Planning a Cutting Garden

This season I have decided to start my own cutting garden, mainly because I find I am totally incapable of cutting flowers from the garden to bring into the house. I end up buying cut flowers from the supermarket because I can’t bear to denude my own garden plants. This can prove quite costly, and, by growing my own, I could save around five pounds a week, which amounts to an annual saving of around two hundred and fifty pounds. That is one very good reason to give it a go! I have also found that I have a very limited choice of variety and colour when buying flowers in a supermarket.

Cut flower varieties are chosen by professional growers, primarily for their length of vase life and their ability to withstand the rigours of long distance travel. This limits the number which would be suitable, and thus, the degree of choice in the shops. There will never be, for instance, sweet peas for sale in the local supermarket, as their vase life is only 3 – 5 days, and they are so delicate that they would be easily damaged in transit. As my cut flowers will only have to travel up the garden path, I can choose whichever varieties take my fancy. And if they die after a few days, there will be plenty more in the cutting patch to take their place.

I can also choose varieties for a specific reason, such as fragrance, which is very important to me, so I can choose flowers for their scent alone, if I want to. I love rich, jewel – like colours, so I can select a personal colour palette of purples, reds and strong blues, as well as oranges and hot pinks, which will complement each other well in a vase. I can also select for flower type, shape, size and textures to help me to achieve my ideal arrangements. There is a great creative freedom in growing your own cut flowers, which is lost in the selection of a bunch of supermarket roses.

I have already chosen and bought my seeds – many are Thompson & Morgan annuals, but I have had to go further afield for some more unusual varieties, like Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Anchusa Capensis ‘Blue Angel’ and Melianthus Major.

Choosing was an absolute labour of love and one of my favourite jobs of the whole year! Once they arrived I drew up a sowing plan, based on the sowing information given on the packet, and my own experience from previous years. I tend to wait, for instance, to sow cosmos until light levels are good, as my early sown seedlings have often been leggy and weak. Later sowings have been much more robust.

So, the propagator is on, and … there are babies! The first seeds have germinated, so they will be moved out of the propagator onto a warm, light windowsill to grow on, leaving space for the germination of the next batch of seeds. And repeat!

It must mean that spring is just around the corner …

Jane Scorer
Hoe hoe grow

I am the willing servant of my garden and also admit to a severe plant addiction. I love them all, but especially sub tropicals, roses, salvias, dahlias and auriculas. I enjoy propagation (because it makes even more plants!) and I hate weeding. My garden was a field when we first met, all those years ago, and its development has been a long, slow, labour of love. It is still evolving and changing all the time. I have opened for the NGS in the recent past, and I have an RHS Qualification, but, the experience I value has mainly been gained with my hands deep in the soil.

Growing your own cut flowers

Who doesn’t love a jug of flowers on the kitchen table?

When students arrive I pop warm muffins and a pot of fresh Fairtrade coffee on the kitchen table next to a jug of flowers. It makes people feel welcome and there are always comments on how lovely the flowers are.  But when it comes to everyday flowers sometimes things just don’t make sense.  Buying imported flowers is one of the things that in the majority of instances just makes me cross. For me flying flowers thousands of miles, using who knows what amount of energy to keep the flowers cool, goodness knows what pesticides to keep them pest free and paying a pittance to a poorly treated workforce who are more often than not exploited is senseless at best and irresponsible at worst.  I grow my own or when there are none in the garden I buy Fairtrade.

Growing your own cut flowers

A welcoming sight

I appreciate that there are certain varieties of flowers that only grow in special conditions, and I understand that if you want say, roses at Christmas, then of course we don’t have the climate.  That said the revolution of local, seasonal and sustainable food is upon is and I see absolutely no reason that the same can’t be applied to the British cut flower industry.

I acknowledge that sometimes flowers like bananas, chocolate and vanilla need to be imported, but if you are going to buy imported goods this is still your opportunity to make a difference by buying Fairtrade flowers.

If you want to enjoy flowers with a totally guilt free with a free conscience the best thing to do is grow them yourself in your garden or allotment.  I like Thompson and Morgan for a wide selection of bulbs and seeds that make beautiful cut flowers.  Lilies, Sweet Peas, Sunflowers, Roses, Dianthus, Gladiolus, and Gypsophila are just a few straight forward flowers that you can grow with very little effort and if you want to take your green credentials even further then buy some of the organic seeds they sell and then the following year collect your own seeds.

Growing your own flowers can save you plenty of money especially if you give cut bouquets as gifts.  It is also hugely beneficial for bees & insects providing food and habitats insects and in turn they help to pollinate your other flowers & vegetables and helping to maintain a healthier eco-system.

Growing your own cut flowers

Growing your own cut flowers

Not everyone has the space in their garden or the time to grow their own flowers, so buying them is their only option, however there is a lot of information, much of it from the cut flower industry itself trying to convince us that cut flowers have low carbon footprints. It seems to me however that they have gone to great lengths to prove that they are a green option, and yet most of the data I have read focuses solely on the benefits of growing flowers in naturally hot countries and then flying them into the UK compared to growing them in cold countries in hothouses which of course can be very energy intensive.  If we buy varieties that need little heat such as Cosmos, Nigella, Sweet Peas and Clary Sage like the ones in the photos above then this “comparison,” is utter nonsense.

If you want to think about the real impact of importing flowers one step further then consider this  – in developing countries where poverty is endemic and access to clean water is problematic precious dwindling water supplies are used to produce exported luxury inedible crops grown.

Is it right that large corporations buy up land and claim the associated water rights, and that is before you start asking what impact large monocultures have on local biodiversity, which we know even from our own intensive farming is detrimental to the environment.

I know, I’m on my soap box now, but one of the biggest concerns I have about buying imported flowers with no certification is the well documented use of chemicals used on commercial cut flowers either to control pest & diseases or to prolong their life during transportation.  Most imported cut flowers are grown in countries where there is little pesticide regulation which means that there is no control on the use of dangerous chemicals and a vast range of pesticides, fertilisers and fumigants are used in producing cut flowers such as DDT, dieldrin, methyl bromide and methyl parathion* have been banned in the UK and the USA for many years because they are deemed too dangerous to use in the industrialised world. (*source The Ecologist)

Perhaps one of the most worrying concerns I have is the issue of child labor in the cut flower industry.  A quick Google search using the words ‘child labor in the cut flower industry’ reveals dozens of organisations fighting for changes to protect exploited children in the industry.

When I chat to people who come on courses here most people haven’t even thought about where our flowers come from, however after a few minutes explanation the penny drops and people are quick to cotton on that they are easy and cheap to grow yourself and that locally-grown flowers have similar advantages to locally produced food. The flowers are fresher, have a longer vase life and they smell much nicer.

Vanessa Kimbell
Growing your own cut flowers

Vanessa Kimbell

Vanessa Kimbell, an author and blogger, runs cookery classes at her home in Northamptonshire using either home-grown or locally produced goods and is a firm believer in sustainable, ethical food.

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