Garden Poppies – colourful and extravagant

Individually the delicate, tissue paper like flowers of the Poppy may be quite fleeting in nature but on mass they can provide a beautiful and vibrant show over many weeks. In a meadow style planting they also provide that much needed movement as they gently sway in the summer breeze.

The Poppy family (Papaveraceae) offers the gardener a range of annual, biennial and perennial species in an amazing spectrum of colours that span yellow, pink, scarlet, deep plum, orange, blue and white. Certainly not all poppies are red!

Papaver rhoeas (Common Poppy)

Despite the adoption of modern agricultural practices and the reduction of our native poppies in the countryside we do still see the occasional field full of red poppies as we drive across the Cotswolds in summer.

P1030148

Probably more common in the garden setting are Shirley poppies. These were initially bred from field poppies by the Rev. William Wilks, vicar of Shirley in Surrey in the late 1800’s. He selected a range of white edged flowers that have now been developed into a range of tones.

P1030173
Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’

Papaver rhoeas is an annual herbaceous plant usually flowering in late spring and into summer.

Papaver nudicaule (Iceland Poppy)

Another common garden plant is the Iceland Poppy. It originates from sub-arctic regions and can grow to a height of 1-2½ feet. It is the poppy most frequently grown as a cut flower and is also a charming garden plant.

P. nudicaule (nudicaule meaning bare stemmed) is a perennial that is most commonly grown from seed as an annual. Sown at 18-24º C the tiny seeds will germinate in 7-12 days. These seedlings can be pricked out into modules to grow on and then be planted out when conditions are suitable.

Interestingly Iceland Poppies do poorly when the temperature rises above 21º C. The plants flower from mid-spring to mid-summer and usually produce 10-15 stems before being checked by warmer temperatures.

Papaver nudicaule dsc00913

Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy)

The Opium Poppy is an attractive, upright annual herbaceous plant that can grow to a height of around 100cm. As a garden plant they have been bred in a number of colours in both single and double forms although we have found the double forms are sometimes too heavy to stand upright on their stems. The foliage has a characteristic blue-green glaucous apprearance and they seed themselves freely around our garden.

The seed heads are particularly attractive and can be used both green and dried in flower arrangements and wedding buttonholes.

Photo credit: Ventnor Botanic Garden

Papaver orientale (Oriental Poppy)

The Oriental Poppy is a very hardy perennial poppy growing to a height of 3 feet with a spread of 2 feet. For us it is a very reliable spring flowering herbaceous plant that produces a large number of large, hand-sized flowers. The large fleshy stems and foliage will often need staking to keep them looking at their best.

They originate from the Caucasus, north eastern Turkey, and northern Iran and in the wild grow on rocky slopes and dry meadows. Originally orange these plants now have cultivars that come in a wide range of colours. We have found the white varieties are particularly prone to damage if we get a lot of rain and can look like a sad, soggy hankerchief at times.

Oriental poppies combine well with other plants in low herbaceous borders. One of my favourite parts of the garden combines these pink oriental poppies with aquilegia, ox-eye daisies, purple flag iris, lime-green alchemilla and dusky pink valerian.

It is worth mentioning that by mid-summer the foliage and flowers of P. orientale will have died down entirely and will need to be cut back. To continue the display into late summer it is important to surround these poppies with other later flowering perennials.

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Eschscholzia (Californian Poppy)

Grown well Californian poppies can produce a spectacular show of delicate, bright orange blooms complemented by equisite blue green foliage. Ever since seeing the wonderful display at East Rustan Old Vicarage in Norfolk I have been trying to grow these in our own garden – but with only limited success. Native to California, these hardy annuals grow in dunes, rocky hills and roadside banks and I can only think that our soil and conditions here in the UK Midlands are a little too damp to allow them to thrive.

