February – From Garden to Vase

Who wouldn’t love having fresh flowers for the house? Not only make us feel good, they also brighten up the house and make a thoughtful gift for others. Having a constant supply of might seem a bit decadent, but you can be thrifty and grow from seed yourself which makes it a very affordable option.

Although supermarket flowers might seem a cheap and cheerful option, there uniformity of blooms, plastic wrappings and in many cases the hundreds of air miles they’ve travelled has made me want to grow my own cut flowers.

I grow many annuals in my garden however, I’ve never grown specifically to cut them. But while my garden is undergoing a transformation this year, I am creating a cut flower bed with the sole purpose of harvesting the flowers for indoors.

Making a cutting patch is easier than you think. You can make a raised bed, or you could just find a patch of lawn you don’t need any more. You don’t even need a garden. Just a few large pots or a window-box. If it has a depth of about 50cm and has a few drainage holes in the bottom it will be perfectly fine.

Wherever you choose to grow, make sure it receives a generous amount of sunshine. Some flowers that are suitable for cutting enjoy partial shade but not many.

Get your plants off to a good start by ensuring your soil is light and drains well. On Bramley clay, I dig in a good amount of organic material – compost, leaf mulch, rotten manure etc which improves the soil structure.

If you have all the equipment, seed trays, compost, and want to be pricking out seedlings to transplant individually you’ll get a head start, however an even easier option is to sow direct into the ground where your plants will flower.

Start with hardy and half-hardy annuals as they’re cheap and flower all summer long. The best annuals will produce up to three months’ worth of flowers and all for the cost of a few packets of seeds.

Annuals are best sown from mid-March through to May/June and will grow quickly. They reach maturity within 12 weeks, so if you sow in March, they’ll start producing flowers in June. If you are direct sowing leave it till the night-time temperatures have warmed up a little, usually in May.

Sow your seeds according to the seed packet instructions. If you have the space, I recommend sowing in rows, I know some prefer a more natural look, but weeding is so much easier in row plus you are able to tell the seedlings form the weeds. Water your seedlings regularly and wait for the first blooms!

These annuals are perfect for direct-sowing:
Nigella, calendula, sweet peas, nasturtiums, clarkia, californian poppies, opium poppies, in fact any type of poppies!

In my list of annuals to sow will be;

1. Cosmos. You won’t find an easier flower to grow from seed. It grows away strongly, and then doesn’t stop flowering. Just keep cutting the flowers. Most cosmos flowers are single and perfect for pollinators, but look out for the fluted petalled varieties such as ‘Cup Cakes’ and ‘Sea Shells’ and the frilly doubles to provide a bit of variety, especially for cut flowers.

2. Sweet Peas. The ultimate ‘cut and come gain’ cut flower! There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. Old fashioned Grandiflora types often have the best scent such as Sweet Pea ‘Heirloom Mixed’. But the popular modern ‘Spencer’ varieties such as Sweet Pea ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ combine fragrance, larger blooms and longer stems that are ideal for flower arrangements.

3. Zinnias. These are the backbone ofany cutting garden. Offering a fiesta of colour and texture in a flower bed; in shades of yellow, orange, pink and red, on sturdy stems. Recent introductions created with cutting in mind include the dependably fully double ‘Queen Lime’

4. Daisies. Easy-growing daisies are drought-tolerant plants in the summer garden. They adapt well to rock gardens and containers and add classic simplicity to a garden-fresh bouquet.

 

5. Sunflowers. Sunflowers make the cheeriest cut flowers and never fail to raise a smile. For cutting it’s best to choose multi-headed varieties such as Sunflower ‘Harlequin’ to give you lots of blooms. Cut the stems just before the flowers fully open and strip the lower foliage from the stem leaving just a few leaves at the top to help fill out your bouquet.

Don’t be afraid of harvesting your flowers. Annual plants produce masses of flowers. If you keep on cutting, these plants will produce non-stop flowers from June through to the first frosts in November. Cut the stem nice and long and stripe off the lower leaves. Flowers are best cut early in the morning, and just as the petals are opening. Arrange as you like. You can get creative with designing your own colour-combinations, or playing around with flower-forms, textures and scent. There is a whole world of sensory delight!

Don’t forget to pick a bunch to enter in The Bramley Village Show in August. There are two or three classes suitable for your annuals and it would be lovely to see your displays.
When the first frost arrives in autumn, you can pull out the annuals (collecting seed for next year) and replace with spring flowering bulbs. Then once the bulbs have finished flowering in late May, pull them out, and replace them with your new batch of annuals.

TIPS FOR CUT FLOWER SUCCESS:

• Gather flowers in the cool of the day; flowers are more fragrant in the morning.
• Take a sharp knife or pruning snips with you into the garden and a bucket of water.
• Cut flower on a slant to expose more stem surface area and immediately submerge the stem.
• Take off leaves that will be under water in the vase.
• Change the water in the vase every couple of day.