Six things for a vase on Saturday

Despite the rather dank and grey days here at the end of November, Carol has still managed to bring together flowers and foliage from the garden to brighten up the house.

In this arrangement we have six for Saturday; two varieties of autumn flowering chrysanthemums (purchased from Sarah Raven but varieties now unknown), the rose ‘Simply the Best’ which is still throwing out new blooms despite the cold, the Viburnum bodnantense which just started to flower and will flower in the garden throughout the coldest days of the winter, the yellow autumn foliage of the Hornbeam and finally the deep purple leaves of Cotinus coggygria.

Although very pretty and a wonderful winter scent in the garden, we must admit that the fragrance of Viburnum bodnantense has proved rather over powering inside the house and is perhaps best left in the garden!

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Viburnum bodnantense
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Rose ‘Simply the Best’

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

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October 28th and maybe the last flowers of the summer

This weekend saw the first forecast frosts of the winter months and so we took the opportunity to pick a selection of the remaining summer flowers to arrange and enjoy in the house.

Included in the top arrangement are a selection of apricot and burgundy dahlias, white Chincherinchee ((Ornithogalum thyrsoides), achillea and the delightfully transparent seed heads of honesty.

In the vase arrangement below are pink, white and apricot dahlias, the deep red rose ‘Ingrid Bergman’ and the fragrant rose ‘Boscabel’, purple Verbena bonariensis, Chincherinchee and blue grey eucalyptus foliage.

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The final table centre piece for this evening’s Sunday dinner with family contains rose ‘Ingrid Berman’, white and pink waterlily type dahlias, honesty seed heads, the blue of Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, pink Schizostylis, blue-grey eucalyptus and Cotoneaster foliage.

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The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but we will still be able to enjoy the colour and fragrance of summer for a few days yet!

The blues of July – Six on Saturday

The wedding season is in full swing and blue seems to be the colour of the moment.  As we bask in the summer sun here are this weeks ‘Six on Saturday’ from the garden.  All seem to be loving the hot weather.

One:  Lavender

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Two:  Echinops ritro

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Three:  Ageratum (with Clary Sage in the background)

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Four:  Eryngium planum

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Five:  Cornflowers

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Six:  Sweet Peas

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Dahlia – signifying dignity and elegance dahlias make striking garden plants and excellent cut flowers

The Dahlia flower represents dignity, elegance and a commitment and bond that will last forever.  They are therefore ideal cut flowers for celebrating love and marriage and we use them extensively in our wedding and celebration flowers (www.honeypotflowers.co.uk).

At this time of year (March) we begin to dust off the overwintered dahlia tubers and start them into growth.  As they flower from June until the first frost blackens the leaves, the once unfashionable Dahlia creates a wonderful summer and early autumn show throughout the flower garden.

The choice of colours is unrivalled and ranges from white, red, pink and purple through to yellow and orange with many shades in between.  Equally there is a huge range of sizes and forms ranging from less than 10cms in diameter to the huge and rather unwieldy ‘dinner-plate’ varieties at over 25cms.  Breeding programmes have created many forms which now include singles, waterlily, collerette, anenome, pompon, ball, semi-cactus, cactus, decorative, orchid, and peony flower types to name but a few.  There is probably a style, size and shade to meet just about every colour theme and requirement.

Late summer bridal bouquet of country flowers featuring white and lilac dahlias with yellow, lilac and blue set off with pops of yellow and fresh green. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers
Late summer bridal bouquet of country flowers featuring white and lilac dahlias complemented by yellow, blue, pink and fresh green. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Origin

Dahlias are tuberous perennials originating from the uplands and mountains of Mexico and central america.  The edible tubers were reportedly grown as a food crop by the Aztecs.  As they are mostly unscented they attract pollinating insects through their bright colourful flowers.

