend them from the ceiling at Christmas-time, spraying them silver or gold if you're feeling adventurous. You'll find information on drying seed heads here.
I also grow a range of flowers that are suitable for drying. My favourites are Helichrysum or 'everlasting flowers'. They come in a wide range of colours and retain their colour and shape perfectly. You can use them as fresh flowers, dry them with the stems for display in a vase or use them for decorating dried flower wreaths or for adding a splash of colour to your Christmas wreath. I'm a fan of having wreaths on the wall throughout the year.
The best flowers for drying are those that retain their colour once dried. Varieties with thin petals and single flowers will dry quickly and successfully. Examples are larkspur, feverfew, sea lavender (Statice) and winged everlasting (Amobium alatum). Grasses like bunny's tails (Lagurus ovatus) also dry beautifully.
How to dry flowers:
Bundle together small bunches (about 8-10 stems) and tie them at the bottom of the stems using a piece of garden twine about 20 - 30 cm long.
Make a loop at the other end of your twine and use it to hang the flowers upside-down somewhere warm and dry in the dark. I use what used to be an airing cupboard but you could use a garage or something similar.
Leave until all parts of the flower are completely dry (usually about 1-2 weeks depending on the flowers used).
Although I always find something to harvest and bring indoors during the winter months, there's no denying that there is a sharp decline in cutting opportunities once the first frosts have struck.
A sharp frost truly spells the end of the half-hardy annuals and dahlias and, while some hardy annuals can soldier on (I have still been cutting some late-sown cornflowers, chinese forget-me-nots and marigolds), they slow down in the face of prolonged cold weather. Now is the time to remove them to the compost heap and mulch the cutting beds with manure to add nutrients for future flowers next year.
These next few months are a time for reflection and forward planning. I have some hardy annuals overwintering in my potting shed, ready for planting out next spring. I've potted up some spring bulbs in large pots for early spring flowers to display by the back door. I always plant miniature Iris reticulata and crocuses in small terracotta pots to bring inside the house during January and February. I have also planted some quick-flowering Paperwhite Narcissi which I think may not be quite ready in time for Christmas but should flower soon after.
I like to dry flowers throughout the summer for display over the winter. Hydrangeas turn lovely shades of lime-green and dark pink, alliums produce very beautiful seed heads. I was very pleased with my experiments at drying some dark red ball dahlias which kept their structure and turned a lovely deep shade as you can see in the photo above.
There are still fresh flowers to cut such as tender, late-flowering Chrysanthemums which are seeking protection in my allotment polytunnel. I like to team these with dried Hydrangea heads or use them with the dark green foliage and scented white flowers of Viburnum tinus.
Chrysanthemums come in some very beautiful forms and follow on nicely from Dahlias for cutting right into December. They have a fabulously long vase life, lasting about 2 weeks. I often use them for a splash of colour on a Christmas wreath (if the moss base is kept moist). I am a particular fan of the spider Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red' and the pretty pale pink 'Avignon Pink'.
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