Last month a branch with a very early blossom on it broke off one of the ornamental cherry trees in the main garden I watched my husband from the warmth of the house take a pair of secateurs and cut the lonely fallen branch into long elegant stems. He arranged them in an old French blue and white jug. As he walked back into the house with my nine year old son running behind him, clutching the last of the stems, I had the equivalent reaction that women across the land had in 1995 in that moment Colin Firth walked out of the lake with his wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice. He simply took my breath away. It was utterly sexy and beyond romantic. Gone are the days when only pansies picked posies. Home-grown flowers are not only a statement of a man’s ethics and view of the world, they are also an intense and deeply personal gift to give, and even more so if he has picked or grown his own.
For me a truly romantic man grows his own flowers. A man who wants to impress his wife, girlfriend, or dare I say mistress, could easily grow her a bunch of tulips with very little time effort or expense. There’s so much more love and sentiment in something you’ve grown yourself. What could be more beautiful than a big bunch of tulips sitting on the kitchen table, grown by your man? It would beat a shop-bought bunch of imported half dead flowers hands down.
It’s not difficult to plant tulips – it requires about 20 minutes of labour and a bit of planning. There are so many choices of flowers to grow as cut flowers, but a simple example say if your partners birthday is in July, would be to plant a beautiful hydrangea like ‘Annabelle’, and every year for years and years to come you could stroll in from the garden with a bunch of flowers for your loved one on their special day. That is, as they say, priceless.
I really love those kinds of gestures. They don’t involve spending much, they help the environment and they make an occasion even more special. Anyone can go down and buy a bunch of flowers from the supermarket – they are generic produce in most instances. It’s a bunch we forget. You simply don’t forget home-grown flowers. They are both unique and long remembered.
On the subject of supermarket flowers, unless you are buying British or Fairtrade, the terrible truth is that you quite literally have no idea when you put that bunch on the table, what you are buying into. You know nothing of the flowers’ provenance. You know nothing of the land they are grown on (recently destroyed rainforest?) the chemicals used, the conditions of the workers involved. More often than not flowers flown in thousands of miles are grown by large corporate fims who have very few ethical practices, or consideration for the environmental consequences of mass production of flowers on either the local population or the wildlife. I personally believe that caring about the person you are giving flowers to extends to caring about the environment we all live in.
On the other hand growing your own cut flowers is utterly romantic. The bees buzz about making honey, the insects feed the birds, the birds sing and there is harmony. It’s beautiful, and there is nostalgia as many people associate certain flowers with the people long gone. I for one can’t smell a rose or peach blossom without being reminded of my grandmother. The scent of freshly picked flowers can quite literally capture a moment. A wedding, a promise, a first kiss, a mother’s love. In that moment is a memory, a glimpse of the past, or the promise of the future. Imported supermarket flowers rarely have a scent, and your lady is quite likely to be sticking her nose in something that has been covered in pesticides.
Here we grow Thompson & Morgan flowers in all the borders; cornflower, Californian poppy, cosmos, ammi, scabious, nigella, gypsophila. We also use the vegetable patch, plant to get two crops from one bed. I have hundreds of tulip ‘Queen of Night’ planted in with the rhubarb. Up come the tulips then up comes the rhubarb: you can double up even when you are short on space.
If you add up the cost of buying six or seven packets of seeds, it is a relatively low outlay and you have flowers on the table right through the growing season. The price of about 12 bouquets over 3 months means that they cost as little as 45p a bunch.
With the Kitchen Garden School cutting garden we have two 9 feet wide, 40 feet borders dedicated to cut flowers, in the cool colour spectrum: deep burgundies, blues and whites. The only other requirement for a place in this garden for a plant to belong is that it can be cut. We have 20 varieties of rose, which are under planted with hardy geranium. We have rosemary and sage, which looks wonderful as foliage in a bouquet (particularly with roses) and we have agapanthus. There is something wonderfully exotic about agapanthus in a bunch. We also use the wisteria growing up the side of the house and pop the flowers into fishbowl shape vases and let them drape over the table.
The thing to bear in mind when you are first starting out growing flowers for your love is that a home-grown bouquet does not need to be structured. It can be whimsical and romantic, like a vintage tea dress. You can put anything you like in there. If you are putting together flowers for someone who particularly likes their food, consider planting an edible bouquet with roses, lavender, rosemary and other garden herbs or if your partner has just had baby boy then pick a blue posy.
It’s not hard to put together a beautiful arrangement. Use a sharp pair of scissors and have a bucket of water to ready to pop the blooms in as you pick to keep them fresh. Tie flowers loosely or pop them straight into a jam jar. For me, a garden grown bouquet shouldn’t be precise or perfect; after all we don’t live in a perfect world. Relax, get creative and forget trying to produce the perfect bunch: the flowers themselves are perfect, and giving your true love a home-grown posy of flowers is quite possibly one of the most romantic things that a chap can do.
WIN a place on Vanessa’s ‘Grow your own cut flowers’ course in the Big Spring Giveaway! With expert guidance from head gardener Rocky Coles, you’ll learn how to grow beautiful cut flowers all the year round, get advice on how to look after the flowers once you’ve picked them, tips on weeding, deadheading, organic pest control, organic feeding and flower arranging.
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.