Starting Dahlias in the spring

There is no doubt that growing high quality Dahlias takes some time and effort, particularly if you want to maintain and develop your investment in plants over a number of years.  At this time of year we bring out the dahlias that we lifted last autumn and overwintered in our flower studio.  Although some will perish we find that the majority will survive if the tubers are cleaned and air dried and then individually wrapped in newspaper in covered trays and boxes.  Because we have got rather carried away over the years we now have so many tubers we just don’t have the room to lift and store every plant.  We therefore allow some to take their chance in the garden covering them with straw and cloche plastic over winter.  (We have written about how we do this in a previous article)

In March we check over the lifted tubers for any rot.  If the damage is not too great it is often possible to remove one or two diseased tubers from a larger clump and they will still grow well.

The tubers are planted into individual large pots or crates in moist compost before bringing into a warm (15-18 °C) and light place indoors to encourage them to shoot.  It is important to pinch out the tips of shoots once they begin to get going.  This will help the plants to bush up and make a better shaped plant as well as reducing the risk of damage when you come to move the plants into the garden.

Large white waterlily type dahlias are central to this colourful entrance garland at Swallows Nest Barn near Warwick. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers
Large white waterlily type dahlias are central to this colourful entrance garland at Swallows Nest Barn near Warwick. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Propagation by division

There seems to be a difference of opinion on when to divide tubers if you want to split large clumps to create more plants.  The RHS indicate that this should be done in the spring whilst others (eg. Floret Farm) advise that it is best done after lifting in the autumn.  The important things to remember is that each portion must have a flower shoot and roots if it is to grow on and develop successfully.

This year, purely for practical reasons, we divided in the autumn.  The clumps had got so large that they were difficult to effectively lift, clean and dry off before we set them down for the winter.

Taking cuttings

It is possible to take cuttings from your overwintered dahlias once the tubers have sprouted and the shoots are ≥2 inches long.  This is again an excellent way of multiplying up your favourite varieties.  We place the cuttings in small 3 inch pots of a free draining mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite (3 to 4 cuttings round the edge of each pot), water in, cover with a plastic bag and place on a warm window sill.  They will root in just a few weeks if looked after.  Once roots have formed we would then begin to remove the plastic cover slowly allowing some air into the bag for a few days before removing completely.

Soon you will have far more plants than you know what to do with and you can share with your friends!

Planting out

Dahlias can develop into large plants if they are grown well and need to be spaced at least 18 inches apart.  Ideally they like to be planted in full sun with ground that retains moisture but is also well drained.  On our wet clay soil we tend to plant on slightly raised beds to provide better drainage.  We only plant out the growing tubers when all risk of frost has passed.  However, you do sometimes get caught out and keeping some horticulture fleece at the ready to quickly throw over the plants to see them through a late cold snap is usually sufficient.

To get strong, lush plants that flower freely all year you need to water well and feed regularly.  The RHS suggests feeding with a high potash liquid feed every 2 weeks from July to early September.  I have to admit that regular feeding is not one of our strengths.  Let us just say we are now better than we used to be!

Most of our Dahlias will need to be staked and supported at some point to ensure we get good straight stems that we can use in our bouquets and arrangements.

Peachy pink dahlias are the feature bloom in these christening arrangements. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers
Peachy pink dahlias (Jowey Winnie) are the feature bloom in these christening arrangements. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Pests to beware of

One advantage of starting the tubers indoors is that the plants are big enough to cope with the onslaught of slug and snails.

For those we leave in the ground the challenge is greater.  You do really have to keep on top of them until the new shoots get away.  Tidy up any old bricks, stones and straw where slugs and snails can hide during the day.  A regular dose of biological control nematodes ( eg. Nemaslug) can also help.  We are also delighted that the flower garden is home to toads, frogs and newts and keeping some longer, moist grass areas in the flower garden seems to encourage them.

Later in the year the battle will be with earwigs which will damage the leaves and eat the flowers.  Interestingly we have found that white Dahlias seem to be particularly tasty but we don’t know the reason behind this.

Photoperiod

Armitage and Laushman report that day length has a direct influence on both flowering and tuber formation.  Long days of 14 hours cause faster flower initiation but day lengths below 11 hours and greater than 16 hours have a negative impact.  Short days (12 hours or less) result in tuber formation.

