Great is the art of beginning but greater is the art of ending – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Many people endeavour to take up gardening each spring, full of enthusiasm and promise of time allotted for this new hobby. But for so many different reasons, after a short number of weeks, the initial excitement dwindles as the evenings get longer and there are so many other ways to spend your time. So, very well done to all who have stuck with the cutting garden project and I am sure your beautiful displays are now repaying you threefold. Hard work, patience and all your tender loving care are a small price to pay for a constant supply of flowers to decorate your home throughout the summer. The discovery of gardening through seed sowing is summed up well by Gertrude Jekyll: “The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”
The recent fine weather has meant that gardens are now bursting with colour after what was a very slow start to the season. Ongoing maintenance of the flower patch is minimum at this stage; just a little weeding, regular watering and harvesting of your flowers is all that is required. Most of the flowers we selected back in March will benefit from regular cutting. This is especially true of sweet pea and, in general, plants will bloom over a much longer period of time if you cut them from the patch every few days.
Conditioning is the term used to describe the preparation of flowers and foliage for life in the vase. It involves removing any of the lower leaves that would end up sitting in the vase water, causing bacteria. It is a good idea to keep both your scissors and buckets immaculately clean by getting into the habit of scrubbing the buckets (with thin bleach or white vinegar) well after use again to prevent bacteria. This will ensure longer-lasting blooms in your displays.
You will need:
1. These few simple steps will prolong the vase life of your flowers. Cutting should ideally be done early in the morning when the flowers will have had the benefit of cool night air and a morning dew. The stems will be firm to touch, have a high water status and plenty stored food at this time. Never cut midday as the flower will be water stressed – but it is fine to cut in late evening as by then the flower will have had time to recover from the heat of the day.
2. As a general rule, select flowers that are just about to open. You will find out what works best for each of the flowers by trial and error.
3. Cut stems at an angle to expose more stem surface area and always place the flowers into a bucket of water immediately after cutting (warm water has the advantage of moving water molecules faster) as you do not want the cut to seal up as this will inhibit absorption of water.
4. Once you get back inside, find a cool area to arrange the flowers and don’t forget to remove the lower leaves.
5. Add a couple of spoons of sugar (to provide food) and a squirt of lemon juice (to prevent bacteria building up) to the water.
6. Other tips include recutting stems and changing the water after a couple of days. Also, avoid placing flower displays near fruit as the fruit releases a gas that causes the flowers to age faster.
I find that cottage garden flowers are much nicer in old jugs rather than vases. Have fun trying out different vessels and I am sure that, before long, you will have built up quite a collection of these vessels – from teapots to decorated tin cans – and visits to charity shops will become part of your weekly routine.
Now that your gardening hours have been reduced and you have a bit more free time, why not take a walk around your locality to see what wildflowers inhabit it. You will be amazed at just how many can be found, whether you walk on sand hills, a bog or an old bohereen this time of year, you will be sure to find splashes of colour everywhere. It is a useful exercise to notice how diverse an area can be if it has been left undisturbed by chemicals and indeed invasive species. By realising the benefits of organic principles in your cutting garden, you will now find yourself having a keen interest in the environment.