Those who have followed me for a while, know that I dream of one day having my own cutting garden. Somewhere to while away the hours, planting, weeding, tending and in my opinion the best bit, cutting armfuls of flowers! So today, is a bit of treat for me, in his own brilliant style, Benjamin from Higgledy Garden has been kind enough to share his insight and wisdom on how to start a cutting garden of your very own. If you haven’t come across Higgledy Garden, they sell seeds for traditional annual flowers, all grown without chemicals in a paddock in Cornwall, along with offering loads of great advice for growing flowers on their website.
Photo by Rosie McKerrell
1. Size Isn’t Everything
Obviously you will get more flowers from a bigger patch but if you only have a few square metres to spare you can still have lashings of flowers. Choose cut and come again flowers like…Cornflowers, calendulas, zinnias, cerinthe and cosmos. Cut and come again flowers tend to be ‘Hardy Annuals, you can sow them directly into the soil in mid April.
2. Three in a Bed
A good rule of thumb is to make your beds about three feet wide. This lets you have three rows of flowers at a foot apart that you can easily reach from each side. Beds can be as long as you have space for.
3. Straight Lines Rock!
Lose the idea that you can scatter your seed willy nilly whilst singing 1970’s Coca-Cola jingles and then return in 12 weeks to a flower patch. The chances are that weeds will have out competed your flowers…why? Because that is their job and they are good at it…respect your weeds. Sowing in straight lines makes it REALLY easy for the novice to work out what is a weed and what is not. Simples. If you are hanging out for your cutting patch to look like a natural meadow style affair, worry not…you will not be able to guess the flowers had been sown in rows once they mature by mid Summer.
4. Don’t Sow to Early
By far and away the biggest failure cause for flower seed not germinating is that it is sown in cold damp soil. Don’t be fooled by a few sunny days in March. For most of the UK I wouldn’t suggest spring sowing (outdoors) until mid April at the earliest. You will know when the soil is ready because our old chums the native weeds will be beginning to show themselves. To expect your seeds to germinate before them is foolish…and I can promise you that even if a few of them do germinate they will flower only a day or so behind seed sown a week or so later.
5. Sow Late!
Keep some seed back for sowing in late May…this way you will have flowers flowering away until right up to the frosts. I sowed in late June as an experiment and have got a wonderful fresh looking bed of flowers as we speak. (Though smaller plants than normal)
6. Be Artistic
When it comes to arranging your flowers don’t listen to anyone else…do what you want…let yourself go…it is an art from and should be treated as such…express yourself…be silly….have a bottle of wine. Or ignore all that and follow the rules….yawn…
7. War on Weeds
In the cutting patch at least, weeds are your enemy…they will thieve light, nutrients and water from your seedlings and they will thieve from you all your dignity and self respect when your flowers capitulate to them. This battle must be won!…keep at it early on in the season and the problem will go away…leave it too late and the whole street will be laughing at you behind your back. You have been warned!
8. Top Weed Tip
Dig over your bed in late March and thoroughly weed it…rake it flat and make sure the soil is down to a fine tilth…then leave it….every week come back and hoe it gently…not going too deeply as this will bring other seeds up to the surface. Then hoe once more before sowing…this will knock down your weed problem by 76.4%.
9. Don’t Sow Too Deep
A seed must not be confused with a mole….don’t bury the poor thing so deep it is getting third degree magma burns. A rule of thumb is three times it’s depth…naturally this is pretty impossible to achieve…SO…this is how I do it. Mark out your line with a taught piece of string that runs along the ground. With a stick, scrape a VERY shallow ‘drill’ along the string. PREWATER this before sowing….this stops your seeds being flushed away when you water….rake over the drill very gently to cover the seeds. If your soil is damp when you are sowing…dispense with watering until it seems to be drying out….but don’t let it completely dry out if you can help it. In April the chances of this happening are slim…what with those aptly named April showers and all that.
10. Some Seeds Need To Be Surface Sown
Most seeds need darkness to germinate…some need light. Usually it is the tiny dinky winky seeds that shouldn’t be buried…seeds like snapdragon and nicotiana. However, if you are sowing mixed rows, as I often do…just ignore this as just by the law of averages, some won’t be buried by your raking. Obviously if you are sowing in pots in the greenhouse you will have more control over this.
Just about every single flower that you will be growing in the cutting patch will do best in full sun.
12. Annual Flowers Rock!
I grow very few perennials in the cutting patch. Annuals are MUCH more productive and generally will keep providing you with flowers all summer long. Also you can have a different selection every season…seeds are as cheap as chips. …and I know a very nice man who will sell you some.
13. Be Mean
On the whole flowers like a poorish soil with regard to nutrients….dig manure in and you will give them too much nitrogen…this will make them produce loads of leaves…but few flowers. However…keep the soil in good order…home made compost is good but add lots of bulk to it like straw or newspaper to keep the richness down.
Use harvested water where possible…it is usually warmer and your flowers like it. Don’t allow seed beds to dry out. When the plants are all grown up I stop watering entirely..all but the most severe drought would damage them.
15. Enjoy Yourself
Cheesy as it sounds…this flower growing malarky is a journey…all parts of it…weeding included, can be enjoyed. I enjoying preparing and sowing up seed beds just as much as I enjoy harvesting.
16. Be Smug
Producing your own cut flowers rather than buying in rubbish that has been flown in from Columbia is very rewarding….feel good about this. Take some round to a neighbour…they will invite you in for tea and you can just sit there and be smug for ages whilst they can only dream that one day they could be like you.
Thank you so much for sharing with us Benjamin, and for making me chuckle too. I can’t wait to give it a go next year, although sadly it will have to be pots for me this time round.
You can find Higgledy Garden here:
Have a great week.