The focus for most polytunnel gardeners is growing food. But a polytunnel could also be used, either exclusively, or in addition to edibles growing, to create a cut flower garden. In this article, we will look at why you might want to create an area in your garden from which to cut flowers, and explore a range of tips for choosing flowers, for the layout of a cut flower garden, and for maintaining the space.
The Benefits of a Cut Flower Garden
There are a wide range of reasons why you might want to grow flowers for cutting. First of all, of course, while they are in bloom, flowers will be a boon in the garden. They will attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, increasing biodiversity, helping to maintain a natural balance, and reducing pest problems for organic gardeners.
Above and beyond this, however, a cut flower garden can also add visual appeal to the space, and delight the other senses. This can make your polytunnel a delightful place to spend time.
The flowers,once cut, can also have a range of uses. For example, they might be used:
- For food, or for garnishes in a range of recipes.
- To create fresh bouquets, floral arrangements and vases of flowers to decorate your home.
- To dry for dried flower arrangements.
- To make a range of natural soaps, cleaners and beauty products.
- In herbal remedies for a range of ailments, or healthy teas.
- To make dyes or pigments for natural crafting and art projects.
Why Grow Flowers to Cut in a Polytunnel?
It should by now be very clear why growing flowers to cut is a good idea. But why should you grow those flowers in a polytunnel. There are a number of reasons why it could be a good idea to consider creating your cut flower garden under cover. Those reasons include:
- To increase the range of flowers that you can grow. (You can grow more exotic/ tender plants in a polytunnel that you could do outdoors.)
- To protect your flowers from inclement weather/ extreme weather events. (As our weather becomes ever more unpredictable, placing plants undercover can help you and your plants weather whatever may come.)
- To make it easier to control the environment and prolong blooms. (In a polytunnel, it is easier to control watering, temperature and ventilation to make sure that each plant gets optimal growing conditions. It is also easier to keep an eye out for pests.)
- To make cutting flowers a more pleasant experience, in any conditions.
You might also consider creating a cut flower garden within an existing food producing polytunnel, so that the blooms can aid you in your organic gardening by attracting pollinators etc before you cut them.
Choosing Flowers for Your Cut Flower Polytunnel Garden
If you have decided to create a cut flower polytunnel garden then of course, one of the key decisions is which plants to choose. There are a huge range of different flowers to consider. The following tips should help you to determine the best choices for you:
Think About Your Particular Site
The first things to consider when choosing flowers for your cut flower garden are the particulars of the area where the flowers are to be grown. Think about the temperatures experienced within the polytunnel, and about whether the space will be heated in winter, and if so, how.
It is also important to think about the soil type and soil characteristics, as these will also determine what will grow best where you live. Will you grow in the soil directly, or in raised beds or containers?
Select Flowers for Year-Round Displays
Of course, in addition to thinking about the properties of your site, and your polytunnel, it is also important to think about the properties of the flowering plants you are considering. Are they annual or perennial? When do they bloom and for how long? The first thing is to narrow down your plant choices to ones that will thrive in the conditions that you can provide. The next thing is to consider those plant choices in relation to year-round planning.
The idea for a cut flower garden is to select flowers for year-round harvests and displays. Try to have some things in bloom during every season. This will not only help to make sure that you make the most of the space, and gain a consistent yield. It will also help keep pollinators and other wildlife happy throughout each month of the year.
Consider the Colours, Shapes and Textures of Cut Flowers
Visual appeal is obviously often an important consideration for cut flower gardens. So it is a good idea, when choosing your plants, to pay attention to the colours, shapes and textures of the flowering plants.
Try to think about each of the flowers you are considering not just as stand-alone specimens, but in conjunction with others that will be in bloom around the same time. Will they complement one another, both in the ground and when cut for displays?
Consider Flowers That Offer More Than One Yield
As listed above, flowers that are cut from your polytunnel garden can have a wide range of uses. When choosing plants for your cut flower garden, it is a good idea to consider options which offer more than one yield. For example, a certain flower might have both edible and ornamental uses, while another may be useful for pollinators while in bloom, and as a herbal remedy once cut…
In a successful organic garden design, each element included should ideally have multiple functions and provide multiple yields.
Considering Layout for Your Cut Flower Garden
Once you have done some work deciding which flowers you might like to include in your cut flower polytunnel garden, you should also think about the layout of your growing areas. Here are some tips to help make sure that, whichever layout your choose, everything functions smoothly and you have done all you can to make the most of the space.
Think About Ease of Access
With a cut flower garden, you will need to access the area regularly to harvest the cut flowers, to deadhead to prolong blooms, and to carry out other maintenance work (more on which below). Make sure you create pathways or access points that allow you to carry out this work without any hassles.
Make the Most of Edges
To make the most of the space in your polytunnel cut flower garden, be sure to maximise edge, and make the most of all edges. Do not neglect the marginal spaces and ensure that you make the most of every inch.
Layer Plants in Time and Space
When planning the positioning of every individual plant, it is important not only to think about the specific needs of those plants and how they will interact with their neighbours, but also whether those positions represent an optimal use of space. Layering plants can help to make sure that you have made the most of the space available.
In addition to layering plants in space, you should also think about how you can layer plants in time – by making use of the gaps between slower growing flowers to grow some faster growing variety, for example, and successional planting to increase the blooming period for a particular flowering plant.
Maintaining Your Cut Flower Garden
Next, let’s take a look at a few tips to help make sure that it is easy to maintain your cut flower garden:
Create Polycultures For Easier Organic Pest Control
Planting multiple flowering plant varieties in a mixed planting scheme is a better idea than planting rows or blocks of just one type of flower. Mono-crop planting can encourage pests, and make them harder to control. So create polycultures in your polytunnel to make things easier on you.
Add Fertility To Your Cut Flower Garden Through Mulches
It is important to remember, when you have a year-round flowering garden, that the soil will need to be fed to maintain fertility over time. Add fertility by mulching between your plants with suitable organic materials, that will build the soil and feed your plants, keeping them blooming well.
Keep Flowers Growing Well with Liquid Plant Feeds
Another way to provide a boost to your flowering plants and keep them in fine fettle is through using liquid plant feeds. It is easy to create your own organic liquid plant feeds using plants grown elsewhere in your garden, or using compost created from kitchen and garden waste.
Cut Flowers Regularly To Keep Plants in Bloom
Finally, maintenance of a cut flower garden involves regularly cutting the flowers you grow, to encourage further blooms and to keep plants flowering for longer. If you have chosen the right flowers for your cut flower garden then you should have no difficulty in finding things to do with the flowers that you cut.
Do you have a cut flower garden? Share your favourite plants and ideas for what to do with them in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.