starting a cutting garden

country mix gardening blogHaving home-grown flowers in the house is good for the soul. It helps me see past the fact that I haven’t washed the floors or cleaned the windows. And I can almost forget that we still haven’t repaired the roof or done the bathroom.

But I always feel a bit guilty raiding the borders for them. As if I’m cutting their life a bit short, and robbing the bees of pollen.

So this year we’re growing a bed of flowers just for picking. It’s a bit much to call it a cutting garden. More of a cutting patch really – on a scrap of ground by the veg patch where we tried (and failed) to grow raspberries last year.bee verbena, gardening blog, cottage garden

I’ve been toying with the idea for a while and started buying seeds in October. They are mostly cottage garden flowers, good old-fashioned ones that my grannies might have grown. I got a bit carried away and have far too many to fit in the 2 x 4 metre bed.

How to create a cutting garden

While I was seed shopping I came across the marvellous Higgledy Garden. It’s run by Benjamin Ranyard, a cut flower specialist from Cornwall who is pretty passionate about traditional varieties. He is also very generous with tips for novice growers.

I’m not very good at following rules. But I’ve read Benjamin’s article on where to site a cutting garden and how to prepare the beds. I’m going to follow his advice as closely as I can, but no doubt it will come together in our usual haphazard way.

cutting garden site, gardening blog, cottage garden

the site for our cutting garden – a south-facing scrap of ground next to the veg patch

The garden doesn’t have many sunny spots, but I think the patch I’ve chosen gets the seven hours a day that Benjamin recommends as a minimum. It’s right next to where we grew the pumpkins last year – they need lots of sun too, and did OK.

He says to keep away from trees as they rob nearby plants of water and nutrients. Well, that’s impossible unless Steve gets the chainsaw out, so we’ll have to take a chance.

Ideally the patch should be 1 metre wide, letting you reach the middle without stepping on the bed…I’ll just have to stretch. Or perhaps we can compromise a bit of veg space and go for two rows.

Lastly, the soil shouldn’t be too rich, or you get tonnes of foliage and few flowers. It does benefit from a bit of leaf mulch though, which is good news as we’re never short of that.

Bed preparation

I’m itching to get out there and prepare the bed, but it’s so wet underfoot that I think I’d do more harm than good stomping around in my wellies.

We also need to extend the veg patch fence around the plot. Otherwise our mad spaniel will be charging around it, flattening seedlings as fast as they germinate. Benjamin doesn’t say anything about dogs in the cutting garden, but I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of that.

didiscus blue lace seedling, cottage garden blog

we sowed some half-hardy annuals, like these didiscus, before Christmas

So despite my planning, I suspect we won’t be ready to sow seeds direct into the ground for some time yet.

But direct sowing the whole patch might have been too much of a gamble in our first year anyway. I’m going to rifle through my seed packets and see what we can get started in the greenhouse.

Luckily, Benjamin has advice on how and when to sow your cutting garden too.


the original sweet pea

sweet pea cupani

Cupani – the mother of sweet peas

Last spring I sowed sweet peas direct into the ground, and got a big fat nothing.

Then I read an article by Monty Don saying he doesn’t have much success that way either. So I decided to try again, sowing them in pots to plant out later.

At the Malvern Autumn Show I came across Pennard Plants – a fab company specialising in heirloom seeds. After rifling through their collection I finally settled on a couple of old-fashioned varieties. One of which was Cupani.

This is officially ‘the mother of all sweet peas’. It can be traced back to 1699 when it was cultivated by an English schoolmaster from seeds sent to him by Father Cupani, a Sicilian Monk.

I had 15 Cupani seeds and sowed them in three batches: autumn, winter and early spring. Then I left them to germinate in the well ventilated (i.e. several panes of glass missing) greenhouse we inherited with the cottage.

sweet pea cupani

the tendrils cling to anything, and I think they’re almost as lovely as the flowers

Predictably, the first batch were devoured by mice as soon as they germinated. The second batch grew and made it through the winter, but looked pretty shabby by February. The ones I sowed in the spring caught up quickly as the weather warmed. I won’t bother with a winter sowing again.

We planted them out in large containers and they are rampant – you can’t tell which were the spring / winter sowings now. I mixed Cupani with another heritage variety, Painted Lady. Apparently she is the daughter of Cupani – but that was a happy accident, I didn’t know it at the time!

They have started flowering in earnest this week. And the more you pick, the more they flower. Hopefully we’ll have that inimitable sweet pea fragrance in the house all summer long.

sweet pea cupani rampant

they are rampant – and I think we have over-planted. Our neighbour has grown them for years and says ‘more than one plant per stick is greedy’!


M with Cupani and Painted Lady - looking for mischief...

M with Cupani and Painted Lady – looking for mischief…