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Designing for Cut Flowers by Leonie Cornelius

Designing for Cut Flowers by Leonie Cornelius

Is there anything more satisfying than creating an arrangement of blooms from our own garden?

I adore having fresh flowers in my own home and no matter what the time of year there is something to be found in nature to make a stunning display. Part of the reason I love flower arrangements inside is that it blurs the boundaries between inside and outside, something that has long fascinated me as an architect and garden designer. 
Much like the massive current trend for bringing the living room outdoors, bringing nature indoors acts blends the inside and outside together while also referencing our natural surroundings.
Particularly if we consider using what is in season in our locality and in our gardens we can really bring a taster of our garden into the home reminding us of the changing seasons and the beauty of our landscape and gardens.

For many people space is limited and growing flowers for arranging must be done in small borders, balconies or even windowsills while others have more space to play with and can grow many varieties of flowering perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees, all of which can be used to create beautiful displays. No matter what area you have to play with, the ideas and principles behind growing these flowers stay the same. 
Some of my clients ask me what the advantage is to grow your own flowers for arranging. Well, there are more than you may think.
First and foremost of course is the sheer pleasure of growing, tending and eventually picking them for your home.
I think the satisfaction that comes from this is far greater than simply picking up a bunch of flowers in the local supermarket. 
Another advantage is the fact that if you grow your own flowers you are arranging your bouquets seasonally. What I mean by this is that you are following how nature is changing throughout the seasons which is a far more holistic approach than to buy flowers that are not in season and must therefore be grown in tunnels abroad. 

Also to consider is the darker side of the flower trade which many people are unaware of. Many of the pretty flowers in discount shops and supermarkets have flown long distances to get to us and more often than we realise, the arrangements have been grown and picked many miles away in countries like Africa or Columbia where labour is cheap and labour laws often non-existent. Definitely not the nicest thought when you’re arranging your bunch of Lilies. Fortunately some supermarkets have started selling ethical flowers which is definitely a step in the right direction. Better again are reputable florists who know where they are sourcing their flowers and care about the environmental and ethical implications of the flower trade.

Taking all these considerations into account there is absolutely no better way to get exactly what you want with a clear conscience than to grow your on flowers for arranging. Not only do you have a stunning garden full of colour and blooms, you’re also bringing your garden indoors throughout the year.




First of all you need to consider what amount of space you can give over to the growing of cut flowers. Do you want to dedicate a space in the garden for your cut flowers or perhaps just integrate some cutting flowers into an existing border? Perhaps you have a small raised bed that you’d like to fill or even just a large planter.


If you are adapting an existing border to have more cutting flowers in it one consideration is to make sure you have plenty of one flower in each group. It seems like a no brainer but remember that you will be cutting them over time so this will ensure that the effect of the colour and flower in the border remains looking strong. This also applies to smaller containers. Don’t be afraid to pack in more than one of each variety.


Another thing to consider is the addition of shrubs and trees both for flowers and foliage. There are many shrubs out there that are wonderful for flower arranging and some even bloom in Winter. Think of the stunning yellow frothy blooms of the hamamelis shrub in early Winter or the beautiful foliage of the eucalyptus tree and even the amazing structural flower of the hellebore. These will be valuable additions to the arrangement in Winter when most of the annuals, perennials and bulbs have died down. Interestingly these two yellow flowering shrubs will also do very well in a container so can even brighten up a small balcony.


A well prepared soil is key to successful growing and the ideal is a fertile, well draining soil with no weeds. Applying liberal amounts of organic matter will also give them a real kickstart. I absolutely love the Donegal made product available from called “Envirogrind” which is like plant dynamite. Regular, moderate feeding will also help the plants look good over time and encourage flowering.


Herbaceous perennials: There are endless herbaceous options to choose from for the cut flower garden and many have a long flowering season making them very useful additions to the garden border. Spires of linaria and clouds of achillea are wonderful options but  perennial tuberous-rooted dahlias really steal the show when it comes to cut flowers-some dahlia varieties have blooms the size of dinner plates!

Annuals: buying annuals such as cornflower, cosmos or sunflowers as seeds saves on cost and you can vary varieties every year. You can also sow them at different times in the season making the flooring season somewhat longer. Biannuals such as digitalis will flower in the second year but also provide stunning spire colour to arrangements. 

Bulbs: bulbs are wonderful additions to the cut flower garden. Not only can you dot them in wherever there is space, you can also grow them successively so that you have a very long flowing season. From tulips to hyacinth and daffodils, there are so many options with plenty of colours and scent. 

Climbers: Some clematis climbers can be very pretty additions to arrangements and we must not forget climbing Roses, many of which are invaluable for scent and colour. Sweet peas are another climbing annual which have the most delicious scent and are perfect for arrangements.

Shrubs and trees:  Here we are thinking about adding cutting material in the colder months of the year. Evergreen foliage such as eucalyptus and camellia can create a  beautiful backbone of an arrangement. We also have flooring shrubs such as the Japanese quince which has gorgeous flowers covering many of its slender stems and which looks fantastic in a vase. Hamamelis and forsythia are lovely frothy yellow Winter flowering shrubs which  are very valuable in the cut flower garden.


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