The March Seed Box Collection
As a seedaholic (definition: a person who can't stop acquiring flower and vegetable seeds) I spend many happy hours browsing through seed catalogues and checking out the seed collections in our local garden centre, so when I started The Cut Flower Patch, I thought it would be easy to choose the seeds for our monthly seed boxes. However after having just spent several days selecting the seeds for our March Boxes, I realise that's not the case. Last night, having finally decided which of the 16 possible sunflower varieties to choose for the March Box, I was left wondering what was taking me so long.
Firstly I feel a huge responsibility to our Cut Flower Patch customers to get it right, when I am buying seeds for myself I'm the only one who is disappointed if the seeds fail to germinate or the plants only flower for a month. However when I'm choosing for other people, it's a whole new ball game. Although you can never guarantee success when it comes to seed growing, I want to do my best to give all our growers the best possible chance of having healthy, beautiful, cut flowers all summer long.
Secondly, there are hundreds and hundreds of cut flower seeds to choose from and ironically having a lot of choice doesn't always make choosing easy. It's the difference between shopping at TK Maxx and a small boutique with a limited clothing range, I find the latter much easier. When buying for my own garden, if I'm torn, for example, between 2 different sunflower seeds I might buy both and experiment to see which one works best for me. However when I'm putting together The Cut Flower Patch Seed Boxes choosing 2 varieties of the same flower is not an option.
Although challenging, I am enjoying the more disciplined approach to seed selection. I hope by choosing our seeds through a combination of my own experience of sowing and growing along with lots of supplementary research, we'll all be enjoying fabulous cut flower patches this summer.
I thought Cut Flower Patch growers might be interested in the seeds selected for the March boxes and how they fit with the bigger cut flower patch picture.
1. First things first
Firstly I make sure you can sow the seeds in the month that they are supplied. There's nothing more frustrating than buying a packet of seeds which can't be sown immediately, you tuck them away for safe keeping and by the time you remember to get them out again, you've missed the sowing window. Sound familiar?
2. Covering the essentials
Everyone has their flower likes and dislikes, but I think it's fair to say that there are a few universal favourites that most people would be more than happy to see growing in their patch, such as sweet pea, larkspur/delphinium and dahlias. I like to try and ensure that all these 'essentials' are included in the seed boxes at some point during the year. Sweet pea and delphinium were in the January Box and a dahlia seed in February. In the March Box there are 3 seeds that I think also come under this 'universally popular' category; cosmos, cornflower and sunflower.
Cosmos, Sensation Mixed
I don' t think I've met anyone who doesn't like cosmos and it'll probably be one of the most prolific cut flowers in your patch. Last year my cosmos was still going strong at the beginning of November and it's one of those flowers, like sweet peas, that the more you cut the more you'll get. Cosmos has lovely feathery leaves so you can always use just the foliage in your arrangements once the flowers have finished.
I chose the 'Sensation, Mixed' variety for the March boxes which is a lovely mix of pink, red and white. I also thought that this variety would be good for our patches because although it grows to a metre high it has strong stems.
Cornflower, Blue Boy
Cornflower is the classic country flower and with it's tall upright stems it's a great flower for the vase. They are very easy to grow, but like many cut flowers they're popular with slugs too. When the word got out among the local slug community that our garden is pesticide free they descended and happily tucked into my cornflower seedlings, I lost 3 trays of cornflowers but following a daily slug patrol I finally had success with my 4th sowing. Am sure they'll be lots of slug conversations in the months to come.
This summer I am hoping to dry some flowers from my patch and am busy researching the best flowers to dry and the best drying technique for each flower. Apparently cornflowers are easy to air dry and they keep their colour. Watch this space.
The sunflower is another flower that is very easy to grow and the bright, cheerful flower heads light up the cut flower patch. There are some flowers where I need to choose the variety carefully as some are much more suitable for cutting than others. Certain varieties of sunflowers grow to significant heights, although children love them, they don't make good cut flower material. I have chosen the 'Valentine' variety which grows to around 1.5m and has branching stems. This means more flowers unlike some varieties which only produce one thick stem. An added bonus for use as a cut flower is that the pollen doesn't drop.
3. Something a little different
As well as the all-time-favourites I like to try and include some more surprising choices. Cleome from the January Box is a good example of a fantastic cut flower but is little known. I also like the idea of including some traditional flowers that are slightly out of fashion, but make a great cut flower. Godetia from the January Box is easy to grow and is the perfect height for the middle of your patch. And after all fashion is cyclical, so soon godetia will probably be a must-have for all contemporary fashion-conscious cut flower growers. The 'something a little different' choice for the March Box is zinnia.
Zinnia, Giant Salmon Rose
The majority of flowers in The Cut Flower Patch Boxes are easy to grow, but occasionally I'll introduce something that's a little trickier because it's worth the extra effort, I hope. Zinnia's thrive in warm, dry climates so the typical British summer isn't always conducive. I've picked up some sowing and growing techniques to improve success and I'll share these in the March how-to-sow video.
Also, again, the variety of zinnia we sow and grow is the key to improving our success rate. The Giant Salmon Rose is recommended by the amazing cut flower farmer, Roz Chandler, Roz has a great Facebook group The Cut Flower Collective which is worth joining as it's an inclusive supportive community for cut flower growers. Unusually I've gone for a single colour zinnia (I'll often chose a mix colour seed variety to cover all the bases) but the Salmon Rose zinnia is a bit different and will provide a good contrast to many of the other flowers in your patch.
4. And don't forget the fillers
Every flower farmer will tell you not to forget that fillers and foliage are an essential element of your cut flower patch. Green foliage provides a neutral base and allows your flowers to shine. It also introduces bulk to your vase so you do not need as many blooms to create an impact. You might already have plenty of foliage growing in your garden, such as eucalyptus, rosemary, bay and pittosporum. I also aim to include a 'filler' in each month's seed box. In January we had gypsophila, a classic filler, achillea in the February Box and this month we have a grass Briza Maxima - Greater Quaking Grass.
Greater Quaking Grass
Although I haven't sowed this before I've been told it's super-easy to grow and a great addition to your cut flower patch. It's a really unusual grass with thin stems hung with pale green flowers, which look like raindrops as they catch the light. I'm really looking forward to sowing and growing this one and adding it to my summer arrangements. I also think it's going to be a good one for pressing and drying, so am looking forward to experimenting with that too.
5. And last but not least
In addition to all of the above there's a few other factors that I put into the mix when selecting seeds:
A flower which is attracts pollinators is always a plus
A mix of flower heights is essential to ensure you can fill everything from a milk bottle to a large vase with fabulous arrangements
A long cutting season, I aim to have as long a harvesting period as possible with flowers available from your patch for cutting from June though to October, maybe even November depending on the weather.
I hope this blog has given a bit of an insight into the process that goes into selecting flowers for the monthly boxes and as always, I appreciate comments and feedback. The March Seed Box can be ordered here , or if you'd like to subscribe to automatically receive a seed box every month, you can do so here.
Happy growing and sowing