Breaking tuber dormancy

For many growers one of the reasons for lifting tubers in the autumn is to protect them from excessive cold temperatures over the winter.  It is interesting to note that cold temperatures (around zero degrees centigrade) are however important in breaking tuber dormancy (Armitage and Laushman).

A bright and colourful collection of country flowers with feature dahlias in small jars create a striking table centre piece for a rural country wedding. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers.
A bright and colourful collection of country flowers with feature dahlias in small jars create a pretty table centre piece for a rural country wedding. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers.

Cutting and conditioning

Dahlias can make spectacular cut flower arrangements if harvested at the correct stage and conditioned properly.

If the flowers are cut too early Dahlias buds often fail to open effectively.  Equally you want to cut the flowers before the outer back petals begin to show signs of age.  Petals will drop rapidly if the flowers are too old and so picking the flowers when they are at around 75% open is ideal.

The ideal time for cutting is in the early morning before the summer sun gets going.  It is a lovely time to be out there in the flower field with your secateurs. The flowers once cut should immediately be placed into deep warm water and left to condition for a couple of hours.  We use ‘flower food’ to increase vase life and some growers (see Linda Beutler) also advocate hot water treatment prior to placing in cool water.

We have noted that some varieties are more suitable for picking than others.  For some varieties the flower will ‘shatter’ as you reach forward to cut them! We have found variety ‘Wizard of Oz’ particularly prone to this.  Good for petal confetti however!

Bridal bouquet in burgundy, blue and white topped with a striking pheasant feather. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers. Photograph by Amy Bennett Photography
Autumnal wedding bouquets using deep burgundy dahlias (Karma Choc and Dark Spirit) contrasting with shades of blue flowers and glaucus foliage. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers. Photograph by Amy Bennett Photography

Treated well, Dahlias will give you months of pleasure throughout the summer and into the autumn months.  The more you cut the more they will flower and it is important to keep on top of the dead heading to keep them flowering freely.

As the season progresses will will share some further pictures of the star blooms of the summer.  Early spring is such an exciting time of year planning for warm summer days to come!

Further Reading

“Cut Flower Garden” by Floret Farms (ISBN 978-1-4521-4576-1)

“Specialty cut flowers” by Armitage and Lushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

“Garden to vase” by Linda Beutler (ISBN 978-0-88192-825-9)

 


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

 

Blues – this years’ wedding flower trend?

As our thoughts turn to the spring sowing of flower seeds we have been keeping an eye on the current trends for 2018 weddings.  Certainly the talk on the various bridal forums has indicated that blue, particularly navy and royal blue, is likely to be very popular this year.  This is also borne out by the orders we have received so far.

As there are relatively few true blue flowers this could potentially be challenging if we don’t carefully plan our sowing to ensure we have a good range in flowers throughout the season.  It is, however, not just about the blue as we need to ensure that we have a selection of complementary and contrasting colours available to set off the blues perfectly.

Pew ends in blue and white with a pop of yellow.
Pew ends of blue cornflowers and dutch iris alongside white roses and feverfew providing that tiny pop of yellow. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers. Venue Wethele Manor, Warwickshire

So what are the options available for providing these blue floral arrangements with country garden flowers?

Powder Blue

I feel the lighter powder blues are perhaps easier to achieve than the darker navy and royal blues.  Many of these varieties make lovely garden plants as well as having the advantage of being good cut flowers.  Some of our favourites include:

  • ‘Love-in-a-mist’ (Nigella damascina and Nigella hispanica) – a lovely, delicate true blue flower that also yields interesting seed pods later in the season.
  • Ageratum – we particularly like the F1 strain ‘Blue Horizon’ as it has much longer cutting stems than the typical bedding varieties.  It is a great garden plant and goes on flowering its socks off and looking good until the first frosts of the autumn.
Ageratum 'Blue Horizon'
Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’
  • Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium) – a light and delicate Limonium that is great for creating the open, wispy effect that sits so well with country garden wedding bouquets.  It also dries well.
  • Scabious – this is such a fantastic meadow style flower and always looks good in country style and wild garden bouquets.
Bouquet of white peonies, blue scabious and nigella
Bouquet of white peonies, blue scabious and nigella backed with asparagus fern and pittosporum. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers
  • Sweet Peas – for fragrance you cannot beat the Sweet Pea and there are some pale blue varieties that fit this blue trend perfectly.
Pale blue sweet peas with lime green Alchemilla
Pale blue sweet peas with lime green Alchemilla
  • Didiscus – a delicate and interesting bloom that holds well and adds a meadow touch to any arrangement.
Didiscus
Didiscus

