Planning a Cutting Patch: Annual Choices

The winter garden is waiting, the new raised beds watching me through the windows, daring me to step out into the frost, the drizzle, the sunshine to tackle a host of gardening jobs. Instead I’ve been cooking, eating, playing, crafting, walking, cycling and enjoying this unusually long period of family time together. But this afternoon I snatched a quick break to curl up with a notepad, some new seed catalogues and my seed packets to plan the annual layer for the new cutting patch.

Bulb Base Layer

Since I last wrote about the cutting patch (in Planning a Cutting Patch: Bulb Time) I have buried all the Narcissi and Tulips deep down, ready for spring.

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The tulips were planted in trenches on a layer of grit to aid drainage

It’s now time to consider what will grow around and alongside the bulbs and how I will produce flowers and foliage for cutting throughout the spring, summer and autumn.

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An empty plot – with hidden treasure…

My seed packets make me smile with all their potential for colour and texture for flower arrangements in the New Year. I’ve already amassed a lovely collection: Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight Blues’, ‘Fragrantissima’ and ‘Floral Tribute’, Antirrhinum ‘Royal Bride’ (a lovely tall, white snapdragon), Cosmos ‘Purity’ (a particular favourite), Papaver somniferum ‘Irish Velvet’ and ‘Paeony Black’, Calendula ‘Daisy Mixed’ and ‘Sherbert Fizz’ (which I admired at Chelsea, so grew myself last year and liked), Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ (another favourite), Tropaeolum majus ‘Milkmaid’ (love the milky colour of this nasturtium and can’t wait to try it), Euphorbia oblongata (a short-lived perennial, often grown as an annual for cutting), Ammi majus (a winner in my current flower border for its delicate, feathery umbels), Coreopsis ‘Unbelievable!’ and Centaurea cyanus ‘Polka Dot’ and ‘Classic Romantic’ (you can’t have a cutting patch without cornflowers).

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Temptation…

I’ve also been sent a few treats to trial by Suttons Seeds (a company I’ve been using for years) like Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis – with tall spikes of fresh green bells), Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ (once I’d seen this white beauty with its dark eye I had to try it), Bunny Tails (Lagurus ovatus – an annual grass with fluffy white tops which is great for cutting) and the Scented Garden Collection (Sweet William ‘Perfume Mix’, Sweet Pea ‘Patio Mix’, Night Phlox, Lavender ‘Blue Wonder and Brompton Stock) which I’ll be including in the mix (as the patch will also include biennials and perennials too – more on these in a later post.)

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Greens, dark purples and rusty oranges are my colours this year

Then, like many of my fellow seed addicts (there should be a mutual support group – maybe I’ll set one up…), I have been enticed into a few extra annual purchases in search of floral perfection. My current order comprises: Bupleurum griffithii with its acid yellow flowers and lime green leaves (I’m definitely after green foliage and flowers to offset the deeper colours of the dahlias, tulips and others), Centaurea ‘Black Ball’, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ (stalwart of any cutting patch), Cosmos ‘Double Click Cranberries’ (what a stunning colour), Crepis rubra (this pink Hawksbeard/dandelion lookalike wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but I encountered it on a course this year and fancied a try), Daucus carota ‘Purple Kisses’ (more umbellifer indulgence), Linum grandiflorum rubrum (Scarlet Flax – another beautiful new flower for me this year), Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ and Zinna elegans ‘Benarys Lime Green’ and ‘Benarys Giant Scarlet’.

I don’t imagine I’ll get round to sowing all of these, or indeed have the room to plant out a row of each, but I’m hoping most will find their way into the new cutting patch. Out of this marvellous annual selection, along with the bulbs, tubers and perennials, I must, surely, be able to create a little magic in 2017?

What are you planning to include in annual planting this year? Any thoughts for additions to my list to extend the season or offer alternative colours or textures would be great too. Thanks  🙂

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              With very best wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year xxx  🙂

Planning a Cutting Patch: Bulb Time

I started a cutting patch in the back garden last year. It was a disaster. I planted Echinacea purpurea, Monarda, Calendula (‘Indian Prince’ and ‘Porcupine’), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Barry Dare’, ‘Cupani’ and ‘Arthur Hellyer’), Gladioli (‘Flevo Cool’, ‘Flevo Flash’ and ‘Flevo Sylvia’) and nasturtiums. It was a bit of an odd mix with little forethought, just plants and seeds which I had available and which I knew would also be good for wildlife. The patch grew beautifully and created a mini pollinator paradise. It also added a focal point with vibrant colours at the end of the vegetable raised beds, but herein lay the problem. It was too lovely. Every time I contemplated ravishing it with my scissors, I hesitated and backed away. I did cut a few blooms, but each time I harvested flowers for the house, I felt I was depriving the bees and butterflies, and diluting the visual effect.

