Friday 11 March 2016

Looking Back: Year of Flowers!

Last year I set myself two new challenges: to start a cut flower patch, and to grow some cauliflowers.

I'm pleased to report that my late summer cauliflowers were pretty successful, although varying in size. These 'Autumn Giant' caulis from Real Seeds were sown in April and planted out in May, and by mid-August we were enjoying them. The slugs enjoyed them quite a lot as well... But I'm calling it a success and we'll hope to grow even more of them this year. I've sown them earlier this spring, to give them more time to get nice and big...

The spring cauliflowers still on the plot now (variety 'Aalsmeer') are not doing quite so well; they haven't really gotten big enough, a few have disappeared completely, and I'm not very hopeful they'll provide us much worth eating. But still, I think I'll put that down to 'probably planted out a bit late' and give them another try; anything that crops in early spring is worth striving for as it can be a lean time in the veg garden.

The cut flowers were a roaring success, brightened up the plot no end and brought more beneficial insects to our plot than ever before, and they'll certainly be a permanent feature from now on! We brought home flowers once or twice a week, most weeks from May through to October - and we won a first at the allotment show with them too!

Here are eight things I learned about growing cutting flowers:

1) Deadheading (and harvesting the flowers too for that matter) takes aaaages.

2) We didn't provide proper support for our flowers, but it turned out we didn't really need to. As it's a small patch and the flowers were grown close together, they generally supported each other. They did sprawl out across paths on the outside of the patch, but a simple bamboo-cane fence round the perimeter was enough. I'll put this in from the beginning this year.

3) I'm not very good at arranging flowers. (I'm not letting this stop me.)

4) It's hard to know where to cut the flowers sometimes; for example cornflowers are very branching - should I cut at the first branch, which doesn't leave me a very long stem? or should I cut a whole branching arm from the plant?

5) Cosmos are not actually that great in the vase, with their scrawny, twisting stems. But they're so good on the plot - attracting bees until well into the autumn - that I'll keep growing them anyway. Corncockle, with short stems and a short vase life, weren't terribly useful either, but again the bees loved them so I might grow one token plant...

5.5) Sweet peas are amazing.

6) Some others weren't so good in the vase either but I know it's because I haven't got the knack yet of conditioning them properly. Cerinthe was the worst - absolutely lovely, but always the first to wilt. Apparently you're supposed to dip the stems in boiling water, which frankly just seems wrong... But this year I'll give it a go.

7) Mixed seeds are never a good mix. My 'mixed' scabiosa were all white, my 'mixed' snapdragons were 90% pink, and my 'mixed' salvia viridis were 90% purple. Just buy the individual colours you want to grow.

8) It's SO worth it. Give up just a few square metres of your plot for some flowers and see for yourself.

Unfortunately I somehow missed out on sowing flowers last autumn for an early show this spring (except for some October-sown sweet peas), so I'm a step behind with my flowers this year, but nevertheless I've invested in a few new varieties to try and I'm looking forward to seeing them brightening up the plot again soon :-)

In addition to the annuals and biennials I plan to sow, I've got a few other flowers coming up...

Our local nursery, Aylett Nurseries, is a bit of a dahlia specialist and has a dahlia show every September. I went along for the first time last year and, though I find some dahlias a bit too much, was wowed by the bright colours and the huge variety...

So I've invested in a single 'Finchcocks' dahlia tuber (pictured above, bottom right), just to see how I go with it... Actually it's not my first dahlia; I have a compact, dark-leaved 'Mystic Illusion' in a pot. As you probably know by now, I'm really not one for fiddling about with plants with complex needs, so there was no digging up tubers when winter came; I just bunged the pot in the summer house and hoped for the best...

Anyway, today I potted up my new tuber in some compost in the summer house to start sprouting. I doubt this one will get any coddling either; I may just mulch it in winter and see how it does by itself.

I bought a verbena bonariensis 'Lollipop' plant last summer just because the butterflies and bees seem to love it so much, and I adore that deep purple glow - but this could be a good cutting flower too, and it's now planted out by the side of our pond on the allotment. I heard they self-seed easily, so I crumbled some of the seed heads over a tray of compost last autumn, stuck it at the back of the greenhouse, and whaddaya know...

I can't possibly use all of these seedlings, but I pricked some out and potted them up today so that now I can enjoy them in the garden as well as at the allotment - and so can the bees :-)

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