Mid-blue

  • Cornflowers – probably one of our most used blue flowers ideal for bouquets, arrangements and buttonholes.  They hold extremely well and can cope with being out of water for some time.  Cornflowers are one of a limited number of flowers that work reliably in a flower crown of fresh flowers on a hot summers day.  They are also edible and can be used as cake flowers.
Flower Girl Wand in blue and white bound with white satin.
Flower Girl Wand in blue and white bound with white satin. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers
  • Delphiniums – these are extremely valuable as they come in a range of blues from a light powder blue shade, through mid-blue and also rich deep blues. The blooms are rather more ‘chunky’ than larkspur but that makes them particularly good for large pedestal and church arrangements.
  • Dutch Iris – blue is a receding colour and it often requires a pop of white or yellow to bring it to life.   There are some varieties of Dutch Iris which are almost a deep velvety blue but the typical dutch iris is mid-blue with a flash of yellow or white that sets off the blue nicely.

Deep Blue to Mauve/Purple

  • Anemone – if you are putting together a spring wedding then the Anemone will be one of the stars of the show.  We have found that they are relatively short lived in our garden and each year the flower stems get shorter and shorter.  Although still useful as a garden plant they become less useful as a cut flower as time goes by.  We therefore tend to buy and plant new corms each year to maintain a good crop of usable stems.
Country bouquet
Country bouquet featuring blue anenomes, dutch iris and limonium. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers. Photograph by Michelle Hardy Photography http://www.michellehardyphotography.com/
  • Delphinium ‘Volkerfrieden’ – this Delphinium of the ‘Belladonna Group’ provides a true blue flower that is open and delicate.  It regularly appears in our Honey Pot Flowers designs!
  • Larkspur – although strictly speaking a Delphinium the annual Larkspur species D.consolida and D.ajacis tend to be much more delicate than the perennial border delphiniums.  They therefore lend themselves better to smaller bouquets and table arrangements and can also be dried and used for petal confetti.
Larkspur 'Braveheart'
Larkspur ‘Braveheart’
  • Clary Sage – a well behaved flower stem that provides colour all summer.  A useful filler in both the borders and in bouquets.  It is in fact the colourful bracts rather than the true flowers that provide the shot of blue.
  • Salvia caradona – a very useful addition to any arrangement providing an architectural spike of deep blue/mauve.  In the garden we do find that it is a short lived perennial that needs to be replaced regularly.
Blue and white wedding bouquet of cottage garden flowers
Blue and white wedding bouquet of Delphinium ‘Volkerfrieden’ and Cornflower with the deeper blue/mauve provided by Salvia caradona. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Complementary and contrasting colours

I think it is important to mention that when designing with blue, either in a garden setting or in a floral arrangement, you need other colours to bring the blue to life.  Blue and white sit well together and provide a pleasing and relaxed effect but equally pairing deep blues and mauve with pops of yellow or even orange create a strong vibrant effect that can be truly stunning.

Blues have the ability to offer both soft or vibrant displays.  If the blues become a strong trend in 2018 it could prove to be a very exciting year.

 

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)

The fact that so few herbaceous plants are winter flowering makes the show of Helleborus orientalis around the Honey Pot Flowers garden particularly special at this time of year. With large flowers from dark aubergine through shades of pink to white, these flowers make you stop as you wander around the winter garden turning over the downward facing flowers to look at the exquisite markings on the ‘petals’.

Hellebores do not have petals in the normal sense of the word as their petals are really sepals (modified leaves that typically protect the flower bud).

