Cut­ting gar­dens

Cre­ate a cut­ting gar­den full of easy-to-grow flow­ers, and you’ll soon be en­joy­ing their colours and scents both in­side and out­side the home

Period Living - - Contents - Words and pho­to­graphs Leigh Clapp

Gar­den­ing ex­pert Leigh Clapp shares ad­vice for grow­ing your own flow­ers for dis­play

There’s noth­ing nicer than fill­ing the house with fresh flow­ers and green­ery from the gar­den, but if you don’t want to spoil the dis­play in your flower beds and bor­ders, cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate cut­ting gar­den is the so­lu­tion. Ar­rang­ing flow­ers you have grown your­self or giv­ing bunches to friends is a real plea­sure. It’s good for the en­vi­ron­ment, cuts down ‘flower-miles’, and is eas­ier on your purse. Your lit­tle patch will also be a boon for wildlife, at­tract­ing in­sects on the hunt for nec­tar and pollen.

Now is a great time to pre­pare an area in your gar­den and be­gin the process. If us­ing ex­ist­ing bor­ders, plant in large groups so it doesn’t spoil the gar­den when you cut some of the blooms. Choose flow­ers and fo­liage that are easy to grow, good value, pro­duce plenty of blooms and look as good in the ground as they do in a vase. It is pos­si­ble to have a year-round sup­ply with spring, sum­mer, au­tumn and win­ter choices. Use some old-fash­ioned va­ri­eties for blousy, scented ar­range­ments that will fill your senses, and don’t for­get the value and beauty of fo­liage as well. It may sound ob­vi­ous, but grow flow­ers you love oth­er­wise you won’t want to pick them.

Get­ting started

Se­lect a sunny, shel­tered spot with well-drained fer­tile soil and pre­pare it care­fully. A veg­etable gar­den is a great place to grow flow­ers for cut­ting and will at­tract ben­e­fi­cial in­sects. Some peo­ple choose to grow in rows for ease of main­te­nance and ac­cess; oth­ers cre­ate blocks; or you could just add ex­tra flow­ers and fo­liage around ex­ist­ing shrubs. You will need to reach the flow­ers eas­ily to pick them, so en­sure you in­clude ac­ces­si­ble paths. Raised beds work well as you can eas­ily reach the plants and they al­low a good depth of soil. Re­move all weeds, add in or­ganic mat­ter and rake the soil to a fine tilth. You may like to use a Mypex weed con­trol mat to pre­pare a ster­ile weed-free seed bed. Keep in mind the end re­sult and se­lect flow­ers you love, with a va­ri­ety of shapes and tex­tures, long, straight stems, some with scent, and even the colour scheme you want to com­ple­ment in­side.

Grow­ing from seed is the most eco­nom­i­cal choice, and if you stag­ger sow­ings you will have blooms through the year. Plan ahead to en­sure a var­ied pro­duc­tion – whether sim­ple and ar­chi­tec­tural shapes or coun­try style with old­fash­ioned scented favourites. It is best to grow a mix of hardy and half-hardy an­nu­als and bi­en­ni­als, with peren­ni­als as the back­bone to your sup­ply. Grow­ing quan­ti­ties of peren­ni­als, such as achil­lea, cam­pan­ula, lo­belia and thal­ic­trum, from seed will give you flow­ers that in­crease in num­ber each year. Be­fore the peren­ni­als oc­cupy the space, fill it up with fast-grow­ing an­nu­als, such as pop­pies, stock, gyp­sophila, sun­flow­ers and cal­en­du­las.

