How to grow a cutting garden
Fancy a house full of flowers? Muddy gets top tips on creating your own cutting garden from Cornish growers, The Garden Gate Flower Company.
We all know we should be buying, eating – maybe even growing – more local and seasonal fruit and veg. But what about flowers? So many blooms bought in the UK today are shipped from abroad. Crazy, when you can buy from local growers or even cultivate your own little corner for cut flowers.
Having recently admired a friend’s cutting garden, I’ve been daydreaming about creating my own. So I’ve tapped the super skills of Maz and Becca, the growers and florists behind The Garden Gate Flower Company to tell us how it’s done…
What is a cutting garden?
Cutting gardens were designed to provide a constant supply of fresh flowers for large country estates. But these days they’ve become popular among amateur gardeners too. A cutting garden is great because it gives you blooms for the house and fresh bouquets to give a friend on a whim, without having to hack in to your borders.
Where to put it
Either create a dedicated border in your garden, from which to cut (a good option if you have limited space). Or create a special area, such as a raised bed, to grow plants for cutting. Here you can plan in a more regimented way and be less precious about what you cut.
We use landscape fabric that is a metre wide and rows of about 40 cm to plant into. The landscape fabric suppresses weeds and is your path. The bare ground between allows you to mulch and water your plants.
Follow the instructions on the seed packets or growers labels, as to how much space to leave. If you are growing for cutting you can usually grow a little closer together than you would in a garden setting. And if you are cutting regularly, remember to feed regularly too.
We have begun to use a ‘no dig’ style of gardening, which means we add compost to the rows on a regular basis but do not dig the soil once the paths are set out. We hoe to keep weeds down, which is as quick as mulching and prevents weeds from becoming established. Mulching feeds the plants and helps with moisture retention.
Watering can be done as and when needed with a smaller garden, but a leaky pipe system around the roots of your plants will work best on a timer, if you have a larger plot. Sprinklers cause water damage to petals so always water the base of your plant.
What to grow
We live by the ‘right plant right place’ mantra and choose those which will thrive. Our garden in Cornwall is quite windswept and the soil is thin. This is why we have found the ‘no dig’ method works very well for us. The soil is acidic so we are a little restricted because plants adapted to specifically alkaline conditions do not grow well. We also have a good ready supply of rain, in summer and winter so we grow all of our Mediterranean originating plants in a polytunnel. Winter wet causes lots of our plants to struggle.
We started by growing flowers we can see in the wild around us and also cultivated varieties of these. For example we grow cornflowers, poppies, cow parsley, and comfrey. We also have a native hedge which we use for foliage throughout the year.
Our small polytunnel helps us to grow for early spring and into the winter, which is mild here, and we grow a wide range of shrubs, perennials, biennials and annuals to see us through the year.
Be on the lookout of new things all the time, pick from friends and see how the stems last in water. Visit the garden centre. Think about scent as well as how it looks as this contributes to its impact.
Best for bouquets
We grow lots of daffodils and tulips, roses and dahlias, which often form the main flowers in our bouquets. Flowering shrubs such as philadelphus, physocarpus and jasmine are a good structural plant to have, whilst the whispy or foraged elements such as honeysuckle, wild grasses or hawthorn make our arrangements reflect the seasons changing around us.
If you don’t have much space
Consider climbers, containers and houseplants. Climbing roses, jasmines, clematis and honeysuckle will make use of the vertical space you may have going spare. Containers are perfect for roses, annuals and herbs such as mint or oregano. The lovely thing about containers is you can create the perfect conditions for a plant and so have a wider choice of flowers.
Planning a successional scheme for your pots will mean you have flowers through the year. Other plants such as jasmine, hellebores and ferns can be brought inside in winter, and you can use a windowsill to force narcissi, fritillaries and tiny iris if you don’t have a greenhouse or polytunnel.
There are a surprising amount of flowers and foliage, which aren’t usually associated with cutting. Using branches of currants or blueberries, crab apple or blossom will give you cutting material from other sources. Self-seeding flowers such as nigella will root into the most unexpected places and thrive in the gaps between paving slabs or beneath larger plants. Be creative and experiment, let your leeks and lettuce flower. We discovered accidently that rocket has a particularly delicate and lightly scented flower.
Pick a mix of tall and short for arrangements
Both tall and short plants are useful and finding bowls to use as a vessel alongside taller vases and jugs means you can cut a wide range of plants. Long stems are not always needed. Small violas nestled among thyme provide a cushion for more showy flowers such as roses.
Planting a mixture of shapes is possibly most important for a natural look, so have big and small round shapes, such as scabious and roses, but also tall flowers such as foxgloves and delphiniums.
When selecting plants double check that you have a mixture of shapes for all seasons, but also be attentive to colour. Choose plants that will complement each other.
Don’t forget the foliage!
We love foliage and think it is as important as the flowers. We pick flowers and foliage together and don’t always strip leaves from stems (except those below the water line). We use physocarpus and cornus through the summer. A few different types of foliage on their own makes lovely serene arrangements which focus on texture and scent. Autumn is the bet time for foliage and branches of pink-gold or green and auburn enhance the qualities of autumn flowers. Euonymus and birch are favourites and pine and eucalyptus are perfect for winter and will make your home smell like Christmas.
With thanks to Britt Willoughby Dyer for the beautiful photos used in this feature