Home grown cut flowers – sweet Williams and pinks
First of all, my apologies for the lack of a May ‘Scent in the Garden’ post. Chelsea Flower Show, work, Wellyman’s final exam and then a week in Dorset have intervened and meant May has disappeared in a blur.
It just so happens that this month’s scented post coincides with British Flowers Week. This is the third year this week-long celebration of British grown blooms has taken place. Britain used to be self-sufficient in cut flowers before the advent of cheap/subsidised fuel meant it was cheaper to import flowers from across the world. In recent years a greater awareness of the environmental costs of imported flowers and a growing interest in seasonality have meant there has been a resurgence in British grown blooms. Thanks largely to a growing band of incredibly hard-working and talented small-scale flower growers across the country it’s now possible to buy super fresh, seasonal flowers with a local provenance.
Scent is one of the features so often lacking in imported blooms. Cut flowers have often been bred for other qualities – longer stems, shelf-life, ability to withstand cold stores – and scent is lost in the process. Chilled storage which keeps flowers fresh as they are transported also impacts on scent. Just think about those strawberries you pick at the allotment and how you can smell them, all warmed by the sun, now think about those from the supermarket kept chilled; the contrast is quite amazing. Growing your own flowers for cutting or seeking out British grown flowers with scent is the way to bring scent indoors. And even if you’re reluctant to pick your own flowers – I know how hard it can be when you have a small garden to take a pair of flower snips to your favourite blooms – there are so many fabulous plants that will fill your garden with scent all summer long.
For me June is a fabulous month for scented plants. Sweet Williams have started to bloom on the cut flower patch. There’s an air of the old-fashioned about them, conjuring up thatch cottages and gardens festooned with honeysuckle-clad arbours. I find them tricky in the garden though as they are quite stocky plants, they don’t tend to mingle like other plants, hence me devoting space to them on the allotment. They are biennials, so sow some now for flowers next year, but don’t feel you must dig them out after they have finished flowering in late summer, I have a clump from last year which is healthy and flowering once again. They will tend to get woody over time though so sow some every year to have young plants at the ready.
Carnation ‘Memories’ ©Ian Curley
Sweet rocket is another deliciously scented biennial with the purest white flowers or dusky-pink blooms. It’s a great plant for attracting moths to your garden as its scent is much stronger on an evening. Pinks have to be one of my favourite flowers. They don’t really like my soil – it’s a tad on the acid side for their liking – but I tend to get a few years from plants before they need to be replaced with new ones. I have ‘Gran’s Favourite’ and ‘Fragrant village Pinks’ in flower at the moment, lining a bed on the cut flower patch. The white-flowered ‘Memories’ is in a container – one way around not having the chalky soil they prefer. Garden worthy plants, they also make fabulous cut flowers which I’m picking in huge bunches at the moment.
Philadelphus is a plant I remember from childhood. There was one by my parents’ gate and I used to love standing there and sniffing the flowers. It’s blooms are fleeting compared to other plants, but I wouldn’t be without the mass of white, orange blossom-scented flowers taking over a corner of my front garden at the moment, the scent drifting in through an open window into my lounge.
Rosa ‘A Shropshire Lad’
Roses are perhaps the classic scented flower – as long as you don’t buy the imported cut flowers which never have any perfume. Currently in bloom in my garden are ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Geoff Hamilton’ and ‘A Shropshire Lad’. If you’re thinking of growing roses, now is a great time to seek out a specialist rose garden (the National Trust has some of the best rose gardens). June is their flowering peak and you can take notes of those that please your nose the most.
Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) ©Ian Curley
Red valerian (Centranthus ruber) is an underrated plant, in my opinion. It’s incredibly easy to grow. Why do underrated and easy to grow seem to go hand in hand? OK, it does have a tendency to self-seed, but it will tolerate most soil types. If you keep on deadheading it over the summer you will curb its tendency to pop up all over the garden and encourage it to flower right through into autumn. It might not be high on lists of scented plants but it does have one. Maybe not as sweet as a rose, but lovely nonetheless, and as it’s another where the scent is strongest in the evening, it’s great for moths. There’s honeysuckle too clothing the fence in the front garden and this little beauty, Tiarella ‘Creeping Cascade’. I bought it mainly for its foliage but have discovered that its pretty flower spikes are also sweetly scented.
Tiarella ‘Creeping Cascade’ © Ian Curley
All this scent means it’s a veritable feast for my nostrils. And they all make great vase material. If you’re a reluctant flower picker I urge you this week to celebrate British flowers, to take your flower snips into the garden and to just pick a few stems. Even if you simply plonk them in an old jam jar and put them on the kitchen windowsill I can guarantee they’ll make you smile.
In honour of British Flowers Week I’ve joined forces with two lovely ladies to offer 3 fantastic gifts. Chloe Plester of Bare Blooms and the British Flower Collective grows beautiful flowers in the garden of her home in North Oxfordshire and is offering one of her gorgeous bouquets. Sian Cornish of the online haberdashery Lancaster and Cornish uses flowers and foliage from the countryside around her Cornish home to hand-dye bamboo silk ribbons. They’re perfect for tying a bouquet, decorating a vase or embellishing a gift and she’s giving away 3 ribbons. Alongside these will be a signed copy of my book The Cut Flower Patch.
For more details on how to enter (UK entries only, sorry!) take a look at the following links.
The British Flower Collective
Lancaster and Cornish
or take a look at my Instagram page. Good luck!