The Higgledy clan have been designing and creating cut flower gardens since prehistory and certainly at least one of us was a time traveller from the future…so it is hard to yet ascertain just how long we’ve been at it. I think I am right it saying it was my great ancestor Iohannes Fluke-Higgledy who was the head of flower production at the monastery on Lindisfarne in the 13th Century…who wrote that he thought ‘simplicity was the greatest luxury’. The Higgledy family since then have kept that as a mantra…well….with the exception of Margot Slipknot-Higgledy the famous Elizabethan escapologist who insisted on having an underwater cutting garden…with no exits…and infested with box jellyfish…
Other than keeping it simple there are a few straight forward rules…or guidelines you can choose to follow which will make your life much easier…but do expect some things to change when you start digging and planting…it just happens…it’s ok. I have never once created a cutting garden that followed my plan exactly. Nonetheless planning is a worthwhile experience and is swimmingly good fun to boot.
*Sun. In the cutting garden sunshine is our friend. The majority of the flowers you will be growing will be annuals. Most annuals are sun worshippers and will skulk and sulk in the shade…don’t put them through it. I would estimate anything less than six or seven hours of full sun is a minimum. Positioning your patch in a shady corner just ain’t gonna cut the mustard.
*Protection. Not protection from the hooded claw, wolves or Mrs Gunter’s ferret but protection from the wind. Many of flowers will grow tall and the willowy creatures can easily be toppled in a storm If you haven’t got a sheltered position perhaps think about some willow fencing…or picket fencing or some windbreak fabric. If you have rabbits in the garden you will need to fence them out…I use chicken wire….well…actually I use rabbit wire….£40 I think it was for fifty metres.
*Water. Preferably you will want a water source close to your flower patch. I generally let my flowers just get on with it after they have become established and would only water them in very prolonged periods of hot and dry weather…prolonged dry spells are rare down here in Costa Del Cornwall but when I had flower patches in East Anglia it was more of an issue. Certainly newly seeded beds shouldn’t be left to totally dry out so a tap or water butt is super handy to have at hand.
I STRONGLY recommend if are new to productive flower growing that you adhere to a structured approach to making your flower beds.
Beds should be three foot wide. (I’m going to stick with imperial measurements….flowers don’t seem to like metric .) You will be growing your flowers in straight rows a foot apart. This will make your life much easier…by being able to spot what is a weed and what is not…and by being able to reach the centre of the bed from each side will save you treading on your beds….which is very naughty.
In my allotment plot I have a simple design of three foot beds…and three foot paths…in eight metre long beds running across the plot. In the walled garden at Port Eliot I ignore my own good advice and have 6 rows of flowers…it’s much harder to keep weed free but it looks more impressive…and that patch is a show garden for the wonderful Port Eliot festival and so drama is essential.
You can of course design the paths and beds to run in whatever pattern you like….there are some wonderful publications about that offer some planting plan ideas…try @wellwoman‘s AKA Louise Curley’s book ‘The Cut Flower Patch’ has some great ideas in it. Mrs Raven also has great book ‘How To Grow Your Own Cut Flowers’…she also sells flower seeds….but I should prefer it if you bought mine. Thank you.
For my own tastes I tend to mix my flowers up in a meadow type vibe…once plants are established you can’t see that they were planted in rows and the whole patch takes on a rustic feel…I call this the ‘Port Eliot Mode’…because it makes me feel smug.
And that my friends is all there is to it……yes I DID start a sentence with ‘And’…I’m in my forties…I’ll do what I like.
I shall be writing every day (every school day at least) over October and November…I hope you enjoy Autumn Flower School…please share the pages with your friends and please buy my seeds if you decide to give a cutting patch a go.
I love Autumn…and can’t wait to get the wood burner going…dust off the slow cooker…stick Nick Drake on the stereo and generally shuffle about wondering if I should grow a beard and write poetry about lost love or gritty northern chip shops.
The seed selling business wanes for a couple of months before getting all perky again in December for Christmas. So it strikes me as a good a time as any to run a back to basics flower growing course throughout October and November. When I say ‘course’ I mean a series of articles…I’m not going to be testing you or marking essays but I am available to take your questions….best way is to find me and ask me on Twitter…@higgledygarden or Facebook…Higgledy Garden.
The content of the course will be along the lines of the following:
*Why grow your own cut flowers.
*Position and design of your cutting garden.
*Pests and weeds.
*Which are the best flowers to grow.
*How to sow flower seeds…and how not to sow flower seeds.
*Encouraging wildlife to your patch.
*Chemicals and fertilizers…why you don’t need them.
