April in the garden

April

We are so pleased to welcome spring into our cutting garden, finally the evenings are getting longer and our bulbs are starting to flower. We are particularly pleased that we have managed to grow a few fritillaries this year without them being munched (fritillaries seem to be a particularly delicious meal for mice!)

We have also invested in a small greenhouse, which means we have much more space to pot on our seedlings (before we were making do with homemade cold frames that weren’t the most space efficient things in our small plot).

April began with making our first completely London-grown bridal bouquet of the year. Full of delicate spring bulbs and blossom- narcissi, ranunculus, aliums, anemones, trailing jasmine and viburnum. It smelled wonderful, just like a garden in spring. We used flowers from our very own cutting garden as well as from the wonderful Tottenham flower growers, Wolves Lane Flowers (https://www.wolveslaneflowercompany.com/). It’s so exciting to be able to use blooms all grown within a 3 mile radius of the wedding, celebrating inner city growing!

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April jobs to do in the garden:

  • Sow later flowering annuals such as Cosmos.

  • Prick out and pot up seeds sown earlier in the year.

  • Pot up Dahlia tubers, starting them off in 2 litre pots before planting them in the ground after last frosts, this gives them a bit of a head start against hungry slugs and any lingering cold spells.

  • Plant up summer bulbs such as Acidanthera.

  • Direct sow wildflower seeds, such as poppies as soon as the ground starts to warm up a bit (these types of flowers love poor soil so are perfect for an unloved spot).

    Flower of the month

    Narcissi

    Narcissi are some of the first blooms to start flowering in our cutting garden. Even though they look so delicate with their dainty hanging heads, they are actually fantastic cut flowers and have a good vase life. Cut them when the flower has fully formed but not yet open, and they will open up beautifully in your vase.

    It is said that the sap from these flowers is poisonous to other cut flowers, however we never let that stop us from using them in our arrangements. Stand them in their own bucket of fresh water for 24 hours before mixing them with other blooms, this gets rid of most of the toxic sap.

    See below for pictures of a few of our favourite varieties including ‘The Bride’, ‘Frosty Snow’ and ‘Thalia’.


March in the garden

March

The promise of Spring has been early to arrive this year, with a very warm late February. It means we are already seeing blossom on quite a few trees, especially Magnolias and our Spring bulbs have been popping out of the ground for the last few weeks.

March jobs to do in the garden:

Order your annual seeds

This is always a fun late Winter/early Spring job, and a very good way to beat the winter blues, thinking ahead to all the potential flowers to be sown and grown for the year ahead. Trying to narrow down our annual seed selection is always a tricky job… The temptation is to buy all the beautiful blooms, but as we have limited space it’s important to exercise a little bit of restraint!  

This year we will be successional planting in our annual beds (this means doing multiple sowings of each flower, spaced out every few weeks, in order to prolong our flowering season and get the most out of our space).

Along with firm cutting garden favourites such as white corncockle, helianthus ‘Ms Mars’ and phlox ‘Creme Brulee’, some new varieties that we are excited to be trialling this year are larkspur ‘Smokey Eyes’ (a beautiful, glowing, lilac-grey colour flower) and cosmos ‘Cupcake’ (an unusual type of cosmos in which the petals are fused together to form a cup shape). All very exciting and we can’t wait for things to start warming up!

Roses

Another good job in the garden for this time of year is to order your bare root roses. This is a much cheaper option than buying them later in the year, when they will be sold as a potted up plant at a higher price. We have a shady wall in the cutting garden and have decided to try some new shady climbers this year in order to fill that space. We have chosen ’Claire Austin’, a beautiful climbing rose that should grow well on a north- facing wall (fingers crossed!)

Tips on planting bare root roses:

  • Rehydrate your rose in a bucket of water for 30 minutes before planting.

  • Dig over the soil thoroughly and remove and weeds or stones. This allows the new roots to grow freely.

  • Dig a hole big enough for the rose’s roots and break up the soil at the base of the hole with a fork.

  • Mix a spadeful of well rotted manure at the bottom of the hole.