Cultivation

To be honest once Hellebores have established they are very undemanding herbaceous perennials. They like areas of part-shade in our garden and seed themselves freely. When mature the plants do not like to be disturbed but careful transplanting of the seedlings (digging them up with soil so as to not expose the roots) allows you to distribute them throughout the garden.

You can also propagate larger plants by division in early spring if you have a particularly beautiful specimen that you want to bulk up. Your self-sown seedlings are unlikely to come true to colour (but half the fun is seeing how they will develop).

To show off the flowers at their best in the garden we usually remove the sad, dying leaves at soil level in January to expose the flowers. As well as exposing the flowers this helps reduce the spread of disease. The fresh new leaves will grow back again during the spring and look great throughout the summer.

Rich aubergine coloured Helleborus orientalis
Rich aubergine coloured Helleborus orientalis

Cutting and conditioning

With so few flowers around in the early months of the year, Hellebores are very valuable for winter arrangements. Because the flowers face downwards their full beauty may not be evident. For dinner table, coffee and side table arrangements simply taking the flowers and floating them in water face up in a clear crystal glass bowl can make a stunning display showing off all the varied colours and delicate markings.

table decoration of Hellebore flowers floating in water
Simple but effective table decoration of Hellebore flowers floating in water

It has to be said that many people find the conditioning of Hellebores a challenge. There seem to be a range of views on how this is best done.

Armitage and Lushman in “Speciality Cut Flowers” indicate that you can achieve 10-14 days in the vase. Stage of harvest seems to be particularly critical and they suggest for fresh flowers Hellebores should be cut when the stamens first become visible. For drying, flowers can be cut at anytime but particularly when the seed capsules become visible.

Sarah Raven in “The Cutting Garden” advocates putting the bottom inch of the stem in boiling water for 20 seconds and then plunging it into deep tepid water. With this treatment she indicates that the stems will stay fresh for 3 or 4 days (considerably less however than the vase life offered in Armitage and Lushman).

There also seems to be contradictory advice on the use of “flower food”. Comments from commercial growers in Armitage and Lushman indicate that “they have a wonderful long vase life, 10 days plus easy, and I give no special treatment other than Floralife”. In contrast Linda Beutler in “Garden to Vase” indicates that Hellesbore blooms do not tolerate floral preservative.

Most references indicate that Hellesbores do not last well in floral foam.

Our experience of using Hellesbores as cut flowers is that they are unpredictable. We have had most success when we have delayed cutting the flowers until the seed pods begin to develop. Cutting at this point the flowers are much more reliable and hold up well. Floret Farm’s “Cut Flower Garden” also recommends this approach and indicates that the flowers will last about 5-8 days in the vase.

It can be argued that using Hellesbores in ‘high stakes’ arrangements can be (is) risky. However, they are such charming flowers at a time of year when there is very little and it is well worth practising to perfect your conditioning technique.

Hellebores and tulips
Bouquet of purple Helleborus orientalis with tulips, cherry blossom and flowering currant. Helleborus foetidus provides a splash of fresh green at the bottom right of this picture .

Drying

As well as offering fresh cut stems, Hellebore flowers also dry well and can be used in buttonholes, corsages or wreaths. Gently covered with silica gel they will dry within 2 weeks and can then be stored in an air tight plastic box. They keep their colour well if kept in the dark and can be kept right through to the following Christmas to bring a different touch to Christmas wreaths.

Don’t be tempted to over dry them by leaving them in the silica gel for too long. They will simply suck up moisture when the are removed and will spoil quickly.

Christmas arrangement using dried Hellebore flowers, Helichrysum and Limonium
Christmas arrangement using dried Hellebore flowers, Helichrysum and Limonium

Other species in the garden

The majority of the Hellebores in the Waverley garden are Helleborus orientalis but we do also have occasional plants of the stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus. H. foetidus has smaller hanging bell shaped flowers on a tall stem that make a very useful fresh green addition to winter arrangements.

Hardy perennial

Origin: Greece and Turkey (ref: Wikipedia)

Family: Ranunculaceae

Hardiness: H7 (RHS hardiness rating – Hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20)

Height: 40-45 cm

Flowering period: January to March

Derivation of scientific name:  According to Wikipedia and Witchipedia, the genus name Helleborus comes from the ancient Greek word elein, meaning “to injure” and bora, meaning “food”.

