Author: Louise Curley
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd
I confess – I have been known to buy flowers. For anyone who craves plants – better still – flowering plants, sometimes there’s little alternative to store-bought blooms. In dark, cold midwinter, a grocery store bouquet can fill the gap until the first sprigs of winter honeysuckle open on my backyard hedge.
But even during the warmer seasons of floral blitz, I hesitate to denude my flower borders in order to furnish decorations for the house. Then I found English gardener Louise Curley’s The Cut Flower Patch. Sure, for centuries, gardeners with enough space have reserved spots solely for cut flowers. But in my small, increasingly shaded yard, a dedicated cutting garden seemed an unattainable luxury.
Still, a gardener can dream, so I leafed through Curley’s book and noticed that she didn’t strip her home garden either. Instead, she turned to that British institution – allotment gardens -- community gardens.
I’ll come back to that allotment/community garden concept in a minute. For now, I want to praise The Cut Flower Patch. In clear but charming language, Curley lays the out the basics, with chapters on suitable plants. Beautiful blossoms are a must, but other considerations include how heavily a plant flowers; whether it has stem lengths suitable for cutting – eliminating the dwarfish cultivars breeders in recent decades have concentrated on. She provides information also on cultivating foliage plants to bulk up bouquets; on the planning, preparation and care of a cutting patch; and how – and when – to cut those luscious blooms.
With the aid of Jason Ingram’s photos, The Cut Flower Patch also brims with ideas for using the flower bounty available from a dedicated cutting garden: displays, including flowers for special events such as weddings; to-do calendars; and a brief history of the traditional commercial flower growing in Great Britain.
Favorite flowers for cutting run heavily to annuals – plants that complete their life cycle, including blooming – within a single year. But Curley also addresses biennials – flowers that grow from seed one year and bloom the next, and the various possibilities from more permanent plants grown from bulbs, corms and tubers.
And she considers the benefits of flowering plants to wildlife, including beneficial insects, and the environmental impact of local flowers compared to those available for sale, which are often shipped to local florists in cold storage from faraway continents.
Because Curley gardens in England, she favors plants that can cope with cold, wet winters and relatively short growing seasons. Gardeners in other climates, especially U.S. gardeners will need to adjust planting times and flower candidates accordingly. For instance, she loves zinnias, but finds these stalwarts of U.S. garden color difficult in the often cool and cloudy conditions of her garden.
In the U.S. South and Southwest, where I garden, there are actually two dormant seasons for most flowering plants – winter and midsummer, when extreme heat slows plant growth. Fortunately, we have long mild autumns to compensate, which allow us to enjoy many late-blooming flowers unsuitable to colder climates.
We’ll need to check with local garden societies and gardeners for plants suitable to whatever climate we garden in. And to look around at what actually blooms and when. But for inspiration, I’ll take Curley’s book, and her blog, wellywoman.wordpress.com.
Now, about those allotment gardens. They’re not just a British thing anymore. We have those where in live in North Texas, only we call them community gardens, which usually make the news as fodder for feel-good feature stories in the local news. Places for people – not just any people, mind you, but poor people who might otherwise have little access to fresh food. I’d hung over the fences of these gardens longingly. But knowing there was no way I could grow tomatoes, or sweet potatoes, or blackberries or peas that would compete in either flavor or cost with those from a farmers’ market, I turned away, turned the page or changed the channel, and sighed.
Until, that is, The Cut Flower Patch made me take another look. Were there any gardens in my area that realized the need not only for food but flowers? Given the dire state of the honeybee industry and worries about decreasing numbers of pollinating (not to mention beautiful) insects, could I make a case that more flowers would benefit other garden plantings. One of the gardens I contacted was intrigued. I hope we’ll be a good fit. Right now, I’ve got to get my seed order in the mail!