Growing cut flowers on the allotment

by Lila Das Gupta

We've just been allocated more space on the allotment ... As well as planting many more spuds - which will keep the 'old man' happy - we can also plant the cutting garden my daughter always wanted.

Sunflower in bloomWe've just been allocated more space on the allotment, so we now have a full sized plot. As well as planting many more spuds - which will keep the 'old man' happy - we can also plant the cutting garden my daughter always wanted. Despite the distractions of computers and mobile phones, it seems that 11-year-old young ladies still imagine themselves frolicking in a flower garden with a trug across their arm.

We've already got a bed of blood-red dahlias, which provide a lot of flowers for the house. My favourites include 'Nuit d'ete' (Summer Nights), a spiky cactus variety. We also have 'Chat Noir', which is rather similar, but a little smaller. 'Ragged Robin' has delicate, red petals, and works well when combined with the other two.

If you want a good purple dahlia, 'Orfeo' is another cactus type which goes well with 'Karma Lagoon', a water lily variety with striking violet petals. I like mixing different shapes of the same colour so I don't have to worry if they all go together.

This year I'm going to copy a lovely combination I saw at a friend's house, also grown at the allotment. My friend's vase contained yellow sunflowers and yellow dahlias (any yellow dahlia will do) and what looked like pale yellow daisies with a chocolate centre. The latter turned out to be an annual chrysanthemum: 'Eastern Star'. All of the above are easy to grow and will also help attract vital pollinators to your vegetable crops.

There's still time to get dahlias started now and get a head start on the season. When you buy the dried tubers, start them off in pots with general purpose compost and water well. Keep them protected and then plant them out in May when all danger of frost has passed. You can keep dahlias in the ground over winter, providing you give them a very thick mulch of manure or compost. In the spring, take the compost away and spread some slug pellets over the crown, then recover with a bit of compost to save new shoots from the ravages of slug damage.

Cosmos is another good flower for cutting. This year we're growing 'Dazzler', which has gorgeous deep pink petals.

Sweet peas are another must for any cutting garden. If you haven't got your plants going already, you could invest in some plug plants (mail order is much better). Prepare the soil well with some rich compost and, like dahlias feed once a week with a general purpose feed.

Nigella damascena 'Miss Jekyll'Nigella damascena is another attractive and easy plant to grow. The seeds can be tossed in the ground and will happily grow without much attention.

Last, but certainly not least, we're going to town on zinnias. They make great cut flowers that you can really admire up close. 'Art Deco' is a mix of red, pink, lavender and purple with cactus-like flowers. Z. 'Giant Wine Bouquet' has burgundy flowers. We're also sowing Z. 'Blackcurrant Sorbet' and Z. 'Orange King'. Orange is a great colour to combine with purples, pinks and blues to add zing, or if you prefer, lime green.

When I'm cutting flowers, I always make sure I have a bucket of water with me so I can put the stalks in straight away. It's not quite as romantic as a trug, but it does seem to keep the flowers going for longer.

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Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 17:50

Personally I'd stay away from Nigella which now come up all over my allotment every year!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 19:32

im growing sun russain gaint sunflowers up and down mt plot on the borders there great massive bin lid heads plus great for the birds when they go to waste seeds a plenty

Gardeners' World Web User 18/03/2010 at 22:02

I'm growing sunflowers as well. Skyscrapers - they were outstanding last year.

Gardeners' World Web User 19/03/2010 at 07:49

Sunflowers are also great for feeding birds later and at the allotments where I am in South Devon we all seem to sow bee attracting flowers for pollination and encourageing bees generally which are seriously in decline at the moment. Phacelia is a good one. C.D.

Gardeners' World Web User 19/03/2010 at 12:05

I have just arranged for a beekeeper to put some hives in my field.It will be fascinating to see them buzzing about and as well as the fruit trees and insect friendly flowers that I grow I shall plant lots of annuals in the veg plot just for them to enjoy. I'm sure it will less stressful than trying unsuccessfully to stop the slugs eating most of my veggies.

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