As spring arrives, it’s time to head outside and get planting!
Wildflower speaks to Roz Chandler, owner of Field Gate Flowers, champion of British flower growers and author of the delightful new book, ‘Seed to Vase’, about how to get growing this year.
Roz is the founder of Field Gate Flowers, a UK-based flower farm, where Roz loves to share her love of flowers and her depth of knowledge by teaching courses on how to grow your own flowers. Her mission is to reduce the environmental impact of imported flowers and to promote the health benefits of growing your own blooms where possible. “This is the ideal time for people to start growing their own seasonal flowers to cut and arrange or gift,” Roz said.
So, to get you started, Roz shares her top ten tips for creating your own cutting patch.
- Size doesn’t matter – Starting out, you’ll will need surprisingly little space for your cutting patch. It is not a garden; it is a patch dedicated to cutting – something totally different. It is an area that you won’t mind having bare patches when you pluck blooms from it. A great size to start with is a raised bed of around 9 metres squared. If you can spare this size, you’ll have ample space for fifteen sweet peas, 5 cosmos, 5 dahlias, 5 sunflowers, a row of magnificent cornflowers, along with some roses and a handful of herbs such as mint and rosemary. If you have a little patch, be it a corner of an allotment or somewhere else, you can plan your cutting patch. If you have more space, then you can grow more varieties – think of it in lots of 3m x 3m, but remember, it doesn’t have to be a square – a long patch is equally as useful.
- You don’t need to speak Latin to do this! Wrapping your head around what’s an annual, perennial, or biennial will take some time – but please do not worry. There’s a lot of jargon used in flower growing, but you don’t need to know it all! Here is a quick guide: Annuals are plants that grow for one season and that is their life span. They are the most abundant crop and give instant satisfaction. At Field Gate 50-60% of our blooms are annuals. Perennials are plants like delphiniums that come back every year. Biennials are just that – they pop up every other year. You grow perennials for reliability, shrubs for foliage, bulbs for early spring colour BUT you grow annuals for delight and sheer abundance.
- Grow what you love Above everything, it’s important to grow what you love. Grow flowers that remind you of your childhood when you spent endless days outdoors. Grow the flowers that you had in your wedding bouquet or grow the flowers you fell in love with through poetry or literature. Some of my favourites are below but you will find lots more in the Garden Dairy chapter. Ammi Majus: these laced capped white flowers are delicate and beautiful in any arrangement Cornflowers: traditionally a mix of blues and whites, cultivated varieties come in blues, reds, whites, pinks, and almost black (Black Ball). Nigella: no cutting patch is complete without Nigella – it’s just so beautiful and natural. Scabious: annual scabious is quick to germinate and easy to grow. Sweet Peas: known for their beautiful fragrance, these are easy to grow and come in hundreds of varieties. Dahlias: a must in every garden and there are just so many to choose from. Amaranthus: A stunning addition to any vase – they come in shades of greens and burgundy. Cosmos: known as the easiest cut flower to grow, Cosmos is prolific and comes in many colours bringing shape to any vase or arrangement. Tulips: Here are Field Gate Flowers, we grow up to forty different varieties of Tulips – the range of colours they grow in is just spectacular. Adding some perennials to your borders to supplement your flower garden is also a good idea – you won’t go far wrong if you add Salvias, Lavender, Peonies, Verbena, and Veronicas.
- Choose your position Initially, I would recommend somewhere sheltered – the wind is a cut flower gardener’s enemy. Building a wall is no use either as the wind will hit it, crash down, and flatten all but the hardiest of plants. Think about using trellis or hedging instead. Even better, use some foliage plants such as Eucalyptus, Viburnum, and Pittosporum as windbreakers and you will be rewarded with endless foliage for your arrangements.
- Rabbits aren’t always cute At Field Gate, we suffer from intruding rabbits that have a taste for flowers. Don’t get me wrong, we love rabbits, but I am known to turn into Mr McGregor when Peter is munching at my Dahlias. For a small plot, think about edging with chicken wire but ensure that the bottom edge is placed beneath the ground.
- Keep things turning round Plants are rotated to avoid the build-up of pests and diseases. This isn’t such a worry if you are growing all annuals, but once you have the bug and get into a bigger plot rotating your growing space will be essential.
7. Make sure you have some support Now, this is more important than anything! At Field Gate Flowers we use Heras fencing (yes Mr Chandler owns a construction company, and all sorts of supports are found in the yard), but when you’re planting on a smaller scale you will need pea netting, string, and twine, and plenty of canes. Top tip – get the support in for your plants before you think you need to.
8. Get down and dirty It is always a good idea to know what soil you are dealing with, so it’s worth investing in a simple PH and moisture meter from eBay or a local garden centre – it will set you back less than £5. Remember whatever soil you have you will need to add compost and nutrition to it. Annual plants grow from seed to cutting plant in 12 weeks and this takes a lot from the soil 32 which needs to be replaced. Keep a space in your garden for compost – it is the best source of food for your garden.
9. Look after your plant babies Initially, you may not have the luxury of a greenhouse or poly‐ tunnel, but don’t let that put you off. A good warm windowsill will be a good start – as will a small cold frame. It is always better to start small and build – going big right from the start will be incredibly daunting.
10. An heir and a spare! A lot of seeds are sown directly into the soil – taking things from seed to plant it takes around 12 weeks, so think about continually sowing and growing. Cornflowers, for instance, are sown every two weeks here, right through the season from April to early July.
But, above all else – have fun and enjoy every minute!
‘Seed To Vase: How growing cut flowers inspired lives to bloom’ by Roz Chandler is available on Amazon now, £9.99.