  • Sprinkle the roots with Mycorrhizal Fungi, as well as the sides and bottom of the hole. This will encourage new growth.

  • Place the rose in the centre of the hole, the bottom of the stems should sit 2” below the top of the hole..

  • Fill in around the roots of the rose, then firm the soil really well around the rose with your foot. (Make sure there are no air pockets)

  • Water the rose well.

Wait and see your rose bloom in a few months time!

February/March is also the time to prune your roses. Here are some general tips on pruning your roses.

  • Strip any of the old leaves that are left on the plant.

  • Cut out any dead stems, spindly or crossing stems. (You are aiming for a nice opened up plant!)

  • Cut remaining stems back by about a half to a third.

  • Cut back to an outward facing bud.

  • Your cut should be no more than 5mm above the bud and you should always cut on a slope facing away from the bud. This is so water doesn’t collect on the bud.

 
‘Claire Austin’ image © David Austin

‘Claire Austin’ image © David Austin

 

Flower of the month

Hellebore

We love the dainty hellebore, it is one of the only things to continue flowering even through the coldest snaps. However, we do have to admit that they are sometimes a little tricky when it comes to using them in arrangements… Sometimes they stand up to the test and sometimes they are tricky little things that droop no matter what you try!

We definitely haven’t totally cracked it when it comes to these delicate beauties but here are some of the tips we’ve learnt along the way for using hellebores as cut flowers:

For the sturdiest and longest lasting flower, wait until the pollen has dropped before you cut.

You’ll be able to tell when the seed heads start developing on the flower, like in the image below…Here you can see the pollen has dropped and the seed heads have developed, a good time to cut.

 
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In this next image the stamen is still intact, the pollen hasn’t dropped.You can still try and pick them earlier when the stamen is intact, just be prepared for them to be a bit temperamental!

 
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You can still try and pick them earlier when the stamen is intact, just be prepared for them to be a bit temperamental!

Plunge freshly cut flowers into boiling water for 20-60 seconds to sear the ends. You can also score down the stems with a craft knife, before plunging them into warm water. (We have to admit that this method is a little bit too faffy for us if we’ve got a busy day on!)

Finally if using them in a bouquet, always support their delicate, hanging heads by arranging sturdier flowers and foliage around them.

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The mighty tulip.....

We grew more varieties than ever before this year and what a crop we've had! They were very late to flower because of the cold weather we had in March. Then the sun came out in full force in April and they all flowered in the space of two weeks! 

Tulips are the ultimate low maintenance flower to grow. You plant the bulbs in November/December and you don't to do a thing to them until it's time to cut them in March/April.

To plant our tulips we dug long trenches, about 20cm deep and and laid the bulbs (with their tips pointing upwards) almost touching each other in neat rows. They look like eggs in a carton. Once planted we watered well, allowing the trench to fill half way. Once watered we covered the trenches with soil and compost. 

Tulips grow really well in containers and pots as well as in flower beds. And they come back the following year if you leave them in the soil. Another reason why everyone should have tulips in their life!

Our favourite varieties this year were Black hero, Belle epoque, Rem's favourite and Triumphator.

Belle Epoque

Belle Epoque

Black hero and Rem's favourite.

Black hero and Rem's favourite.

Elegant Lady

Elegant Lady

Planting the bulbs

Planting the bulbs

Dahlia's

Dahlia's are one of our late summer, early autumn joys. They come in an incredible array of jewel like colours. We think they are like a fireworks display. And the shapes and patterns are unlike any other flower with incredible geometric petal formations. There are literally hundreds of colours and shapes to choose from. Making it incredibly difficult to choose which to buy.

This year we planted thirteen rooted cuttings. We meant to buy tubers but ended up with rooted cuttings by mistake - we were interested to see what difference it would make, if any. The cuttings are about a third of the price of tubers so in that respect it makes sense to buy them. We were very pleased with the results and had a great crop. However we did find two drawbacks to rooted cuttings - there seem to be fewer varieties to choose from compared to tubers and the dreaded slugs munched four of our plants when they were in the cold frame waiting for us to plant them out. We didn't have this problem the year before when we planted the tubers directly into the ground.

