September 03, 2011

The Cut Flower Series: sowing hardy and half hardy annuals

Oops, a day late for the cut flower series.

I was just thinking as it is the perfect time to get sowing seeds and making plans for next year's flowers, it might be useful to write a really practical post about the sowing of hardy and half-hardy annual seeds. And then I discovered that my friend Ben, a flower-grower in Cambridgeshire, had done exactly that on his blog. So with no further ado, I am recommending you check out his posts here, for lots of practical advice with useful photos. Thanks Ben!

Before you go, a quick question. What kind of flowers do you like to have in your house, what really makes your heart sing? Because, those are the ones you should think about growing. It sort of annoys me having flowers in my house that I only quite like, it just feels like a bit of a let down. But flowers that I love, they light up a room for me, and give so much pleasure. I have discovered over the years that I like different types of flowers in different rooms. For me, really simple flowers, often just one variety in a jug or small vase or jar, is what I like on my kitchen table or bedside table. Nothing fussy, quite pared back and uncomplicated. Like this,

or this,

But in our hall or sitting room I am happy to see a bit more va va voom, little posies and the like would get a bit lost in these rooms, bigger vases and more extrovert bunches of flowers look great in these places I think.

Simple or sumptuous, whatever floats your boat, that is what to plant in your cutting patch!


  1. The truth is...I love YOUR bouquets. I'm not quite sure how to put bunchews together. *hangs head in shame* I think I am getting slowly improving (thanks to all your fantastic hints and tips...and copious reading)...but you remain my absolute top inspiration. ;-


  2. Here you are. I'm already so confused about the day, being on holiday time I kept thinking " isn't it Friday'? "Where's Belinda"?

    In my house? Peonies! Then some more peonies. Little vases of lily of the valley, and now you've made me want dahlias and scabiosa and and and.

    xo Jane

  3. I have no flowers in the house at the moment so I left the laptop open on the kitchen table with the picture of your bouquet of peonies on it... fabulous!
    Peonies for me, love them!
    Have a wonderful weekend. Abby xx

  4. Sweet peas and roses in abundance but our season is coming to a close and fall is edging it's way in....

    love the white and chartreuse in the jug and those peonies,

  5. Roses float my boat. In and out of the garden. Today I would love to sit and have a cup of tea with your all white bouquet.

  6. So glad to find you this morning - thought something had happened. It seems like my own flowers come in waves, so I almost always have a vase of whatever-is-blooming rather than an arrangement. Would like to learn more about "arranging". I am guessing you use oasis and that is a skill I do not have!

    I do have the skill of digging a new bed, tho, and am working on that. Seeds have arrived from Stokes and Rebecca, so I will hope over to see what Ben has to say. Hope to plant in the next couple of weeks.

  7. Is it lilac peonies with eucalyptus leaves? Those two colours make glorious music together.

  8. I'm beginning to think what I really need is a cream enamel jug! xxx

  9. Sarah, blogsista, you say the nicest things! btw, late response just posted to yr comment on last post.

    Jane, sorry, last week of the school holidays, I am slowly losing my mind!!

    Abby, aww, that is so lovely!!

    Hostess, envy your sweetpeas!

    S and Z, if you ever visit this area please come and have that cuppa, I'll make a white bouquet for you!!

    Webb, I think a vase of whatever is blooming is exactly what it is all about and the exact thing I do. Fresh flowers you love in season, just a simple jug on the kitchen table - perfect!

    I never use oasis, probably should for less crowded looking arrangements? Just doesn't appeal for some reason. I'm excited about your new border.

    E E, it is that combo exactly, glad you like it too.

    Tess, you really do, and a soft sage green one too, invaluable - weeds even look good in them, as in the feverfew in the top photo!

  10. The ones that often end up giving me most joy are usually the odd ones that I clumsily stick in a glass or bottle because the stem broke or the colour didn't work. I find the more I do with them, the less happy I am with my flowers. So I suppose my favourites would be "the plonked"! J xx

  11. Hi Belinda,

    I only have a small cutting patch now, but I plan to make more space for cutting flowers next year. I am not sure yet which flowers I will sow, beside Sweet Pea's, Cosmos and Zinnia. Perhaps Ben can help me out :-)!

    Happy new week!

    Madelief x

  12. Love all of your arrangements, so pretty, but my very very favourite is the white and lime green 'stuff' in the cream jug. That's what I need to plant in my garden but have no idea what they're called.

    Can you recommend a book/website that is for absolute novices like me which basically tells you what you need to be doing in the garden each month? You know, when to plant bulbs, when to cut things back (if at all) etc.

    Nicki xx

  13. Ooh though, just popped over to Ben's blog via your link. I think I'm going to find his posts verrry useful! Nicki x

  14. Belinda, I did go to Ben's wonderful and helpful post, but was unable to leave my comment, so am turning to you with my questions.

    1) I am assuming that these fall-planted seeds will come up in a few weeks... will they stay green over the winter and need periodic watering, or will they die back later in the fall and then "just" come up earlier and stronger in the spring?

    2) What does he mean about the netting for support? I am imagining a net stretched parallel to the ground that the young plants would come up thru, thereby getting support and some separation from one another. is that the idea? is it something I should plan on doing for all annuals? And what is "pea netting"? I am thinking something with a 1-inch grid or smaller?

    3) In my "zone" (15-20 F for normal coldest winter temperature - I think that is about -5 C - you DO know that Americans are poor at the conversion, don't you?) the first hard freeze is normally after November 15th. How much time do the seeds need prior to that to get established? Can I wait until October 1, or do I need to get the seeds into the ground... like tomorrow?

    4) And, finally, I am planning to save a third to a half of the seeds to plant in the spring, too. Right?

    sorry to be so much trouble, but I want this to work!! Happy Labor Day - I know, you don't celebrate that, but we will tomorrow, so I shall labor in the new patch! thanks. xo

  15. By the way, if Nicki is in the U.S. and in the same general zone as Virginia, Andre Viette has a wonderful book that is literally arranged by months and tells one just what to do every month. It is also divided by bulbs, trees, shrubs, perennials, etc., so if very helpful. One could probably adjust a bit based on zone.

  16. Jan, I agree, the less I feel it matters, the better the flowers seem to look- pressure stifling creativity?

    Madelief, Ben has got loads of info, and I do this cutting patch series every Friday and if you go back a few weeks to 'The List' I have named and described all my favourites. Go for it!

  17. Nikki, all my faves incl those in pics are described in a post titled'The List' a few weeks back and books and blogs to help in a post of that title. For a general book for new gardeners I would suggest the back tobasics one and the month by month one both by Alan Titchmarsh - not glam but straightforward and clear bit like delia for cooking. For girlier garden books but both brill are ones by Alys Foeler and Sarah Raven. Good luck, it gets addictive like crochet!!! Xx

  18. Webb, the seedlings will just look like little weeds all winter, but will burst into growth in the spring, just pull out a few so they have room to grow.
    The netting is exactly as you think, stretched horizontally with bamboos or the like keeping it all in place. Looks unsightly for a few weeks, but then disappears under all the growth. I would get going with the sowing as soon as possible. Just keep well watered but with a sprinkle rather than a torrent to stop the seeds floating away! Kep, keep some seeds back for successional sowing, spreading that blooming time. 10 out of 10 Webb, you are gonna be a pro! Thanks for the book suggestion too. xx