One of the things I love most about having an allotment is that it enables you to grow masses of flowers to cut for the house. With only a small rear courtyard garden and a not much bigger front garden at home, I can only really pick small seasonal posies without spoiling the display in the garden, which of course lasts for much longer if not picked! I love to see colour all year round, so the garden at home is planned for a succession of colour, but I get so much pleasure from that when I’m working from home, or coming in and out, that it seems criminal to snip more than a few flowers here or there. It’s lovely, too, to have bunches to give away when visiting friends for dinner – a hand-tied arrangement is often far nicer than anything you could buy and people are always thrilled that you’ve grown them yourself.
Down on the plot, however, I have a whole bed dedicated to flowers: mainly dahlias that stay in the ground year after year and have now reached monster proportions! So much so, that I really need to think about lifting and dividing them this autumn to make room for new varieties. I’ve also squeezed in some gladioli, which don’t take up much room and are far more effective used for picking than standing awkwardly in a flowerbed, and a couple of cosmos plants. I have a framework of blue-hued sweet peas (Singing the Blues from Mr Fothergill’s seeds) alongside my mangetouts and have been picking huge bunches every couple of days since the beginning of July – heaven!
Next year, I’m planning on growing even more flowers by sacrificing a potato bed. I used to grow three beds of potatoes, 20 tubers in each, covering early, salad and maincrop varieties, but I cut back to two last year, when my boys left home, and I’ve realised that even two beds is far too many for one, even if I give them away to visitors! Wireworms and slugs tend to get there before I can with the later crops, and then there’s blight at the end of the season, inevitable on a large allotment site. Far better, I’ve decided, to devote another bed to flowers, preferably earlier-flowering varieties so I can extend the cutting season.
I already grow sweet William and wallflowers as decorative edging to some of my vegetable beds, and I have daffodils under my apple trees and tulips in the asparagus beds, along with beautiful lilac opium poppies. Yet I’m craving peonies for lavish armfuls in early summer, plus those useful early annuals such as Ammi and Bupleureum for adding white and lime green froth respectively to spring and summer arrangements. Alchemilla mollis I already have in abundance at home, and a visiting friend this weekend had the inspired idea of using golden yellow dill flowers to accompany my deep red, pink and white dahlias – a stunning combination, as you can see above! Our local florist at one of my favourite local tearooms, Beal’s Barn, often has fabulously decadent double ranunculus in her spring arrangements and that’s another bulb I’d like to try in my new bed, possibly with freesias too, on a friend’s recommendation. Hardiness may be a concern, but if the dahlias survive the winter, there’s every reason to suppose these might too.
At this time of year my house is already full of flower arrangements – I counted as many as 14 in one go, from tiny posies of sweet peas or roses in my office, to statuesque vases of gladioli and big, blowsy bunches of old-fashioned dahlias. I love it!