Anyone can grow stylish arrangements and elaborate party flowers, all you need are the right plants that you can cut-and-come-again. Ideally create your cutting garden in a sunny spot in full view of the kitchen or sitting room window, as it will provide one of the most colourful displays in the garden for at least nine months of the year. You don’t need huge amounts of space nor a big budget – all you need are several packets of seeds, and a few bulbs and tubers.
Grow a selection of different shaped flowers that can be picked as buds as well as open blooms and grow enough to fill your house with flowers and still have plenty to take bunches to friends
For a cut-and-come-again display, it’s important to pick flowers every two weeks otherwise the plants will run out of steam. It’s a good idea therefore, when there is a glut of blooms, to encourage friends to visit and help themselves!
The following are amongst my favourite flowers for cutting:
Iceland poppy Meadow Pastels– an incredibly delicate flower with a beautiful shape, which looks as if it’s made from silk, that has a delicious exotic scent.
Lupin Blue Spear– an annual variety that smells of palma violets, which looks stunning arranged as a single stem in a tall, narrow glass vase from nickys-nursery.co.uk
Dahlia Black Cat– a dark rich red cactus variety that unlike many varieties lasts well in the vase.
Sweet pea Matucana– one of the most strongly scented varieties with purple standard and crimson wings that produces four large flowers per stem.
Tulip Green Wave– a beautiful parrot variety with white, pink and green striped flowers on 3ft tall strong stems.
Euphorbias are also a must have and are great for focal points in flowerbeds. The acid green flowers of Euphorbia palustris look especially stunning in late spring alongside orange poppy May Queen and the ornamental onion Allium Purple Sensation. In fact, you can mix euphorbias with any colour. Use them to brighten up whites and blue and also to highlight the richness of deep reds and purples. When cutting euphorbias for the vase wear gloves sear stem ends in boiling water for 30 seconds to seal in the toxic sap.
It’s a good idea to create several cutting beds to fill with a selection of annuals and biennials that colour matched for arrangements in the vase
If you grow half-hardy annuals such as snapdragons, nicotianas, rudbeckias and cosmos you’ll be picking flowers for at least four months during the summer. They are the cheapest plants to grow and are unfussy and easy, thriving on most soils in full sun. As soon as a row of plants stops producing lots of flowers, take it out and replace it with something that will flower later in the season. Edging the beds with Euphorbia oblongata, which is a great foliage plant, will provide plenty of cutting material for up to nine months of the year.
Early summer is the ideal time to sow spring-flowering biennials such as wallflowers. Wallflowers are fragrant, vary in colour between yellows, reds, oranges and pinks and they’ll grow to a height of between 20 and 40 cm. Ideally grow the tall varieties in single colours such as Blood Red and Fire King, which provide a wonderful tapestry of red and orange velvety blooms that are highly scented.
When creating cutting borders in your garden combine plants that flower at the same time and will look good in a vase
In your cutting beds use wallflowers as gap-fillers between row of tulips and euphorbias. In the vase you can arrange them with hyacinths and tulips in all colours, shapes and sizes. You can sow wallflowers direct in the ground, sowing them in lines so you can see where the weeds are, or in pots under cover and plant them out in early spring.
Bulbs are some of the easiest plants you can grow. With their bold shapes, powerful scents and big blooms in any shade you want, putting plenty of bulbs in the ground will give you not only a pretty garden but also lots of flowers to cut and bring in the house. Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in autumn with daffodils going in from late August onwards and tulips any time up to the end of November. Plant them where they’ll flower in a trench that is three times the depth of the bulb and set the bulbs 7-10cm apart them pointy end up on a layer of gravel.
Bells of Ireland or moluccella, which produces tall spires clothed in apple-green cups make an interesting silhouette in flower arrangements and will give a vase arrangement the three-dimensional look that you see in the garden
They combine well with pale and bright flowers, almost acting like a foliage plant. Sow a batch in late spring, in the spot where they are to flower, for blooms that will be ready for cutting in September and October – they will tolerate a few degrees of frost. The flowers can also be dried for winter arrangements, simply hang small bunches upside-down tied with a rubber band in a dry, airy place.
Another plant that’s a popular summer ‘filler’ with flower arrangers is Bishop’s flower or Ammi majus. This delicate long-lived version of cow parsley is a must-have for country-style arrangements and for contemporary style it looks superb on its own in a large glass vase. Sow it in autumn for blooms in mid may or wait until spring for later flowers that will last until the autumn frosts. Autumn sown plants will reach 1.2m tall and need netting support.
The best time to pick flowers is last thing at night of first thing in the morning. Cut and plunge the blooms straight into a bucket of water and not in a pretty flower basket or trug. This makes all the difference to the flowers’ vase life. When you pick annuals and biennials, don’t cut them to the ground but leave two or three leaves for the plant to recover.
Remember the rule of thumb is pick, then condition – sear the ends in boiling water, rest -put them in a bucket of tepid water in a dark place for a few hours or more and arrange and your flowers will last a couple of weeks in the vase.