Next year we will buy a mixture of both tubers and rooted cuttings. We think Rose cottage plants and The National Dahlia Collection have the best selection to chose from.  The time to order your dahlias is in January and you can expect delivery after Easter so you can plant them out mid April. 

They are hugely productive and pretty low maintenance. As long as you keep on top of dead heading and make sure you stake them, tying the stems to the stakes for support they will keep on and on flowering from August until November (or until the first frost). We had some trouble with the very large head varieties such as 'white perfection' and 'corton olympic' as they become so large and heavy their weight pulled them to the ground and however much we tied them to the stakes they just kept on falling. We are going to choose more small headed varieties for next year to avoid this problem. We also find the really large shapes hard to arrange with.

We have decided to dig up half of our tubers and store them over the winter and leave the other half in the ground to see how they do. We are hoping because of the mild climate in London and how protected our garden is they will be fine - we'll keep you updated.

To overwinter the tubers we will cut the foliage off the plants once the first frost has blackened the leaves and then cover them with compost or mulch at least 10cm thick.

To dig up and store the tubers we will follow to RHS guidelines below....

Lifting and storage:

  1. Cut down foliage and use a fork to carefully prise plants out of the soil
  2. Dry off naturally and then clean away any soil clinging to the tubers. Trim stems to 15-20cm (6-8in). If the tubers have been washed, position them upside down in a cool place for a few weeks to dry off
  3. Trim off any fine roots
  4. Place tubers in shallow wooden boxes or open trays and pack with a peat-free compost or dry sand, just covering the tubers but leaving the crown exposed
  5. Store in a dry, cool, frost-free place. If stored in a garden shed cover with newspaper if a hard frost is predicted
  6. Inspect tubers regularly during winter for rotting and discard any that are unhealthy

Here are some of our favourite dahlias from the cutting garden this year.....

 

 

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Our favourite late summer blooms for TOAST magazine.

Our friends at TOAST asked us to share our favourite Autumn flowers and how we arrange with them. The very talented Holly Grace Illustration brought our words to life with her delightful drawings.....

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Chocolate Cosmos:

These delicate little flowers are a part of the Daisy family. They come in a dark, rich brown with a velvety texture and they smell of chocolate. Like their close relatives the cosmos they must be dead headed to encourage more flowers to bloom in the garden. They are perfect in bridal bouquets, table arrangements or as single stems in a bottle. They work particularly well with a cream, blush, peach and orange colour palette.

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Japanese Anemones:

Japanese anemones stand proud in the garden and can grow up to 1m in height. They seem to love all soil and grow happily in the strangest of places needing little to no attention. They come in a pale candy pink, lipstick pink and white and they have contrasting yellow stamens. Because of their height Japanese anemones are wonderful in large arrangements.

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Verbena:

We use verbena as a filler thanks to it’s small purple cloud like blooms. It’s a terribly useful flower and we would add it at the end of arranging to give a display texture and depth. It’s great cut short in low vases but also keeping it tall (can grow up to 2m!) in large displays. Verbena lasts well in water, at least 5 days and the bee’s love it!!

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Dahlia:

Dahlias are full of character, from spiky prongs, to tightly packed pom poms, to perfect water lily shape. We have eight plants at the cutting garden this year and can’t wait to add more next year. They come in a firework display of colours: neon yellow, acid orange, perfect each, blood red, bubblegum pink, dark aubergine and nearly black. Their incredible colours and textures mean they are perfect for all sized displays. They don’t have a very long vase life.

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Scabious:

Not a pretty name for such a pretty flower! We love the paper thin delicate scabious which come in white, icy blue, the palest of lilacs and royal blue. They have tall sturdy stems and work perfectly in a big jug or large vase. This year we have grown the ‘pin cushion’ variety which are smaller and rounder in shape. They come in dark plum, white, peach, red and pink. They grow vigorously and the more you pick the more they flower. We like using these in bridal bouquets and table arrangements.