East_Ruston_Old Vicarage Garden
Eschscholzia – East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden, Norfolk – June

Meconopsis betonicifolia (Himalayan Poppy)

We have found the beautiful blue Himalayan Poppy to be somewhat of a challenge to grow successfully. It is something that Carol’s grandfather, Fred Mason, grew successfully in his garden in Bolney in Sussex for years. Although we have tried on a number of occasions we have never managed to keep this perennial poppy going from year to year.

Its delicate, true blue petals are truely enchanting and a definite showpiece when you are successful however.

As the name suggests blue Meconopsis are native to the Himalaya and Western China. They grow in alpine meadows, woodlands and on screes and like cool, damp summers. Although we have cool and damp winters our summers here are increasingly hot and dry and our clay soil holds little moisture in the heat of the summer. The reference books indicate that Meconopsis need plenty of water in summer and as little as possible in winter which does not sit at all well with our conditions. However, there are plenty of other Poppies that we can grow very successfully.

Scheinmohn (Meconopsis betonicifolia) 5863

Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh Poppy)

To illustrate the point above a related Meconopsis, the yellow Welsh Poppy, grows very successfully here at Waverley. It is the only Meconopsis that is native to western europe. It is a short -lived, delicate perennial that seeds itself freely.

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Cultivation

In general poppies are easy to grow and like sun or semi-shade in moist but well drained soil. I think they look at their best if planted in generous clumps.

The annual species ( such as P. rhoeas ) do not like to be transplanted and so are best sown where they are to flower. It is important not to cover the tiny seed as they need light to germinate. As cornfield plants they are naturally colonisers of disturbed ground and the seeds can survive in a dormant state for many years before being exposed by ploughing. They will then germinate rapidly if conditions are right. This is also the reason why they are associated with battlefields where the ground was distrurbed by the bombs, grenades and troop movements.

Biennials or short lived perenial species (such as P. nudicaule) are more tolerant of being transplanted. We sow these on the surface of trays of multi-purpose compost (again not covering the seed) in an unheated greenhouse. When the plants are big enough to be pricked out we plant them up into larger modules and allow them to grow on. The modules are them transplanted out when conditions are right trying not to disturb the roots if at all possible.

The larger perennial species (such as P. orientale) are best propagated by root cuttings in the winter especially if you wish to retain the characteristics of a particular cultivar. They are unlikely to come true from seed.

Many poppies will self seed freely if the conditions are right. We have not found them to be at all invasive and if they do happen to seed themselves somewhere they are not wanted they are very easy to remove.

Cutting and conditioning

It is possible to use poppies as cut flowers but they do need to be cut at the right stage, prepared and conditioned appropriately to get the best out of them. We do not find them particularly long lasting but they do certainly add a definite country feel to any bouquet.

Poppies for the vase should be cut when the flower buds are beginning to break and the colour is just able to be seen. If they are fully open they will be difficult to condition.

The base of the stems should be seared in boiling water for 20-30 seconds before topping up the vessel with cold water. The stems should then be left to condition in a cool place, out of direct sunlight for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. The searing process reduces the flow of the milky sap (latex) which would otherwise bleed out and clog up the xylem vessels which transport the water up to the flower.

Winter arangements

It is worth highlighting that many types of poppy produce interesting seed heads that are also excellent for autumn and winter arrangements (along with the seed heads of nigella, teasel, honesty and dried hydrangea flowers).

In our ceramics we have also found that poppy seed heads can be used to make some interesting botantical texture effects that will be picked out by using oxides or suitable glazes.

Further reading

“Specialty Cut Flowers” by Armitage and Laushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

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

“The Flower Farmers Year” by Georgie Newberry (ISBN 9780857842336)

“100 flowers and how they got their names” by Diana Wells (ISBN 1-56512-138-4)

“A-Z of perennials” Consulting Editor: Lizzie Boyd (ISBN 0-276-42087-X)

“A-Z of annuals, biennials and bulbs” Consulting Editor: Lizzie Boyd (ISBN 0-276-42089-6)

“Perennial Volume 2: Late Perennials” by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix (ISBN 0 330 30936 9)

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Scabious – the essence of an English Country Garden

Picture yourself in July, the sun is shining and you are taking a gentle amble down a quiet country lane, the warm breeze is reflecting off the track and the blue field scabious (Knautia avensis) are gently moving in the wind.  The butterflies and other insects are quietly working their way amongst the roadside flowers enjoying the rich nectar.  Smiling yet?

