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.
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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. Use bulbs to extend the picking season.
The cutting garden
If space allows, 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 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 the 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.
Choosing the site
Cut flowers need a fertile, weed-free soil. Annual applications of organic matter (one or two bucketfuls per square metre/yard) especially to sandy and clay soils 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; for example, Growmore applied at the rate of 70g per sq metre (2oz per square yard). Mulching with 5-7.5cm (2-3in) weed-free composted manure or bark suppresses weeds and retains moisture.
Most cut flowers are sun-lovers, but a few tolerant tolerate shade (e.g. Solomon’s seal, Acanthus spinosus and heuchera).
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.
The initial outlay of buying seeds is less than when buying perennials e.g. sunflowers, cosmos, cornflower and larkspur. 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.
Choose perennials that offer a long season of picking. Include foliage plants. If raised from seed many perennials will not flower in the first year. However, if sown early some such as Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Pastels’, agastache, echinacaea and delphinium may flower in the same season.
Bulbs are great for the cut flower garden as many start flowering in late winter or early spring. Extend the picking season by planting early-, mid- and late-flowering cultivars. Bulbs such tulips and hyacinths may not flower well in following years, so consider discarding the bulbs and planting new stock each year. Bulbs can be forced by an initial period rooting in cool and dark conditions before being brought indoors to flower from mid-winter. Bulbs, narcissi for example, lend themselves to naturalising in grass or deciduous shade from where blooms can be taken without reducing flowers in the garden.
Evergreens and early-flowering shrubs such as camellia, Japanese quince (Chaenomeles), forsythia and witch hazel (Hamamelis) can provide invaluable cutting material in winter and early spring. However, shrubs can produce abundant ornamental foliage all year round. Allow shrubs to establish and settle into flowering before cutting.
A number of climbers are useful as they not only provide flowers but some bear attractive seed heads (clematis) or fruits (roses) as well.
Propagate perennials from seed or divide mature clumps in spring or early autumn. Some can be also propagated from basal cuttings (aster, chrysanthemum, delphinium and lupins) or from root cuttings (acanthus, phlox, oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) and verbascum).