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Rudbeckia:

The ultimate autumnal flower with it’s orange, gold, yellow, ochre and rust palette. They are tall and strong and have a long vase life. They tend to turn the water murky so make sure you clean your vase often and you can always put a touch of bleach in the water to help keep it clean.

Poppies

This is the first year that we've grown poppies. Poppies don't like their roots being disturbed so we thought we'd try a few different planting methods; sewing into cell trays, planting them directly into the ground and sewing into guttering which we had cut in half. We had pretty varied success!

We followed Sarah Raven's advice on 'sowing seeds into gutterpipes'. This technique didn't work at all for us. We must have done something wrong as she says it's a great method. Perhaps we didn't make enough holes for the drainage as lots of the seedlings rotted. In the end i think we had only 3 seedlings from 4 pipes with about 100 seeds in them! Sewing into the cells was pretty hopeless too.

It was direct sewing which actually worked. However the seeds took ages to appear and in that time we had decided that nothing was going to grow so we filled the bed with scabious instead. I'm sure you can imagine what happened next....we had a very beautiful mess on our hands. Our scabious went mad and so did the poppies, both growing vigorously. Scabious are incredibly windy and tangly and the poppies grew all around them, in between and practically on top of them. 

So, harvesting our poppies has been a bit of a challenge this year but as always we have learnt a lot. Next year we will dedicate a whole bed to them and try to be a little more patient!   

Some of our favourite poppies this summer....

Poppies 'Angel Choir Mix'

Poppies 'Angel Choir Mix'

Eschscholtzia californian 'peach sorbet'

Eschscholtzia californian 'peach sorbet'

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Our favourite August blooms - Cosmos

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An absolute must in a cutting garden. Cosmos are incredibly easy to grow from seed and as long as you pick them and keep on top of the dead heading they will flower from August until late October. They are the most productive flower in our cutting patch.

We sowed our seeds at the end of March and they were ready to plant out by mid May. It is important to give cosmos room as they like to spread out so space them about 40cm apart and make sure you stake them as they need support whilst growing. We pinched ours out to encourage even stronger growth.

Available in the most heavenly array of candy colours; cream, white, buttercup yellow, the palest of blush, lipstick pink, deep burgundy to name but a few. Their petals range from single to triple to frilly to fluffy. They have multiple flowers on a stem and grow up to 2m tall. 

They are perfect in all arrangements including bouquets, table displays, large vases and large scale flower installations.

In short we would be lost without them.

Happy planting!

Ellie & Anna x

We buy our cosmos seeds from Chiltern Seeds and Sarah Raven, they have the best choice and are great quality. Our favourite cosmos this year was the 'fizzy rose picotee'.

Fizzy pink

Fizzy pink

Candy stripe

Candy stripe

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Early morning in the cutting garden

The Cutting Garden

Favourite flower this month in the cutting garden....

We were overjoyed when this gorgeous 'dwarf pink blush' Malope started flowering. With such lovely big bell shaped petals and tall straight stems. It's perfect for large arrangements and looks wonderful tumbling out the side of our urn vases.

It's incredibly easy to grow. We sowed the seeds in early spring and by May we had strong seedlings ready to plant out. We packed them into the beds about 9 inches apart and thriving in the hot weather, we watched them grow. By mid June we had a healthy crop and the more we picked the more they flowered.  

They need staking as they grow tall and have a tendency to fall over. They also get very thirsty and need watering often.

Next year we are going to plant Malope successionally so that we can have these wonderful flowers from June until September.

Happy growing!
Ellie and Anna x

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How to grow the glorious sweet pea....

Sweet peas have to be one of our all time favourite summer flowers. They remind us of sunny days spent pottering in our Granny's garden. We love them for their heavenly scent, delicate petals, wonderfully bendy stems and the sunset colour palette they grow in.

We planted all sorts of different colours this year and here you can see a sea of sweet pea blooms. We wish you could scratch and sniff your computer screen!

This year we sowed some seeds in November and some in January to see which worked best. You can plant your seeds anytime from October to March.