Plant flow­ers close to­gether or put in sup­ports ready to stop tall plants flop­ping over as they grow. Com­bine plants of sim­i­lar heights, grow­ing con­di­tions and flow­er­ing times, in­clud­ing both fo­cal flow­ers and fillers. For a year-round suc­ces­sional sup­ply you could have op­tions such as helle­bores, spring bulbs, aqui­le­gia, wall­flow­ers, pinks, Sweet William, pe­onies, al­stroe­me­ria,

sun­flow­ers, dahlias, asters, chrysan­the­mums, kniphofias and daphne in win­ter. In­clude an abun­dant med­ley of self-re­plen­ish­ing, cut-and­come-again va­ri­eties, such as cos­mos, zin­nias, scabi­ous and sweet peas, which will pro­duce more flow­ers af­ter cut­ting.

Al­ways plant more fo­liage and fillers than you think you will need, as us­ing plenty of green­ery in your ar­range­ments will make them look more nat­u­ral and rus­tic. Sug­ges­tions in­clude del­i­cate ferns, strappy or­na­men­tal grasses, sil­very eu­ca­lyp­tus, and in­clude herbs for scent and tex­ture, such as bronze fen­nel and rose­mary. You may like to take in­spi­ra­tion from the gar­den bor­der or field side and look at how flow­ers grow, keep­ing the im­ages in mind when ar­rang­ing for har­mo­nious or wild ef­fects. Why not also use your cut­ting gar­den to ex­per­i­ment with new plants and colours? In­clude some bold shapes, maybe spiky eryn­giums,

flam­boy­ant glad­i­oli, or wispy and ro­man­tic forms, such as lacy ammi va­ri­eties. If you find par­tic­u­lar flow­ers and fo­liage plants thrive in your con­di­tions, hunt out more va­ri­eties of the same. ➤


A cut­ting gar­den is for har­vest­ing; so don’t ex­pect it to look pris­tine at all times. Dead­head and cut flow­ers reg­u­larly and keep up the weed­ing and wa­ter­ing. When wa­ter­ing, don’t shower plants from over­head, but wa­ter care­fully with a steady jet flow at the base of the plant. The best time to wa­ter is in the evening as it al­lows the plants to soak up what they need overnight. Mulching is valuable to re­tain mois­ture and su­press weeds. Many rec­om­mend a no-dig method, as the less you dig over the soil, the less weeds are dis­turbed. Cut­ting ac­tu­ally en­cour­ages more flow­ers to grow, es­pe­cially an­nu­als that have a sur­vival im­per­a­tive to set seed. Let some of your flow­ers set seed and col­lect them to sow the fol­low­ing year, re­plen­ish­ing your own stock for free.

How to make your cut flow­ers last

● Cut early morn­ing be­fore morn­ing dew has dried, when their stems are filled with stored food. Flow­ers grad­u­ally de­hy­drate as the day warms up.

● You can also cut flow­ers in the evening and put them into buck­ets of wa­ter to con­di­tion be­fore ar­rang­ing the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

● Cut with a clean, sharp knife or shears. In­vest in good qual­ity equip­ment and main­tain it well.

● Blunt tools will crush the stems, dam­age the par­ent plant as well as in­hibit the cut flower from ab­sorb­ing wa­ter.

● Re­move leaves that will be un­der wa­ter.

● Con­di­tion the flow­ers by plac­ing them straight into a bucket of luke­warm wa­ter as you cut and leave in a cool place for a few hours or overnight.

● Have two buck­ets – one for long-stemmed flow­ers, one for smaller flow­ers.

● En­sure your vase is clean, then re­cut stems at a 45-de­gree an­gle be­fore ar­rang­ing.

● Al­ways use tepid wa­ter in your vases to avoid air bub­bles in the stems, ex­cept for daf­fodils and tulips, which pre­fer cold.

● Dif­fer­ent types of flow­ers are har­vested at ap­pro­pri­ate stages in their de­vel­op­ment. Flow­ers with mul­ti­ple buds on each stem should have at least one bud show­ing colour and one bud start­ing to open be­fore be­ing cut. Flow­ers that grow on in­di­vid­ual stems should be cut when open.

● Cut long stems about one inch from the bot­tom of the main stem.