Certainly if you are looking to create the look and feel of a meadow in either your garden, at your wedding or in your floristry arrangements then the inclusion of summer flowering scabious is an absolute essential.  They are nectar rich and excellent at attracting a wide range of butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects and they provide a loose, open and natural feel to any arrangement.   With so many species and varieties to choose from you are spoilt for choice.

The naming of Scabious and its relatives

Often referred to as pincushion flowers due to the beautiful detail of the stamens, the name ‘Scabious’ is believed to be derived from ‘scabies’.  In medieval times the plant was reportedly used to treat the severe itching that results from this disease.

The term ‘Scabious’ is commonly used across a number of related genera; Scabiosa, Knautia, Cephalaria and Succisa.  They belong to the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae (although many references still refer to them belonging to the teasel family, Dipsacaceae, which I believe has now been merged with Honeysuckle family² ).

Scabious 'Oxford Blue'
Scabious ‘Oxford Blue’ sits beautifully within this birthday bouquet of whites, blue and yellow. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Getting them started

We usually sow our scabious seeds indoors in half trays of damp compost lightly covered with vermiculite.  I usually cover the trays in cling film until the seedlings start to emerge so I don’t have to worry about watering the trays before the green shoots appear.  We rarely sow straight into the ground as too many of our precious plants succumb to slugs and weeds.  You can sow throughout April so if you want to try these charming plants there is still time.

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle we prick out into modules or trays of compost until the weather is warm enough to harden them off and plant them out.  Don’t be tempted to plant them out too early or they will just sulk.

Willow heart
Dark burgundy Scabiosa atropurpurea, blue ageratum and yellow rudbeckia decorating a hand-made willow heart. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Growing them on

Typically scabious like full sun and well drained soil.  We tend to plant out at one Waverley standard trowel length apart (c. 9 inches).   Growing the young plants in modules makes this so much easier and prevents excessive disturbance when they are planted out.

We do find that some scabious can be a bit wayward and need to be supported if you want long straight stems that are good for cutting and arranging.  We support many of our flowers in the cutting garden using horizontal pea netting.  By stretching across the bed using canes we can raise the height gently as the plants develop.  The holes are big enough to place your hand through for cutting and if you buy a good quality netting it can be used again and again, year after year.

If you want to keep them flowering, keep cutting.  They will flower all summer long until the first frosts cut them back.   However, if you do miss some the seed heads are also very attractive and can make a interesting addition to late summer arrangements.

Lilac Scabiosa atropurpurea and seedhead
Lilac Scabiosa atropurpurea and seed head (right).

Cutting and conditioning

Scabious are very straight forward when it comes to cutting and conditioning.  As with most flowers they are best cut in the early morning before the sun gets too hot.  Cut straight into clean fresh water with floral preservative removing any leaves that lie below the water surface and leave to condition in a cool place for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.  They can be used with floral foam.

The stage of development at which you cut is quite critical if you want to achieve a long vase life.  If you cut a flower that is too mature then the flower will soon shatter and the petals will fall.  It is quite difficult to describe the correct stage in words and so I have tried to illustrate this with the following two pictures of Scabiosa atropurpurea.

Scabious flowers slightly too mature for cutting.
Scabious flowers slightly too mature for cutting. The central florets are all open and the pollen is very visible. Will have a reduced vase life and petals may fall prematurely.
Ideal cutting stage for Scabious.
Ideal cutting stage for Scabious. Central florets are still in bud whilst the outer florets are open

Floriography

Many flowers have traditional meanings and their inclusion in bouquets or posies indicated a particular sentiment or emotion.  Scabious generally signifies ‘unfortunate love’ with Sweet Scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea) more specifically meaning ‘widowhood’.

