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Petal Power

To celebrate British Flowers Week, a group of artisan florists choose five of our favourite blooms and offer advice to Hannah Stephenson on how to grow them for cutting

by Hannah Stephenson

Published 30/05/2015

Popular Peonies will be at their peak during British Flowers Week
Popular Peonies will be at their peak during British Flowers Week
Salvia
Sweet peas

I've always found that buying flowers is so much less rewarding than growing them myself. When I see a beautiful bouquet, I often consider whether I could replicate its contents in my own garden.

As the forthcoming British Flowers Week aims to encourage people to think about where their flowers come from - about seasonality, locally grown blooms - it may be time to have a go at growing your own cut flowers.

Think about growing some of our favourites and find out what's on trend with the following top tips from artisan growers:

Peonies

"Peonies are always popular and will be at their peak during British Flowers Week," says Rachel Siegfried of Green And Gorgeous (greenandgorgeousflowers.co.uk). "We are finding that the single peonies are really trendy in lemons and corals. Single varieties such as 'Coral Charm' and 'Claire de Lune' are particularly beautiful."

Top tips Always plant peonies shallow, never deep, literally just below the surface. You have to wait for three years until you can start picking from them. Pick your peonies at the 'marshmallow stage' when the coloured buds are soft to the touch. That way your peonies will have a good 10 days' vase life.

Sweet Peas

"Sweet peas are one of the classic English cut flowers, but they are plants that you can't leave in the garden and forget! They need a bit of work," says Gill Hodgson of Fieldhouse Flowers (fieldhouseflowers.co.uk), founder of Flowers From The Farm.

Top tips Don't plant them out too early, as they do get checked by frost. Successionally sow them every four weeks, because sweet peas are only at their best for picking for about four weeks and then the stems go short and get pollen beetle. Take time to dead-head them and tie them in, says Rachel Siegfried, who will be opening her nursery for Pick-Your-Own Sweet Peas, tours and flower demonstrations during British Flowers Week.

"I support my sweet peas with rows of canes to clamber over," adds Carole Potilla, of Tuckshop Flowers (tuckshopflowers.com). "Don't overcrowd your sweet peas, because if you do it gets too dry and they can get mildew."

Alstroemeria

They may be deemed old-fashioned but brides love them, especially the peach and lemon shades, says Siegfried.

"Alstroemeria [left] are very popular in shades of peaches, apricots, creams and pinks and they last for ages. They start flowering in June and then tend to still be flowering in October to November," says Claire Brown, of Plant Passion (plantpassion.co.uk)

Top tips Plant them in a sheltered site, in part shade or full sun, any time between May and August in good soil with plenty of organic matter at the roots. Water them regularly and stake all the taller forms to stop them collapsing in the wind. Pick them regularly to get successional waves of flowers.

Cornflowers

"Cornflowers are such a traditionally English flower. As well as the commonly known blue, the pink and white are very popular. Customers love the black cornflowers too for something quite different and funky," says Brown.

"I don't have a whole bed of cornflowers, but mix them into the border between the roses. They are great 'cut and come again' annuals. I sow some in the greenhouse in September to plant out in March and then direct sow for succession planting," says Potilla.

Top tips "Cornflowers need more space than you think. I always space mine 30-35 cms apart. Most people scatter the seeds too closely together. The more space you give them, the more flowers you get from them," says Brown.

Larkspur

Everybody knows about delphiniums, but they take longer to establish. Larkspur (left) is the annual delphinium and is ready to pick earlier. People love them in mixed bunches of blues, pinks and whites. The stems are really thick so they last for ages because they can hold more water, says Brown.

Top tip "Take out the main stem and you get eight flowering stems," she advises.

British Flowers Week runs from June 15-19. For event details go to britishflowersweek.com

Best of the Bunch

Salvia

These useful upright perennials look fabulous as repeat planting in borders, don't need staking and are particularly good in cottage gardens. Producing spikes of blue flowers ranging from light lilac to deep purple, they have a long flowering season and also attract bees and butterflies. They will do well in reasonable garden soils, growing in light shade and sunny spots and may bloom into September if you remove the flower spikes as soon as they fade. They contrast well with orange geums or yellow flowered achilleas. Good varieties include S. x sylvestris 'May Night' and S. uliginosa, whose flowers last until autumn.

Good Enough to Eat

Sowing veg seeds outside

You may now be planting out your courgette and green bean plants, but there's still time to sow veg seed outdoors if you missed giving them a head start by sowing them inside earlier in the season. Don't delay in sowing runner beans, courgettes, climbing French beans, main crop carrots, swede and winter turnips outdoors if you didn't sow them last month. They may mature a little later than your earlier sowings indoors, but should be ready before the weather becomes too cold.

Belfast Telegraph

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