If I were to grow one cut flower…

I wrote a post in January about how to grow a cut flower patch. Of all garden projects, making a cut flower patch is the most straightforward and instantly rewarding. You get the joy of raising seedlings, and within three months can be cutting flowers.

This was my cut flower patch on the 19th May, on the day that I planted my seedlings into the beds (you might also be interested to see tulips growing in this patch immediately before).

Cut flower patch being planted out in May.

I sowed sweet peas around obelisks at the end of March, when the tulips were still growing in the beds. This is my favourite way of growing sweet peas: far less faffy than sowing into loo rolls and transplanting.

The other annuals (cosmos, phlox, salvia, scabious, cornflowers, amaranthus and morning glory) were sown in March and raised indoors until the risk of frost had passed (for us, this is early May).

Annuals grow at an astonishing rate. This is the cut flower patch six weeks later, at the beginning of July:

Cut flower patch at the beginning of July.

You can see that I have put sticks into the corners of each bed, and along the length at intervals of about a metre. I then tied string between to make a sort of cat’s cradle. This supports the plants as they grow. If you don’t provide any support, there is a danger that the plants all topple into one another in heavy rain or strong wind. I have also watered the patch each week, as we have very little rain in summer. In return for my modest efforts, this patch has started to reward me.

This is the first time I have grown Ipomoea (Morning Glory). This is Ipomoea ‘Grandpa Otts’.

Ipomoea (Morning Glory) ‘Grandpa Otts’

These are not so good as cut flowers, but they are a lovely sight in my early morning visits to the cutting patch. By midday, each flower has exhausted itself and curls up for a nap. The next day there is a new crop of flowers. Here they are mid-morning, looking a bit bat-like and gothy.

Ipomoea (Morning Glory) ‘Grandpa Otts’

Morning Glory are eager little seedlings. They very quickly scaled their support, and they have started to feel around for adventures further afield.

Ipomoea (Morning Glory) ‘Party Dress’

The next to flower was annual phlox. This too is a first for me, and could not have been easier to grow. They germinated quickly and reliably, and put on strong growth.

Phlox drummondii grandiflora ‘Brilliant’

They are living up to their name, Phlox drummondii grandiflora ‘Brilliant’. They provide a sea of pink, frothing out and over in the middle bed.

Phlox drummondii grandiflora ‘Brilliant’

The confectionery pink of the phlox is lovely with sweet peas. Here it is with Lathyrus odoratus ‘Champagne Mix’. I love the dark eye of the phlox, and the perfect five-petalled shape. Each flower falls off cleanly, looking quite lovely scattered around the base of a vase.

Phlox ‘Brilliant’ with Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas) ‘Pink Champagne Mix’

Cosmos is just as easy to grow. I am growing two new varieties this year. This is ‘Xsenia’. It has a slightly orange tinge to its pink flowers, which I find intriguing. It is not as floriferous or vigorous as the wonderful ‘Xanthos’ I grew last year. The jury is out.

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xsenia’

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Velouette’ is another new variety for me. I love the candy stripe of white and cherry-pink. Unfortunately not all plants have come up with this variation. Some are mainly just a dull cardinal red. I have ruthlessly pulled these up. It is almost inevitable that you plant too close in a cut flower patch. A little mid-season ‘editing’ gives breathing room to those plants which remain.

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Velouette’

I am also trying out a new variety of cornflower, Centaurea cyanus ‘Classic Magic’. You see this is the joy of a cut flower patch: you can grow new varieties every year. You can never get bored!

Centaurea cyanus (cornflower) ‘Classic Magic’

I didn’t grow sweet peas last year. Oh, I missed them! I am remedying that by growing four varieties this year. This is Lathyrus odoratus ‘Champagne Mix’.

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Champagne Mix’

Morning Glory might have got off to a quick start, but the sweet peas have more than caught up. Where Morning Glory twirls itself up a support as quickly as possible, sweet peas grow out as well as up. They spread in all directions, twisting this way and that, doubling back if you tie them in, turning their heads if they get distracted, trying it another way for a while… They are the contortionists of the plant world.

The marvellous tendrils of sweet peas!

They like to make friends, holding hands with one another, and anyone else who might come their way. I love the way their tendrils echo one another, as if they are dancing in a chorus.

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Lord Nelson’

I love to visit sweet peas when they are glittered with dew. This is ‘King Edward VII’.

Lathyrus odoratus ‘King Edward VII’

And this is ‘Midnight’. This is my favourite. Its flowers are huge. The unripe petals are at first double cream swirled with blackcurrant. Maybe damson. The cream is then swallowed up by ripest, deepest damson. The petal texture starts off satiny, and turns to silk. And oh, the scent!

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight’

I love to see how a new sweet pea flower develops. When you cut a flower (and you should: this promotes new flowers), a new bud shoots from the base, uncurling with a leaf, and tendril, and a new flower. Sweet peas are endlessly generous.

New sweet pea flower, hanging its head.