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The cutting bed was wild and wonderful

So this year I’m approaching a cutting patch with a new plan. I intend to interplant my veggies with edible companions like calendula, nasturtiums and borage to create colour and cater for the insects. Then in the allotment – far away from the kitchen window and my view as I’m washing up – I’ll plant my cutting patch which will be one bed about 1.2m by 6m. This time I’m putting a little more thought into the planting so it really earns its keep year round. We have a half plot (I’m banned from taking on any more land or responsibility for any more gardens at the moment), so every bit of space matters.

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The calendula now self-seed and create a blast of colour throughout the summer

I have plans for bulbs, perennials and annuals, plus I’m hoping to squeeze in a Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ when no-one’s looking. I already have Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviremea’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the garden providing wonderful winter cutting material, so a ‘Kesselringi’ will add to this collection with its stunning deep purple/black stems. I’ve been reading up on plants which offer good material for cutting at different times of year and thinking about how they might combine in arrangements. I’ll be writing about my choices of perennials and annuals in a later post, but here are my bulb plans and some of the thinking behind the combinations.

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Sweet peas are a must for my cutting patch – this is the striking ‘Barry Dare’

I have never grown enough tulips to have many for cutting and it struck me that including tulip and narcissi bulbs in the cutting patch won’t require much extra room. The soil will not be supporting large plants during early spring so the tulips can easily come up between the perennials as they grow and the dying foliage should be covered by the annual flowers later in the season. I’ve chosen the Sarah Raven ‘Vintage Silk’ collection as I haven’t grown ‘Apricot Beauty’, ‘Mistress Grey’, ‘Spring Green’ or ‘Groenland’ before and I love their subtle smoky look. I’m also planning on including ‘Shirley’ (which I vowed to grow again when I wrote my tulip review earlier in the year), ‘Attila’ (deep purple), ‘Carnival de Rio’, ‘Hollandia’ (these two make a red/white striped and red mix), ‘Slawa’ (an amazing maroon tulip with outer orange stripes), ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jimmy’ (these two create a deep crimson and coral orange mix). I’m hoping these combinations will look great in vases – they should last for 10 days or longer and will also mix well with the greens of Euphorbia palustris and Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae which will be planted in the cutting patch.

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This is as far as I’ve got with tulips in arrangements so far – the odd ‘Queen of Night’ with Ammi majus, Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ and Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’

The narcissi should provide blooms from March to May – from ‘Gigantic Star’ with a vanilla-like fragrance in March/April, through ‘Thalia’  and ‘The Bride’ in April/May to ‘Piper’s End’ in May.   J.Parker’s have offered me the narcissi and the seven tulip varieties ‘Shirley’ – ‘Jimmy’ to trial this year, so I can see how the varieties perform in the allotment and how suitable they are for cutting. The tulips bulbs will be planted about 15-20cm deep, 10-15 cm apart and the narcissi 10-15 cm deep, 8-10cm apart, depending on the bulb size. The extra depth will hopefully encourage the tulips to flower well in subsequent years. Both bulb types will be planted with a handful of grit beneath them as we do in the garden, to aid drainage. Then the perennials can be planted alongside the bulbs and the annuals sown above once spring arrives. I’m also considering planting winter/spring bedding to reduce weed cover, add colour and provide material for cutting before the spring bulbs and annuals begin.

Once I’ve added in the Gladioli ‘Flevo’ series from the garden and a mixture of dahlias which I already have and some new faces (‘Café au Lait’ and ‘Henriette’ – with their milky coffee and peach hues, alongside the deep velvets of ‘Thomas A. Edison’, ‘Downham Royal’ and ‘Con Amore’), I’ll have pretty much filled (probably over-filled) the available bulb/tuber/corm space. The dahlias will go in after the frosts next year above the narcissi, to maximise the use of space. And I’m literally bouncing off the seat with excitement at all the promise which will be hidden underground throughout the winter months. I’ve no idea how I’ll contain myself when I get to planning perennials and annuals – maybe I should read up on rabbit damage, greenfly infestations and fungal problems to introduce a degree of pessimistic balance.

