The cutting garden in January

When I woke up this morning I looked out of the window and thought it had snowed during the night, yesterday afternoon the sky had looked like snow so I wasn’t surprised; but on going outside to check the greenhouse, I found that it wasn’t snow but hail!  With the low temperatures the hail hadn’t thawed but remained coating the beds and some of the plants, this thyme doesn’t look very happy.

Hail stones on Thyme

Hail stones on Thyme

I have decided to report on the cuttings bed at least once a month; Julie at Peonies and Posies is posting about hers on the last Friday of each month, I will try to coincide my reports with hers in the hope that others too will join in and I will learn something from others who are far more experienced and I am!

Living in a place with summer drought means that unless plants are drought tolerant (which often means they flower in spring and then go dormant) or have large amounts of irrigation they do not survive.  This means that it is impossible to just add a few plants or seeds to a border to have flowers to cut; last year I devoted one of the new beds that had been formed by the greenhouse to growing flowers to cut and the pleasure this gave me makes me even more keen to continue and for this year I have ‘stolen’ one of the smaller vegetable beds for the biennials that I planted last autumn.

Wall flowers. Sweet William and some foxgloves in the second cuttings bed

Wall flowers. Sweet William and some foxgloves in the second cuttings bed

The cutting bed is empty except for last year’s Antirrhinums, which seem unfazed by the cold (below zero centigrade) nights we have been experiencing during January.  There is even a bud that is about to open so may well get picked this weekend and find its way into a vase on Monday.  Dahlias are under a mound of compost and some Narcissus are just poking their shoots through the ground.  Knautia and some asters are rosettes; they never seem to disappear completely here.

The cutting bed with hail stones

The cutting bed with hail stones

White Antirrhinum, the buds are nearly open

White Antirrhinum, the buds are nearly open

I had intended ordering some Dahlias from either Sarah Raven or Rose cottage plants; but the cost of delivery to Italy is high and given that last year the two dahlia s I planted were from a very cheap mixed pack from Lidl I decided to check out my local DIY store and Lidl this week.  The DIY store had a good selection of dahlias in quite an array of colours.  My list had included several different sizes and forms of white and there were a lot available; I have therefore purchased them!  Last year I purchased them March and so planted them directly into the bed.  All the information I have read says they should be potted up and planted out after the fear of frost has past.  I don’t really have space in the greenhouse for pots of dahlias (seed-sowing is in full swing) so any advice would be most welcome.  I am considering putting them in the attic where it is cool and dark, but I will remove them from their bags.  Should I maybe cover them with slightly moist compost to keep them from drying out?

My selection of white Dahlias for this year

My selection of white Dahlias for this year





Seedlings in the greenhouse

Seedlings in the greenhouse

The four small trays on the left are all Rudbeckia seedlings.

I know creating a cuttings garden or bed is becoming very popular so if you are just beginning or are an experienced cut-flower do join in so we can all learn together.

30 thoughts on “The cutting garden in January

  1. It is so interesting to see your cutting garden in its dormant state Christina – your biennials are growing really well – the wallflowers (I think) are ahead of mine and I am amazed at that snapdragon! Regarding the dahlias I would not worry about starting them under cover if I were you. Our last frost dates in the UK are in June and night time temperatures remain low until well into May, so we need to start dahlias off early to get them into flower by July/August (dahlias respond to heat rather than light). I would leave your tubers in a dark but frost free place for now and then perhaps pot them up in April and leave the pots in a sheltered spot outside, or plant then directly into the ground as soon as you see some signs of life in your over wintered tubers. Before potting up or planting out tubers it is a good idea to dose them with water daily for a week or so to plump up the dry tubers. I have had success starting mine off in a shed when I had a smaller greenhouse and also with direct planting although the plants flowered a bit later – with so much else going on in summer a late August flowering is no bad thing though.

    • Thanks for that Julie, it is really helpful. I think I planted my tubers (that had probably been in the shop for several months) in March or possibly April and they were flowering by 7th July. So I think planting direct will work best but the tip about soaking the tubers first seems a really good idea.

  2. You did have a hail storm didn’t you! We had a few hailstones the other day, but nothing like you. It was good to see your cutting bed at this time of year and I’ll look forward to see its progress each month.

    • there was a little hail yesterday but nothing like the amount that fell during the night. Some has remained in shady areas all day so it must have been very cold all day, it certainly felt like it.

  3. Thats a great prompt today Christina, I had forgotten how much I wanted to include white Dahlias this year, did you grow Snowflake before? We’ve had a some snow here and its very cold!

    • I only had one white Dahlia last year and it was from a mixed pack of bulbs from Lidl, I didn’t make a not of the name. I realised last year how much I love white flowers and choosing white dahlias stopped me buying a huge number of other colours. If they do well I will buy a different colour next year maybe even a mixed pack from Sarah Raven.

  4. Snapdragons are tough little customers. I remember when we saw Giverny in April there were wallflowers all over the paintbox beds. My own cutting bed last year was just Tithonia, Sunflowers, and Zinnias.