The trick with sweet peas is to plant them into root trainers or tall pots as they produce tonnes of roots and need as much space for the roots to grow as possible. We plant two seeds per pot. It is also a good idea to soak the seeds 24hrs before you plant them as this softens the seed coating and speeds up the sprouting process.

Once your seedlings have grown 3-4 rows of leaves pinch out the growing tip - you do this by squeezing it off with your fingers. The plant will now measure about 1-2 inches. It's important to do this to stop the plant from becoming leggy and weak.

Once the last frost has been and gone it's time to plant your seedlings out. The great thing about sweet peas is you can plant them into window boxes, pots or flower beds. They like a sunny spot and make sure you water them lots as they are very thirsty.

As soon as your sweet peas start flowering (May-July) you MUST pick and pick. If you don't pick them quickly they will go to seed and stop producing flowers. As long as you do pick them your house will be filled with the sweetest smelling flowers for most of the summer months.

Happy planting!
Ellie & Anna x

What to do with sweet peas....

We use sweet peas in all of our arrangements. Short stems are perfect for bridal bouquets and table vases. Long bendy stems are wonderful in large vases, tumbling and trailing out of the side of the vessel.

This year our favourites have been 'juliet' and 'anniversary' for their pale champagne, blush tones.

They are delicate flowers with short lives, lasting about 3 days in a vase. But they are well worth those three precious days! If you want them to last a little longer you can try adding sugar or flower preservatives to the water.

The cutting garden is blooming

This month we've had bountiful crops of foxgloves, the sweetest smelling sweet rocket, glorious white iris' and delicate blush allium roseum. We use these wonderful home grown flowers in your wedding'sevents and workshops. We also now sell bunches at The De Beauvoir Deli just around the corner from our studio.

As well as cutting our flowers we have also been busy planting out our seedlings and tubers, weeding the beds and tending to our climbers.

Sweet Rocket - how to grow and what to do with them...

Hesperis Matronalis, otherwise known as Sweet Rocket or Dame's Violet is one of our favourite early summer flowers .

It grows very happily in either a sunny or shady spot and is a hardy biennial. This means you sow the seeds into seedling trays in May-July, plant them out in the late summer/early autumn and they flower the following May. It feels like a very long time to wait but it's well worth it.

They come in pure white, purple and every so often (if you're lucky) you'll find a few lovely pale blush stems hiding amongst the foliage.

We use sweet rocket in almost every arrangement we do. They are incredibly strong and sturdy and have the most heavenly fragrance. They last brilliantly in bridal bouquets and any kind of vase arrangement. They also grow very tall (up to 1.5m) so they are perfect for large displays. 

If you'd like to have a go at growing these wonderful flowers now is the time to sow your seeds. 

Happy planting!
Ellie and Anna x

Heavenly tulips

Last November we planted over 500 bulbs in our cutting garden. With 15 different tulip and 5 different narcissi and daffodil varieties were have been longing for them to flower. Over the last few weeks they have done just that and we now have perfect coloured striped rows of majestic tulips filling our raised beds - they are almost too beautiful to cut!

But of course we do cut these heavenly blooms - using them in wedding arrangements, bouquets (which we sell at The De Beauvoir Deli) and our flower workshops held at the studio in Hackney.

Planting tips

We planted our tulips in early winter, once the weather felt cooler but the ground hadn't yet frozen.

This year we dug trenches 3ft wide and 6inches deep and placed the bulbs, with their points facing upwards in a neat row along the trench. Then we covered them with soil, watered them thoroughly and left them to do their thing.

How to use them

Tulips are perfect for all sized vases and bouquets. We cut them down low for table displays and leave them standing tall and proud for large urns.

Some tulips have a tendency to lean and bow, weighed down by their heavy heads, which makes them tricky to use in bouquets and arrangements. To help prevent this from happening, keep them wrapped in paper until you use them.

Alternatively you might like your tulips beautiful and blousy in which case you should let them fall naturally in the vase, encouraging them to spread their petals and bloom.