Scabiosa atropurpurea

We grow a lot off this S. atropurpurea in the flower garden.  It comes in a wide range of wonderful colours from blue, white, violet, crimson and burgundy.  The darker colours in particular are set off beautifully by the white stamens.  It has a sweet honey like scent and has the common name Sweet Scabious (but is also known as the mourning bride scabious so you may wish to reflect on this if using it in wedding bouquets!).

Although strictly a perennial it is said to only be hardy to zero degrees centigrade.  In our garden in Warwickshire (UK Midlands) it rarely survives the winters and so we treat it like an annual sowing fresh plants each year.  It grows very quickly and flowers throughout the summer if you keep cutting.

When deciding where to plant it think Mediterranean.  Like many flowers if you add too much fertiliser or water you will suppress flowering and get lots of lush foliage instead.

Deep burgundy scabious
Deep burgundy scabious with its white pin cushion stamens makes a striking contrast in this celebration bouquet with dahlias, phlox, liatris and antirrhinums. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Scabiosa caucasica

Scabiosa caucasica is much hardier than S. atropurpurea and is said to be hardy to -18°C.  It originates from the Caucasus, Northern Iran and North Eastern Turkey growing in subalpine meadows and rocky slopes ¹ . Like many Mediterranean plants it is the dampness that will kill it in the winter rather than the cold so it needs to be in a well drained position in the garden.  It is reported¹ to be short lived on acid or wet soils and prefers a chalky or limy soil in full sun.

S. caucasica  has a much flatter flower with a more pronounced centre than S. atropurpurea.  The stems tend to be much sturdier than S. atropurpurea and this makes it an excellent cut flower.  S. caucasica is probably one of our favourite meadow style flowers for incorporating in our country style wedding bouquets at Honey Pot Flowers.  A beautiful flower.

Scabiosa caucasica
Beautiful blue and white country style wedding bouquet incorporating pale blue Scabiosa caucasica, white peonies, blue nigella and white astilbe and veronica. Flowers by Honey Pot Flowers

Knautia macedonica

This is a deep crimson scabious producing many small flowers throughout the summer. It is truely perennial in our garden and is hardy to -20°C or less.  In the wild it grows in scrub and open woods¹.  K. macedonica has been a bit of a labour of love for us having tried on many occasions to germinate it from seed with little success.  Eventually we succeeded and it was worth the effort.

Our treasured plants do however seem to be very tasty and we have to protect them in the early months of the year from both slugs and snails.  Claire Austin does describe it as rabbit resistant although we find we have to protect the young plants from rabbits in the early months.

A charming little plant that adds something very different to the summer garden.  Not terribly useful as a cut flower but lovely in an informal border.

Knautia Knautia macedonica Flower Insect 1626px

(c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). Location credit to the Chanticleer Garden. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Cephalaria gigantea

This one is perhaps something of an impostor in this list.  It is something we have tried to grow from seed on a number of occasions without success.  However, it is such a beautiful plant that I am sure we will try again to get one established.  There is a wonderful specimen in one of our local National Trust properties at Upton House.

As the common name Giant Scabious suggests, C. gigantea is a big plant growing into a large clump of some 6 feet in height.  It is a hardy perennial producing delicate, pale yellow flowers, from June until September.  It is probably not something for the small garden.

Unlike the other scabious listed above, C. gigantea  grows naturally in wet meadows and by streams and is a native of the Caucasus and Northern Turkey¹.

Giant scabious - Flickr - S. Rae
By S. Rae from Scotland, UK (giant scabious) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 

References

  1. “Perennials:  Volume 2 Late perennials” by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix (ISBN:  0-330-29275-7)
  2. LuontoPortti / NatureGate

 


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.

