Being able to cut your own flowers from the garden is a luxury and yet such an easy thing to achieve. With your own patch, you can grow the flowers you choose and pick them at their peak - and they will last so much longer than the ones you buy because they have not been flown in from Colombia or driven over from Holland in cold storage before they reach the shops.
Rachel Siegfried has been growing flowers for her business Green and Gorgeous for 10 years and arranges them for weddings and other events, as well as running courses at her farm near Wallingford. Her floristry style is relaxed and natural, using seasonal blooms, very much in tune with both the current trend for naturalistic gardening and the push for local produce.
She grows her flowers on four acres of land, but her strict growing and harvesting regimes can easily be scaled down for the average gardener, even if you have space only for a couple of two- metre-square raised beds. 'Think of it like a vegetable garden,' Rachel says. 'You are growing a crop, and planting in rows makes weeding, irrigating and picking so much easier. You wouldn't want to pick too much from your garden borders, but a cut flower patch is a much more functional and hard-working space.'
When planning what to grow, try to think about not only colours but also the shape and form of a flower: the more diverse the blooms, the more interesting and natural-looking the composition. The other crucial element of planning a cut flower patch is to ensure a good successional flow of flowers from spring to autumn. 'Good planning's essential, to make sure you have something to harvest every month,' Rachel says. 'We start with the spring bulbs - hellebores and narcissus - followed by tulips and blossom.' Rachel's early spring arrangement contains tulips and anemones softened by hedgerow blossom and the fresh apple-green of newly emerging leaves. 'At this time of year, you can use any hedgerow or tree blossom - apple, cherry, pussy willow or blackthorn. Focus on the tulips or anemones, and build up the composition around them.'
The vase she has used is an open, silver bowl that suits the loose, natural look of the arrangement. 'It's all in the vase. Choose your vase first and let that inform what you are picking. At the moment, I'm really favouring the wide-necked vases where you can display a good range of flowers,' she says, and explains she uses chicken wire in the bowl to support the flowers, putting in the main ones first and building the arrangement around them. 'When people ask, "How do you keep your tulips straight?", my reply is, "Why do you want them straight?" Part of the joy of tulips is the way they arch and grow when they are arranged.' Tulips and many other spring bulbs have an excellent vase life, lasting a good two weeks if you keep changing the water. 'Always cut the stems at an angle so that there is more surface area to absorb the water,' says Rachel.
Cut Flower Staples for April: Tulips and Anemones
Tulips are a mainstay crop for Rachel, and she plants new bulbs every year in November (never earlier, because there is more risk of fungal disease if it's still warm when you plant). 'I grow tulips as an annual, pulling them up and composting the bulbs,' she says. 'It may seem wasteful, but the quality is never as good the second year, and it means you can choose different varieties.' Because they are replaced every year, she plants them just 10cm apart, which gives them more stem length as they are jostling for position. When the tulips are ready to pick, she pulls the whole bulb out with the flower so the bed is freed up for other plants.
When you choose varieties for cutting, think not only about the colours and shapes you want for an arrangement, but also about flowering time, starting with the single and double earlies, working through the Triumphs, Darwins and Parrots, and finishing with the late doubles. If short of space, Rachel recommends certain groups over others, in par- ticular the Triumphs, a good all-purpose tulip that is less likely to be damaged by rain or wind. She also recommends the Viridi-flora group for those who do not want to lift their tulips every year, as these are more perennial than others. Current favourites include 'Malaika', 'La Belle Epoque', 'Rem's Favourite', 'Sapporo' and 'Spring Green'.
Anemones are another spring stalwart for Rachel. Grown from unpromising knobbly corms, these are cut-and-come-again flowers that will yield 10-15 stems per plant over a period of four to six weeks. Native to the Mediterranean, they may need frost protection when grown outside - choose a sheltered spot in full sun in a rich but well-drained soil, and if the weather gets particularly cold, cover the ground with mulch or fleece to protect the corms. Rachel plants them outside in September for a spring flowering, 25cm apart, but you can also plant them in pots kept in a frost-free greenhouse all winter for blooms as early as February. It is good practice to lift and divide the corms every two years to keep them flowering. Wait until about six weeks after flowering until the leaves have died back, then trim them off and lift the corms. Keep them dry until you replant them in autumn.
The best anemones for floristry are the Anemone coronaria varieties, which come in single and double forms. You can buy colour mixtures ('De Caen', singles, or 'St Brigid', doubles), which come in a rather random assortment of purples, crimsons and whites, or if you like more colour-control, choose three or four single-colour varieties, such as 'Mr Fokker' (purple), 'Hollandia' (crimson), 'Sylphide' (deep pink) and 'The Bride' (white with a green eye).
Flower Garden Diary: April Tasks
- Make direct sowings of poppies, nigella and other hardy annuals
- Make successional sowings of other hardy annuals in seed trays
- Plant out sweet pea plants if the ground is warm enough
- Pot up dahlia tubers in damp compost to get them to sprout
- Keep on top of annual weeds that are starting to appear
Rachel's Spring Arrangement
Visit greenandgorgeousflowers.co.uk for more details.
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