cut flower

Dec. 18: Floral advent calendar: Antirrhinum majus 'Chantilly Bronze'

How’s this for a dose of serious summer color? Growing at Great Dixter this June, Antirrhinum majus ‘Chantilly Bronze’ really impressed me with its stature, vigor, and full-on vibrancy. I love the way the blooms of this snapdragon form a mouthwatering color gradient that conjures tangerines, melon and papaya. The phrase tutti-fruitti comes to mind.

‘Chantilly Bronze’ might not be the easiest flower to work into a border design in most gardens but it fit perfectly at anything-goes Dixter. I’d like to try growing it in a cut flower garden some day. It’s pretty lurid, but I love it.

Dec. 4: Floral advent calendar: Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cupcakes'

Cosmos are one of my favorite flowers. Along with zinnias, they are some of the first plants I grew from seed as a child and I associate them with the beginning of my interest in horticulture.

There has been an explosion in cosmos introductions lately, and as gimmicky as some of them sound I still want to try them all. A new-to-me variety this year was Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes.’ Some of the blooms, like the one above are double, while others are single. ‘Cupcakes’ was the first to flower in my home garden in July, mixed in a bed of other flowers for cutting. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I loved this variety. Its fused petals really do make the flower look exactly like a paper cupcake wrapper. And it was the last plant to blacken in the autumn frosts, succumbing just last week after giving me an astonishing five months of flowers.

The soft pinks and whites of ‘Cupcakes’ mix nicely into bouquets such as the one I put together from my cutting garden this July along with another nice new Cosmos, ‘Fizzy’ series. Also included are Malope trifida ‘Alba,’ Bupleurum rotundifolium 'Griffithii,’ Ammi majus, Orlaya grandiflora, and Matricaria recutita (German chamomile), and the wonderful ornamental grass Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion,’ all grown from seed this year.

If you do grow cosmos in Britain, keep in mind they don’t like being cold in the spring. This never seemed to be an issue when I grew cosmos in Virginia, probably because it got so hot so fast and the summer climate was more similar to the plant’s native Mexico. This year’s cool and protracted English spring, however, found my seedlings languishing despite the protection of the cold frame. Once they got a little heat, though, they were off and away just fine with no ill effects, .

The cut flower garden comes to life

I've started planning the cut flower garden at work, which I'm to be in charge of from design to planting, tending, and harvesting. I'm working with seed left over from last year, which is an intriguing constraint and a bit of a gamble that could keep me on my toes. I may be able to sneak in a few more things I feel are missing from the stash, such as greenery and fillers.

This assignment is timely as one of my Christmas presents was the wonderful Floret book of cut flower farming. I've followed Erin's farm for years online and have nothing but respect for her flower business, visual aesthetic, work ethic, and most especially her willingness to share what she's learned to empower other would-be flower farmers. 

Growing cut flowers was one of my favorite aspects of gardening at my farm in Virginia, and it's something I've done since I was given a few packets of zinnia seeds as a kid. Now that I'm sitting in the head gardener's office of a beautiful garden in southern England, I keep pinching myself that I am getting paid to do something I love so much.

Most of gardening in winter is an absolute slog: one is always covered in mud, burning calories just to stay warm in cold, snow, wind, and rain whilst doing the most labor-intensive tasks of the year (shoveling compost, digging over beds, large-scale cutting back, renovation pruning...) But half a day spent planning for spring and summer was a total joy. 

Happy Independence Day

For the first time in my life I've not celebrated one of my favorite holidays: July 4. I love this day because it occurs in my favorite season and usually involves the year's first ripe homegrown tomatoes, sweet corn, sweat, grilled meats, bikinis, large bodies of water, watermelon, and finally, fireworks.

Being a new resident of the country from which America broke means I keep my patriotism on this holiday pretty quiet. This year my homage to my home country is simply this bouquet of flowers I grew on my plot at school and here at home. That Ammi majus will be as close as I come to fireworks this year, but I think it captures the spirit. Happy Fourth of July to my American expat friends and everyone back home.