Le Jardin Contemporain // The Contemporary Garden - Barry Watton Garden Designs

Cut flowers & arrangements

There’s something so fresh and lovely about filling your house with flowers, with their various scent and colour. And what better way to do so than with your own cut flower arrangements. The process of growing flowers can be relatively cheap. It is also good for pollinating wildlife and lifts the spirits. Additionally, growing your own cut flowers has a lower carbon footprint than buying flowers grown and shipped from around the world. But where to start?

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my January Garden To Do List in which I recommended you start putting in your orders for seed now so that you are ready to sow in March. Why not add some additional seed to your order and try your hand at flower arranging this year with my advice below.

Creating a space for your flowers

Get to know the light and moisture demands of your plants

The vendor/seed pack will have that information, so make sure you check it out. If you plant sun loving plants in a spot in part or total shade, the plants will bend towards the light and you will end up with oddly shaped stems or flowers which in the vast majority of cases are no good for arrangements. Equally shade loving plants will quickly become sun damaged and burnt to a crisp if grown in full sun.

The eventual height of your plant is an important consideration too

This information will be on the packet also. Taller plants placed in front of shorter ones will starve the shorter plants of light. Plants that reach flowering maturity earlier in the year will generally be shorter and vice-versa later flowering plants tend to be taller.

Growing in your potager

If you have an unused piece of land or bed in your potager consider setting it aside for cut flowers. The pollinating insects will help your fruit and vegetable crop too.

Prepare the ground

Whatever space you choose, prepare it by clearing the ground. You don’t want your prized plants having to compete with weeds for water and nutrition. Improve soil fertility, drainage and water retention by forking in compost, manure and/or leafmould.

Keep the rows relatively narrow

Ease of access for weeding and cutting is key. Leave paths between with sufficient space for you and your bucket of water. You can mulch these paths with bark to keep weeds at bay and keep the paths from getting muddy.

Mulch, mulch and more mulch

After planting, mulch heavily with compost or manure to deter any soil borne weeds you may have brought to the surface when preparing the area. Soil organisms will quickly take mulch into the soil so replenish it later in the year to help keep on top of weeds.

Deadhead regularly

Deadheading is a trick employed by gardeners to force the plants to keep producing flowers. Employ this technique in the cutting garden too to keep the flowers coming. Cutting your flowers for arrangements is effectively deadheading.

Irrigate

Irrigate to get seed germinated and irrigate during hot periods. Keeping the mulch topped up will help with soil hydration.

Plant cutting and preparation

Le Jardin Contemporain // The Contemporary Garden - Barry Watton Garden Designs

Cut your chosen flowers from the garden

Ensure that you have a bucket of fresh water with you so that you can put your flowers in water immediately after cutting. Cut the plant just above a node on the plant, whilst leaving a longish stem on the cut flower for standing in the vase. How long a stem you need will depend on the depth of your chosen vase and the height of the arrangement you wish to create.

Arrange your flowers

  • Fill your chosen vase with fresh tepid water.
  • Before arranging your flowers in the vase ‘condition’ the flowers by removing all leaves that will sit below the water line.
  • Trim the stem to the desired height. Ensure your cut is at an angle, like a straw, this increases the surface area of the cut and therefore the water uptake.
  • Arrange the flower and foliage mix in the vase as you desire. Play around with different heights, colours, textures and combinations.

Tip: Replace the water every few days to prolong the display.

What plants to choose?

Time is precious and space can be at a premium so grow the plants you love and know you will use. You may very well already have some in mind. But if you like the idea of being able to cut flowers for home arranging and are doing this for the first time as a starting point consider plants from the lamiaceae, asteraceae and verbenaceae families are good choices and have stong stems.

Annuals and biennials

These are ideally adapted to the cutting garden: their life cycles allow them to live only one or two years and so they have evolved with a high germination rate to enable them to grow fast and produce abundant flower before they are finished for good. This means you can get producing a decent crop of flowers in only the first year of getting started. Try Cosmos, Dill, Nigella, Sweet peas, Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’, or Orlaya grandiflora.

