There are two main raised beds in our garden. The first is for vegetables, the second is for cut flowers. There are times when I feel guilty about this, as we could be growing twice as much vege, but I love having cut flowers for the house and enjoy having the space for things I wouldn’t necessarily grow in the border.
This is the first garden I’ve owned. In the years of renting that preceded it, one of my biggest vices was to buy cut flowers for the house, as I couldn’t easily grow my own. But I was always conscious of the negatives of many shop-bought flowers. These have often been shipped halfway round the world, resulting in a big carbon footprint, supporting a multi-million pound industry that detracts from local flower suppliers. I plan to post more on this later, but my point is that I’d rather grow them myself, avoiding the use of chemicals and fuel, as well providing more food for local pollinators.
Nevertheless, my cut flower bed is very much a work in progress. The space is limited and I’m still trying to find the right balance between annuals, bulbs/tubers and perennials. This bed is often also a home for stray plants I’ve collected (usually self-seeded), which need a temporary home until they find somewhere more permanent, elsewhere in the garden. I’d also like to sow successionally, but so far only manage to do this a couple of times, resulting in a bit of a mish-mash of bare earth and well grown flowers. I’m still finding what works for me and how to fit that in best with the limited amount of time I have to spend in the garden. Nevertheless, I’m comfortably getting enough flowers for the house from week to week at the moment and feel like it’s coming along nicely.
Two main fixtures of the past 2 years have been a couple of Verbena Bonariensis plants, which I’ve been growing as perennials. They’re just coming into their own now, so I’ll post more on them in future. There are also several self-seeded Achemilla Mollis, which I plan to put into a border I want to expand next year. I grew up knowing these as Lady’s Mantle and they have to be one of my absolute favourite plants. They make a fantastic filler for flower arrangements, with their striking clouds of acid green flowers, which give a real ‘English Country Garden’ feel to a border or flower arrangement. They also have wonderful, large leaves that hold water-droplets beautifully on damp mornings. They’re perennials and, best of all, they self-seed really easily, popping up in cracks and gaps all over the garden. Some gardeners consider this nuisance-like behaviour, but I could never say no to say a pretty, useful plant that comes for free. Equally, if you cut and use the flowers before they seed then they’re less likely to spread everywhere, making it less of a problem if it’s something you’re concerned about.
Another regular fixture is Cerinthe Major ‘Purpurascens’, more commonly known as Honeywort. This is a hardy annual, that can flower relativity early in the year, but it self-seeds so well I almost think of it as a perrenial. On its own, Honeywort is a rather alien-looking plant, with lots of long, curving stems, cool blueish leaves, rather like a succulent and with deep purple, bell-shaped flowers. Honestly, I don’t find it particularly attractive in the garden, but a few stems in a flower arrangement make for beautifully striking foliage. It’s definitely worth searing the stem ends in boiling water for 30 seconds before using them though, as it tends to wilt quite quickly otherwise. The other reason I grow it is because bees absolutely adore it and when they’re in flower there’s a constant hum coming off them. I’m all for helping pollinators and it’s also been great having these this year because my son’s been fascinated to discover bees and loves to watch them! Honeywort can get very straggly as summer arrives and they’re past their best, so I’ve recently taken this year’s plants out of the bed to make room for other things. There are plenty of new seedlings already in place though, which should provide next year’s flowers early on, assuming we avoid a particularly bitter winter.
Another self-seeder I let pop up in this bed is Aquilegia. It’s clover-shaped leaves are easy to distinguish from anything else when they appear and I tend to let the majority of them continue where they are, as they can be fussy about having their roots disturbed. I don’t seem to have taken any good close-ups of the flowers this year, but they have a distinctive shape that gives them the nickname Grandmother’s Bonnet and come in all sorts of colours, if you let them sow themselves. You have to be a little patient to find out what colour you’ve got though, as they won’t flower till their second year. Like Honeywort they also benefit from searing and it’s worth deadheading them, to keep them flowering for longer. As they’re coming to an end I let some of the flowers remain, which then produce wonderfully, long seed pods that you can easily collect seeds from, if you like.
In recent years, I’ve had a couple of Delphiniums in this bed as well, but they take up too much room and I’m going to move them to a new border area, as soon as I can begin it. But I do love the showy blue-purple flower stems they produce and hope to include more of them when I do this. In the raised bed, I also don’t need to feel bad about cutting the first, large ‘king-stem’, to encourage many more, daintier stems for bringing into the house.
There are also a couple of flowers in this bed that I’m particularly fond of: Nigella (or Love-in-a-mist) and Scabious. I sowed these along with cornflowers a couple of years ago and the cornflowers ran-riot, leaving little room for the other two. This year, I’ve left them to themselves (the Nigella self-seed particularly well), but removed most cornflower seedlings when I found them. The result is a much happier collection of plants and the Scabious are looking particularly vigorous this year. Finally, there are a couple of Snapdragons in bloom at the moment and they’re doing so well I think I’ll add more next year.
There are also a few things in this bed that come into their own later in the year, including a couple of Dahlias, so I’ll save them for a later post. All in all, it’s looking pretty full now though and I’m looking forward to having fresh, seasonal flowers for the house this Summer, without any aeroplanes or chemicals involved.