Establishing a cutting garden

Does everyone love the idea of a cutting garden in the way that I do?  I love flowers in the house but in the main flower growing bit of the garden, known here as the side garden,  I am trying to create a particular feeling with the planting.  Here I do not want to take the peonies, the poppies, the tulips or the alliums which are making the garden sing and leave it denuded.  So for five years I have been trying to create a cutting garden in a big bed beyond the new orchard.

It has been hard going.  The first couple of years were a total disappointment. Annual seed which I sowed failed to germinate.  Some things worked, notably cosmos, but there were huge gaps when the garden was empty and dull, not to say full of weed.


Here is cosmos purity in 2009 looking beautiful.


Here is the cutting garden itself in 2010 looking rather grumpy and dull.

I had at least by that stage discovered the importance of sweet peas, even if I did not have the varieties right. Sweet peas are supreme for weeks and weeks in the cutting garden.  If you cut them they come and come. If you choose your varieties carefully you get fabulous perfume as well as beautiful flower and I have now learned some lessons about cultivating them.

I have tried all sorts of approaches with sweet peas.  I have tried sowing in the greenhouse in the autumn, supposedly to create plants which will flower earlier in the season. They were eaten by mice.  I have tried sowing directly into the ground in spring. Nothing, or the even worse sensation of nearly nothing: things germinate, then they get eaten.  What works for me is sowing early in the greenhouse in a propagator.  There is no point in sowing too early as at some point the plants have to go out into the garden and going out too early, while it is still cold, simply results in a prolonged sulk.  So sowing in mid March works up here in North Wales and putting them out sometime in May.  You are supposed to pinch out the tops to produce bushy plants.  I have discovered that you can forget to do that and find your sweetpeas leggy and falling over like drunken supermodels.  They are forgiving. Do it, even in a guilty, late sort of way, and they will recover. And then the only other thing that really matters:  you have to feed the soil.  Here we dig in bags of manure or compost.



So these were the first big discoveries of the cutting garden: cosmos is fabulous and delivers for months; sweetpeas are indispensable.  I struggled in the early days to create any kind of flower arrangement but even I could put some glorious sweetpeas in a jug and find that they look wonderful.  There are so many varieties of sweetpeas.  I have had most success with some of those from Sarah Raven who chooses carefully for scent as well as flower.  For me there is no point in a sweet pea without scent.  I have tried growing them in a single colour but what looks best in my view is a mix in the cutting garden and a mix in the jug.

I tried growing lots of annuals from seed for the cutting garden but many things struggled.  Poppies are fine but zinnias didn't like it and there is a lot of work with annuals if you grow them in the greenhouse and then transplant which works far better here than sowing directly where they are to grow.  Many of the annuals which I thought would work well such as cerinthe never really thrived.  I decided that I needed to find some perennials that would work well for cut flowers and would also not need a lot of attention in the garden.  This has been a mixed success.  Echinacea which I love is still alive but being ferociously out competed by lupins. The lupins look fantastic in the garden but somehow I have failed to find a way to use the spikes as cut flowers successfully.  They have such a presence that they over power other flowers.  I also think I need a huge vase or jug so that they can have the space in the house they need to make their statement but while they are in flower they do reach for the sky.


The other perennials which are working well this year are Achillea and Euphorbia polychroma.  They may not be spectacular but they are a very good foil for the prima ballerinas: the dahlia.  I had tried growing dahlias in the garden without success.  They don't like the stony conditions of my main garden so they need a vast amount of cossetting but even when I could keep them going they didn't  look right anyway.  They are too blowsy and over the top for native, wildish feel of the garden itself.  Moving them to the cutting garden happened for the first time last year and it was inspired.  They look fabulous in the midst of my growing flower shop.  They flower for months on end.  I am cutting them now and they will keep on going until the first frosts cut them down.


At the moment I grow Bishop of Llandaff and Ludwig Helfert which is the orange monster in the picture above.  They  need plenty of foliage with them and here the annual Euphorbia Olongata comes into its own.   I have slowly come to realise how important it is to grow foliage for cutting as well as flowers.  The rest of the garden provides feathery fennel and alchemilla by the bucketload but annual euphorbia lasts well and sets off so many things.  Last year I lifted and replanted the dahlias but this year I intend to try mulching them very heavily and leaving them in the ground.  If it works it will save me quite a bit of time and if it doesn't it will be the reason to acquire more dahlias.  At the moment I have twelve big plants and don't really want to give any more room to more.

I always plant tulips in the cutting garden in the autumn and take the bulbs out after they have flowered.  This year I am going to put tulips and alliums in among the dahlias and more tulips and some more daffodils in the annual sections where the cosmos grows.  I love alliums and have loads in the garden proper but never want to cut them.  This will be the first time I have grown some with the intention of cutting them for the house.  The tulips are always a success and are brought in before the sweet peas and cosmos have got going.  I have a lot of orange tulips in the garden near the house so this year I am going to go for reds and crimsons in the cutting garden.  The daffodils are a bit of an indulgence really.  There are daffodils all over the rest of the garden in the spring in quantities that mean I can cut as many as I like.  I simply found last year that the cutting garden was depressingly empty in March and early April.  I shall try growing ones which will be sweetly scented when they are brought into the house.



