I have decided that this year I am going to start a cutting garden. At the moment I manage to have cut flowers, from my garden, most of the year round. But I want to start being a bit more adventurous in my arrangements.
A cutting garden can be set up very cheaply as many are annuals and packets of seed are reasonably cheap. For others such as rudbeckias I can divide plants that I have in other parts of the garden. The main expense for me will be dahlias as I will take the opportunity to increase my stocks but I will try to scrounge cuttings from friends too.
In order that cutting flowers for the house does not become a chore the cutting garden needs to be fairly close to the house. It is worth siting a small compost bin here too, to put the spent flowers, deadheads and to make new compost for the cutting garden.
If you can see your cutting garden from the house you need to try to give it some structure so that it is attractive all year round. This could be the inclusion of some shrubs which will provide good foliage for your arrangements, such as laurel, evergreen viburnum or a eucalyptus cut back to about 20cm each year to keep it small and bushy and with the lovely round young leaves. Alternatively plant a box at each corner of your garden and shape this into a ball or spiral.
I think I will divide mine in two sections, one for hot colours - reds, oranges, yellows, and one for cooler colours - blues, pinks.
Good plants for the cutting garden
Annuals - seeds to sow
Amaranthus - another favourite in the French potager and you can eat the young leaves like spinach as well as use the red flower spikes in flower arrangements . It is quite a good self seeder as well.
Antirrininum - grow as an annual, has a wide range of colours and its flower spike contrasts with the rounder flower shapes
Centaurea, cornflower - lovely pale blue flowers
Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' - I love this plant, lovely glaucous blue/green leaves and purple 'flowers'
Cleome hassleriana - a big favourite with the french and last year I saw lots in a lovely lilac shade as well as the traditional pink.
Cosmos - another big favourite with the french. Every potager has a row of cosmos for cutting.
Helianthus varietie - there are some gorgeous sunflowers available, choose the bronzy/orange flowers as well as traditional yellow and pinch out top growth when the plants are small to ensure bushy plants with lots of flowers. Helianthus 'Velvet Queen is a nice one'
Nicotiana, ornamental tobacco - this comes in lots of colours and if you keep picking it it gets bushier and keeps producing flowers
Nigella , love in a mist - lovely blues, pinks and whites and when flowering is finished the seed heads continue to add to your arrangements. As a bonus this will self seed profusely every year
Sweet pea - don't forget these and if you grow the perennial sweet pea it has a lovely scent too.
Tagates, marigolds - very useful for a flower arrangement with colours of the hot end of the spectrum, or to contrast with blues and purples.
Lunaria annua, Honesty - lovely purple flowers but it is the seedheads which flower arrangers love
Sweet williams - cottage garden favourite which lasts well when cut and is easy to grow.
Editors note - my sweet peas sown last year have kept me in a constant supply of cut flowers for over a month now. Dont miss having these in your cutting garden.
Aster - these are all great for cutting
Achillea - yellow is the easiest colour to grow but also pinks and coral colours, last well in water.
Campanula medium (Canterbury bells) - these spread so quickly you will have flowers for yourself and plants to give to friends in no time.
Dahlias - these have got to be the best ever plants for flower arrangers, every colour, lots shapes and lots flower sizes. Just remember to protect the plants or rhizomes during the winter.
Echinacea - beautiful daisy like flowers which last well in a vase.
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare- the leaves and flowers are great in arrangements. Try to get hold of a bronze fennel as the leaf colour is superb
Dill is another great herb for flower arrangements as the flowers are very sculptural .
Kniphofia - add drama with red hot pokers
Heleniums - the bold colours of heleniums look great combined with the acid greens of euphorbias.
Rudbekia - quick to produce nice big clumps and the flowering season is quite long
Sedum - architecturally interesting pink sedum flowers last a long time in water and often sprout roots whilst in a vase and so you can increase your stocks at the sime time.
Solidago - not one of my favourite garden plants but a great acid yellow colour for flower arrangements.
Eucalyptus - cut back late winter every year to keep this small and ensure the young attractive leaves.
Artemesia - silver leaf varieties
Asparagus - ferny foliage to add a softness to your display
Euphorbia - lime green flowers add zing to your bouquets
Prepare the area well by removing all weeds, digging in garden compost (do not use fertilizer as this encourages leggy, leafy growth), raking well for areas to be sown.
Sow seeds in straight lines so that weeds can be spotted and eliminated easily , and leave space between the rows for access to pick the flowers.
Think about supports, best to put these in sooner rather than later.
Read seed packets carefully and do not sow before the recommended months. If you have a cold frame you could sow a little earlier and protect young plants in this.
Keep hoeing to reduce weeds.
Flower arranging tips
I haven't tried it yet but in one of my plant catalogues the suppliers claimed that the addition of water crystals (the type you put in hanging baskets to store water and release it slowly to your plants) to the vase keeps the water clean.
Ensure a mix of shapes and size of flowers to make the arrangement more interesting.
Arrangements often look better if up to half of the arrangement is foliage.