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A bunch of flowers

29 September 2017

Amaranthus “Crimson Tassels”

Amaranthus “Crimson Tassels”

A YEAR ago, I consulted Garden Note­book, by the famous florist Constance Spry. It is essentially a month-by-month guide to growing flowers for cutting. I was pleased that she celebrated simple annual flow­ers that “repay in such lavish fashion the care, the time, and the money that you expend on them”. Annuals grown from seed were the way to go.

The new cut-flower bed has been a great success, both as a feature and in terms of the floral harvest. It is worth starting work now for next year’s picking. Not only does a dedicated area need to be cleared, but also some cut-and-come-again treasures are best sown now: notably sweet peas and cornflowers. An early start gives time for the young plants to build up healthy root sys­tems, resulting in strong growth and earlier blooms next year.

Here are some of my recom­menda­tions, based on this year’s performance. All but the first are best sown in the New Year.

• Cornflower “Blue Diadem”: tall and especially floriferous.

• Sunflowers: wine-red “Claret” and primrose yellow “Vanilla Ice” are both relatively small flowered, and in scale with your average vase.

• Pot marigolds: Calendula officin­alis is child’s play to grow. “Indian Prince” is a tall cultivar with two-tone burnt-orange flowers.

• Cosmos ooze cottagey charm with their fluffy foliage and deli­cate blooms. “Rubenza” has vel­vety red flowers that fade to rose, and “Purity” is a simple white.

Amaranthus “Crimson Tassels”: the name of this variety of love-lies-bleeding says it all.

Rudbeckia “Marmalade”: the top-performing annual black-eyed Susan displays daisy flow­ers of yellow-gold and bronze with brown central cones.

Ammi visnaga: a more refined rela­tive of the common cow parsley.

Panicum “Frosted Explosion”: a delicate airy grass, perfect as a foliage filler in a bouquet.

All can be direct sown into drills in a raked bed, but I find it more reliable to sow individual seeds into cells of compost in a module tray. The tray can then be kept in a sunny sheltered spot, or, ideally, a cold frame or cold greenhouse until the young plants can be transferred to the open ground in late spring.

The only plant in the cut-flower bed that was started off in a heated area was the vine Cobaea scandens. Its large bell-shaped flowers change from greenish white to purple, and add an exotic touch to a vase. It is perennial in very mild gardens or a heated greenhouse, but is usually treated as an annual outdoors.

I hadn’t spotted that Spry’s book is based on her diary of 1939, and the change of tone in autumn came as a shock: “September’s work and plans were all turned upside down by the devastating news we were at war.” The author turns her attention to keeping chickens and preserving “everything preservable”. But she notes at the close of the book, nearly four months into the war, “the interest in and desire for flowers seems intense.”

Cut flowers may seem frivolous, but they are invariably in tune with emotions, not only at celebrations but in the difficult times, too.

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