I’ve been watching the BBC2 series the World’s Largest Flower Market, which I’ve found fascinating, but it has also got me thinking. We are more aware of the provenance of our produce and often choose British or local over large brand names, but we don’t think the same way about flowers. More than a one-third of us grow our own food and yet even though the process is the same, if not easier, most would never contemplate growing their own flowers.
There are multiple benefits: they are cheaper, they have scent – most shop-bought flowers have lost their scent in the quest for standardisation – you can grow varieties which aren’t available in the shops and the whole process is incredibly therapeutic and rewarding.
Plan ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’ someone far cleverer than I once said, but it is very true. Decide where you want it, what you want out of it and when you want it to start producing.
Place A dedicated spot is usually the best place for a cutting garden because cut flowers can sometimes be a bit floppy and need more support, it needs to be easily accessible for harvesting and it definitely needs light and preferably shelter too.
Purchase This is the fun part. Once you’ve decided what you want you can then go shopping! Whether it’s online for seed or into your local garden centre, I write a list otherwise I get too distracted. Annuals are a good option, they tend not to make it into borders unless they’re filling gaps, so these are the perfect choice for a cutting garden, they’re also usually incredibly easy to grow.
You’ll need a variety of flowers – to bring colour, scent and brighten up a cold, spring morning. Your personal tastes and what is available will shape your choices, but there are other considerations when deciding what to grow. Please think about the following:
BE BOLD Every vase needs a statement flower – my favourites are roses and peonies.
Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’ – this is a double variety which I love for its abundance, blousiness and wonderful fragrance.
Rosa ‘Louise Odier’ – this rose makes regular appearances in my gardens, it has long stems so perfect for cutting and has a good vase life, it also flowers well into the autumn.
FILLERS These are the backbone of any arrangement, they are often overlooked but absolutely vital for a well balanced bouquet.
Alchemilla mollis – I can’t resist this plant for its foliage or flowers. The fresh lime flowers are a perfect foil for any colour and its saucer-shaped soft leaves are a wonderful filler.
Achillea millefolium – any of them – they come in a kaleidoscope of colours, fade beautifully as the flower heads mature and have a great vase life. They also dry well.
Briza maxima – sow it once and you’ve got it for life, the demure nodding heads add movement and interest to any arrangement.
COMPLETELY DOTTY Varying the size and shape makes for more interesting displays.
Scabiosa columbaria – I sow it like an annual but it’s often perennial and is lovely in all its stages. In bud it’s like a button, frothy as a flower and architectural as a seed head and good for the birds too. It’s a must-have.
Sanguisorba menziesii – long maroon sprays of bottlebrush buttons look fantastic floating in any arrangement.
EARLY BIRDS The sooner the better to banish those winter blues.
Euphorbia characias/Euphorbia amygdaloides – for zingy flowers, but beware of the sap as some people find it an irritant.
Tulipa – take up little space and look stunning. I usually go for a theme each year, this year I’ve opted for white, peach and beige, with Belle Époque, Hakuun, Diana, White Triumphator and Sweet Impression.
REACH FOR THE SKIES Proportionally a bouquet should stand around three times taller than its vase, so opt for some tall and stately spires.
Delphinium Pacifics Giant Mix – a host of wonderful colours which produce strong spikes of semi-double blooms, they do need staking though and they’re fond of a feed.
Penstemon ‘Raven’ – deep purple flowers on strong stems from May through until first frosts, although it’s not reliably hardy so propagate in autumn if you’re so inclined.
HEAVEN SCENT The absolute best thing about growing your own, fill your home with the most divine aromas and bring the outside in.
Lathryus odoratus ‘Matucana’ – my all-time favourite scent, there’s nothing which says home to me more than the perfume
of these wonderful flowers. I always
wonder how such a delicate thing can produce such a persistent aroma. The key
is to keep harvesting them and you’ll be amply rewarded.
The fact the garden won’t be judged is incredibly invigorating. There’s nothing quite like the exquisite terror of walking into the Chelsea Flower Show on medals’ morning, but the lack of scrutiny by those all-seeing RHS judges means we have been able to allow creativity to flow in a very liberating way.
We wanted the garden to celebrate the spectacular setting as well as pay homage to the wonderful Derbyshire landscape, while also bringing a more contemporary edge through sculpture and planting. It’s a huge garden – at more than 70 metres
long, it’s the biggest show garden I’ve ever created and potentially one of the biggest ever RHS show gardens. We’re also challenging ourselves by committing to cantilevering the steel sculpture out over the River Derwent.