*Introduction to perennials, biennials and annuals.
I shall then follow these up with a series of articles that profile every flower that I grow in my own flower gardens…how to grow them…and some ideas about what to show them with.
For those that are familiar with the Higgledy Garden site this will cover some stuff you already know but I shall keep a good pace up and will endeavour to keep the content light and engaging. Your input is always welcome and much valued and I will be using some of the photos you have sent to Twitter over the season.
Articles will be published every day from Monday to Friday and will be upon the site by tea time…from Wednesday 1st October.
Then from Spring we shall put everything into practice and I will document how I am getting on in my three flower gardens…from the humble allotment patch to the decadent wonder of the walled flower garden at Port Eliot.
Have fun grasshoppers!
When I was a toddler… and toddled about…I toddled about in Kenya…we lived in the outskirts of Nairobi. It was here that my cousin Azima Bwana Mkubwa-Higgledy would sit me on her lap and sing me songs…it was 1972 and she loved the songs of the day…her favourite was ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’ by The New Seekers…she would pick the wild growing Tithonia and put them in my hair as she sang…yup….I was a right on, hippy, flower lovin’ dude right from the beginning and don’t you forget it.
So I came around to thinking that the Tithonia that I should stock in the shop for flowering next season should be the wild form…usually ‘Torch’ or ‘Fiesta Del Sol’ is sold for cut flower gardeners…but I think we should have a departure from those and get a bit more earthy.
*Sow March to April in trays, pots, etc of good seed compost in a propagator or warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 70-75F (20-25C).
*I have made successful outdoor sowings in May…but it needs a good summer.
*Sow your seeds in well drained compost, just covering the seed with compost, but do not exclude light, which is needed for germination. Germination usually takes 7-21 days.
*Keep your Tithonia seeds damp during the germination process…but not waterlogged.
*When all chances of frost are over…harden off…then plant outside to a spacing of about a foot to a foot and a half.
*Soil should be moderately fertile.
*Plant Tithonia in a sheltered spot….stems can be fragile.
*Watch our for pesky slugs…they love a feast of Tithonia….as I discovered this year…..grrrrr
*Dead heading (or cutting for the vase) will keep your plants flowering longer.
*Take care when picking Tithonia as it has hollow stems and they can break easily.
*If we have a really rubbish summer….we will usually have rubbish Tithonia…sad but true…let’s get over it and move on.
*From seed sowing to flowering should take about 14 weeks.
I sell my ‘wild form’ Tithonia at £1.95 for 50ish seeds.
Try growing them with bright yellow/orange Rudbeckia with perhaps some apple green spires of ‘Bells Of Ireland’…for a hot n cold, too cool for school display that will make your neighbours think that you are just simply terrific!
I have half a dozen or so Scabiosa ‘Ping Pong’ ready to go out in one of my Autumn sown beds. I started them in pots just because I wanted to check the germination rates were good….which they are.
These flowers are singular in quirky beauty…the seeds heads are a florist’s dream but it’s very rare I see them in the cut flower gardens I visit.
I will sow some more in the spring when I have cleared more space on the new allotment…it’s a right state at the moment.
I have cleared enough for four beds…one of which I have dedicated to biennials and the remaining three are for Autumn sown Hardy annuals. The weather has been so good down here I would be happy to sow into October.
The fence is just temporary…the whole plot needs fencing off with dug in wire as defence against the rabid rabbits that live in these parts and devour everything in their path. It also manages to keep Furface off the seed beds….he refuses to acknowledge the difference between a seed bed and somewhere he can roll around and have a nap if he wants.
I have sown up my ‘Seeds To Sow In Autumn’ collection and a few other hardy annuals….it’s something of a free for all. Last year the storms in Cornwall flooded my patch and very little made it through…this year I am hoping for more success.
Related Autumn sowing posts:
Uncle Archie’s Seven Point Plan to sowing autumn annuals.
“When is the latest I can sow Hardy annuals in Autumn?”…if I had a penny for every time I have been asked this…I would have about 17p, The answer has a good deal of variables…mainly being how far north or south your flower patch is. I met up with some flower farmers down here in Cornwall who sow hardy annuals right up to Halloween…I myself am happy to sow up to mid October in my Cornish patch. However if I still lived in Edinburgh I would have my seeds in the ground by now. I would also consider fleecing the beds in mid Winter.
The weather also plays a part of course…the milder the Autumn…the later you can sow.
Here is a swimmingly good list of other related Autumn sowing posts:
Uncle Archie’s Seven Point Plan to sowing autumn annuals.
Have fun one and all.