Toxicity:  Poisonous

Floriography:  Slander and scandal

References:

“The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN 978-0-7112-3465-9)

“Specialty cut flowers” by Armitage and Lushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

“Garden to Vase” by Linda Beutler (ISBN 978-0-88192-825-9)

“Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai (ISBN 978-1-4521-4576-1)

How to ensure you get the longest possible vase life from your cut flowers – cutting and conditioning

There remains an entrenched belief amongst the flower buying public that British garden flowers do not last as long in the vase as those purchased from the florist or supermarket.

Inevitably this will vary from species to species but fundamentally those picked and harvested locally should have an immediate advantage.  The vast majority of shop bought flowers will have been grown in Columbia, Ecuador and Kenya, will have flown thousands of miles across the world to the flower auctions in Holland, been transferred overnight to UK flower wholesalers and subsequently purchased by retail florists ready for sale to the public.

There is a certain, and I agree rather idyllic perception, of walking around your flower garden on a sunny day in a large floppy hat and trug, cutting big open flowers and taking them back to the house and placing them straight into a vase of water to grace the rooms of your house.  Unfortunately, as Linda Beutler in her book Garden to Vase quite rightly points out, the reality is that assembling good bouquets and arrangements with a long vase life takes time, planning and patience.

How you handle, prepare and condition your cut flowers is critical.  If neglected or rushed this will indeed lead to disappointment.

The basics

It is important to remember that plants and their flowers are living things that require water, food and good health to prosper.  When you cut the flower you are immediately severing it from the supply of water that will keep the cells turgid, from the food that is normally generated by photosynthesis in the leaves and you will have created a significant wound that will be prone to infection by bacteria and other micro organisms.

Inevitably cutting the plant in this way will be a significant shock and you need to ensure that air and bacteria do not start to block the all important xylem and phloem vessels that will continue to carry the water and food along the stems of the cut flower.

Cleanliness

If bacteria, debris or fungal growth start to block the vessels in the stem it will significantly reduce the longevity of the flower.  It is important that all buckets and secateurs that you use are cleaned prior to cutting your flowers.

Time of day

The best time of day to cut your flowers if first thing in the morning before the sun begins to heat the air.  Overnight the stomata on the leaves will have closed, reducing the transpiration of water, and allowing the cells of the plants and flowers to become fully turgid.  Once the sun comes up photosynthesis begins and the stomata open allowing the flow of carbon dioxide into the plant and the resulting oxygen to escape.  At the same time transpiration of water occurs through these stomata and in hot weather the plant may not be able to draw up sufficient water to replace that being lost.

If you cannot pick in the morning then it is possible to cut during the evening as the air cools and the plants are well saturated with the sugars produced during the day.

Tools

The tools you use to cut your flowers should be clean and sharp.  Remember that you want to keep the vessels open so try to use cutters that will not mash or block the tiny vessels.  Use cutters with by-pass blades rather than anvil secateurs.

Cutting your flowers at the right stage

If you cut your biggest, brightest flowers when they are too mature they will not last long in the vase.  If the bees have got to your flowers and have already pollinated the blooms they will already be moving onto their next stage, dropping their petals and putting their energy into seed production.

For example, all the daisy type flowers, such as Cosmos, Rudbeckia and Ox-eye daisies, will not last long if the pollen has matured and the flowers have been visited by pollinating insects.  The way to tell is by touching the centre of the flower with the tip of your finger.  No pollen should come off and colour your finger.

Many flowers like roses, tulips and daffodils, will need to be cut before they open when the buds are first showing some colour.  Poppies are best picked when the bud is just about to burst open.

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Buckets of conditioned country garden flowers ready for delivery for a DIY wedding reception

Cut into water

We always cut our flowers straight into cool clean water in the field, cutting the stem at an angle to create a greater surface area for the flower to take up water (so that the cut end is not flat against the bottom of the bucket).  We strip off any leaves that will sit below the water surface.  The latter is important as any leaves below the water will quickly begin to decompose and create the infections that we want to avoid.

