As spring arrives and temperatures start to rise, my thoughts turn to flowers. And not just flowers to be enjoyed in the garden. I’m talking about those grown specifically for cutting, to allow me to bring a little of that colour, scent and sunshine indoors too.
You don’t need as much space as you might imagine to grow your own cut flowers. Here’s what I’ll be planting throughout the spring to fill my vases – from showstopping arrangements to elegant bouquets and simple posies.
The centrepiece of your arrangement
Dahlias, gladioli, hardy and half-hardy annuals are the stalwarts of my cutting patch. In preparation for summer harvests I’m planting and sowing nearly every day at the moment, filling windowsills and greenhouse with rows of trays.
First, the dahlias have been potted up to provide a centrepiece for summer arrangements. They can be planted from mid April, either in the ground or in 2-3 litre pots in multi-purpose potting compost.
I love the rich purples and reds of ‘Bishop of Canterbury’, ‘Downham Royal’ and ‘Thomas A Edison’ alongside the softer tones of ‘Café au Lait’ and ‘Henriette’. I also grow single flowers like ‘Happy Single Date’, ‘Happy Single Wink’ and ‘Happy Single Romeo’ – with vibrant open flowers that contrast with the dark chocolate foliage.
Flowers to create contrast
Gladioli perform well as cut flowers and the corms don’t need digging up over winter in my garden in Hertfordshire, although in colder areas of the country they will have to be lifted for the winter when the foliage dies back. If you plant corms in containers every couple of weeks from early May until the end of June, you’ll have flowers throughout the summer.
It’s important to ensure good drainage and to add stakes to support tall cultivars. The central focus of my arrangements last year was Gladiolus ‘Green Star’. Its statuesque flower spikes combine beautifully with other lime flowers such as Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’, tobacco plant (Nicotiana langsdorffi and Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’) and the foliage of Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). It can also be used to create visual impact as a counterpoint to the deep purples of Honeywort (Cerinthe purpurascens), Zinnia ‘Purple Prince’ and a range of salvias.
Flowers for texture and volume
Behind these dramatic performers you can add softer, more delicate forms like bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), feathertop grass (Pennisetum villosum ‘Cream Falls’) and the euphorbia-like green bracts of common hare’s ear (Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Green Gold’) to give arrangements greater depth.
Other favourite annuals include the ferny foliage and white umbels of bishop’s weed (Ammi majus ‘Graceland’) and love-in-a-mist (Nigella ‘Blue Starry Skies’) spilling over the front of a vase in a delicate blue haze.
Striking flowers for stand alone bouquets
Some flowers are at their best in combinations, whereas others, like rudbeckia, create maximum impact in large bunches on their own. Coreopsis x hybrida ‘Incredible Dwarf Mixed’ also works well in loose bunches as the colour variation of each flower creates interest within the arrangement.
Sweet peas are another annual with the ability to blend with other flowers, but they do look beautiful on their own. The perfume from a small posy of ‘Fragrantissima’ can fill a room with the heady scent of summer, and there are always enough flowers on the wigwam to satisfy the pollinators too.
When to plant summer flowers for cutting
The next few weeks are an ideal time to sow many annuals. Sow directly in the ground (after the last frost for half-hardy annuals) or into trays ready to transplant outside once the seedlings are large enough to handle.
For the last few years, I’ve been growing flowers and foliage for the house in a small cutting patch alongside edible plants, and in containers. You don’t need acres of space. There’s a huge variety of flowers you can grow to fill your house with colour and scent throughout the summer, no matter what size your garden.
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at dogwooddays.