Herbaceous perennials

These can be a little slower to get going when compared to annuals and biennials, but what they lack in immediate bang for buck they reward in long term repeat flowering and ease of maintenance. To speed the process along a little you can purchase these plants as small plantlets in 8 or 9 cm pots. Starting them from seed can be a bit hit and miss as germination rates are lower. Some of the more unusual or rare perennials do need to be started by seed, however.

There are many suitable herbaceous perennials are available, but one of our favourites has to be Peonies. These flower for just a few weeks of the year and so are a real treat. We also love the freshness of Achemilla mollis, Echinacea, Echinops, Fennel, Gypsophila, Liatris, Knautia, Persicaria and Scabiosa.

Consider planting perennial bulbs too. Freshly cut daffodils lift the spirits at the end of a long winter and there are many different varieties available beyond the standard ‘tete a tete’ available at the supermarket till. Dahlias are a fantastic late flowering tuberous plant that keep producing right into November with regular harvesting.

Grasses

Grasses are great for adding texture, an air of lightness, and a degree of naturalism to an arrangement. Consider Stipa gigantea with its large airy oaty heads. Panicum have light sprays of ‘flower’, whereas Pennisetum have bunny tail like bushy flowers. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ have elongated wheat-llike flowers. There really is a lot to choose from in this group of plants.

Shrubs and climbers

Roses are a classic choice. There are thousands to choose from, but we like Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ for its sultry deep purple flowers.

Celebrate the Japanese spring festival of Hanami with an arrangement made entirely of the flowering branches of ornamental cherry. Forsythia and Cornus mas are other early flowering shrubs from which you can cut to add to your arrangements.

The foliage of shrubs is essential for arrangements. They are not simply a ‘filler’. They offer a different texture or scent to play with and something against which to contrast your flowering plants. For scent Rosemary, or Laurus nobilis (bay) are both great choices. Eucalyptus offers a colour contrast with its steely blue coloured foliage.

Use climbers, such as Trachelospermum jasminoides or Clematis, for beautiful, interesting looking trailing foliage.

Dried flower arrangements

Some flowers look just as good even past their best and these can be invaluable in making arrangements over the autumn and winter period. Great examples are alliums, Echinacea, Papaver somniferum (opium poppies), Dipsacus fullonum (teasel) and Hydrangea macrophylla. Cortaderia selloana (Pampas) and Miscanthus with their highly decorated infloresences will add much needed soft texture to the arrangement. Avoid temptation to ‘clear’ the garden in autumn. Leave it standing and allow autumn to do its work on the plants. Once they have turned an oaty brown colour, and on a dry day, select and cut a few stems.

Plants to avoid

It is essential that plants have strong stems and cope well with being cut. Some plants beautiful as they may be, such as Astrantia, just aren’t suitable and begin to sag almost from the moment they are cut.

Tulips are lovely, but as a cut flower they flop like mad. Placing them in a tall straight-sided vase and regularly trimming the bottoms off the stems can help. Flopping plants can also be supported with floristry wire, but unless the wires are reused these are simply a form of waste better avoided in my opinion.

Avoid Euphorbias. As essential as they are in the garden – I use them in all the gardens I create – when cut they do exude a toxic white sap. Bringing them into the home it is probably best these are avoided. If you do choose to use them for arranging nonetheless, ensure you handle them with gloves when conditioning them and wash your hands and forearms with soap after handling them.

A plant definitely to be aware of is the Lily. The pollen dropping can stain clothes, rugs, sofas etc so snip the stamens off with scissors. Avoid lilies entirely if you have a cat likely to have a nibble, as all parts of the plant are toxic to them.

Le Jardin Contemporain // The Contemporary Garden - Barry Watton Garden Designs

Whichever plants you choose have fun creating your own combinations and plant associations.

We are creating our own cut flower garden to supplement, and make more sustainable, our weddings and events floristry business. We will be sharing our progress on our instagram account.

Do you grow your own cut flowers already? If so, which are your favourite to grow and why? Have I convinced you to give it a try? Let me know if you have any questions not covered above. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on and share your photos with us. I’d love to see them.

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