Some allotment friends were talking to me the other day about growing wedding flowers for a friend, in their greenhouse and on their plot. My first question was the date – around midsummer, they said. My second, rapidly, worriedly: have you already sown? No. I tried not to instil panic, but one thing I do know is that mid-summer rocks around far faster than you even expect it to, and spring-sown flowers cannot be depended upon for something as important as a wedding. Late spring and early summer are temperamental beasts, and smooth sailing from spring sowing to mid-summer flowering can never be guaranteed. If you need flowers you can depend upon, you need to sow hardy annuals in autumn. They germinate, grow a little, hunker down through the cold, and are ready to leap into life as soon as warmer spring weather arrives.
Right now the greenhouse is most probably the best place to do this. It is true that I have recently direct sown a few cut flowers on my own plot, straight into the earth – cornflowers, poppies, chamomile and marigolds – but all the time aware that I may have left it just a little too late for them to germinate and grow big enough to see out the winter. We will see, I may be lucky. But in the greenhouse this would be no problem. This is the perfect time to get a few hardy annuals underway under glass, ready to plant out, sturdy and strong, in spring.
For inspiration I looked at Georgie Newbery’s excellent book Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers, which is divided into sections on weddings for each season. For early summer she suggests lots and lots of sweet peas, a brilliant choice if you are growing your own as they are so pretty and scented, and yet near impossible to buy from florists because of their delicacy. They can certainly be own now, in long, thin rootrainer-type pots, which will accommodate their need to let their roots stretch out. Her favourites for wedding colours are: ‘Betty Maiden’, which is almost white, with a lilac edge; ‘Charlie’s Angel’ in pale lilac; ‘Daily Mail’, a hot, salmon pink for stronger schemes; ‘Mollie Rilstone’, pale cream with ‘ballet-shoe pink edging’; and ‘Royal Wedding’, a pure white. All are Spencer varieties, which means that they have larger flowers than some. They are also less strongly scented than many of the smaller-flowered varieties, but Georgie assures that they are still pretty fabulously fragranced.
She also suggests cornflowers, which I can heartily agree with as I sow them every year and find they are brilliant for adding a dot of enlivening blue to more sedate bunches of flowers. But Georgie says that as well as for the bouquets their petals are wonderful for use as fresh flower confetti, particularly if you sow in a range of colours: pink, white, and blue.
Nigella is good for colour and for the lovely froth of fine foliage around each flower, and Ammi majus is a sort of refined cow parsley and perfect for the country look, particularly useful for filling larger containers. All of these can be sown now in the greenhouse in small pots of compost or in module trays. They shouldn’t need a huge amount of watering as cool weather means less evaporation, but keep an eye on them as they germinate to ensure they don’t dry out. Growth should slow and then completely halt over the coldest parts of winter, but as weather warms in spring you can pot plants on into larger pots and eventually plant them out, when dangers of frosts have passed. By midsummer a sowing such as this should produce bucketsful of flowers to please the most exacting couple. It’s not too late after all.