 

Cotoneaster and Pyracantha: Loved by the birds, florists and gardeners alike

 

Looking out across the garden in the autumn sunshine on this November morning  it is the Cotoneasters and Pyracantha that are some of the star plants of the moment.  Their red and orange berries give a spark of colour to the yellow autumn hues of the hedgerow trees.

Perhaps rather over used in municipal planting, especially Cotoneaster, there are many interesting cultivars and species to choose from both to add interest in the garden and for use in floral arrangements.

For an added bonus these shrubs bring the garden wildlife right up to the house windows.  It is such a pleasure watching the birds feeding on the Pyracantha.  This morning in just a few minutes we saw a pair of the most beautiful Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in their red plumage, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) and a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) all feeding together. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are also regular visitors whilst the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) shelter on the branches whilst busily feeding on the insects on the window panes and under the roof tiles.

Varieties in the garden at Waverley

We are not entirely sure of the species and varieties we have here at Honey Pot Flowers so please feel free to comment if you think we have got the identification wrong.

Cotoneaster Cornubia (Cotoneaster X watereri ‘Cornubia’)

This is quite a large fast growing shrub with dramatic arching branches and long willow like leaves.  It has large showy clusters of red berries that stay on the plant much later than the ‘wild’ types of Cotoneaster that we have around the garden.  It is semi-evergreen and has glossy dark green lanceolate shaped leaves which are clean and free from disease.

Cotoneaster 'Cornubia'
Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ in the Honey Pot Flowers garden in mid-November

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus (Cotoneaster salicifoilus ‘Rothschildianus’)

Very similar in habit to Cornubia but has creamy-yellow berries.  It is semi-evergreen in our garden with a lovely arching habit.  The berries hold well.

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus
Cotoneaster Rothschildianus in mid-November in the garden at Waverley

Pyracantha

Related to the Cotoneasters, these plants come in a wide range of colours and the name of our variety is lost in the mists of time.  Ours has orange/red berries and masses of white flowers in early June.  By pure luck we have a dog rose climbing up amongst it and the pretty pink flowers of the rose complement the Pyracantha flowers wonderfully.  It is a big plant and needs regular cutting back (probably more cutting back than we actually get around to) but it has vicious spikes and needs carefully handling.  It is not something that you can put through the shredder and spread on the flower beds as mulch as the thorns remain and get in the dogs’ feet.

Pyracantha
Pyracantha laden with berries in November attracting bullfinches, redwings, thrushes and blackbirds

Floristry

Cotonesters are very useful as foliage throughout the year and can add that additional Christmas feel in November and December.  Their long arching habit and well behaved upward facing foliage make them extremely useful in large floral arrangements for large table centrepieces, door wreaths, church archways and pedestal arrangements.

Ideally the stems should be cut fresh in the morning.  You should slit the stem (about 1 inch) before conditioning for 24-48 hours in clean fresh water with flower food if you have it.  Slitting the stem helps the water uptake.  Even if the stem tips drop at first they will soon perk up over a 24 hour period.  Refresh the water every 24 hours if you are not using immediately.

Cotoneaster foliage
Arching cotoneaster foliage complementing orange and white fragrant roses, sweet william and campanula

Unlike Pyracantha and Berberis, which are very spikey and need to have the spines removed before using, Cotoneaster stems are thornless and therefore much less time consuming (and painful) to work with.

If you want to get to the berries before the birds you can pick them and keep them in water for a good few weeks in a cool place.  Remember to keep changing the water every few days.

Family:  Rosaceae

Origin:  According to Wikipedia Pyrancantha coccinae ranges from North Eastern Spain to Northern Iran whilst the Cotoneasters originate from areas across temperate Asia, Europe and North Africa.

Hardiness:  According to the RHS, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ and Pyracantha are graded as H6 (Hardy in all of UK and northern europe -20 °C to -15 °C)

Propagation

We have always had great success in propagating Cotoneasters by taking hardwood cutting in the Autumn.  Take about a 9 inch cutting (about a pencil thinkness) from mature wood, cutting cleanly just above a node at the top and just below a node at the bottom.  Cut the stem at an angle at the top to help you remember which way up the cutting needs to be planted.

