Growing your own flowers for display
This series on retirement spending is based on keeping active on a reduced income. Your garden can offer a wealth of exercise, stimulation and joy
Making the most of your plot or allotment can offer you years of satisfying creativity in terms of producing food, flowers and supplementary firewood if the plot's big enough. And exploring shapes, color and fragrance is an ever-fulfilling journey for those who enjoy producing ephemeral works of art.
If you're pushing the boat out for a special celebratory dinner or simply enjoy floral displays, arranging your planted flowers indoors can be an extra by-product of your labors.
We've a mature garden that's divided roughly in half between the front and back of the house, with the back yard's rectangle sub-divided into a smaller rectangle for the shed and parking. Next up, through a wisteria and honeysuckle arch, is the main square, with the final sliver of the plot concreted as a patio. The lawn area has been drawn in as a circle whose diameter is the full width of the plot, giving us deep, roughly triangular beds at the four corners for planting herbs, vegetables, flowers and shrubs.
Along the south wall we've planted a bamboo combined with climbing roses, a Philadelphus or Mock Orange, a fuchsia, an elder, a bright-leaved laurel, a bay, a couple of fatsias, a lilac tree and something that behaves like a hawthorn bush (like many of the shrubs, it was here when we got the garden so we've yet to discover what it is – it has white flowers and the white, watery balls of fruit, so when I've time to get round to it, I'll investigate). There's another mystery plant here too, btw, that the birds seem to love for it's exhilarating bounce – the stems are whippy and bounce extravagantly when the birds land on the branches to collect the fruit – its flowers are purple racemes, that is, they're like a bunch of grapes.
In another bed we've a shrub that's very pretty, and I'm sentimental about it for a couple of reasons – firstly it was given to us as a wedding present by a close friend, and secondly, because it reminds me of the Philadelphus, which I always associate with my mother.
This slightly off-point preamble to cutting your own flowers from a cottage garden is by way of introduction to the idiosyncratic selection of cut flowers in the bigger displays in this hub.
I've always loved being given a bouquet of fresh flowers, it's often so much more than a romantic gesture, a 'forgive me' or 'thank-you' gesture, as depending on the flowers chosen it can happily remind you of the person who gifted them to you for over a week.
As the flowers were chosen to adorn the garden I rarely cut them to use indoors unless it's as a central focus for a special dinner, or a scented posy on the beside table of a guest room. The smaller bunch of tulips here got compiled as these tall tulips had collapsed to the ground – some are vulnerable to wind, others to stretching out around taller plants for light, and others to the animal life (we've a cat who often forgets himself and tries to take on the various magpies, ravens, and hooded crows that bulk out our visiting chaffinches, sparrows and robins).
These yellow pomponette double late tulips grow to about 18" tall and are a blast of sheer joy in a vase. A couple of them snapped about five inches from the bloom so I transferred them inside for the kitchen table. Others to look for at this height include Zizanie doubles, or Mount Tacoma. Another late-blooming one you could consider as a wedding gift is an exquisite double late called, helpfully, Wedding Gift Double Tulip at tulipworld.com. Look out too for its magnificent Finola, which is a pale pink flower that looks breath-taking in large drifts and sweetly feminine planted as singular bulbs.
Other tulips we have include canasta fringed tulips, China Town viridiflora, Burgundy Lace fringed, and Sky High Scarlet single lates. I've tried planting them among wallflowers to add a layer of protection from the wind and cats with their foliage, and a layer of complimentary color and texture just lower than the taller tulips. I wanted a rich, fiery color palette of burnt oranges to complement the reds and yellows of the tulips, but the wallflowers are aren't taking as rampantly as they should, while the similar erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' has worked perfectly. Here we've the tall red single tulips surrounded by clumps of purple erysimum on the ground, the next layer of foliage is of the cordelines and fatsias, with the lilac tree stretching from 10' upwards.
Opt for the timetable that best describes your style
When choosing a planting plan you've to gauge how much time you can dedicate to it. How much time do you want to spend?
The blooms and foliage for a cut-flowers fan can range from the little pompons on your chives to magnificent giant balls of purple alliums. There's nothing to stop you from using the frothy, feathery leaves of your fennel plant to extend the width of your display if you're constructing a large triangular-shaped bouquet in a wide-mouthed vase. Its aniseed perfume is noticeable for the first day or two and for a fan of sensory therapies such as aromatherapy it's sharply uplifting.
Lilacs are great value blooms to take indoors as they're robust and will last for about a week, delivering color and fragrance. Forysthia's terrific for this too, its flowers will provide fresh yellow blossoms on elegant branches that can add height and stature to your display. As is the Kerria bush, with its yellow pom poms, that are densely clustered on the twig and are about an inch in diameter. That exochorda – the white-flowered bush called 'The Bride' I mentioned above – will also give you about three to four days of fresh flowers on a twig. Remember to refill the vase with water daily as long, woody stems drink a lot of it. Though ours remained fresh for three days, be prepared for some of the petals to fall down around the base of your vase and you've a petal-strewn swathe of color that probably won't get on your nerves for about two or three more days. Others aren't so long-lasting such as the Philadelphus or Mock Orange that blooms in June here: while they're a perfect backdrop for garden seating during their week of floral display, it's a pity to cut them as the flowers shrivel overnight.
Cottage garden flower arrangements
Trial and error: This pic is probably best described in terms of 'you had to be there' in as much as it looked prettier in reality than I caught on camera here. However, it's a three-foot wide and tall combination of lilac perfume and tulip charm, and you get the idea of how the fennel fronds can add breadth. If you're setting up this display for special guests, I'd get a third plume of the fennel, strap it to a stick that peeps above the top line of the rest of your flowers, so you've a clearly visible 'fleur de lys' structure to your display that's classically elegant.
The white flowers of 'The Bride', the exochorda macrantha that's in flower at the moment are in here too, along with a sample of the kerria pompoms.
Finally, another sweet combination that's unusual is to mix Hellebores with Heather – all the Haitches from Hannah – we have hellebores that are creamy and green as well as these in a mauve mixed with the heather as I like the contrasting textures of tufty heather and girly hellebores. The mnemonic I use to remember its name is 'hell-a-bore', as in, hell is a boring person, (but I rarely remember it in time to stop myself boring the pants off someone about my pet topics).
Both are very long-lasting in a vase once you remember to top up the water regularly. They won't guzzle as much as twiggy cut flowers, but nor will they provide any discernible fragrance.