Tips on how to grow a cut flower garden from gardener and florist Helena Willcocks. Includes how to layout your garden, amending soil, and flowers to choose for scented and long-lasting bouquets
I absolutely love growing flowers, arranging them, and just being on my plot surrounded by them. Everyone needs flowers in their life. That’s why as a florist and allotment gardener I’m sharing my tips for growing them with you. I remember feeling very overwhelmed when I first started my cut flower garden. If you’re just starting out you might feel the same. There was so much to do and every time I went up there it just felt like the jobs were never-ending. Over time I’ve learned to love this aspect of gardening. Especially when it comes to growing cut flowers.
Homegrown flowers are eco-friendly and smell better too
My first foray into the world of gardening began with veg but I soon discovered a love for growing and arranging flowers. After working for others in the floristry world I was shocked by the huge quantities that are brought in from all over the world in such an unethical way. These once natural and organic blooms are cut, plunged into chemicals and often flown thousands of miles before we actually see them. So much so that it is difficult to find anything that even has a scent anymore. This just didn’t make sense to me.
Plant cut flowers in rows
When it comes to growing cut flowers, you have to get out of the mindset of planting for an ornamental garden. It will obviously still look pretty but your main aim isn’t for visual aesthetics but for maximum yield. You want to plant everything a little closer together and in straight lines of one variety. That way you will have a very clear idea of what you have growing and most importantly the flowers will be easier to harvest.
Most cut flowers prefer rich soil
Then you want to think about your soil. If you want your flowers to be at their best you have to make their growing conditions just right. I feed my beds with lots of rich manure and compost at the start of every season and again in the winter when the bulbs go in. On my North London plot, I have very heavy clay soil. That means I have to feed my beds with lots of organic matter otherwise my plants would be very sad indeed.
Grow cut flowers for your situation
Another thing to think about is which flowers are right for you and your space. For example, if you only have your plot or garden for a short time maybe annuals are the best thing for you. They are easy to grow and very rewarding. You can sow lots of them direct and many of them produce flowers all summer long.
If you know you will be somewhere more permanently you can think about investing in shrubs and perennials. These will take much longer to establish but in the long run will be very useful. Ideally, if you have space it is ideal to plant a variety of both.
Must-have cut flowers
On my plot, I have five beds for annuals and five for perennials & shrubs. Here is a list of annuals I wouldn’t be without in a cut flower garden:
• Queen Anne’s Lace
• Sweet peas
Here is a list of perennials and shrubs:
• Chocolate cosmos
Grow a variety of Cosmos
There are a lot of flowers that are still blooming on the plot even now in September. The cosmos are in their element and just seem to keep on flowering. People tend to go for the standard Purity variety but there are so many more to choose from. I grew ten different varieties this season and I am bowled over by the results. These are my favourites: candy stripe, daydream, seashells, cupcake, double click cranberries & double click rose. Also, Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’ are a beautiful little orange variety.
Chocolate Cosmos as cut flowers
If there’s one cut flower I’d recommend for you it would be Chocolate cosmos. They’re one of my absolute favourite flowers to grow and they are still looking glorious at this time of year. I tend to plant them in March and I often find them in Wilkinson’s [a British supermarket] for a really great price. There’s no need to pay a fortune for them. They come as a bare root and I’m yet to have any unsuccessful plants. They are a perennial but sadly mine never make it through the winter, even in mild London on a very sheltered plot. I may try lifting them this year and bringing them indoors.
Chocolate cosmos are wonderful for floristry as they have a lovely long stem, a very long flowering season, and hardly need any maintenance at all. Just a bit of a feed through the summer and lots of water. The colour and scent are stunning too. They’re almost black when they first flower but over time it morphs into a stunning deep red. They’re useful in summer arrangements since they add contrast and depth, especially if you’re using pastels. Best of all, they smell like chocolate, which becomes more noticeable towards the end of the day.
Plan now for next year’s cut flower garden
Now is also the time to start thinking about spring bulbs. We plant hundreds on the plot so it takes a lot of organising and planning to make the most of the space. As I’m growing cut flowers, I don’t plant things like crocuses or snakehead fritillary. I save these for my garden. In Autumn you want to be planting narcissi and tulips that will flower in January to March. Other flowers like ranunculus and anemones are planted in the Spring.
As we find ourselves reluctantly heading into the colder months just remember that there is always something we can be doing for the cut flower garden. Whether it’s planting indoor paperwhites for a glorious scent to fill the house, ordering seed catalogues in January, working the soil, or planning out next year’s garden. But for now, enjoy this last bit of warmth and make the most of your outside space. The plot is still looking glorious and I plan to soak up every minute of it.
Helena Willcocks is an allotment gardener turned florist and was recently featured on BBC’s Gardeners’ World. She’s an advocate for growing your own cut flowers and shares her work and tips on the Allotment Florist on Instagram. You can find out more about her on her website which includes details on upcoming workshops, events, and wedding flowers.