So it has taken nearly five years of experimentation and much failure, a lot of stomping around disgustedly and much trial and error but now I am beginning to have a cutting garden which looks good (not in a Sarah Raven Perch Hill sort of way obviously but in an OK for me sort of way) and which does indeed provide flowers for the house and the holiday cottage for months on end.  I am sure there are many ways in which it can improved and I shall keep on trying new varieties and combinations but at last I feel I have a basic recipe with which to work.

Do you grow flowers for cutting and if you do, what would you not be without?

Comments

  1. Girl after my own heart! There has been so much trial and error here too, I think individual gardens and locations/climates mean it is something we all have to grapple with. I hated growing sweet peas in the autumn, trying desperately to keep them alive in a cold frame and then having the whole lot eaten by mice. Grrrr! I have ended up with a real mix of bulbs, annuals and perennials, (and don't forget herbs for greenery), for just the same reasons as you. White narcissi are fab but I can't get mine to last more than about 3 days in a vase - still stunning though. Wouldn't be without alliums and tulips either bulb wise, euphorbia oblongata (but selfseeds like mad), dill, mint (eek,in a mini bed on its own!), bupleurum, Lady's Mantle and late season cotinus for foliage, opium poppies for their seedheads, cornflowers, feverfew, sweetpeas, annual scabious, cosmos of all sorts, orlaya and ammi, larkspur and sweetrocket and calendula and gypsophila elegans (Covent Garden) for annuals and heleniums, anemones, delphs, dahlias, achillea, scabious, campanula, rudbeckia, echinacea, Austin roses and phlox for perennials. I still struggle with the gaps, really struggle! I have just cut down piles of catmint, Lady's Mantle, knautia, geraniums, delphiniums and euphorbia oblongata and feel like the whole garden suddenly looks chopped into and ugly! Hoping this sun and rain means they will all bounce back green and pretty with speed. Can hardly look 'til then! Need a lesson about successional planting I think! Bx

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    1. thanks for so many great suggestions Belinda. I have some of these (gypsophila, feverfew, calendula) but will definitely try others, particularly dill, ammi and larkspur. I can't grow delphiniums up here but think that larkspur could be a great alternative!

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  2. Well, I was going to suggest a few things, but Belinda has covered everything really! I do love my gladioli, they add some height and come in great colours. The big blue scabious last ages in the vase and seem to go with everything and I've got a big tub of variegated pineapple mint that's a great filler. Hosta leaves too are lovely for adding some substance. I love dahlias popped singly into old bottles on my kitchen windowsill, beautiful! xx Debbie

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    1. I don't know why I haven't got the blue scabious - that is a great reminder! Love it and think it would grow up here.

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  3. I have huge problems growing anything worth cutting. Hardy geraniums just flop and drop their petals in seconds! However, Solomon's Seal look fabulous and grow brilliantly here. It would have to be a pretty big flower arrangement though. Love your beautiful jug of sweet peas.

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    1. Dartmoor is tricky I know from my sister. It is just trial and error I suppose, and wandering around looking at what grows for other people helped me!

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  4. I am right there with you...and have just learned a few new tricks to try, especially for the sweet peas. I have had a devil of a time with those. My go to have always been zinnias. The do very, very well at my place with very little attention. I also love to walk along the roadside and snatch 'Queen Ann's Lace' for filler in my indoor arrangements. I find basil and dill which I can certainly spare from the herb garden to work well as fillers and greenery too. I do look forward to a little research on your beautiful specimens to see if they might grow for me. Many thanks and Happy Gardening!

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    1. I do agree about the beauty of Queen Anne's lace which is in all the lanesides around here. How great that zinnias grow so easily for you. I would love to have them but they don't do well here so I have given up, on the basis of trying to grow what loves me!

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  5. A cutting garden is on my list and your tips are very much appreciated - especially as I have similar growing conditions here, thank you.

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    1. It is a lovely thing to have, even if it is only a little cutting patch. Hope you get yours!

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  6. A huge compromise that I make for our annual trip to France/Europe is leaving the garden, just in the weeks that much of what you describe here should be happening. I would LOVE to have a decent cutting garden, and I would especially love to grow sweet peas again. Meanwhile, I thank you for the vicarious pleasures. Fervent thanks!

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    1. I do love mine and it is worth the long time it has taken to begin to get it right. Do try sweetpeas. They are so rewarding and you would get some before you go away.

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  7. Similar process for me. Two years in and a few cuts but by no means . . . a cutting garden. The part I love though is the, " working it" by trial, error and creating. Wishing my best to you. Love from . . . "not giving up!"

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    1. That is what makes a garden in my view, that not giving up and trial and error. I am glad it is beginning to repay your efforts!

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  8. No cutting garden here, but I'd love to have even just one cutting bed. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. That could be a task for when you have a little more time. It is a very satisfying thing to achieve if you love flowers for the house.

