• Cathy Crozier-Cole

A Summer Of Blooms

As the growing season finally starts to get going after our cold, dry April, my plants seem to be springing up almost visibly, and the sight of their lush green growth rocketing skywards is a welcome sight each morning!

It’s been a busy time planting out over the past month. There’s a lot to look forward to in the cutting patch this season, so I thought I’d share with you a bit about what I’m growing, and what to look out for in my bouquets in the year ahead.

About to take centre stage are the biennials. Biennials are flowering plants which take two years to complete their life cycle – putting down roots and growing vegetation in their first year, and flowering and setting seed the next. Sown almost a year ago, these cutting garden stalwarts have weathered the blazing heat of last summer and the storms of winter, in order to arrive just in time to perfectly fill the bridge between the end of spring bulbs and the start of the summer annuals.

The biennials I’m most looking forward to are the foxgloves (Digitalis), and this year I’m trying the beautiful soft peach coloured ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ for the first time. Foxgloves make beautiful cut flowers (although no part of the flower or plant should ever be ingested, so I have to remind my customers to take care!), and their beautiful spires provide wonderful structure in a bouquet, reminiscent of the hedgerow in spring. And once you’ve cut the main stem, you are rewarded by a flurry of delicate secondary stems which are perfect for smaller bouquets.

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is already blooming, in shades of white and purple, with a wonderful scent. Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) will be hot on their heels, and I’m especially looking forward to the richly dark colours of variety ‘Sooty’. Whilst my honesty (Lunaria annua) flowers have been blooming for a while, I’m leaving them to set into the beautiful seedpods, who’s moon-like appearance earned the flower its Latin name. These will look stunning tucked fresh into arrangements, plus I’ll keep some aside for drying too.

Just coming into bloom are also the alliums, planted as bubs last autumn. I love alliums for their rounded shape and cottage garden character, and even more for the stunning sculptural seedheads they leave behind afterwards. Last year they paired for me wonderfully with early perennials Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna’, Nepeta (or catmint), Iris sibirica, and the gorgeous shrubby foliage of raspberry greens and dark physocarpus – see the image above.

As the heat of June intensifies, the summer annuals will take up the baton. This year they include snapdragons (Antirrhinum), larkspur (Delphinium consolida), scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea), cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), stocks (Matthiola incana) and cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus). I’m growing too many perennials to list, as I love the richness of diversity of shape and colour they bring to an arrangement, but some of my favourites include yarrow (Achillea), Astrantia, lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and phlox (Phlox drummondii). These will start blooming in early summer, and many will give me a second flush I give them a chop.

Finally will come the dahlias, bursting forth like a fanfare of trumpets, announcing that high summer has finally arrived! Some of my favourites include the rich dark varieties like ‘Sam Hopkins’ and ‘Con Amore’, although I also adore the warmth of the pinky-corals like ‘Jowey Winnie’ too. I can keep picking my dahlias right to the end of the season, when I’ll finally pack them up for bed so that they can take a well-earned rest until the next year.

And of course, Umbel would not be true to its name without including a raft of beautiful umbellifers! I have so many favourites – wild carrot (Daucus Carota), bishop’s flower (Ammi majus and Ammi visnaga), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), florist’s dill (Anethum graveolens) and thorow wax (Bupleurum) to name a few – and I’ll be tucking a few into every arrangement I can.

For me, a good bouquet should look like it’s been gathered fresh from the garden. It should reflect all the shape, colour and texture of the most beautifully designed herbaceous border. For me, that means taking care to combine spires, circular daisy shapes and dome-headed umbellifers, together with wispy grasses and delicate, bobbing stems for movement, and combining it all with beautifully shaped foliage and sculptural seedheads for texture.

Hopefully, my careful planning over the winter months will mean I have all the right flowers and foliage coming spectacularly into bloom in all the most complimentary colours and shapes at exactly the right time, as the season progresses. This is the challenge – and the skill – of cut flower growing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on my flowers. Do let me know what you like – and also what you’d like to see. Perhaps there’s a flower you adore and brings back wonderful memories, or has a beautiful scent or colour that you can’t get enough of? Follow me on Instagram and Facebook @umbelflowers for all the latest pictures of what’s flowering, and share your comments.

And – whether in your garden, or out walking in the hedgerows and fields – may this summer bloom beautifully for you.