Sandwiched between the Christmas cheer in December and the promise of Spring, as it slowly starts to reveal itself in February, January can seem a lack lustre month. But now is the time for gathering resources. For browsing seed catalogues and making a ‘wish list’ for the year ahead. In the kitchen garden at Forde Abbey we interweave flowers with vegetables, a mix of cut-and-come again classics with seasonal favourites, something to enjoy both in the garden, and in the vase.
To help you navigate the pages of the seed catalogues and decide what to choose, Grace Alexander has put together a list of some of her favourites.
In my years as a gardener and as a flower farmer and a little bit of a florist, I’ve learned what works. Actually, I have listened and read and talked to a lot of very very good floral designers. I have my favourites and my workhorses and my cut and come again stalwarts. There are flowers that just go together, and if they look good in the garden next door to one another, cut a few stems of each, put them together in your hand and chances are they’ll look pretty marvellous in a jug by a bedside too.
The secret to great flower arrangements is variety. You need some round flowers, some spiky flowers, some foliage and some contrasting texture and tone; some foliage, a focal flower, a filler and a something to bring it all together.
Did I say the key was variety? Too much variety and you have a children’s paintbox, not in a good way. (Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder). The key is cohesion. There are colours that sing together, that are more than the sum of their parts. Palettes of tones that just go. Just pick which one fits you as a person (or the person you are getting them for) and you are half way there to having your own tailor made cutting garden.
Like cow parsley, Ammi is the perfect filler. It goes with almost everything but looks just as good as a structural single stem. Stagger sowing to get it all season but don’t care for it too much; it thrives on neglect.
Bells Of Ireland
Bells need cold to germinate so put them in the freezer for at least a week for you sow them out in the garden. You only need a few of these as they’re so prolific but make sure you stake to get the best out of them. And mind the thorns.
Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘Purity’
Every cutting garden needs Purity. It will give and give all Summer long, and the leaves smell like happiness. Don’t forget to stake it though, it needs a bit of support holding up all those amazing blooms.
Nigella Miss Jekyll
A new variety of the most beautiful flower there is. This is a double white form and so is twice as lovely. And make that twice as useful as the seed heads make for a perfect autumn filler. Keep sowing every few weeks for flowers all Summer.
If you can let it self sow, you’ll be blessed with this one for life. It’s tricky though, because it makes an adorable cut flower. I struggle to leave it standing.
Phlox Drummondii ‘Creme Brulee’
Apparently the on point colours right now are dusty rose, milky coffee, champagne, buttercream, apricot and moonstone. Crème brulee has got them all.
Vines are everywhere right now. Trailing, climbing, tumbling out of the best bouquets at the best weddings and the best parties. These are just perfect.
Nicotiana Hybrida ‘Tinkerbell’
A new colour and it is a stunner. These are tiny dust-like seeds, so be super careful. If you mix with a bit of sand or vermiculite before sowing, they’re a bit easier to handle. And water from below.
A love it or hate it one; it looks like a shrimp. But I’ve had it flowering at Christmas and it has incredible foliage that takes it to the next level. And even if you don’t like it much, the bees will adore it.
Not a cut flower as such (the petals drop off as soon as you try) but the most stunning seed heads. They’re big plants so give them some room and they’ll reward you in spades.
Scabiosa Atropurpurea ‘Fata Morgana’
Scabious are the perfect cut flower. These ones are delicate, button-like flowers in the perfect muted shade of blush and buttercream.
Scabiosa Atropurpurea ‘Salmon Queen’
Scabious are the perfect cut flower. These ones are tall, button-like flowers in an unusual and dramatic salmon-rose colour.
I had urns and urns of this at our wedding. This is a mix of colours developed in my flower field, each of them utterly beautiful. Reds, coppers, greens and pinks. Grows big and self sows prolifically.
“Do what you please, follow your own star; be original if you want to be and don’t if you don’t want to be. Just be natural and light-hearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylized and wild and daring and conservative, and learn and learn and learn. Open your mind to every form of beauty.”
Grace Alexander is based in Somerset, selling packets of seeds in handmade envelopes to cherish and inspire. www.gracealexanderflowers.co.uk/