  5. In your climate, the dahlias should flower about 8 weeks after planting and you should be able to plant direct in the ground in April, or whenever you plant your tomatoes outside (unless the soil is very wet from continuous rain then plant into pots to get them along). Until then, storing them in the dark or in an old fruit box surrounded by some very dry soil/sawdust is fine. The trick with dahlias is to avoid the tubers rotting. In the tropical S. American highlands, where dahlias originate, there is no rain in winter…after planting keep them on the dry side until about 2-5cm of growth has appeared, then you can start to water.
    Do Crocosmia thrive in Italy? Here it is unstoppable…everywhere you look at the moment any vacant land is covered in crocosmia flowers which can be quite pretty

    • I’m sure the Dahlias still in the ground will be fine, the ground is so free draining that they shouldn’t have any problems. Your advice sounds perfect for my needs, thank you Matt for your thoughtful information.

  6. Your winter seems colder than last year’s too – all for the best. I have had a good success with planting dahlias from seed. I have left them in the soil undisturbed and they come back again. They flowered in the first year when spring sown I don’t know whether it would be possible to sow in the autumn if you had a greenhouse. Amelia

    • I agree that it is good to have some colder weather this winter, Amelia; last year was too mild and though the garden benefited from the rain I think in some ways the cold does more good.

        • I think because they were labelled annual I didn’t think they would continue a second year; I had my doubts about that being true as soon as I’d pulled them up and had seen the size of the tubers. This year I’ll leave the colours I want in the ground.

  7. Those are some hailstones! Good to hear about your cutting beds – I might post tomorrow, although there is not a lot to say, but it is really helpful sharing experiences. I am merely a novice with dahlias, but I just loosely covered my loose tubers with fresh compost and kept them under the shelves in the greenhouse.

    • There’s no space in the greenhouse, it is already full to bursting and I’ve only planted about a third of the seeds so far; some things will have to move outside to make more space. I do have another stand which at present is behind the greenhouse with hardy plants on it, but I might be able to make a space to fit it inside.

  8. I can’t start any cutting beds yet, but I will be happily following yours for ideas since I’ve been concerned about the dormancy issue, knowing that I’ll be dealing with summer drought with a vengeance…
    Not knowing your actual temperatures, I probably shouldn’t make any suggestions on the dahlias, but I have been relying on the fact that temps three or four feet above the ground are usually helpfully warmer than down in the dirt. It wasn’t enough to save my basil from frost, but it did let me start tomato seeds outdoors at the same time…
    The young plants seem to have survived the hail all right?

    • As long as plants receive plenty of water they won’t go dormant as last year’s experiment proved. I find the soil is usually warmer than the air so that’s an interesting observation.

  9. Your hail storm is surprising, but it does not look like much damage was done. I feel terrible whenever I cut flowers out of my garden, except for very special occasions. A cutting garden would be the perfect solution, but I would have to give up part of my veggie garden. That is something I may actually consider, on a limited basis. Sunny spots are so limited. I confess to garden envy when I see your long rows! I can see the masses of lovely blooms you will have.

    • I started the cutting border because, like you, I hate to rob the garden itself of flowers. It is difficult to imagine how much pleasure the cut flowers in the house gave me last year.

  10. Pingback: Cutting Beds and Cutting Down | Rambling in the Garden

  11. I look forward to the regular updates on your cutting garden Christina. I’ve thought I should convert the raised beds in my vegetable garden as a cutting garden too – flowers have already crept in here and there – so maybe your experience will push me further along with that tentative plan. Your dahlias were spectacular last year so I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings “in a vase on Monday.”

    • I’m sure you would be able to grow amazingly exotic flowers in your vegetable beds Kris. It would make watering easier as it does for me. I would find it almost impossible to grow flowers for cutting in the borders.

  12. Hail is nasty and can do more damage than snow especially in spring when I’ve seen it decimate tender young foliage 😦 Those dahlias look rather attractive Christina. I’m sure that your new purchases would be ok in the attic for now. My container grown ones overwinter in the greenhouse and do not get a drop of water from coming in until I’m ready to start them off again. They are usually quite ok with such treatment.

  13. I plan to join in and let Julie and Cathy know I hope to join in. I still do not have a dedicated space and may use pots for now….but I have much to learn and plan for so this will be a great learning experience.

  14. Hi Christina. Fab to see your cutting beds and great to hear you’ve caught the bug. Our last frost tends to be mid-May. I pot up my dahlias in March and keep them in the greenhouse until then. Last year’s are in my shed wrapped up. I have never had problems with them drying out. Rot tends to be the bigger problem. I’d keep them somewhere cool but dry until you want to plant them. I’ve just ordered my dahlias from the National Collection of Dahlias based in Cornwall. I’m going for gorgeous pastels this year.

    • I can probably plant mine out in March anyway, even if it is cold the ground will be warmish by then. So I will leave them in the attic until I am ready to plant them. Last year’s huge mauve one is still in the ground and I intend leaving these in the ground next winter; my soil is so free draining even if we have a month of rain it drains away.

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