Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts



One of my big hopes for this year is to have a fine cut flower patch. I want to be able to pick bunch after bunch of lovely flowers for myself, for birthday presents, for my mum when she’s looked after the kids. It’s an investment. A cut flower patch requires an awful lot of fuss to get started but once going it will be pumping out bunches all summer long, and a little into the autumn too. It should pay back the attention I am having to lavish on it at the moment in its current state: as pot after pot of seedlings and sprouting tubers in the greenhouse.

Right at the front of the allotment is a big patch of ground that I always try to keep pretty as it fools the allotment committee into thinking the rest of the plot is in good nick, and this is my chosen spot. Currently though, this marvellous few metres exists only in my imagination and in said greenhouse. It will start to take shape very soon though, so here’s a quick run through of the flower patch in its seedling and pampered state, before it meets its far more uncertain future outdoors.

First to go out will almost definitely be the cornflowers, which rocketed away from an early spring sowing. Being hardy annuals I wasn’t too worried about them getting frosted and sowed with abandon properly early. They have been true to their hardy annual promise and not faded away at cool weather. Hooray for the cornflowers! I grow them every year, because their bright blue flower heads clash beautifully with everything, or at the very least provide the brightest little spots in the bouquet. Cerinthe purpurescens major was also sown early and is looking sturdy. This is an odd plant and very much the sort of thing it is easy to overlook when planning a border, being a bouquet ‘filler’ rather than a bouquet star. It would be easy to end up with a patch full of show stoppers but have no chorus line, but cerinthe makes the perfect chorus line. Bulky and many-branched, you can prop other starrier plants among it and they will perch there, rather than flopping to the edge of the vase. Its bell-shaped flowers are blue but it is the blueish-greenish-purplish bracts that help it to go with just about everything you can throw at it.

Other hardy annuals have not proved so tough. I love the free-range-yolk orange of calendulas and was drawn to ‘Indian Prince’, which has dark red backs to complement. But I have struggled to get many to germinate, only finally striking lucky with my third sowing. I just may have started too early, but it means my plants are far from ready to go. Zinnias have been exactly the same, coming good third sowing around. But they are always tricky, loving warmth and hating our springs, and always worth persevering with in the end. There will also one day be Ammi visnaga, with its frilly white flowers, also still far too delicate to stray far from the greenhouse yet.

For late summer I have sown a host of golden sunflowers, and a good few in white and dark red too. Dahlias will keep them company, bought as tubers and are being grown on in pots in the greenhouse to give them a slight head start when pitted against the slugs. All of these are slowly being moved outside to spend a week or so against the back wall and start toughening up for their – hopefully – productive life at the plot.