The Orange Tip

Tag: cosmos

Late Annuals

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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:


Cutting Garden, August



Integrated Growing


After last year’s let down in the cutting garden I have vowed to give it my all during the coming spring and early summer. The failures, of which were many, I put down to a handful of combined problems. We had a warm spring and dim, wet summer; great for the bulbs, but less than ideal for seed grown annuals. I made mistakes also with the preliminary growing stages; not enough room to harden off young seedlings and therefore taking too long to move them from greenhouse (where they put on fast, tall and leggy growth) to ground. My watering regimes were also too sporadic and often too frequent; leading to rotting tubers and damping off of seedlings.

So, this year I am taking the following measures: 1. Careful and detailed approach to watering – making sure not to water when unnecessary. 2. Moving seedlings quickly on through the new cold frames and out into the beds, starting each day with an hour or so in the greenhouse/propagation area. And most importantly, 3. Getting started early. This means making the most of the warm spring rather than depending on a hot and bright summer.

Therefore, for the first time in my three years with the cutting garden, I am sowing annuals into the spaces between the bulbs before they have even begun flowering. In both years past I have waited to get the bulbs out prior to planting in the annual flowers. The flowers were started in the greenhouse and ready to go in by this point (usually around late May to mid June), but they were limited in number according to how many I had been able to store or pot on. They were also at the mercy of a hot greenhouse. This time I have been moving the plants on quickly through the greenhouse, hardening them off in the cold frames and then getting them into the gaps between the bulbs. It has meant paying more attention to the plants in all stages; watching for the signs and adjusting the temperatures in the growing spaces accordingly, but the results should (hopefully) be worth the effort.

I have also begun direct-sowing some of the seeds. So far these have included: Ammi majus, Papaver somniferum, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’, Californian poppy, Nigella, quaking grass (Briza maxima) and cornflowers. I have planted out a first row of Ammi majus seedlings, as well as Cosmos and white Larkspur. Next will be the Cleome followed by Zinnias and Dahlias.