Put the cutting(s) the right way up either into a nursery bed in the ground or into a deep pot filled with a well drained, loam based compost (the deep rose flowerpots are ideal for this).  You can put a number of cuttings into a single pot.  The cuttings should be at least two-thirds of their length under the soil.

Water in well and place them outside where you can look after them.  They will stay in the pot or ground for about 12 months before you pot them on.  Just let them grow leaves and roots during the summer, watering as necessary, and then pot up in the autumn into individual pots or if the roots are big enough into the garden.

Offer any spare ones to your friends!  You will have many more than you need.

Pruning

Pruning in the right way at the right time is critical to maintaining the flowers and ultimately the berries.

With Pyracantha the flowers (and subsequently the berries) are formed on short spur growths on the previous year’s growth.  Any new growth in mid to late summer will need to be left to mature in order to produce the next seasons flowers and berries.

With Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ it is the open branching structure that is so attractive and it is probably best to avoid pruning excessively other than to remove wayward or damaged branches that look out of place.  If you want to reduce the size or thin out the tree we typically use the ‘one-third’ technique on many shrubs.  Each year you remove one-third of the older stems leaving the majority intact.  The next year you remove another one-third of the old stems (leaving any new ones) and the same again in the third year.  In this way you slow reduce the size of the shrub each year but it will still flower and look good in the garden.

Birdlife

We haven’t managed to capture footage of the male bullfinch yet but here are a couple of clips of a female Bullfinch and Redwing enjoying the Pyracantha berries in mid-November.

Further reading

RHS “Pruning” by Christopher Bricknell (ISBN 1-85732-902-3)

 

Over-wintering the dahlias

We had our first serious frost here in Warwickshire on 6 November and the dahlias are now all beginning to die back.  Keeping them in good shape over the winter is an important job at this time of year to ensure that we have great, good quality tubers for bringing on in the spring.

For those we want to bring indoors we cut back the stems and gently lift them from the soil.  After scrapping off the majority of the soil we divide the clumps, if the tubers are large enough, into good strong plants.  These are allowed to dry upside down in a frost free shed in the autumn sunshine before labelling (essential as you will never remember which one is which in the spring), wrapping in newspaper or soft brown paper and storing away in trays.

The objective here is to dry them sufficiently so that they will not rot over winter, to give them enough protection so that they do not get frosted and do not dry out too much.

We often have far too many tubers to dig up and bring indoors and so some plants have to take their chances in the ground.  In the cut flower garden we cut back the foliage, cover with a good layer of dry straw from the local stables and then cover the bed with cloche plastic held down against the wind with bricks.  The dahlias are planted in raised beds which provides some additional drainage when the ground gets very wet.  We have had great success with this technique over the years and although the tubers sprout later than those indoors they soon catch up if you protect them well from the slugs.  Not all will survive but enough do make it through.

The tubers kept in the frost free shed are usually potted up in about March, watered and brought on in the warmth before hardening them off and planting out after all danger of frosts has passed.

Now all that is required is a bit of good fortune and we will have a great show again next year!

Seeking inspiration for autumn planting from four Herefordshire gardens

One of the great things about planning and developing a new flower garden is that it is a wonderful excuse to go out and seek inspiration from other people’s gardens (not that we really need much of an excuse to visit the beautiful gardens across England!).

During last week (w/b 7 October 2017) we visited four varied Herefordshire gardens to find out how they had maintained the colour in their borders into October.  We want to be able to extend the flowering season well into autumn if possible.  We had not visited any of the gardens before and everyone offered something to think about.

Firstly a little about the gardens and then we will say something about the planting combinations we discovered:

Hampton Court Castle (www.hamptoncourt.org.uk)

Located at Hope Under Dinmore just south of Leominster, Hampton Court has been standing by the River Lugg for 600 years.  This wonderful ‘formal’ garden is divided into a number of garden rooms with island pavilions, pleached avenues, grottoes, a yew maze and more.  We thoroughly enjoyed this garden and will try and visit again at other times of year.

