Blooming, beautiful and British; To celebrate British Flowers Week, a group of artisan florists choose five of our favourite blooms and offer advice on how to grow them for cutting. Hannah Stephenson reports.
I'VE always found that buying flowers is so much less rewarding than growing them myself. When I see a beautiful bouquet, I often consider whether I could replicate its contents in my own garden.
As the forthcoming British Flowers Week (June 15-19) aims to encourage people to think about where their flowers come from - about seasonality, locally grown blooms - it may be time to have a go at growing your own cut flowers. Think about growing some of our favourites and find out what's on trend with the following top tips from artisan growers.
PEONIES "PEONIES are always popular and will be at their peak during British Flowers Week," says Rachel Siegfried of Green And Gorgeous (www.greenandgorgeousflowers.co.uk). "We are finding that the single peonies are really trendy in lemons and corals. Single varieties such as 'Coral Charm' and 'Claire de Lune' are particularly beautiful."
Top tips: Always plant peonies shallow, never deep, literally just below the surface. You have to wait for three years until you can start picking from them. Pick your peonies at the 'marshmallow stage' when the coloured buds are soft to the touch.
That way your peonies will definitely open properly and have a good 10 days' vase life.
SWEET PEAS "SWEET peas are one of the classic English cut flowers, but they are plants that you can't leave in the garden and forget! They need a bit of work," says Gill Hodgson of Fieldhouse Flowers (www.fieldhouseflowers.co.uk), founder of Flowers From The Farm.
Top tips: Don't plant them out too early, as they do get checked by frost. Successionally sow them every four weeks, because sweet peas are only at their best for picking for about four weeks and then the stems go short and get pollen beetle. Take time to dead-head them and tie them in, says Rachel Siegfried, who will be opening her nursery for Pick-Your-Own Sweet Peas, tours and flower demonstrations during British Flowers Week.
"I support my sweet peas with rows of canes to clamber over," adds Carole Potilla, of Tuckshop Flowers (www.tuckshopflowers.com). "Don't overcrowd your sweet peas, because if you do it gets too dry and they can get mildew."
ALSTROEMERIA THEY may be deemed old-fashioned but brides love them, especially the peach and lemon shades, says Siegfried.
"Alstroemeria are very popular in shades of peaches, apricots, creams and pinks and they last for ages. They start flowering in June and then tend to still be flowering in October to November," says Claire Brown, of Plant Passion (www.plantpassion.co.uk).
Top tips: Plant them in a sheltered site, in part shade or full sun, any time between May and August in good soil with plenty of organic matter at the roots. Water them regularly and stake all the taller forms to stop them collapsing in the wind. Pick them regularly to get successional waves of flowers.
CORNFLOWERS "CORNFLOWERS are such a traditionally English flower. As well as the commonly known blue, the pink and white are very popular. Customers love the black cornflowers too for something quite different and funky," says Brown.
"I don't have a whole bed of cornflowers, but mix them into the border between the roses. They are great 'cut and come again' annuals. I sow some in the greenhouse in September to plant out in March and then direct sow for succession planting," says Potilla.
Top tips: "Cornflowers need more space than you think. I always space mine 30-35cm apart. Most people scatter the seeds too closely together.
The more space you give them, the more flowers you get from them," says Brown.
LARKSPUR EVERYBODY knows about delphiniums, but they take longer to establish. Larkspur is the annual delphinium and is ready to pick earlier. People love them in mixed bunches of blues, pinks and whites. The stems are really thick so they last for ages because they can hold more water, says Brown.
Top tip: "Take out the main stem and you get eight flowering stems," she advises.
British Flowers Week runs from June 15-19. For event details go to www.britishflowersweek.com
Peonies in bloom, left, and a fabulous display of sweet peas
Top to bottom: LARKSPUR, astroemeria, salvia and cornflower