Starting a cutting garden

Now’s the perfect time to make a start on your first cutting garden. All you need are a few packs of annual seeds, a well-prepared patch of garden and a couple of hours. There’s a little bit of hard work involved now but come the summer you’ll love coming back into the house with buckets full of real flowers ready for arranging. All of these annuals can be sown where they are to flower right now:
Calendula officinalis (English Marigold)
Cerinthe major purpurascens honeywort
Sunflowers (try Vanilla Ice or Velvet Queen)

For foliage try growing Bupleurum Rotundifolium Griffithi and visit the garden centre for pots of nepeta (catmint). They clump up quickly to form large plants and in the early summer I like to cut their pretty blue flowers and soft blue-grey foliage. You could also cheat and buy some alchemilla mollis plants as their bright green flowers are pretty much indispensable in cottage garden arrangements. It’s also not too late to order sweetpea plants from specialist growers on the internet.

When you’re deciding what to grow consider the colours of your flowers as you’ll want them to look pretty when arranged together. Also think about flowering periods so that your extend the time when you can cut from your patch. Annuals like cornflower and nigella will flower a couple of months after sowing, while cornflowers and cosmos won’t get into their stride until later in the summer and will carry on until the first frosts – as long as you keep picking.

When you’re preparing your patch of ground make sure you create a fine tilth to give your seeds the best possible chance. Then mark out straight lines that will be your guides for where to sow. Leave enough space in-between the line – 25 to 30cm – so that’s there is room for big, healthy plants to grow. Once sown water well with a watering can with a fine rose and keep watering if there’ a spell of dry weather.

Once the seeds are up and have two or three sets of leaves you’ll need to thin them out. It always seems so heartless but there needs to be a 25 to 30cm space between each plant (50cm for sunflowers). Some varieties will need pinching out to encourage bushy growth for example, pinch out the growing tip of sunflowers once they are 50cm tall.

Be eagle-eyed for slugs for they are your mortal enemy. I leave beer traps to try to control them, which seem to work well as long as I remember to refill them every couple of weeks. My chickens are very naughty too and will pick my young plants to pieces if they can. As your flowers grow you’ll need to provide support either with individual canes or square netting tied horizontally over the plants ready for them to grow through.

Finally, some advice on cutting your flowers: Don’t pick when the sun is hot, first thing in the morning and at dusk are best. Carry a bucket of water with you when you cut so that you can put the flowers straight into water (don’t forget to strip the foliage off the bottom of the stems). Invest in some proper floristry scissors as they really are the best things to cut flowers with and, finally, keep cutting to encourage your plants to keep flowering.

Next year, once you’ve been bitten by the cutting garden bug, you can add half-hardy annuals, bulbs and tubers to your cutting garden repertoire.

Happy gardening.