● Change the wa­ter in the vase fre­quently and re­cut stems if flow­ers start to wilt.

● Keep out of di­rect sun­light.

● Keep away from fruit, which re­leases eth­yl­ene, a gas that causes flow­ers to age faster.

● Home­made flower preser­va­tive can be added to the wa­ter – 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp bleach and 2 tsps lemon juice to ap­prox­i­mately one litre of wa­ter.

Plant Pal­ette

(Top row, l-r) ● PE­ONIES thrive in well-drained soil in a sunny po­si­tion. In­te­grate plenty of or­ganic mat­ter and don’t plant too deeply. Cut blooms when about three-quar­ters open.

● DELPHINIUMS add height to an ar­range­ment. They need full sun and fer­tile, well-drained soil. Af­ter the first flush of blooms, cut the plant to the ground, mulch with com­post, wa­ter well and you should get a sec­ond bloom in late sum­mer to au­tumn.

● SWEET PEAS are the per­fect cut-and-come-again flow­ers, hard to beat for scent and their translu­cent beauty. Pro­vide them with sun, rich well-drained soil and some sup­ports to scram­ble up. (Sec­ond row, l-r)

● COS­MOS is a clas­sic cut flower, pro­vid­ing clouds of bloom from June to Novem­ber, and these half-hardy an­nu­als are easy to grow. They need full sun, moist but well-drained chalky or neu­tral soil. Di­rect sow in early May.

● SUN­FLOW­ERS are a cheery choice and of­fer a range of sizes and colours. Sim­ply sow the seed in spring once the frost has passed, where you want them to grow. They need sun and loose, well-drain­ing soil.

● LILIES come in a plethora of hues and are lon­glast­ing in the vase. Pro­vide them with a sunny spot and rich fer­tile soil that is moist but free-drain­ing. You can re­move the an­thers as soon as the flow­ers open as the pollen stains skin and cloth­ing.

(Third row, l-r)

● ROSES are quin­tes­sen­tial for beauty and scent, with va­ri­eties for sun and shade. In­cor­po­rate com­post or ma­nure when plant­ing and feed gen­er­ously as they grow. The best time to cut roses as they start to un­furl is af­ter 3pm, when they are high­est in their food re­serves. This will help them last longer in the vase.

● GLAD­I­OLI make flam­boy­ant cut flow­ers and last well in the vase. Plant the corms in the gar­den or in con­tain­ers from May to July for a suc­ces­sion of blooms. They like rich, well-drained soil, plenty of wa­ter, and feed while the flow­ers de­velop.

● DIANTHUS in­clud­ing pinks, car­na­tions and Sweet William, add colour and scent. Reg­u­lar cut­ting en­sures a long flow­er­ing sea­son. Sow in full sun or part shade in fer­tile, well-drained soil. Wa­ter es­tab­lished plants only in dry spells.

(Bot­tom row, l-r)

● AL­STROE­ME­RIA are great-value, long-flow­er­ing peren­ni­als from sum­mer to au­tumn, and last up to three weeks in the vase. Plant in early sum­mer in a shel­tered spot, with plenty of or­ganic mat­ter and a good win­ter mulch.

● ZIN­NIAS are un­de­mand­ing an­nu­als and are avail­able in a range of bright colours that will add a real zing to your ar­range­ments. Sow di­rectly into free-drain­ing fine soil af­ter all dan­ger of frosts has passed. They need plenty of sun and wa­ter well.

● ASTRANTIA is a del­i­cate peren­nial that blends pret­tily with other blooms. They re­quire moist, well-drained fer­tile soil in sun or light shade. A tip to in­crease their vase life is to sear the stems in boil­ing wa­ter straight af­ter cut­ting. ➤


Vivien Hunt, head gar­dener at God­in­ton Gar­den in Kent, where the ded­i­cated cut­ting gar­den in­cludes a spe­cial col­lec­tion of delphiniums, gives her ad­vice:

● Im­prove soil with well-rot­ted com­post or ma­nure.

