Those last-minute garage flowers might be a relationship-saver, but like most of our imported blooms, they come with an environmental and social impact. One way to avoid racking up the air miles and ensure you can shower loved ones (or your home) in beautiful blooms is to grow them yourself. And what better time to start than during British Flower Week?
This national celebration of all things floral runs from the 15th-21st June. As well as shining a light on independent florists, there's a host of virtual events happening, from workshops on how to care for your home-grown blooms and how to turn them into pretty hand-tied bouquets to inspirational tours around Britain's blossoming flower farms.
To mark the occasion, we spoke to the doyenne of the flower world Louise Curley and revisited her popular guide to creating a flora-filled allotment The Cut Flower Patch. Plus, we've dug out some tips on growing your own cut flowers from this year's virtual Chelsea Flower Show.
The good news for newbie growers is fiddly, over stylised bouquets have been uprooted in favour of the ‘garden style’ of arranging, says Curley. She predicts that the more freehand, garden-style of floristry is here to stay and foresees a more widespread adoption of the dainty, sculptural form of flower arranging found in Japan.
"I think this wilder look in floristry is tapping into our increasing desire to connect with nature. I am also seeing more Japanese ikebana-style arrangements appearing in my Instagram feed, and I think that’s something that will become more popular."
According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, British-grown cut flowers now make up 14 per cent of UK cut flower sales. But you only need to look to Google trends, Instagram and sunny window sills everywhere, to see that interest in cut flowers is flourishing. And there are benefits beyond the aesthetic. A nectar-rich allotment will throng with pollinators and insect life and could even act as a natural form of pest control, as Curley discovered.
“I seem to have fewer problems with pests on my fruit and vegetables, and I am sure that this is a result of encouraging beneficial insects such as ladybirds and hoverflies on to my allotment.”
Another perk of growing your own posies is you'll have access to a variety of flowers for a fraction of the price they’d cost at the florist. Plus, it's a fun, creative way to flex your green fingers.
But how do you keep your cut flowers fresh and not wilting into a Dali-esque mess? Anyone who watched new Netflix show The Flower Fight (The floral equivalent of Bake Off, featuring our very own Helen Lockwood) will know there's more to floristry than just scooping up your favourite blooms.
Location, location, location
When it comes to choosing your plot, sunlight and shelter and neutral (for the most part) soil are your patch's BFFs. Consider plant supports and natural windbreaks if you've got a blustery site and get to know your climate before you rush to the nursery.
"By understanding your local climate you can choose the right plants for your cut flower patch," writes Curley, "For example, if you live in a cool-temperate area where there is a tendency for wet summers it can be difficult to grow zinnias, and if you garden somewhere with a short growing season it might make more sense to concentrate on growing hardy annuals rather than half-hardy ones."
After you've nailed the site, lay down some cardboard to kill off any weeds or grass then cover it with compost to a depth of 10-20cm. No garden, no problem? Old wellies, buckets or tyres will do the job so long as they're deep and have drainage holes.
Become a soil geek
Help your plants to thrive by getting to know your soil type. "Most cut flowers prefer a neutral soil (pH7) and can cope with slightly acid (pH6.5) or slightly alkaline conditions (pH7.5)," Curley recommends a shallow raised bed with bought-in compost if altering the PH sounds like too much of a science lesson. If you go down this route, don't forget to include paths between the beds so your babies don't get trampled. (We'd suggest an organic, vegan-friendly, peat free compost. Ethical Consumer lists some good suppliers here).
Picking your plants
For planting inspiration, look to the floral dexterity displayed at this year's virtual Chelsea Flower Show. Sarah Raven says go for a mixture of fragrance, texture and visual impact via a combination of hardy annuals, half-hardy annuals and biennials.
Wild at Heart founder Nikki Tibbles suggested plumped for Pale Lemon Peonies, Delphinium Blue Bee, Guelder-rose, Vuvuzela rose, Scabious and Clematis and for her colourful, seasonal bouquet at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.
Curley is currently loving warm, earthy tones. “There are some fabulous blooms in sunset shades of peach, apricot and terracotta, which I love! Rudbeckias like ‘Sahara’, sunflowers such as ‘Double Dandy’ and Dahlia ‘Labyrinth’ are all current favourites.” For foliage, she suggests Viburnum tinus ‘Gwenllian’.
Remember to do your research on poisonous plants and wear gloves when cutting and preparing to avoid coming into contact with sap.
How to keep your cut flowers fresher for longer
Prep your stems
- Prepare your blooms by removing any foliage that falls below the waterline, and Curley explains why it's crucial to trim the stems at an angle. "This exposes more of the stem and allows more water to be absorbed. It also means that the stem does not sit directly on the base of the vase, which would otherwise block the ability of the stem to take in water.”
- Searing the stems in boiling water can delay petal drop for up to a week. Sarah Raven recommends searing a tough wooden stem for around 30 seconds and a soft stem for around 10, before letting them rest overnight in cold water.
Don't dismiss dried blooms
- Spent allium heads make an attractive vase filler and provide interest during the colder months. Check out our suggestions for dramatic indoor displays from seed heads below.
Are you planning your own cut flower patch? Share your floral endeavours with the Candide community and get tips from expert growers using our app.