Strong formal lines created by box hedges and topiary at Hampton Court Castle Garden

Croft Castle (nationaltrust.org.uk/croftcastle)

A National Trust garden situated near Yarpole and the home of some wonderful ancient oak and spanish chestnut trees.  If you like walking and have a dog the estate is dog friendly and there are a range of well marked walks throughout the parkland.  The castle has a walled garden and working vineyard.

The delightful church at Croft Castle near Yarpole

Hergest Croft Gardens (www.hergest.co.uk)

A plantman’s garden with a wide range of interesting and unusual trees and plants.  Located in the grounds of a building of the arts and crafts period the garden draws on specimens brought back by the plant hunters of the period.  The garden boasts over 90 champion trees.

The arts and craft era house at Hergest Croft Gardens

Berrington Hall (nationaltrust.org.uk/berringtonhall)

An absolutely stunning Georgian Manor and parkland near Leominster.  The manor sits within the last landscape commission of ‘Capability’ Brown as well as having excellent walled gardens, kitchen garden and orchards.

The Georgian mansion at Berrington Hall sits within extensive parkland designed by Capability Brown

October colour in these enchanting gardens

The first observation is that it is clearly possible to maintain the colour in your herbaceous borders right into October as long as you are clear of frost.

At Berrington Hall we saw beds of complementary colours brimming with colourful cosmos in a range of varieties and shades, complemented with pink malope (Malope trifida).  These beds also made use of Nicotiana sylvestris creating a wonderful structural candelabra effect (and I suspect that in the evening these beds would also be bathed in scent).  Contrasting some of the darker, purple cosmos was the lovely perennial sunflower which we assume was the variety ‘Lemon Queen’

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The borders at Berrington Hall used complementary varieties of cosmos and malope in pink and purple contrasted with the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’.

Berrington Hall also made wonderful use of grasses within the borders which really come into their own as this time of year.  The tall Miscanthus with its slightly pinkish seeds heads sits well with the candelabra of the Nicotiana sylvestris, Malope trifida and cleome.  The Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ brings in a subtle red/brown which works well with the rest of the border.

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Herbaceous border mixing tall Miscanthus grasses with Nicotiana sylvestris, mallow, cleome and Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’

But of course contrasting colours can give a totally different effect and bring a zing to a border.  At Croft Castle the perennial sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’ sits alongside the tall floating stems of Verbena bonariensis.  In the evening light this Verbena almost has a fluorescence as the light fades.

 

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Contrasting colours of yellow Helinium ‘Lemon Queen’ and Verbena bonariensis at Croft Castle

And lets us not forget the strong shades of autumn colour that can really bring a garden to life.  Here at Croft Castle the Vitis coignetiae was in its full glory in the walled garden.

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Vitis coignetiae providing stunning autumn colours against the formal yew topiary at Croft Castle

At Hergest Croft Garden we saw a more traditional autumn border of michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white.  Very much loved by butterflies at this time of year these combinations are not to be under estimated.

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Long borders of autumn flowering michaelmas daisies, sedum and saxifrage in pink, mauve and white at Hergest Croft Garden

In contrast, Hergest Croft also showed that the more tender perennials such as Salvia confertiflora and Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’ can still provide striking border plants at this time of year if frosty nights have not yet arrived.  Mixed with dahlias and other salvias and edged with Liriope muscari these borders are still brimming with colour into October.

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Borders of salvias and dahlias still in full bloom at Hergest Croft Garden nicely edged to the path with Liriope muscari

Dahlias also featured in the beds at Hampton Court Castle gardens along with white cosmos to give a light airy feel and more cottage style to the borders.  A very striking addition was the strong architectural shape of the deep burgundy amaranthus, grasses and white cleome in these borders – stunningly effective planting.

