It's amazing what a difference a small impulse buy at the supermarket last night has made to my spirits today.
In addition to my weekly shop, I bought a small pot of cheery, bright yellow Winter Aconites. In the past, I have shied away from their intense yellow (I find pale yellow a lot easier on the eye nestled among garden plantings) and they just hadn't featured in my winter flower wish-list.
This year however, they are a revelation. They have a gorgeous honey-like scent for starters. Close up, they are a beautiful flower with multiple stamens and a healthy, glossy sheen. Most importantly, they are flowering in January and February when other flowers are scarce.
I have a feeling that they will last well as a cut flower and they look lovely displayed as a mini bunch of flowers.
Most importantly for me, I am hoping that they will retain their bright yellow colour when I press them. I have nearly run out of yellow pressed flowers from the stacks of flowers that I pressed over the summer and have been scouting around for yellow flowers to put in my flower presses. I have a primrose which is flowering early but I need more yellow!
I've decapitated most of the flowers in the pot to sacrifice to the flower press but have left a few flower-heads on and will plant them out near the Hellebores where they should thrive in the partial shade. I have a feeling, that a few more pots of these diminutive flowers will make their way into my shopping trolley next week.
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'.
I feel like I am always raving about the benefits of Hellebores in the cutting garden. They are such a welcome flower in the depths of winter and throughout spring. If they freeze, they just thaw out again, undamaged. They're an important source of early nectar for pollinating insects and they reward you with stunningly beautiful flowers which can form the focal point of arrangements from January through into April.
But, (sorry!) they can be temperamental as a cut flower. You can't cut them whilst in bud, like most flowers, you need to wait for them to have been fully open for a few days. You can even wait until they start forming green seed pods in the centre. These pollinated flowers do last much longer in the vase but the flower colour does alter as the flowers age. I cut them young, straight into water. I slit the stems at the bottom and if they do wilt overnight, despite this preparation, I find that re-cutting the stems and searing the ends with freshly boiled water can rejuvenate them. If that doesn't work you can always dispense with the stem and float the flower heads in a large, shallow bowl. Or you could if you don't have a cat (Florence, you know who you are..) that likes to drink water out of any vessel other than her water bowl! Hellebores with cat hairs aren't so attractive.
The reason for focussing on hellebores in this post is that I have been treated to an early Mother's Day present of some new hellebores to plant out in the cutting garden. I am planting them in the dahlia and tulip bed where I am hoping they will enjoy the shade cast by the dahlias during the summer but will be free of towering dahlias from late autumn, all through winter and spring. Hopefully they will enjoy this mix of sun and shade as much as I enjoy their flowers.
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