That time of year again (always getting to it later than I would like) when the pencil and paper come out and I’m playing with bulb combinations in the picking beds. There’s not a lot to it but do need to take into account flowering times, colour matches, height and succession.
I’ll be placing the order this week and then be planting right up until mid December; beginning with daffs and putting in Tulips last.
It was around this time last year that I remember feeling a distinct sense of guilt each time I wondered through the picking beds. We had so little sun and so few warm days that almost every gardener I spoke to waved a similar flag of defeat when talking about their cut flower crop. Growing the large, prolific and long-lasting annual bruits we’ve come to rely on each year, both as significant border-fillers and cut supplies for the house, depends upon these two elements at a crucial time during the early to mid summer. Last year we had neither, and those plants sown from seed that year (bar the ever-resilient, ever-praised Euphorbia oblongata, obviously) struggled their way to flower, only to quietly flop and later blacken in the permanently saturated soil.
This year in the South however, we couldn’t really have had any more sun, light and warmth. The conditions for growing annuals in particular, in fact, were so ideal that it was almost as if they were nature’s sole concern this summer. There was heat when needed, rain when needed and so few windy days the dahlias may as well not have been staked. The blooms have kept going since late June, and it’s actually been fun again to work in the picking beds; a prospect that seemed pretty unlikely as the summer drew to a close last year and the leaves began to fall.
I set myself a challenge for the following year around that time, to put all my efforts into making these beds work as they were intended, which thankfully seems to have been the case. But the lesson is simply that no matter what you do, success ultimately lies in the hands of the weather.
There are still a few more weeks of decent flowering to come, but by way of simple analysis, here are a few things I have noted:
1. Careful over-winter storage of dahlia bulbs is key. Dry and cool. Sowing fresh from seed is not to be scoffed at too -in the right conditions they’re very fast growers.
2. No matter how tempting, hold off sowing until the warm has truly arrived.
3. Larkspur and Tithonia are the balls; once going they give relentlessly.
4. If you’re going to do cornflowers, cut back hard at least twice in the season, just before they go to seed.
5. You can never have too much cosmos.
Photos by Roo Lewis: http://www.roolewis.com
One of my favourite wild and cultivated-for-the-picking-garden cross over flowers is undoubtably Ammi majus. A close descendant of the common wild carrot; an envelope full of seed was first given to me by Fergus Garrett, head gardener to the late planting guru Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter Gardens.
There it is grown in great swathes, mixed often with one or two other annuals in contrasting colours. For such a showy annual in the picking beds here at the the Old Vicarage it is actually rarely used in the house. I prefer it’s use as a decorative element to the beds, than as a cut flower for the vase. This year I’ve mixed it with borage and opium poppy, mostly due to my growing obsession with combining white and blue.
Of the 70-80 annuals sown at the garden each year, a key favourite both of mine and of it’s seed-distributor (Sarah Raven), is Euphorbia oblongata. It’s more of a biennial and occasional short-lived perennial than an annual; sown mid-summer to flower early in the following year.
I use this tough and reliable little plant both in the cutting garden and in the perennial beds; making use of it’s shade-tolerance to brighten up dim stretches of border in the shadow of the house. I can’t really ‘hype’ the plant up enough; on top of all else it holds colour in the vase for well over a week and, due to it’s ferrel origins, mixes just as well with cultivated and wild flowers alike.