The Cutting Garden

A vase of fresh flowers cut straight from the garden can instantly make a house feel more like a home! So it’s surprising that more people don’t try growing their own cut flowers, particularly when you consider the benefits to your purse. Many garden plants can be enjoyed as cut flowers and foliage in the home, offering cheaper and diverse alternatives to florist flowers. Borders can be adapted to provide cutting material throughout the year. Alternatively, dedicate a part of the garden to growing cut flowers.

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.

If space allows you can 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 and borders, as well as providing a more productive and 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 allow access between rows. If planted too close together, plants will fall into each other, get tangled and may be damaged, making them less suitable for harvesting. As taller plants are often grown for cut flowers, robust supports are usually needed.

Cut flowers need a fertile, weed-free soil. Annual applications of organic matter (one or two bucketsful per square metre) especially to sandy and clay soils to help retain moisture and improve soil structure. In dry summers watering may be necessary to achieve good stem length. Moderate applications of general fertilisers are often helpful in getting tall healthy growth and abundant flowers (e.g. Growmore applied at the rate of 70g per m2).  Mulching with 5-7cm weed-free composted manure or chipped bark suppresses weeds and retains moisture. Most cut flowers are sun-lovers, but a few tolerate shade. Windy sites are best avoided as robust staking will be \essential for the taller flowers. Avoid frost pockets if possible.

When selecting plants for cutting, make sure that they are suitable for the chosen situation. Keep records about performance and source of plants or seeds for future reference.

Growing annuals from seed is a cheaper outlay than buying perennials. They have to be sown every year, but this can be an opportunity to try new or different plants. Limited flowering seasons can be extended by sowing in autumn or propagating plants in a greenhouse.

Sweet Peas are the ultimate ‘cut and come again’ cut flower. Once a popular glasshouse cut flower, these beautiful, scented blooms are mainly garden grown nowadays. There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. They can be grown from seed in April/May or planted as a pot of grown seedlings purchased from your local garden centre. It’s important to cut sweet peas regularly to encourage more blooms. Cut the flowers just as the lowest bloom is opening and put them in water immediately for a longer vase life.

Gypsophila makes particularly useful fillers for softening bouquets and adding a frothy haze of tiny flowers to your cut flower arrangements. Before cutting each stem it’s best to wait until most of the flowers on the stem have opened. This well-loved cut flower can be sown outdoors each spring in March – May where they are to flower. Stagger the sowings to prolong the flowering season and provide you with plenty of blooms. Alternatively plant as a perennial in your border.

Cosmos, Cornflowers and Nigella (love-in-a-mist) are traditional cottage garden annuals that make great cut flowers. They are easy to grow annuals that can be sown direct into the ground where they are to grow. The seedlings will still need thinning out and providing with support, but will provide a steady stream of colourful cut flowers June through to September.

You don’t need to be a florist to get the best from your cut flowers. There are a lot of handy tips you can employ to make your blooms last longer in the vase;

• Cutting flower stems at an angle gives a greater surface area for water uptake and prevents the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over.

• Strip any foliage from stems that would sit below the water level in a vase to prevent slimy and smelly leaves.

•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 blocking the water uptake. (Spring bulbs are the exception to this rule).

• Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flowers last longer. You only need approx. ¼ teaspoon per litre of water.

• 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.

• Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower food and preservatives at the same time.