In honour of British Flowers Week, why not get involved and have a go at growing your own cut flowers? Georgie Newbery tells you how in her new book The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit.
“When customers come into our flower studio and it is full of roses cut for a wedding, they stop short, and I see them breathing in the glorious scent of what we grow. Nobody should have to accept scentless roses: a rose with no scent is like unfinished silk, a painting with no colour, a sunny day clouded over. It is a sadness, a disappointment.
And what shrubby perennial plant grows almost as well as anything else here in the UK? What shrubby perennial loves our gentle climate and our cool summers? What flowers from early June until late September – and even, with endless deadheading, will still be flowering on Christmas Day? Why, the English rose! Of course, not all of you reading this will have an English country garden at your fingertips: you may be in Seattle, Sydney, Syracuse – or Somerset, South Africa – but the generic rose available to you in your local florist shop will almost certainly be long, straight-stemmed, single headed, and flown in from South America or Kenya. And forgive me for a certain partiality, but when I say ‘gorgeous garden rose’, do you imagine a serried rank of identical roses, or the dream of an English country garden, where the roses festoon arches and frame seats, and scent the air with a heady mix of apricot and lemon, honey, ginger and a shake of cinnamon? My guess is that you see the latter.
So, wherever you’re growing cut flowers, for your own use or for sale, do consider whether you can grow roses. A fresh-cut garden rose, full of life, its stamens just visible through a coy, curling skirt of taffeta petals, seems barely related at all to its poor cousin, hydroponically, chemically, factory-grown in a giant tunnel on the side of a Venezuelan mountain.
A bucket of scented, home-grown roses for sale by the stem at a farmers’ market, in your local farm shop, at your nearby home-interiors shop or vintage-style specialist in gardenalia, will likely sell out as you deliver them. Absolutely perfect, stripped of their thorns, with not a hint of black spot on the leaves, perhaps each with a little brown card label attached on which a note can be written – these roses might sell for as much
as £2.50 each; in London twice that. And you’re wondering whether you can make some money growing cut flowers?
How to grow roses for cut flowers
There’s a slightly different approach when growing roses for cut-flower production as opposed to in a mixed border. David Austin recommends that roses planted for cut flowers be planted much more closely together than they would usually be: they don’t need to be more than 30cm (12″) apart. The idea is that the crowding of them will encourage long (and therefore valuable) stems. Roses in a mixed border usually have to compete for air and light with underplanting and with other shrubs, but in a bed for cut-flower production they should be weed-free, not fighting for air with dense under-planting (and therefore needing mould control), and so can be planted more closely together.
If you can’t bear all that empty soil around the feet of your roses, and feel as though you’re wasting space, and that a little underplanting will keep moisture in the soil and help prevent weeds, remember that reaching through roses to cut flowers or foliage is likely to rip your arm. So, plant your roses in the middle of beds, and perhaps edge the beds with tulips that you intend to leave year-on-year, or with alchemilla, or with herbs with antiseptic qualities, such as mint (which might help fight black spot – see overleaf) or sage, as aphids are reputedly repulsed by the sagey smell.” (The Flower Farmer’s Year 116-117)
Don’t miss your chance to further explore the world of cut flower gardening: get The Flower Farmer’s Year now for just £13.99 (RRP £19.99), with free UK delivery on all orders. Offer valid from 15th – 21st June 2015.
Just go to www.greenbooks.co.uk/flower-farmer and enter the voucher code BFW2015 during the check out.