Many of my clients with their beautiful homes and extensive gardens have an area designated to growing fruit and veg. Spilling generously onto paths and over walls are roses and cornflowers, euphorbia and delphiniums, foxgloves and peonies. I have always envied the space they have to grow an abundance of beautiful flowers for their home, but realised like them that my borders can be adapted to provide cutting material throughout the year too. With the help of Lorraine Foster Smith, my garden designer, I have grown in my garden a variety of plants that are really productive and will give me plenty of flowers to do the same throughout the year.
When adapting existing borders, plant larger groups of annuals, perennials and bulbs suited for cutting to allow for picking without affecting the overall appearance of the border. Do not forget to incorporate a few well-chosen shrubs and grasses with interesting foliage. Use bulbs to extend the picking season. If space allows, dedicate a part of the garden to growing just cut flowers. The advantage of a cutting garden over picking from borders is that it avoids depleting beds, as well as providing a more productive planned area for the cut flower gardener.
Plant or sow in rows; this makes weeding, staking and picking so much easier. Take the final spread of plants into account and this allow you to access between the rows. If planted too close together, plants will fall into each other and get tangled and get damaged, making them less suitable for harvesting. As taller plants are often grown for cut flowers, robust supports are usually needed. Cut flowers do need a fertile, weed-free soil. Every autumn we spread mushroom compost over the beds as it helps retain moisture and improve soil structure. In dry summers (and a dry spring like this year) watering is necessary to achieve good stem length.
Sarah Raven has given me great confidence with the blogs on her website and I visit her garden several times throughout the year to understand what is best for cutting and planting to generate a good yield. She has some wonderful ideas too on how to display and introduce herbs and vegetables into your borders too.
Instead of filling an oversized vase with towering blooms, separate your bouquet into an abundance of containers. Groupings of flowers often create more impact than one large vase of flowers. They allow you to add colour and fragrance to each and every corner of the household, brightening multiple rooms as opposed to just the one space.
To keep your flowers looking good for longer:
- Cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also create a larger surface area for water uptake.
- Strip any foliage from stems that would sit below water level in a vase as these will simply decay, becoming slimy and smelly.
- Always use a thoroughly clean vase as bacteria can survive in dirty vases and reduce the life of your cut flowers.
- Always use tepid water in your vases. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception to this rule as they prefer to be placed in cold water.
- Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flower last longer. You only need to add about ¼ teaspoon per litre of water. You can also try adding a tablespoon of sugar as this will help to nourish the flowers.
- Position your vase carefully. The vase life of your cut flowers will be reduced if they are placed close to heat, draughts or direct sunlight.
- Keep cut flowers away from fruit bowls as fruit produces ethylene which causes cut flowers to die prematurely.
- Remove any dead or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers, and
- Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed and preservatives at the same time.
My Top 8 to plant in the garden and it isn’t too late to for this year is;
- Sweetpeas. I have always loved sweet peas and their frilliness, their fragrance and their robust fragility. I love the whole ritual of growing them, and the pride in being able to cut bunches to take pride of place on my kitchen table.
- Dahlias. Prolific and versatile with so many colours and shapes to choose from, it makes you feel like a kid in a sweet shop!
- Daucus Crota Dara. A classy cow parsley lookalike. Sown as an annual, it lasts well if you sear the stems.
- Antheum Graveolens – Dill. A striking zingy green and yellow filler flower that is the perfect foil for our showstoppers.
- Astrantia. A reliable perennial. The flowers are not attention-seekers, but their palette of white, blush pink and deep burgundy makes them a good wedding flower.
- Scabiosa Clive Greaves. A low-maintenance perennial with lavender-blue blooms.
- Nicotiana. The crisp white, vibrant purple and glorious lime-green of the petals look almost exotic in a jumble of bright flowers on the kitchen table.
- Cosmos. Big, bright daisy flowers in a variety of colours which are colourful and easy to grow. A wonderful cut and come flowering plant.
Like me, I do hope this gives you the inspiration to get out in your garden and pick a few flowers from your borders and stick them in a vase so you too can enjoy them in your home!