Flowers in the Kitchen Garden

Flowers in the Kitchen Garden

Now that I am a gardener (and a grown up - ?), I can understand why my mother was a bit reluctant to let me pick her flowers when I was young. Being one of five children (and four of us girls), there would have been very few flowers left in the garden if we had all been allowed to pick posies at will. My mother was particularly protective over her daffodils....she liked to see them blooming in the garden rather than in vases in the house.

Of course, we would all like to bring the beautiful colours and scents of the garden into the house. Who wouldn't love to have the house filled with freshly picked, sweetly scented flowers? Now that I have my own garden, however, I can understand the dismay in seeing your garden robbed of its prettiest flowers just as they are at their best. The answer is to have a cutting garden - a space set aside for growing flowers which are meant to be picked.

Cutting gardens date back to Victorian times. One of the head gardener's tasks would have been ensuring a good supply of flowers for the big house and there would have been sections of the kitchen garden laid out to grow the flowers needed for cutting. The same industriousness would have been applied to growing flowers as was applied to vegetable growing. The ground would have been prepared as well as possible and the harvest carefully planned to provide flowers throughout the seasons.

You may not have a Victorian walled garden and an acre or so of spare land (along with a large garden workforce) for your cutting garden, but you can still plan a space in your home garden for flowers to use as cut flowers.

As well as having flowers for the house, you will also have a much prettier vegetable garden, and the vegetables will benefit from the beneficial insects drawn into the garden when the flowers are in bloom.

Some things to consider when planning a cutting garden:

Choose a location that receives at least six hours of sun each day, and has good drainage. Consider whether it will need to be irrigated or is within reach of a garden hose - you may well need to provide supplementary watering in the heat of summer.

Choose a location within reach of the house so that you don't have a huge trek ahead of you when you want to pick some flowers.

Prepare your soil well - add compost and/or dig in manure ahead of planting time.

When deciding on the design of the cutting garden, you can choose to either plant your flowers in massed plantings or in rows. Massed planting can look beautiful and be aesthetically pleasing, whereas a row layout offers easy care and maintenance - choose the style that will best suit you. The best thing about a cutting garden is that you don't really need to worry about whether the flower colours complement each other or not - they can be arranged for colour and design in the vase and the cutting garden can just be a glorious confusion and profusion of colour!

If using row planting, space your rows so that you will have plenty of room to move about when planting, thinning, fertilising, watering ....and picking of course.

For efficient use of space and an easier harvest, group flower species together. As you get more experienced in your cutting garden, you can plan your annuals so that you have a succession of early bloomers, mid-summer flowers, and flowers that bloom in late Summer/Autumn. Consider grouping plants together which have similar sun/water/fertiliser requirements so that your garden is easy to maintain. Take care that taller varieties do not shade out shorter flowers.

Heavy blooming flowers need nutrition. Before planting, you might choose to add a slow-release fertiliser to the soil to provide nutrients throughout the season. During the heaviest blooming, you could also use a liquid fertiliser to feed your plants.

Mulching your plants will help control weeds and prevent water loss - spread a few inches of mulch around the young plants when they are big enough.

Regular cutting promotes flower production and keeps flowers blooming for longer. Dead heading the spent flowers will prevent seeds from forming and will allow blooming to continue for longer.

When blooming slows, remove the plants, work the soil and plant new seedlings. When re-planting, choose the appropriate plant for the time of year.....replace your Spring flowering plants with plants that will produce into the Autumn.

What to grow:

The choice of which varieties to grow will depend on your personal preferences and growing conditions, but as a rule, long-stemmed flowers are the best for cutting. Consider whether you also have some attractive foliage plants to add texture and contrast to your flower arrangements.

Some annuals you could grow in your cutting garden:

Here are some suggestions of annual flowers which you could include in your cutting garden.

Antirrhinums (Snapdragons),
Bells of Ireland
Cornflower (Bachelor's Buttons)
Dianthus Black and White Minstrels
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)
Sweet Pea

Some suggestions for perennials for your cutting garden:

The following perennials could also be included. You will need to have a longer term plan when growing perennials - some will begin to bloom in the second year from sowing. You may want to plan this part of your cutting garden in a permanent location as these flowers will bloom every year.

Campanula (Bellflower),
Dianthus - Clove Pinks, King of the Blacks, Rainbow Loveliness,
Echinacea (Coneflower),
Liatris Purple Torch,
Monarda (Bee Balm),

Don't forget to select some good foliage plants. You can also shop for bulbs such as Gladioli, Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths to grow in a permanent position in your garden for adding to your posies and flower arrangements.

How to get the most from your cut flowers:

Once you have a beautiful cutting garden providing flowers for the garden, you will be able to fill your rooms with are a few ideas for caring for your cut flowers so they will last as long as possible:
  • Harvest flowers in the morning or in the late evening when temperatures are cool.
  • Take a clean container of fresh tepid water out to the cutting garden and immediately place the cut flower into the water to prevent wilting.
  • Remove any foliage that will remain under the water.
  • Cut stems with a sharp instrument, making the cuts underwater if possible.
  • Keep cut flowers in water while arranging.
  • Use clean containers. If you would like to use preservative, see if you can purchase some from a florist. Or you could try making your own - for a homemade flower preserver, use 25ml of Listerine mouth wash to 4 litres of water.

We'd love to hear whether any of our readers have a cutting garden! What flowers do you grow for picking? What are your favourite cut flowers? We love to read your comments......

Now that the weather is warming up, it is the right time to start sowing your flower seeds....

.....and make sure that all the little girls in your life (and the big girls - oh, and the boys too) have lots of flowers to pick this summer!
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