If the flowers or foliage are cut and then left awhile in the air, air bubbles will begin to be pulled into the vessels and inhibit the free flow of water up the stem and into the flower causing the flower to wilt.

Some flowers that produce a sticky sap (eg. Poppies and Euphorbia) will benefit from searing when they are cut.  Searing the end of the cut stem in boiling water or with a flame will stop these substances contaminating and poisoning the water and will help water uptake.

On woody shrubs and stems the important vessels for water uptake are in the cambium, the living layer of cells between the bark and the dead heart wood.  After cutting the stems at an angle, split the stems vertically up the centre to give as much surface area as possible for the uptake of water.  It may be beneficial to shave back some of the bark to reveal and expose the bright green cambium.

Up early cutting flowers in the morning light
Up early cutting flowers in the morning light before breakfast

Mixing flowers of different types

It is worth being aware that some flowers effect the longevity of other flowers and you should be careful of cutting them into the same field bucket.  An example of this is with daffodils and narcissus and these should be cut into a separate bucket.  The water should be changed every 20 minutes or so to check to see if the stems are still dripping sap from the cut wound.  Keep doing this until the sap stops running and then they can be left to condition.  Once the sap has stopped narcissus can be incorporated into arrangements with other flowers but do not be tempted to cut the stems again or the sap will start to run again.

It is also appropriate to do this with other plants with toxic sap like Euphorbia and Campanula.

Conditioning

This is such an important part of preparing and nurturing the flowers which you will have been lovingly looking after and growing for many months.  It is not to be rushed.

Your flowers should be placed in cool, deep water for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) before you start to use them in bouquets or arrangements.  Keep them in  a cool room out of direct sunlight whilst they are conditioning.

With woody foliage you will need to condition for at least 24 hours and more if you can.  The tips of the shoots may initially droop but you will find that they eventually perk up if left long enough.  The key message is be patient and you will be rewarded.

There are varying opinions on whether the addition of “flower food” to the conditioning water is valuable or not.  Commercially available “flower food” contains sugars to feed the flowers (now that they have no leaves), help them take up water efficiently and keep the water free of bacterial infection.  This is such a small cost that for us it is simply part of maintaining the good health and cleanliness of the flowers that we have invested so much time in growing over the summer.

James C. Schmidt from the University of Illinois makes a valuable point about the impact of hard and soft water on the longevity of cut flowers.  He indicates that hard waters and those “softened” with a home water softener are unsatisfactory for keeping flowers fresh.  Clearly if you are growing flowers in a hard water area there is little you can do about this but the use of “flower foods” may be particularly valuable in hard water areas (because they lower the pH of the water).

Beware ripening fruit

It is worth remembering that ethylene is naturally produced by all ripening fruit.  Exposing flowers to ethylene will speed up the development of your cut flowers and eventual death.  Don’t be tempted to leave your flowers conditioning in an out house or kitchen where you are storing fruit or other ripening vegetables.

Any finally ….

When your flowers and foliage are fully conditioned you can now let your creative juices flow.  Cut the stems once again as you arrange them to help further water uptake and increase the flower life.

If arranging in a vase try to replace the water regularly to keep your flowers in tip top condition for as long as possible.

When delivering our Honey Pot Flowers bouquets by hand or by courier we always include detailed care instructions and flower food to help the recipient achieve the best from their flowers.  We often get feedback and comments from delighted customers telling us how pleased they are with their long lasting bouquets.

Further reading

It is important to recognise that although there are general principles to observe, ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to cutting and conditioning cottage garden flowers.  There is a wealth of additional hints and tips available in the following books where specific flowers benefit from a slightly different or a specific approach.

“Speciality Cut Flowers” by Allan M. Armitage and Judy M. Laushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

“Garden to Vase” by Linda Beutler (ISBN 978-0-88192-825-9)

“Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai (ISBN 978-1-4521-4576-1)

“Grow your own wedding flowers” by Georgie Newbury (ISBN 978-0-85784-253-4)

“The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN 978-0-7112-3465-9)