Cut flowers: Artisan growers share their secrets
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Cut flowers bring a note of cheer, whether in your kitchen, on your bedside table or dotted around your home – so it’s time to make a space in your garden for a flower patch so you can cut your own.
From spring bulbs such as narcissi, tulips and camassia, summer annuals and perennials including peonies, astrantia, delphiniums and roses, through to the asters, dahlias and sunflowers of late summer and early autumn, you can make the cut flower season last a long time.
Here, artisan growers of Flowers From The Farm, a not-for-profit membership association supporting more than 880 flower farmers, share their secrets of how to grow beautiful blooms for cutting and keep them going strong once they’re indoors.
Know your soil
Ray Baxter of Mill Pond Flower Farm in the Scottish Borders likes to demonstrate the ‘know-your-soil’ trick of mixing water with soil in a jar, shaking it and seeing how it settles into layers of sand, silt or clay.
“Understanding the properties of your soil is a really important consideration for growing just about anything. You need to understand how your soil holds on to nutrients and how it can hold on to moisture,” says Baxter. “Thankfully, we can improve almost any soil by adding biomass. We do that by adding seaweed, weed from our pond and by adding lots of well rotted manure.”
Start a compost heap
Cobi Snelson of Batch Cottage Flowers in Somerset is a firm believer in the power of compost. In her cutting garden, she has six wooden composting bins on the go at any one time.
“We have lots of good ingredients for making compost here: donkey, sheep and chicken manure goes in along with shredded paper (which we think is the secret ingredient), along with cuttings from the garden and organic food matter, and occasionally some rainwater if it gets dry,” says Snelson.
“We label them so we know when they’re ready – and they take up to a year to be ready. We don’t turn our compost, we just let time and the brandling worms and centipedes do the work.”
Form a plan
Keep your mobile phone on you in your garden to plan ahead, recommends Claire Brown of PlantPassion in Surrey, author of The British Flowers Book.
“I’m planning all the time. Your best tool when you’re in a garden is not a piece of paper that may blow away in the wind but a mobile phone. I put messages into my phone, telling it what I’ve got too much of, or what I’ve got too little of. That’s where my planning starts for the following year.”
Pack in perennials
Perennials, such as astrantia, eryngium, echinops, crocosmia and veronica, form the backbone of any cutting patch and make excellent cut flowers. Plus they are low maintenance and come back year after year, says Rachel Siegfried of Green & Gorgeous in Oxfordshire.
“We really pack the planting in to minimise weeds and create a close canopy,” she adds. “We can cut everything back in spring and use a loader to get the mulch directly onto the beds.”
Two years ago, Kirsten Mackay of Henthorn Farm Flowers in Lancashire turned half her residential garden over to a flower-filled, super-productive cutting garden.
“I have a mixture of perennials, annuals and bulbs and shrubs that extend the growing season here. With the annuals, as soon as one thing’s going over, I want to have something ready to take its place,” says Mackay.
“I grow annuals in seed trays so that I can plant the seedlings straight out into neat rows in cutting beds. Rows make weeding so much easier.”
To get the most from your cutting plot during the summer months, Justine Scouller of Far Hill Flowers in Monmouthshire recommends growing ‘cut and come again’ flowers.
“Dahlias start flowering here in July and as long as we keep cutting them, they flower until the first frosts in late October. Annuals such as cosmos, sweet peas, calendula and cornflowers produce a fantastic crop of flowers throughout the summer,” Scouller says.
“Plant them closer in a cutting patch than you would do in the border, so that they grow tall and straight as they compete for sunlight and to reduce the need for weeding, and then just keep cutting them. The more flowers you cut, the more the plant will produce.”
Make them last indoors
When and how you cut the flowers can make a big difference to how long they last in the vase, says Carol Siddorn of Carol’s Garden in Cheshire.
“Ideally, cut flowers first thing in the morning before it’s too hot but after the dew has gone from the flowers, as they take up water overnight and become more turgid.
“I cut them and put them straight into a bucket of water,” adds Siddorn. “This prevents air bubbles forming, especially in hollow stems. I don’t use flower food: we don’t need to extend the life of the flowers that much and I don’t like to use chemicals.”