The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Planning, sowing and dreaming about flowers for cutting and selling


Grumpy Min Pins in the kitchen garden

Grumpy Min Pins in the kitchen garden

I’m busy planning my flower cutting borders for this year.  It’s quite a big job –  up until now I’ve just carried vague plans in my head. This means that often I don’t get the best out of the herbaceous borders. Last year some borders were stunning but others were a real disappointment. If I’d taken a bit more time at the planning stage they might have been better.

Flowers are a great fillip. My mum always reminds me of the old Chinese proverb,
“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.”
Even during WW2 when everyone was digging up their lawns the government advised to grow some flowers to keep up morale.
At the moment about half our plot is dedicated to trees, shrubs and flowers. Many of these provide edible flowers, leaves and fruit.

Over the winter we raised well over 150 carnation plants – we found a very good deal on the Thompson and Morgan site 84 plugs for £12.99. These arrive as teeny plugs that need to be potted on. There are always more than you order and with a bit of TLC you always end up with a lot of extra plants. Over the winter they have gradually grown to about 15cm. We are planning to sell bunches of these in the local village shops.

Carnations have a really long vase life so they are an ideal flower to sell. Last year we discovered that a lot of our flowers lasted only a week or so. That’s fine if they sell on the first day that they are delivered. If they hang about in the shop they are not going to give such a long display. Consequently a lot of time and flowers were wasted.

We are going to sell a range of fresh flowers daily from our garden gate. Luckily the trees in the garden opposite our gate shade the pavement where the flowers sit so they will not be sitting in the sun. We are also planning to sell pots of herbs this year.

Last year I had a problem with supporting the flowers as they grew. This was total laziness on my part. In her excellent book Grow Your Own Cut Flowers (based on the TV series), Sarah Raven she urges to stretch large mesh pea netting across the border at a height of 30cm – I ignored this advice and had to contend with twisted stems, shorter stems and flowers flopping on the ground. If flowers are properly supported they can use their energy to grow rather than support themselves. And the overall effect is much better too.

Earlier this year I invested in 30m x 2m netting (8cm gauge). I do hope that this will be enough. The 30cm height will support most of the cut flowers that we grow with the exception of flowers like delphiniums and dahlias which clearly have to be individually staked. Sarah Raven notes that sometimes you may need a higher layer of 75cm for plants such as the taller cosmos and ami major. Apparently the netting doesn’t show when the flowers get going. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

Like last year we’ll be growing flowers around the borders in the kitchen garden. They looked very pretty, helped with pollination and bug control too.

I’m also moving a lot of perennials this year. Having increased the depth of the main borders by a good meter, a lot of plants need to be shunted forward. I love perennials, once happy and established they return again and again. However growing annuals for picking last year was a joy – fresh and transient. Just like letting children into the garden to play.

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  1. KateUK

    The big ( huge) borders at Cliveden, a National Trust house, are covered in net each year, with extra twigs for the really tall things.Looks odd in the Spring, but once everything has got growing it disappears. All plants are supported by it, they don’t flop about, with none of the net showing.Magic.

  2. Good tip from SR there; I’ll give that a try this year on the allotment flowers.

    Also might be worth trying baby plants on the stand; tomato and other veg seedlings a couple of inches tall in a 9cm pot. They sell v well in the garden centre in Surrey and also on my Mum’s stand in deepest Norfolk.

  3. Your in good company Fiona , i noticed RHS WIsley use the stretched pea netting in ther herbaceous borders

    look forward to seeing your flowers in bloom

  4. Marion

    Fiona, you were quite right about growing flowers during World War 2.
    I was born in London in 1940 and my mother had an allotment in Greenwich Park during and , for a while, after the war.
    I recall that people were allowed to give a certain percentage of their allotment over to flower growing. I think it may have been 5%.
    The one thing that stands out in my mind more than any other is the beautiful Russell lupins that she grew.
    Mind you, in those days, all the delivery men drove horse drawn carts and it was my older sister’s job to follow them with a bucket and spade! Our allotment was always well nourished.

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