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Architectural planting of amaranthus, grasses and cleome complement the cottage style planting of dahlias and white cosmos in these borders at Hampton Court Castle
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Beautiful combinations of form and texture in these borders at Hampton Court Castle

In addition to this stunning planting of complementary shades, many of the borders a Hampton Court Castle also used contrasting colours to great effect.  Combinations of strong blue with a very dense double ‘feverfew’ and also the yellow perennial Rudbeckia fulgida with tall stands of blue Monkshood (Aconitum) made wonderful combinations for an October border.

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Striking blue and white combination provide something very different at Hampton Court Castle for the autumn garden
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Large stands of perennial Rudbeckia fulgida contrast well with the blue Monkshood at Hampton Court Castle gardens

Plenty to think about…

Well there is certainly no doubt that, with planning, your herbaceous borders can look full of colour right into October.  We will certainly be adding some of these combinations to our future planting plans for the new garden and I hope it has also inspired you to see that the garden has much to offer at this time of year and is not simply shutting down for the winter.

Future plans for the cutting garden

Cutting garden plan small

The Honey Pot Flowers cutting garden has been a very productive space over the last six years providing us with a wide range of beautiful cut flowers for use in our wedding flowers, gifts and celebration bouquets.

However to grow efficiently and provide easy cutting the garden was created in long straight beds using large blocks of the same species or variety. It worked very well for us but we have decided that we want now to develop the garden to be more aesthetically pleasing, still a cutting garden but somewhere that you want to stop, sit and enjoy.

Visitors often think the cutting garden will be a wonderful sight, full of colour, but in reality there is often little to see as it has all been picked.  By its very nature an efficient, large commercial cutting garden will be constantly picking and there should only be a few flowers in bloom.

Our aim over the next few years is to move away from a production orientated flower garden to one that a wonderful place to be.  No longer large blocks of a single species but a garden that has wonderful colour combinations and fragrant flowers, changing naturally as the seasons develop.

During the last six years, working as wedding florists with seasonal British flowers, we have learnt a lot about bringing together stunning combinations and arrangements.  We recognise that these ‘bouquets’ cannot necessarily be created in a garden setting as many of the plants you use in a bouquet may need different growing conditions.   However, what we are seeking to create as you look across the garden each day of the year is a series of colour themed cameos along similar lines.

This vision requires a major change to the layout and design of our flower garden.  It will continue to include a wide range of annuals, biennials and perennials but will increasingly involve more shrubs and roses.

I call this approach formal informality.  We have used this in other parts of the garden very effectively, combining formal well clipped hedging with cottage garden planting of foxgloves, hesperis and campanulas.  In my view the association works very well and creates a striking effect.

In addition to adding more formal hedging and having fun with our planting plans we are also looking to use height variations to add additional interest.

More details to follow …

Quinces

One of the beauties of growing your own fruit is that you can grow things that you don’t often come across in the supermarket.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is something that is well worth growing both for its large, delightful pink blossom in the spring and its large yellow fruits in the autumn.

Quince fruit

The tree in our orchard was planted in 1995 and did take some years to get going but now fruits reliably year after year.  The fruits do seem prone to scab but this only effects the fruits on the surface and does not impact the flesh at all.

Quince flowers dusted with pink

At first glance the fruits might seem daunting being hard and solid and difficult to cut through.  You will need to feel strong to prepare these!  However, peeled and cored and boiled for around an hour in a limited amount of water creates a wonderful, fragrant peach coloured puree that is quite unique.  Mash up (technical term!) with a hand blender and add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and you have the most wonderful puree for use in a wide range of desserts.

The following Quince Crumble Tart from BBC Good Food recipe is one we have done many times and always works well.   The quinces will fill your house with a beautiful quince perfume.

Quince Crumble Tart

Tip: We freeze cooked fruit in large muffin trays.  When frozen tip them out into a bag, label and pop back in the freezer.  You can then take out exactly the amount you need when you need it.  One frozen block fits nicely in a ramekin dish, then topped with crumble mix and placed in the oven gives a quick pud.