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Gladioli ‘Flevo Cool’ looks magnificent in the garden and in a vase

But whatever problems lie in the future, for the moment I can watch the leaves falling with my cup of tea in hand and dream about vases of glorious spring blooms adorning the house. Then it’s back to the allotment, trowel in hand, to start digging.

I enjoy flower arranging and I’ve been on a couple of courses, but it’s very much a work in progress!

Are you planning a cutting patch or garden, or do you already have one? What tips would you give a newbie cut flower grower like me? I’m in two minds about whether to plant the narcissi singly or in groups and would be interested in thoughts on this. I’d also love to hear about what works and what hasn’t been as successful in other cutting patches, so do leave me a comment below  🙂

If you’d like to follow my cutting patch as I continue to plan and plant, you can follow the blog below. Next up it’s perennials and no doubt some photos about how the bulb planting is progressing…

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Wordless Wednesday

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Found this stunning bloom – Passiflora caerulea – scrambling over a fence during my walk into town yesterday

 

 

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Stunning flowers which can be made into a syrup according to the Plants for a Future database. Fruits can be eaten, but the flavour is ‘not very desirable’! Better to stick to Passiflora edulis, which can be grown in a greenhouse…

 

 

Planting Palettes: Reflections on RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Returning home from Chelsea yesterday and on waking this morning my main recollections of the show were all infused with colour, my brain still awash with the contrasts and blends which lent a particular character to each garden and plant exhibit. I’ve been entertained, surprised and soothed by the colours of Chelsea in the past and there’s no doubt that hues, tints and shades are a key part of designing gardens that engage the observer. But this year the use of colour spoke to me more directly, both the broad brush strokes across the show and the details of specific gardens.

Purple Predilections

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Purple, yellow, orange and white flowers and foliage in The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary

I could be accused of being a purpleaholic. I love purple flowers in all their guises – whether it be blending the soft purple of Verbena bonariensis or Allium ‘Purple Rain’ in gentle pastel colour schemes, using purple Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ to contrast with the zingy orange of a geum like ‘Prinses Juliana’ or using the deep purple centres of flowers like Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’ or Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ against their white petals for delicate accents in the border. Purple foliage also has many uses aesthetically and for cutting. I’m particularly fond of Sambucus nigra Black Lace and even purple Pak Choi (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis ‘Purple Choy Sum’), Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea subsp. gongylodes ‘Azur Star’) and Kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’). All of these plants can be used to bring interest and beauty to a cottage or potager garden, whilst also supplying the table with vibrant vegetables and pink elderflower cordial.

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Calendula officinalis ‘Long Flowering’, Viola tricolor, Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’, Amaranthus ‘Red Army’, and Allium schoenoprasum create a vibrant purple/red and orange mix

So I enjoyed the mix of purples in the flowers and foliage of The St John’s Hospice – A Modern Apothecary. Whilst appreciating the calm atmosphere evoked by the cobbled path, trickling water feature and gentle planting, I could also imagine a light salad eaten on one of the oak benches consisting of red/purple beetroot and brassica leaves (high in healthy anthocyanidins) and sprinkled with edible petals from the viola, chives and calendula.

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Surrounding the ‘Wellness’ water feature, the flowering thymes (‘Iden’, ‘Peter Davis’, ‘Porlock’ and ‘Fragrantissimus’) create a purple patchwork of texture and colour

The next study in purple I encountered was The LG Smart Garden, where purple combined with pale pinks and white results in an elegantly exuberant planting scheme.

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The gentle purples of the Hesperis matronalis, Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’, Phlox divaricate subsp. laphamii ‘Chattahoochee’, the soft blue of the Iris ‘Jane Philips’ and the white spires of Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora and Eremurus robustus create a soft celebratory atmosphere in this garden

 

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The soft blend of pastels in The LG Smart Garden contrast with the minimalist black and white hard landscaping

In The Chelsea Barracks Garden, Jo Thompson uses bronze foliage and sculpture as a background to the soft planting. However, unlike The LG Smart Garden, this garden takes the eye on a colour-based journey around the bronze-edged elliptical lawn.

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The pink and blue end of The Chelsea Barracks Garden

Beginning with blues and pinks alongside the purple foliage of Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, the sightline travels past the Basaltite stone wall with bronze fins echoed in the handsome foliage of the Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea, which looks stunning next to the Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’.

