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
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.
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.
(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.
● SUTTONS suttons.co.uk/featured/cut-flowerwall-chart-and-growing-guide
● PLANTS OF DISTINCTION plantsofdistinction.co.uk/
● CUTTING-FLOWERS mr fothergill’s mr-fothergills.co.uk/flowerseed/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; bloominggreenflowers.co.uk
● WEST DEAN GARDENS, West Dean, West Sussex PO18 0RX. Walled kitchen garden with cut flower beds. Open February to December. Tel: 01243 818210; westdean.org.uk
● 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; godintonhouse.co.uk
● EASTON WALLED GARDENS, GRANTHAM, Lincolnshire NG33 5AP. ‘The pickery’ area of these historic gardens is devoted to cut flowers. Tel: 01476 530063; visiteaston.co.uk
● 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; thewalledgardenatmells.co.uk
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