Getting your boarders just right for you

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One of the projects in Clumber’s Walled Kitchen Garden this winter has been the planting of borders to produce flowers for cutting.

We naturally associate kitchen gardens with fruit, vegetables and herbs, but traditionally material for flower arrangements was also grown to decorate the main house. Fresh flowers would have featured in the grand entrance and in the family and guest rooms at Clumber.

Last November (when we could see green grass and not the 20 inch carpet of snow, which persisted for over a month), we removed the turf and prepared the beds by adding organic matter and rotovating. Clumber’s soil is very light and sandy; the organic matter will improve its structure and help it hold onto moisture and plant foods. We will also give the area a light dressing with a compound fertiliser; as we’re organic, we use blood, fish and bone.

Flowers for cutting would have been grown for ease of cultivation in mind and we have opted to grow plants in rows. We will use both annuals and perennials. As with the rest of the plantings in the Walled Kitchen Garden, varieties are a combination of older “heritage” types and modern cultivars.

In days gone by sweet peas were widely planted to produce cut flowers; plants were even grown under glass to produce early blooms. We grow several of the old fashioned types raised in the late 19th and early 20th century. They are misleadingly known as the “grandifloras”, but their flowers are not especially big. They lack the frilly edged petals of modern varieties, but most are powerfully scented; the pink and white candy striped ‘America’ is especially eye catching. For the flower arranger, the good thing about sweet peas is that if you keep cutting, they respond by producing more flowers. Other flower arrangers’ favourites include “Bells of Ireland”, distinctive for its green flowers and Cerinthe major, which we grow in the herbaceous borders and has attractive blue foliage and flowers.

With perennials we have chosen once flowering “wow factor” plants and cut and come again subjects. Amongst the former are delphiniums, such as the intense gentian blue flowered ‘Molly Buchanan’ and the pure white ‘Moonbeam’. Both grow to over 5feet/1.5metres; their stately flower spikes taking up at least half this length. Lilies are also an excellent once flowering subject, although by choosing a handful of varieties, the flowering period can be extended over the summer. We are planting ‘Golden Stargazer’ and ‘Stargazer’, which has gloriously scented pink and white flowers, and is widely grown as a cut flower today.

There is a host of good perennials which make excellent border plants as well as providing cut flowers. Amongst their number are crocosmias, globe thistles and phlox. We will also use dahlias, probably the best of the cut and come again perennials.

My favourites are the dark and bronze leaved varieties, such as the classic ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, whose leaves are attractively shaped; its bright red flowers are produced between July and October, until the first hard autumn frosts. ‘Scarlet Fern’ is similar in appearance, but at just over 39inches/1 metre is lower growing.