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Darker purples and pinks adjacent to the bronze sculpted seating

 

When your gaze finally reaches the other end of the garden, the striking colours of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Amistad’, Rosa ‘Nuits de Young’, ‘Chianti’ and ‘Reine des Violettes’ and the purple stems of the Angelica archangelica contrast with the gentle colours at the beginning of the visual journey.

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Finally my purple preoccupation was almost sated in the Great Pavilion when I came across this wall of Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ (one of my favourite heucheras) and Echeveria ‘Pollux’. An impractical, but arresting and absorbing diversion.

Colour Blocks

In The Modern Slavery Garden, Juliet Sargeant uses striking blocks of colour to represent the bright social exterior which conceals the reality that people are still being held in captivity in the UK and forced to work without pay. Lupins, peonies, foxgloves and irises form a strong architectural framework in this garden. The message is bold and important and so is the planting.

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The Brewin Dolphin Garden – Forever Freefolk

Rosy Hardy’s garden is another space where colour dances for the spectator from the bright pathway to the wonderful daubs of unresolved planting. The vibrant contrasts serve to accentuate each plant, showcasing individual features that might get lost in more subtle colour schemes. Particular highlights include Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Geum ‘Red Wings’ and ‘Totally Tangerine’, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ and Salvia ‘Eveline’.

Not to be outdone, the Grand Pavilion has stepped up to the colour challenge and delivered an engaging floral exhibit which showcases white and green flowers and foliage on one side and the Queen’s head resplendent in floral technicolor on the other. The exhibit was designed by Ming Veevers Carter for the New Covent Garden Flower Market to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It is bold and striking, and I thought it might be rather strident, but up close the flowers have a beauty which I found softened the whole effect.

Filigree Colour

The use of strong colour blocks to showcase individual plants and their features is effective, but nothing at the show drew me into the gardens like the latticework effects of the lacy umbellifers and other intricate flowers hiding in between the frothy grasses. Such planting combinations are a study in the subtle use of colour, none more so than in my favourite garden – The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, designed by Nick Bailey.

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The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden uses delicately smudged purples and oranges

I found the planting in the gravel borders absolutely riveting. Spires of Resda alba rise gently from the speckled Briza mediaGeum ‘Mai Tai’, Iris ‘Kent Pride’, Allium atropurpureaCentaurea montana ‘Jordy’, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ and Calendula officinalis ‘Sherbert Fizz’ (which I first used in a design earlier this year and which I’m growing from seed in my own garden). The colour of this calendula attracted me because of its coppery, almost muddy tone – a characteristic shared at Chelsea this year with other subtle orange flowers such as Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and Verbascum x hybridum ‘Copper Rose’ in The Chelsea Barracks Garden. I also grow Allium atropurpurea, a favourite allium which I noticed was just beginning to flower this morning in the espalier/herb border. The deep purple rigid structure of this allium echoes another treasure in this scheme – the almost black Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ with its delicately feathered petals. The flowers can get lost when combined with green foliage, but here it forms small velvety black holes in front of the orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’.

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The soft planting looks stunning in front of the copper band symbolising the germination and growth of a seedling which sweeps around the centre of the garden

The use of umbellifers is popular once again at this year’s show. Their lacy beauty acts as a foil for other plants and creates a shimmering backdrop against which to exhibit stronger colours. I loved the umbellifer combinations in the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden and the way they create a latticework of structure and colour. From the tall Angelica archangelica, to Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, a lovely dark-leaved form of our native cow parsley, which froths up behind another beautiful umbellifer, Orlaya grandiflora. The clear, white flowers of the Orlaya highlight the dusky reds of Verbascum ‘Firedance’, Lupinus ‘Towering Inferno’ and Rosa ‘Heidetraum’.

Then on the other side of the path the froth continues with this beautiful combination of strong orange Geum ‘Prinses Juliana’ and the lovely purple Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ both emerging from beneath Deschampsia cespitosa.

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Delicate colour contrasts through the wispy grasses

I found one final umbellifer delight at Pennard Plants in the Great Pavilion whilst exploring their unusual vegetable range in the modern allotment area. A new one on me, it’s called the earth chestnut, giant pignut or black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum) and has a tuberous root which can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes like sweet chestnut. And so I end where I began – with a plant which is both beautiful and edible. I’m off to find some and plant it alongside soft orange Geum ‘Mai Tai’, Calendula officinale ‘Sherbert Fizz’, Briza media and my Allium atropurpurea and Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ in a pale recreation of a mathematical garden which will colour my memories of Chelsea for many years to come.

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Earth chestnuts at Pennard Plants