What lovelier thing than to grow some gorgeous wedding flowers? If you're the bride reading this, don't take the title of this piece literally - I'm hoping there'll be a loving relative or friend eager to help, or (preferably) grow, cut and arrange the flowers for your wedding as, quite frankly, you'll have enough to think about. So, best beloved of the bride, if you haven't already flipped past this article, recoiling in horror at the thought of making (or breaking) that most special of special days with your own home grown offerings, then here's a glimpse (just a glimpse) at how to do it:
Firstly, I trust you're thinking of growing them for a wedding next year, not this, as it may take a while (depending on your choice of flowers) to establish some of them. It is possible to get things grown for a wedding this year, providing you only want annuals (existing plants and foliage) and the wedding's in September or early October. Roses and romantic early summer blooms are nigh on impossible to conjure up in December and January. I'm not suggesting that you dictate to the happy couple when to set their wedding, but it will have a bearing on the selection of flowers and foliage that will be available.
Find a sunny, sheltered corner of the garden - if you already have a vegetable patch and are prepared to forgo a few crops to make space for the flowers, this would be ideal, as the soil is probably good and fertile and ready to grow plants in. Flowers for cutting can be grown in the borders too and will look gorgeous there - until you ransack it. If you're starting a cutting patch from scratch, soil preparation is the key to success. Clearing the space of perennial weeds (the annuals will be an on-going battle) is vital and then adding lots of organic matter to improve the structure and fertility of the soil.
If possible, group your plants by the conditions they need to grow in, by height, or colour. It helps to plant in rows for easy picking. Hardy annuals and biennials can be sown in situ, but most perennials and half-hardy annuals will need to be sown under cover and then transplanted to their final positions. Remember that tall growing plants and those with long flowering spikes such as Delphiniums, Verbascums, Foxgloves and Lupins will need staking or supporting, preferably not after they've already flopped over in the wind.
As the plants grow and the weather warms, watch out for aphids and other pests and try to catch them early before they infest your plants. Feed everything with a potassium rich fertiliser to encourage flowering. This will be especially useful for those plants that flower repeatedly and should keep them going for longer.
A couple of weeks before the day, it's a good idea to make up a trial posy. Look at how many blooms it takes and also how long it takes you to make - this will help you work out quantities and timings. It's best to cut flowers in the early morning, or at dusk, as these are the times when the stems are turgid and full of sap. Airlocks may form once the stem is cut, so make a slanted cut with sharp scissors and plunge immediately into luke-warm water. Cut a further 3cm off the stems and strip off any leaves that are below the surface of the water. Once cut, the flowers should be kept in cool conditions. Soft stems should be kept in really deep water up to the neck and left for several hours if possible. Hollow stems can be turned upside-down and filled with water - use your thumb to plug the stem and then quickly invert back into the water to stop the airlock. Don't smash stems, as this prevents the flow of water up the xylem and causes more airlocks. Large flowers may need some extra support to help them keep their heads held high - pierce the stem at the base of the flower-head and wrap the wire around the stem. Use floral preservative to prolong the life of the flowers. For a Saturday wedding cut and prepare on Thursday, ready to arrange on Friday.
If you're making garlands, or decorations that can't be stood in a vase of water, you may need to use pre-soaked florists' foam, tape and thin wire to secure the arrangement. This can get quite heavy, so make sure arrangements are firmly secured.
Annuals flower over a long period of time. Their job is to produce seed for next year, so if you keep deadheading they will continue to flower. Autumn and early spring sowings are usually done under cover, in a cold frame or in a seed bed and then moved to their flowering position once they're big enough. They can be sown directly outside in their flowering positions from mid spring onwards:
• Helianthus (sunflower) - comes in many shades from cream through to rich dark brown, but the lovely cheerful yellow sunflower is my favourite.
• Sweet peas - for long stems grow as cordons. The old fashioned varieties are more strongly scented than the modern hybrids
• Nigella (love-in-a-mist) also has good ferny foliage
• Cornflower - lovely blue, or try mixed pastel shades
• Cerinthe major purpurescens - softly drooping racemes of purple bells
• Amni majus - large umbels of white flowers
can be sown as early as February in a heated greenhouse, but don't sow directly outside until May. They're prolific and will flower from June until the first frosts, providing you keep deadheading/picking.
• Cosmos - daisy like flowers in shades of white through
to burgundy. Try C bipinnatus ‘Purity' (white) and ‘Dazzler' (carmine pink)
• Cleome spinosa - the spider plant. Striking, tall plant with long lived flowers in shades of white, pink or mauve
• Antirrhinum (snapdragon) - easy to grow in a large range of colours
• Nicotiana (tobacco plant) - useful, shade tolerant plants
• Zinnias - available in some striking colours
are sown in May and June and will flower the following year. Sow in situ, or in a nursery bed to transplant in the autumn to their flowering position. Foxgloves, Forget-me-nots and Honesty are useful early bloomers.
Choose fast growing shrubs, or large specimens, as continual pruning will not be possible from small plants. If you want long, straight growth, hard pruning in spring will cause the plant to grow vigorous shoots that can then be cut. Many shrubs or trees that are grown for their young foliage should be treated like this - pollarding or coppicing each year to maintain the attractive juvenile foliage - eg Eucalyptus, Cotinus. Small leaved shrubs like Pittosporum, Ruscus and Euonymus fortunii are also very useful.
• Roses - it's hard to imagine a wedding without roses. Choose carefully, as there are hundreds of varieties on offer and they will be a focal point in your arrangements.
• Hydrangeas - lovely mops of gentle blooms in late summer
• Peony - sumptuous blooms that last well as cut flowers.
• Dahlias - these are fantastic cut flowers, but not too hardy.
• Eryngium - thistle-like in shades of metallic blue through to white
• Alchemilla mollis - pleated leaves and frothy lime green flowers that are great fillers
- Alliums will be flowering in May and June, Lilies in July and Crocosmia in August and September.
As Doris Day says in the song about the ant and the rubber tree plant, I always have ‘high hopes' and tend to forget about obstacles like our horribly unpredictable weather, pests, natural and not so natural disasters. So if it all goes wrong before the day, you can always rush out and pick your own wedding flowers at a nursery, or flower farm - try www.bloominggreenflowers.co.uk, or get help from a local bespoke florist.
For more ideas on cutting gardens and border designs contact Jo Arnell at www.hornbrookmanor.co.uk or call 01233 861186.
Photographs: Sue Whigham
Recipes: Sue Whigham
Recipes Type: Gardening