- Gardens - Design

Flowering Passions

Posted: 06th May 2021

How one Somerset couple turned their home-grown country garden flowers into a blooming business success – and how you can grow your own bouquet too.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that reads: “Life begins the day you start a garden.” For Lucy and Matt Housley, the creation of their home cutting garden in Spring 2020 was not only the start of a shared, passionate pursuit, but also the beginning of a thriving new business venture, on and offline. After just four months they were successfully selling hand-tied bouquets locally; last Christmas they sold out of wreaths that Lucy hand-made using dried and fresh home-grown and hedgerow flowers in just 24 hours, and it’s taken just a year for their Instagram account, @thesomersetcuttinggarden, to reach 5000 devoted, interactive followers.

However, the couple’s original motivation for growing their own wasn’t for commerce (they each have other jobs too), but conservation. They wanted to ensure there was an abundance of food for pollinators at their country cottage in the Mendip Hills, near Oakhill in Somerset, so, they planted their own beds. But once they had a garden full of beautiful blooms, they wanted to share them. “We’re passionate about growing cut flowers in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way and work with the British seasons” explains Lucy. “That’s why our wildly-beautiful Cutting Garden Bouquets are only available from May-September every year.”

And as gardening soared in popularity through the pandemic (a study of 2000 adults showed that more than a third grew green fingers last year, according to a feature in The Independent) – and as you might not be near Oakhill in order to pick up your own bunch, we thought we’d ask Lucy for tips and tricks for growing your own bouquet. Good news – you don’t even need a garden, says Lucy, continuing “Anyone can grow their own cut flowers to enjoy inside. You don’t need a huge garden. You can grow from pots on a patio or balcony. With so many flowers to choose from, beginners can feel overwhelmed. But if you plan properly and don’t take on too much too soon, gardening for pleasure and for your own cut flowers is really rewarding.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Your Own Late Summer Bouquet by Lucy Housley from The Somerset Cutting Garden

Hi Lucy. Tell us how a beginner starts to create a cutting garden

First, decide on an area that you won’t mind looking untidy as the Summer goes on. Ultimately if you’re cutting the flowers for enjoyment elsewhere, your bed or pots will sometimes look half-empty, so you need to find a space in the garden that you’re happy to cut from. Give your cutting garden a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Prepare the planting area or pots, making sure the soil is loose and weed-free. Take time to work in compost and all-purpose organic fertiliser (as prescribed on the packaging) such as blood, fish and bone granules.

Great. What flowers do you suggest trying first?

Annuals (flowers that are sown and grow/flower in the same year) are widely used as cutting flowers and easy to grow. I recommend the following annuals, as they are great for cutting, have a good vase life once cut, come in several varieties and colours and are easy to sow from May:

  • Cosmos
  • Nigella
  • Ammi Visnaga
  • Zinnias
  • Cornflowers
  • Poppies – to be sown direct to area where they are to be cut from.

Can you recommend a good place to buy seeds?

I buy seeds from independent seed suppliers as I know I am supporting small businesses, which I like to do. I’ve always had success with seeds from Chiltern Seeds  and Higgledy Garden, both independent British businesses.

Ok. Seeds ordered. Now how to turn them into flowers?!

Seeds can be sown in pots or trays in the greenhouse, or if you don’t have a greenhouse, on the kitchen window sill. Some can be sown directly – meaning wherever you are to cut from. Most seeds need light to germinate, but the packaging will tell you if they need to be handled specially or if they can be sown directly.

Seed trays are easy to purchase online and from your local garden centre. As it’s getting warmer, the seedlings will need more attention when it comes to watering. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out, but isn’t saturated either. You can use a multipurpose compost for the sowing of all seeds and planting out.

It’s exciting! How do you know when they are ready to plant outside?

Once the seedlings have established and the risk of the last frost has passed, then you can plant out in your raised bed, or garden or your pots.

If you’re planting in a raised bed or open garden, then the most efficient way to set up a cutting garden is to grow your flowers in rows, as you would vegetables. It’s good to work out each plant’s mature height and width in advance, as this will help you space the plants accordingly. Most of the annuals I’ve recommended will need some support whilst growing to ensure they don’t flop in the wind or rain. Stake and tie the plants from a young age to avoid this happening.

Is it easy to know when to cut the flowers?

You’ll know when the flowers are ready as they will start to bud and flowers will form.

Early morning is the ideal time to cut fresh flowers. The flowers have had the benefit of cool night air and morning dew. Their stems are filled with water and carbohydrates and so are firm to the touch. As the day warms up, flowers gradually dehydrate. Midday is the least auspicious time to cut, so I suggest either early morning or later in the evening.

When cutting, have a bucket of water on hand to put the flowers in immediately.

Always use clean, sharp utensils when cutting flowers. I have a very handy pair of Niwaki snips that are my ‘go to’ when cutting.

You can prepare the stems for the vase you intend to display them in further, by cutting to the correct height and removing any foliage from the stem which would otherwise be in the water. This is called ‘conditioning’.

Thank you! Finally, who inspires you in the garden?

My green-fingered love of gardening has been self-taught, but has been inspired by several local Somerset-based flower farmers including Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers, Cobi from Batch Cottage Flowers in Cranmore and the committee behind Flowers From the Farm.