January is a slower month on the flower plot and so it’s a great time to be making plans for the coming season. I spend time looking through the seed and bulb catalogues to see if there’s anything new and exciting I want to trial growing although I now have a pretty good idea of the tried and tested varieties that grow well for us and sell well too.
When we first took on our new plot in 2017, I started the planning process by creating a scaled drawing of how I wanted the plot to be laid out and marked in all the paths and beds.
As the plot has evolved, I’ve also marked in all the permanent plantings where we’ve added roses and perennials.
Now I have a template that I photocopy each time I’m ready to fill in the details of the temporary annual plantings for the coming season. This happens twice a year – once in January when I plan out the crops that will flower through the summer into the autumn and again around mid-summer when I plan what we’ll be planting out in the autumn and overwintering to give us our spring season flowers.
The key to growing cut flowers is succession and this is one of the topics that can pose the biggest challenge to new growers. I think it helps to approach the problem from two angles. The first way to increase the flowering season in your cutting garden is to plant a variety of different flowers from the major plant groups e.g.. spring bulbs, biennials, hardy annuals etc.
The second is to stagger the sowing time of your crops. I aim for all the different flowers in one bed to come into flower around the same time as each other. Then I make sure that each bed is planned to flower at a different time. Although this is far from an exact science, being subject to the vagaries of the English weather, there are ways to approximate this and so develop a successional sowing plan. We go into this in more detail in our Grow, Blossom and Flourish workshop
We have a very small plot (only 1/10th acre) and so are always trying to work out how to get as many great quality flowers out of it as possible. Another successional planning method I’m trialing at the moment is to pair two sets of plants together to follow one after the other in a bed. A good example of this would be Tulips and Dahlias. The tulips are planted around November after the Dahlias have been lifted and flower in April and early May. Once they are lifted in May (we grow tulips as annuals) the bed can be amended and the Dahlias planted out again. There may be an issue with tulip fire building up in the soil with repeated replanting so I’m also working on a rotation plan to move the pairs of crops around the plot into different beds each year. I’m planning to spend the next couple of seasons refining this technique for other crop pairs, seeing whether I can adjust the sowing/planting times to dovetail together well enough for this to be a usable planning and growing method. Watch this space…
Once I’ve mapped out where I want each variety of flower to go, I create a mood board for each bed to check that I have a good mix of colours and flower forms in flower together at the same time. It wouldn’t be so good if I ended up with a load of round Dahlias, Zinnias, Cosmos and Asters all at the same time and no spikes or filler flowers to mix in with them in arrangements. I make mood boards either by cutting pictures from seed catalogues or printing them from the internet. Sometimes when you’re head is full of planning ideas, facts, figures and numbers, it can be really helpful to have images so you can visualise what all these details will translate into.
The final part of my planning process is to draw up a spreadsheet calculating the sowing dates for everything I want to grow. On this document I also record where each variety will be planted, how big an area it will take up, how many of that variety will be in that patch and when I’m aiming to plant them out. I find this really helpful because it becomes my blueprint for the rest of the season. It means I don’t have to be making decisions during the busy times – I just do what the plan says. It’s a working document so I regularly make notes on it and update it. It’s not set in stone – as with all gardening, you’re very dependent on the weather and so many other factors. The dates on the spreadsheet are guidelines only and I don’t always stick to them exactly. Still it helps me feel I’ve got a handle on the growing when there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
This level of planning isn’t for everyone. If spreadsheets terrify you, just ignore it. The key thing is to grow the flowers you love and enjoy doing so. This style of growing really appeals to me though and good organisation and planning is key to us getting as much out of our small plot as possible.
If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your own cut flower garden, we hope you’ll consider coming on our Grow, Blossom and Flourish workshop. We run it at our flower plot and there are four different dates to choose from this year:
Places can be booked through the webshop links above. We hope to see some of you then.