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Sowing the seeds of success...

Byline: Elizabeth Shaheen

Gertrude Jekyll wrote in 1900: "No intentional arrangement of flowers in the ordinary way gives an effect so good as that of a bunch held easily in the hand as flower by flower is cut and put in water without fresh arrangement."

Try it and you will see exactly what she means.

I am a reluctant flower-picker. In fact, the only time I cut flowers from the garden is when we have guests and I want to share with them some of our garden blooms.

It always seems to me that when cutting for a vase it is taking from Peter to give to Paul.

Besides, cut flowers are so fleeting in a vase and if I leave them on the plant then they are liable to live on for days, if not for weeks.

Nevertheless, when I do manage to pluck up enough courage to pick my own flowers, it fills me with immense joy.

This is especially so when I gather flowers for my husband's office - particularly when they are scented.

When I do gather-up a bunch of garden flowers, I like to preserve, as far as is achievable, the inherent beauty and spirit of the plant I have stolen from.

In bygone days in England, it was common practice to reserve an area of the vegetable garden to grow flowers for cutting; greenhouses, also, were a place in which to raise them. in addition to flowering pot plants for interior decoration of the halls and reception rooms of town and country mansions and houses.

I nurture our flowers, herbs and vegetables at once, for they are grown together, for I long ago gave up on surrendering an area of garden to vegetables alone.

I have also always grown my herbs in the shrub border, or in the flower gardens.

A cut flower garden can be achieved in a relatively small arena. Perhaps all the space you have or can spare is a ribbon of garden, but this in itself will be enough.

Where space is limited, a cut-flower-garden would be most welcoming along a path that leads to the front door.

This allows you to begin your cutting from the extremities and work towards the door.

Autumn is the time to sow for a spring flowering-concert and you should sow your seeds in a well-prepared bed, fed a few months early with a generous amount of manures. I use sheep, cow and horse manures, or a mix of all three.

Before sowing, I water the area very well each day for several days so that the ground is beautifully moist, but not a mud-bath.

I then plan the scheme and lay the seed packets on the ground to indicate their plot; the talls at the back, the intermediaries in the middle and the small-growing-forms to the front as edging, or as ground cover.

Don't forget to use some taller forms to punctuate the scheme. Variation of height will bestow great interest to your design.

As I sow, I retain the empty seed packet and place a named label to indicate the species.

Sometimes - if I feel that the species needs a helping hand in order to germinate - I place an-inch-layer of potting compost (to which I have added some vermiculite) on top of the garden soil, in a drift-like-effect.

I then thinly sow my seeds and cover them with a fine layer of vermiculite. For large seeds, I sow them to a depth twice their size.

Finally, I cover the arena with some netting, in order to protect the sown area from the birds and other garden visitors.

The netting then acts as a trampoline for Tilly the cat to entertain herself and displease me? Intensely!

It is important to keep the arena moist, but not sodden. I water daily until germination begins. Some seed germinates more quickly than do others, so it is still important to maintain a moist atmosphere, for should the area dry out then the seeds will amount to nothing.

Once the seedlings are of a good size, the roots need to be encouraged to search for water to grow strong and healthy in order to produce good strong, healthy plants.

Therefore, once the seedlings are up and running, I water less often but "deeply" when I do.

Plants are categorised hardy, half hardy and tender and it is the hardy and half hardy plant species that are ideal for Bahrain's spring gardens.

Species good for cutting are Cosmos of all forms, but try Cosmos 'Double Click' and 'Psyche White'; aster, bedding-dahlias, godetia, clarkia, sweet William, Brompton stocks, sunflowers, Rudbeckia hirta 'Kelveden Star', Rudbeckia hirta 'Green Eyes', Rudbeckia hirta 'Prairie Sun', Scabiosa 'Ebony & Ivor', Coreopsis grandiflora 'Early Sunrise' and Mayfield Giant', Sweet-smelling Resedia odorata, Crepis aurea, Gaillardia pulchella, Centaurea cyanus (cornflowers) and Larkspur.

With Antirrhinum majus all sorts are ideal, but 'The Bride' is a stunning intermediate frothy-white form and is the first perfumed snapdragon.

You should also be aware of foliage for your arrangements and Perilla frutescens, Plantago major 'Rubrifolia' and Bupleurum griffithii 'Green Gold' are excellent annuals to grow for their foliage.

Although the flowers of sweet peas are very fleeting in water and need to be replaced fairly frequently, usually the second day, their greenery? With lovely tendrily pieces? Last well and the flowers are best suited when their own foliage is used to set them off.

Sweet peas in a vase? Shared only with their own foliage? Must be one of the great joys of life. I therefore, urge you to include sweet peas in your cut-flower garden selection.

Also, don't forget to sow some grass species, for grasses in a flower arrangement complement so well.

And as the flower season draws to a close, look to the flowers' capsules and pods, for these will be invaluable in an arrangement.

Copyright 2008 Gulf Daily News

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jan 18, 2009
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