Well, I'm pretty sure that in my last post I was complaining about the cutting garden having disappeared under 10 cm of snow. We are now experiencing the hottest April weather in 70 years! Not that I am complaining, its just that I (and my milk-bottle legs) am not quite ready for mid-summer temperatures when it feels like spring only arrived a couple of weeks ago.
April sees the first of the tulips in flower where they join the primroses, cowslips, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, drumstick primulas, Euphorbia amygdaloides, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', pulsatillas and forget-me-nots. It is so satisfying to see the abundance of spring flowers, knowing that this is just the start. The bluebells, wallflowers, thrifts and foxgloves are following not far behind!
When choosing tulip varieties ensure that you choose some early flowerers (e.g. Exotic Emporer and Showcase), some mid-flowering types (e.g. Negrita and Paul Scherer) and some late flowering varieties (e.g. Angelique and Doll's Minuet). You can then extend the picking season for as long as possible.
Also this month: I am gradually hardening-off my hardy annual seedlings ready for planting out; I'm sowing batches of half-hardy annuals inside on my sunny windowsills; I am sneakily buying some little primulas, saxifrages and pulsatillas to edge some of the cutting beds; I'm pressing forget-me-nots and primroses in my flower presses for more pressed flower pictures and I'm getting ready to host another 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop next week.
A taster of which plants you could be cutting this month from your garden. It is possible to design your beds and borders to include a plethora of flowers for cutting without affecting the display in the garden. All the plants make great garden plants in their own right. Just a few flowers of each type make a lovely arrangement and many of the plants are also brilliant for wildlife.
I have Tulips scattered throughout my garden beds but just pick a few stems here and there (in addition to a dedicated raised bed which I treat as a crop). Plant double what you need in the border and you will have extra flowers to cut for indoors as well as a great display in your beds.
If you choose a mix of early, mid and late flowering forms, you can harvest flowers from March to May. Tulips flower best in their first year but you can select varieties that are better at repeat-flowering than others. I've grown Purissima, a white form which flowers in mid-Spring which is just starting to go over, Queen of Night (very dark purple) which started to flower towards the end of April and is looking great in May, 'Negrita' a lighter purple looking good in early April and Black parrot with it's dark colour and lovely frilly edge flowering in late Spring which is still looking good. All of these are supposed to be good repeat flowerers, although as this is their first year, I will have to report back next Spring.
We planted over a hundred Allium bulbs the Autumn before last and it has really transformed our beds in May and June before most of the perennials come into flower and after most of the Tulips have done their thing . As there are so many, I can pick a few at a time for cutting without much impact on the garden. I have a mix of A. 'Purple Sensation' with its large, rounded purple pom-pom head, A. 'Cristophii' which has large, fire-work heads of star-shaped, purple flowers, A. Nigrum - a lovely white form and lots of the smaller, round-headed A. sphaerocephalon which flower later in July.
Forget me nots These started flowering in early April but are still popping up and looking good, especially on the shady side of the garden when flowers appear slightly later. They are wonderful flowers for mixed Spring posies.
Lovely Spring flowers which come in range of colours and forms. I have a mix of dark purples and pinks dug up from my mother-in-law's garden. They self-seed and you will find lots of little seedlings throughout the garden which are easy to either weed out or transplant to where you'd like them.
A great foliage plant and a lovely zingy, acid green which looks good with dark Tulips and with colourful Spring flowers. There are many different forms of Euphorbia, both annual and perennial. I grow Euphorbia amygdaloides v. robbiae which is an evergreen perennial. It looks great in my border year-round and is invaluable as it thrives in partial and full shade.
A classic native British flower which thrives in shade. I inherited a small clump growing around the base of a Silver birch in my garden. A few flower spikes cut just as the bottom flowers are emerging adds a lovely dimension to a Spring flower display. You should never cut Bluebells growing in the wild but do go and visit a bluebell wood in May for a spectacular display. If you do add Bluebells to your garden, ensure you plant our native Bluebell rather than the Spanishone as our native species is under threat.
Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring tree) and Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose)
These both flower this month and are useful shrubs with wonderful creamy-white flowers. I have both growing as part of a mixed native hedge. A hedge is a great source of both foliage and flowers for arrangements if you don't have much room to grow shrubs in your beds. Both species will produce red berries in Autumn which are useful for adding colour to Christmas wreaths or Winter vases.
Erysimum 'Bowle's Mauve'
We have this perennial wallflower in a raised bed near the house and it flowers off and on all year round with perfumed mid-purple flower spikes which swarm with bees and butterflies in the Summer. They are one of the very best nectar supplies for insects as they have such a long flowering period so everyone should grow one for the bees and snip a few flowers for yourself too. Just 3-5 stems in a vase will add a pop of vivid colour.
This is a wonderful perennial herb. It smells divine, makes a yummy herbal tea and it has lovely fresh green foliage in May. The new growth is a bit soft and sappy at this time of year but if you sear the stems it will last quite nicely.
Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
A biennial which, if you sow seed in late Summer and plant out in September, will be flowering now. Comes in purple or white forms and flowers profusely. It will self-seed which is great if you want a lot of it, otherwise, keep cutting the flowers and it won't ever get to the seed stage.
Forget-me-nots in a pale blue Dartmouth mantle vase. What could be simpler?
Once you have Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) in the garden, you will never be without them as they are prolific self-seeders. They offer a great source of Spring colour in your garden borders and are versatile in a number of Spring flower arrangements, looking great with Primroses and Anemones.
These simple pale-blue flowers have 5 petals with a yellow eye and appear from April - June above lance-shaped, grey-green leaves. They look good edging pathways or for under-planting Spring flowering bulbs such as Tulips or Daffodils. They will thrive in sun or partial shade and look lovely at the front of a mixed, herbaceous or wildflower border.
There are many stories to explain the name 'Forget-me-not'. Legend has it that in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking by a river. He picked a posy of flowers, but due to the weight of his armor he fell into the river. As he was drowning, he threw the posy to his lady love and shouted "Forget me not." It was often worn by women as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love.
If you'd like to grow them in your borders, sow the seed directly where they are to grow in late spring or early summer. The soil should be well prepared and the seed sown thinly into shallow drills set 25 cm apart. When large enough to handle, thin the seedlings to 15cm. Maintain the soil moisture until the seeds have germinated, but avoid excessive waterlogging. Plants will flower in their second year and will self-seed freely. You can weed seedlings out where they are not wanted but you will want to grow lots of them for great arrangements throughout the Spring. I usually clear all spent plants once they are past their best and I still get lots more plants for the following year from the seed they will have produced.
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