Missed part one? Growing Cut Flowers: Starting with Spring
May can be a tantalising month in the garden. Everything is poised to burst, but it is a remarkably lean and green time, with tulips just going over and many flowers not quite in bloom. Flower farmer Rachel Siegfried, of Green and Gorgeous, calls it the 'gap month', but gets round it with biennials. Perhaps the most useful of these for cutting are the Icelandic poppies, with their pastel-coloured, crushed-silk blooms, but she also grows Hesperis matronalis, Sweet Williams and the wild carrot, Daucus carota, all of which are good fillers in an arrangement. In the mix are foxgloves such as 'Sutton's Apricot' and her favourite, 'Pam's Choice', which provide spires for taller arrangements. May is also the month for the all-important ranunculus, R. asiaticus, also known as the Persian buttercup, with sumptuous flowers that form strong focal points in an arrangement.
As always, the flowers need to be balanced by good foliage, as seen in Rachel's arrangement below, which mixes apricot Icelandic poppies with double ranunculus, interspersed with the green pom-poms of Viburnum opulus 'Roseum' and of hornbeam and white-beam. 'Foliage is such an important part of an arrangement,' says Rachel. 'If you plant the right shrubs and hedges, you can have year-round material from foliage and flowers in spring to berries and hips in the autumn. I recommend planting a mixed bareroot hedge somewhere in your garden. You could run it along the prevailing wind side of your cutting patch, or all the way round. Then you can cut from it whenever you need to.' Species to plant in your cutting hedge include spindle, hawthorn, hornbeam, black- thorn, dogwood and hazel, all of which are native British plants that will attract wildlife. Wait until autumn or winter to plant hedging, when you will be able to buy bareroot specimens at the fraction of the cost of container-grown plants.
Other shrubs can be planted throughout the garden (not in the cutting patch as they will take up too much room). Rachel's tips include Eucalyptus gunnii, Euphorbia palustris, Hypericum 'Magical Series', Rosa glauca, Hydrangea paniculata, hornbeam and the guelder rose, Viburnum opulus. This is one of the most hard-working shrubs of the cutting garden, useful for its foliage in early spring, its lacecap flowers in late spring and early summer, and its clusters of crimson berries in autumn. It will work for you all year round. The cultivar 'Roseum' is also useful, with beautiful, round flowers that are acid green when they first appear, maturing to snow white later in the season. It is worth noting, however, that this cultivar is sterile, so it will not produce berries in the autumn.
Cut Flower Staples for May: Icelandic Poppies and Ranunculus
Icelandic poppies should be sown the previous year in early summer to flower the following May (as with others such as foxgloves, hesperis and honesty). With petals in shades of red, orange, yellow and shell pink, the flowers will last longer than other poppies in the vase. 'If you sear the stems in boiling water for 30 seconds and then plunge them into cold water, they will last for up to a week,' says Rachel. 'The seeds are tiny, like dust, and need to be sown very fresh, scattered on top of the compost in a seed tray and then pricked out into modules.'
Grown on in modules over the summer, Icelandic poppies - and indeed all the biennials Rachel chooses - are hardy enough to be planted outside in September and left to develop strong root systems over the autumn. 'They don't look much on top, but underneath the roots are developing,' says Rachel. 'When it starts warming up in spring, the plants get going and put on masses of growth quickly. You should pick the flowers when they are just about to burst, showing a glimpse of tissuey petal.' Rachel recommends a seed mix with different colours, particularly 'Meadow Pastels', with flowers in soft muted tones, including apricot, coral, cream and lemon, or 'Champagne Bubbles', which has bolder colours.
Ranunculus has gorgeous, glossy flowers on strong, straight stems. The plants grow from small, claw-like tubers, producing cut-and-come- again f lowers that bloom over a period of weeks - the more you pick, the more the flowers will keep going. Rachel plants ranunculus in autumn, about 25cm apart, with the claws pushed downwards into the soil to about a trowel's depth. They are easy to grow, but will do best in full sun, in a moist soil that has had plenty of organic matter added. 'I use a mix that has some singles and some doubles,' says Rachel. 'The colours are amazing, with subtle differences. I love the ones that have picotee edges, as they introduce other colours into an arrangement, which can be picked up in other flowers.'
Crocus.co.uk has a good selection of ranunculus available in early autumn, including the dusky 'Purple Heart', with whorls of darkest purple petals, and 'Aviv Rose', 'Aviv Red' and 'Aviv White'. For the picotee-edged flowers, 'Picotee Pink' has the palest pink petals that look as if the edges have been dipped into magenta paint. 'Picotee Mixed' is more of a gamble, with flowers in sweetie-shop shades that may not all be to your taste.
Flower Garden Diary: Tasks for this month
- Plant out hardy annuals and carry out final sowings of flowers such as ammi and cornflowers.
- Begin to clear tulips and prepare the soil for the next flower crop.
- Keep on top of weeds by hoeing and pulling by hand.
- Start supporting plants such as cornflowers or scabious when they are 45cm tall by staking or putting in netting in between rows.
Rachel's Spring Arrangement
Green and Gorgeous runs courses on growing cut flowers and floristry, and its farm is open for sales on Saturdays, 9am-4pm, until October.
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