The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Flowers from the garden: October

october flowersIt’s the tenth month of flowers from the garden. Last January I decided not to buy flowers for the house for a year. The benefits would be two fold: I would save loads of money but also I would be encouraged to focus more on our herbaceous borders. It has been an absorbing challenge.

When I started gardening here (fifteen years ago), I concentrated on flowers in this garden. Slowly, edible produce has diverted my attention and the herbaceous borders have declined. Since I made the decision not to buy flowers I have planned and planted new perrenials, in a tiny way. The garden has begun to sing again albeit in a quiet way. I can hear the music even if it’s just the tootles and scales of an orchestra tuning up. I have been strict with myself here too. Just buying plants from wayside stalls, in the main.

Not buying flowers has been moderately easy for the last four months. There has always been something to pick in the garden but as I had a (former) rule not to pick from the garden, this always hurts. The garden flowers don’t last as long as a bunch from a supermarket (no extend-their-life-chemical sprays). But the bunches have an innocent softness that has grown on me as the months have rolled by. Now I realise that if you have flowers in your garden to pick, they are the Champagne of flowers, however long they last. Supermarket flowers have a more formal quality and stiffness. They are, at the end of the day, just like a good dependable table wine. You know from the label, how long they will probably last. They are decorative but simply don’t have the spirit of a home grown bunch.

This posy contains Sedum (this dazzled Danny who hadn’t spotted it in the garden), white Michaelmas daisies. Tiny pink chrysanthemums bought from a wayside stall in the spring in Debden, Essex. Fusicas, one shrubby pink one – a present from our friends Jocelyn and Miles and an annual star that is just about to burst into flower. There are also the last two sweet peas, Comfrey and tiny Nemisia. Annuals include Thousand Bells (flowered all summer without dead heading), Verbena and the white pelargonium that flowered last year in my mother’s window boxes. The bunch has been picked for two days and is just going over but has given me so much pleasure as it is beside my laptop.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna,

    Thank you so much for a comment packed with tips for the pick your own flowers at home gardener. We are really excited that we will be able to extend the life of our flowers. Even poppies! Much appreciated.

    I’d love a list of good dahlias. We don’t have any growing in the garden, yet.

    My mum planted iris reticulata on the south west facing wall of the cottage and they have given us so much pleasure. An absolute must for any garden. We only started bringing them indoors this year. Needless to say, I love anything that flowers in the winter.

    Thank you for so many helpful suggestions!

  2. Hi … I much prefer my homegrown flowers, and rarely buy them any more – as you say, they just aren’t so nice. Next year, you need to be sure to plant some dahlias, because they will give you flowers and more flowers and then more to give away from July to October November even December if you’re lucky. They slow down once it gets cold, but they don’t stop until there has been a heavy frost. This year I’ve got a couple in pots that I’m going to try to keep going until Xmas.

    I’ve just planted some iris reticulata specially to pick, they’re lovely on my desk in January February, scented and pretty and the promise of more.

    Making flowers last longer – a couple of drips of bleach and a tsp sugar is good in a large vase. But something you may not have thought of to condition flowers and really increase their life is to sear the ends in boiling water – it works for all sorts of flowers like poppies, helebores, hollyhocks … just put them in a mug of boiled water for 10-15 seconds.

    I hope some of this helps …

    PS if you think you don’t like dahlias, I’ll send you a list of good ones, with good foliage and lovely flowers.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Quickthinker,

    Thanks for the tip. I bet that I can find the recipe somewhere on the Internet.

    Hi Sara,

    Thanks for dropping by. Hopefully by next year my autumn flowers will make a better. display

    Hi Celia,

    Thanks for the tips on sedums. I bought a lovely dark one from Beth Chatto’s garden, two years ago but it is still quite small. My parents called them the tortoise plant as they believed that tortoises loved eating them.

    Hi Kate,

    Yes combining home grown foliage and shop flowers is a good idea.

    We have two large clumps of sedums that have got a bit floppy so I’ll take your advice and split them in the spring. I love the leaves.

  4. Kate(uk)

    Home grown flowers are just the best-I’ve just picked a bucket of foliage and white flowers from the garden for a friend’s daughter’s wedding on Saturday, had to pick early to beat the frost.Shop flowers just do not look the same- but when you add a few to home-grown foliage they do look more normal! My Sedums are wonderful this autumn- really big plates of flowers, they are such useful plants, look good all year round, the white ones don’t die as gracefully as the red and some of the purple leaved ones can be a bit straggly, but all worth growing.Split them every spring to keep them clumping well, they get rather floppy in the centre if left undisturbed for a couple of years.

  5. What a delightful mix of flowers. Sedums are fantastic, I’m hunting out different varieties. The ones in your vase will quickly make roots and you can pot them up or plant in a nursery bed to bulk up – the young grey rosettes of leaves look great in a container of spring bulbs, and will make a colourful display in the autumn. Your bees will love them too!

  6. farmingfriends

    I enjoy hearing about your challenge not to buy flowers and how you have revived your flower garden. This vase of blooms is lovely. Sara from farmingfriends

  7. quickthinker

    Oh, are those flowers from your garden?

    I think you can give your homegrown flowers natural extenders, I heard that you can use a mixture of bleach, soda and water to keep the flowers for a much longer period of time.

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