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  9. It sounds as if you really have discovered what works well for you. I think using more perennials is inspired, growing annuals in any quantity is so much work when you grow indoors and transplant, which is the only way I ever get any joy - I don't have room for a cutting garden as such, but hope to create a couple of small borders round the patio in the back garden full of things that work really well - dahlias, definitely. Thank you for sharing your learning, I will definitely concentrate on perennials. My first experiments with a cutting garden were 5 years ago when we first lived on Anglesey. Margaret, the owner of the place we lived and worked at, went off to Australia on holiday leaving me with encouragement to carve a cutting garden out of part of a field and a list of plants she would like to see in it. Dahlias were high on the list, and the only reason I ever started growing them. Perfect for cutting, it was love at first bloom! Like you I found Euphorbia oblongata invaluable, as were branches taken from shrubs and trees in the surrounding hedges, and Ammi majus. The other thing that seemed to work really well in a vase with dahlias was crocosmia, both the wild orange kind and the deep scarlet of "Lucifer". Thank you for the inspiration, and the reminder that patience and learning are key to all new gardening ventures!

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    1. Crocosmia is interesting Janet. I have some and could easily propagate some more specifically for the cutting garden. I agree, it would look good with dahlias.

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  10. I really admire how you've persevered with your cutting garden. We grew sweet peas during our first year here but last year everything failed in the rain and cold. At the moment we're concentrating on veg, trying to weave our way through the challenging conditions, but hopefully, one day, a cutting garden will be on the agenda!

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    1. You are so right about the shift from year to year. One reason for the improvement this year is probably the sunshine which all my stalwarts love. They all drooped and moped last year!

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  11. This post really took me back - my grandmother had a huge garden, mostly given over to fruit and vegetables, but with rows and rows of flowers too. Funnily enough, the flowers I remember always featuring were sweetpeas (no visitor ever left without a bunch to take home), cosmos - always with asparagus fern, and dahlias - rows of them in all colours. So you're inadvertently continuing a planting scheme my Nan was using from about 1930 until 1984 - I think that's marvellous.

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    1. I love the idea that I am recreating your nan's cutting patch! How lovely. It is a little like the part of his garden which my grandfather allowed flowers into. Mostly the garden was a regimented veg patch but he did grow sweetpeas and dahlias for the house.

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  12. Wow... I have a few straggly cosmos and I planted sweet peas in pots this year, but not knowing what I'm doing with sweet peas has resulted in a mess of viny-looking greens and not a single flower, yet... thing is, my yard is mostly shade, so I've got great hostas and pines and ivy and holly shrubs, but no place sunny enough for a real cutting garden. Yours looks wonderful!

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    1. You can grow all sorts of lovely things in shade by probably not cosmos and sweetpeas, sadly! How about violas? They are beautiful and would love the shade.

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  13. Elizabeth, I'd say that your evolving cutting garden is much, much better than okay. It's varied and lovely, and so well planned to present a continuing show through the season.

    As a gardenless admirer, I can only say...Wow! xo

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    1. Ah but you can't see the invading docks and grass in this picture frances

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  14. Your cutting garden is looking beautiful Elizabeth!
    I don't think I have the space for a separate cutting garden, not in full sun anyway, but the area I am clearing on the slope will be a place for drifts of perennials. Hopefully in sufficient quantity that I can cut from there without it being too obvious. Like you I've found annuals hard work - any seed put straight in the ground here is devoured by something the moment it pops its head up. I'll be interested in the outcome of your dahlia experiment. I'm very tempted, in the supposedly milder Devon climate.

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    1. I hope the dahlias survive! I think it is a bit of a risk up here but I am feeling reckless. You know you are over the hill when recklessness involves dahlias.

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  15. I'm fascinated by your cutting garden, it does look beautiful. The only flowers I really bring indoors are daffodils (we have so many so there are never any gaps) and sweet peas. Like you, I always start my sweet peas in March in warmth, but wasn't able to do it in the spring and so I don't have any this year. I do miss them! I did grow some Statice to dry for winter, but I do prefer to see them growing 'fresh' in the garden.

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    1. I bring daffodils in too. They are the breath of spring for me.

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  16. Ah, lupins. Always so beautiful. I tried to get some going in our garden (when we still had a house and garden). But the Bear's thumb is brown, not green, and, well, um . . . there you have it.

    Your gardens are always such a delight (except when they're frustrating you), and your pictures superb!

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    desert.epiphanies@sasktel.net
    67valkyrie@gmail.com
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

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  17. I love that Dahlia and may well have to introduce it....

    The answer to your question is quite simple for me - I don't really like cut flowers, I'm afraid, and I've been known to give bouquets away -- but I do love to see them growing. Gorgeous selection!

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  18. I would love a cutting garden, but as you know, I hardly have a garden at all!

    I would also love to be able to grow sweet peas! Yours are stunning :)

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  19. I have been growing flowers for cutting this summer, in a very minor way, but have enjoyed it enormously. I love having fresh flowers inside and it's so great not to be denuding the garden of what's meant to be out there. They've also lasted very well and have filled the house with reminders of the countryside. So much better than my pathetic vegetable growing attempt last year. Just about to write a post about it, actually.

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