● Plan for year-round cut flow­ers by plant­ing bulbs, an­nu­als, herba­ceous peren­ni­als and shrubs.

● Grow cut-and-come-again flow­ers through­out the sum­mer; cut­ting en­cour­ages more flow­ers.

● Sow some hardy an­nu­als in au­tumn to pro­duce ear­lier flow­ers than the an­nu­als you sow in spring.

● Use lots of an­nu­als as they have a long flow­er­ing sea­son and add ex­tra colour to bor­ders – try zin­nias, cos­mos, rud­beck­ias, an­tir­rhinums, and nico­tiana.

● Mulch peren­ni­als in au­tumn and feed in spring – they need it if you keep cut­ting their flow­ers.

● Col­lect seeds rather than let­ting plants self-seed.

Vivien likes to try some­thing new ev­ery year but has some reg­u­lar favourites:

● Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’ – has a great scent and com­bines well with other pur­ple, red or pink tulips.

● Pheas­ant’s Eye Nar­cis­sus – strong scent and del­i­cate flow­ers, which are lon­glast­ing in a vase.

● Rud­beckia oc­ci­den­talis ‘Green Wizard’ – ar­chi­tec­tural herba­ceous, flow­ers all sum­mer.

● Zin­nia el­e­gans ‘Queen Red Lime’ – dusky pink pe­tals, grad­u­at­ing to lime with a dark red cen­tre.

● Sweet pea ‘Char­lie’s An­gel’ – Spencer hy­brid with strong scent and large soft-mauve blooms.

● Rosa ‘Darcey Bus­sell’ – re­peat flow­er­ing cherry red rose with a good scent.

Help­ful web­sites

● SUT­TONS sut­­tured/cut-flow­er­wall-chart-and-grow­ing-guide

● PLANTS OF DIS­TINC­TION plantsofdis­tinc­

● CUT­TING-FLOW­ERS mr fothergill’s­erseed/suit­able-for-cut-flow­ers

Gar­dens to visit

● BLOOM­ING GREEN FLOW­ERS, Lin­ton, Kent ME17 4AG. Cut flower grower where you can pick your own. Open Fri­days, July to Oc­to­ber. Grow your own cut flow­ers work­shops. Book­ing es­sen­tial. Tel: 01622 298676; bloom­ing­green­flow­

● WEST DEAN GAR­DENS, West Dean, West Sus­sex PO18 0RX. Walled kitchen gar­den with cut flower beds. Open Fe­bru­ary to De­cem­ber. Tel: 01243 818210; west­

● GOD­IN­TON HOUSE AND GAR­DENS, Ash­ford, Kent TN23 3BP. Walled gar­den with beds ded­i­cated to flow­ers. Join head gar­dener Viv Hunt for The An­nual Gar­den Work­shop, on grow­ing an­nu­als for cut flow­ers, pots and colour – 21 April, 9.30am – 12.30pm, £35. Tel: 01233 643854; god­in­ton­

● EAS­TON WALLED GAR­DENS, GRAN­THAM, Lin­colnshire NG33 5AP. ‘The pick­ery’ area of these his­toric gar­dens is de­voted to cut flow­ers. Tel: 01476 530063; vis­iteas­

● THE WALLED GAR­DEN AT MELLS, Rec­tory Gar­den, Mells, Som­er­set BA11 3PN. Cot­tage gar­den, sea­sonal flow­ers and plant nurs­ery. Open March to Oc­to­ber. Tel: 01373 812597; the­walledgar­de­nat­

The more you cut cut-and-come-again flow­ers such as nigella, the more the plants will set new flow­ers

Left and be­low: Flow­ers you grow your­self re­tain the nat­u­ral charm, char­ac­ter and heady scent so of­ten lost in mass-pro­duced va­ri­eties. It’s very sat­is­fy­ing to pick flow­ers you’ve grown in the gar­den for the vase

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