If you snip all the flowers, the sweet pea plant will replenish itself within a couple of days. I am struggling to keep up with my four teepees. Every couple of days everyone in the house gets a jar of sweet peas by their bed. There is a big vase on the kitchen table, and another in the living room. I am taking them to work, giving them to the post lady, the milkman…

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Champagne Mix’

It is impossible to arrange sweet peas badly. They just fall into elegance. Did I mention the scent? Don’t tell the roses, but I think sweet pea may be my favourite flower scent.

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Lord Nelson’ (purple-blue), ‘King Edward VII’ (hot pink) and ‘Midnight’ (plum).

They are fun to mix up with other cut flowers too. Here they are with salvia in one jug, and with cosmos in another.

Sweet peas and Salvia patens ‘Blue Angel’

A new day, a new bouquet. That’s the beauty of a cut flower patch.

If I could only grow one cut flower, it would have to be the sweet pea. The magic of growing something from seed, the delight of seeing coiling tendrils, curling bud and delicate flower, the satisfaction of having blooms to cut, and clouds of scent to fill a room.

Simple pleasures. Endless delight.

The Mindful Gardener welcomes your cut flower queries!

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    Good to read what you are growing in your cutting beds, Ali – not sure about that new cornflower though! Do you find string at 1m intervals is enough? I intend to try netting next year, having steadfastly put off trying something preventative instead of staking when required (usually too late!)

    1. I am going to try netting too, Cathy! When I saw it at Sarah Raven’s garden it did strike me as a really good solution. My cornflowers are leaning, and I do find them a bit difficult to manage as there are so many to deadhead. I remember why I haven’t grown them in a while!

  2. Emma Cownie says:

    I laughed at the phrase “my modest efforts”. These are beautiful. Just out of interest, how many hours a day/week do you spend tending your amazing garden? Do your family see much of you, or do they have to go outside to see you?

    1. I tend to spend my Saturday mornings in the garden, doing the more major things: weeding, cutting back, watering if it has been dry. I do a bit of deadheading or picking flowers on weekday evenings. Fortunately I have a gardening partner so our paths criss-cross and meet for coffee! Our now teenage children used to flit around like butterflies, then have an indoor hibernation phase, but my eldest is coming out into the light again now and joins me!!

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        Ah, the gardening partner probably makes all the difference!! An extra pair of hands is essential, I think!

      2. Yes, it is good to divide things up a bit, and have company for coffee time! Also to appreciate the fruits of our labours. Stevie is chief jam maker and ice-cream maker!

  3. Ann Mackay says:

    It’s grey and raining here (we need it), so your beautiful photographs have been a source of much joy and summeriness,. 🙂 Your flowers are all gorgeous, but the new cornflower and the sweet pea ‘Midnight’ have got me all excited…and planning a cutting bed for next year…

    1. Ah, that is lovely to hear, Ann! I love the planning stage almost as much as the tending!

      1. Ann Mackay says:

        Planning is fun….but then I tend to find that I need an elastic-sided garden! 🙂

      2. That is a brilliant expression! Me too!

  4. Tish Farrell says:

    So heartening, bringing in fresh flowers from the garden. What fine borders you have created,Ali. Hard to beat the scent of sweet peas.

    1. It is a really delicious smell, isn’t it?

  5. Lovely cut flowers Ali. I have not tried any of those varieties, but you are so right about the nearly instant pleasure they give and bring to the garden.

  6. Heyjude says:

    Your sweet peas are the stars! Mine have been badly eaten this year so I was thinking I’d give them a miss next year, but maybe I’ll try your method of sowing the seeds outside in March. If they germinate maybe they’ll be a bit stronger and be able to withstand the slug attacks. I rather like the Xanthos cosmos, not grown it but the colour is nice. Not sure about Xsenia.

    1. I’m with you with Xsenia. The colour is lovely when the flower has just opened, but it quickly looks a bit queasy.

  7. Oh, so beautiful! I am very jealous of the morning glory, I tried growing it this year, both raising in the loo rolls and sowing directly into open ground and it was an all out failure, is there a secret? I got my seeds off a friend who had a beautiful plant in her garden, should I have gone for a veritable seed supplier instead? Your sweet peas are the sweetest little creatures, I love how you captured their entwining tendrils!

    1. I just bought a couple of Mr Fothergill seed packets on a whim, and they were as easy as cosmos. Great germination, grew like the clappers, and flowered quickly. Maybe it was a good year this year?? I have heard of people struggling to get flowers.

  8. Eliza Waters says:

    I agree, sweet peas are a must-grow. Their scent is intoxicating!

  9. Angela says:

    I love them, too!

  10. I’m so loving my sweet peas this year and yes what a joy to pick bunch after bunch. I walked into the kitchen the other day and the smell was gorgeous.

  11. John Smith says:

    I grew Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Xsenia’ this year, as advertised on the front cover of Sarah Ravens catalogue. The jury is now in – its rubbish. The bloom looks like a specimen of the wonderful Coasmos Dazzler, that has been left in the pot too long and not been watered – its dire (IMHO).

    1. I agree, John. Mine is on the compost heap!

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