Quintessential English flowers are not only those that are native plants. The traditional English cottage garden incorporates flowers from all over the world. Yet the feeling they create is one that just feels like England. If you conjure up images of the country – an archetypal English cottage garden is likely to come to mind.
A polytunnel makes it easier to sow, propagate and grow a range of English country garden flowers. Here are a range of some favourite English flowers that you can start in your polytunnel:
Roses come in many shapes, forms, colours and types. But whichever roses you choose, these flowers are an almost essential component of an English cottage garden. Roses are generally bought either in containers, or as bare-root plants. Bare-root deliveries over the winter months cannot always be planted out right away into waterlogged or frozen soil. A polytunnel could be an ideal place to keep them until you are ready to plant them out. You could also consider using your polytunnel to propagate your favourite roses, through softwood cuttings in early to mid spring, or hardwood cuttings in mid-autumn to late winter.
Lilies are another favourite flower in the UK, and there are plenty of varieties and types that can add vibrant colour and dramatic blooms to an English cottage garden. These are often bought in containers from garden centres. But many can also be relatively easily grown from bulbs. Usually, bulbs are best sown in autumn, and they will enjoy a position in full sun or partial shade in a rich, fertile but well-drained soil or growing medium. You could plant bulbs directly where they are to grow, but you could also consider starting these flowering plants in your polytunnel.
Native to Sicily, Cyprus, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands, the sweet pea is a non-native but extremely popular flower for an English cottage garden. Sweet peas are rather easy to grow from seed and so are an ideal choice for starting in a polytunnel before you transplant them to other locations around your garden.
Cornflowers are a delightful flowering plant that can add a dash of blue to an English cottage garden. Annual cornflowers can be sown in a polytunnel in March, April or May and they will flower between June and September.
Poppies are often planted alongside cornflowers, and the combination of these flowers can make the colours really pop. Poppy seeds can be sown directly where they are to grow in spring. But you could also consider sowing the seeds in your polytunnel before you move the young plants to where they are to grow a little later.
A biennial wildflower that is propagated by seed, this can be another great choice for a wildlife-friendly English cottage garden in the British Isles. This too, can be sown where it is to grow, but you could also consider sowing the seeds in your polytunnel before moving young plants out into your garden once seeds have germinated and seedlings have begun to grow.
Different varietals of Hellenium are also ideal for an English flower garden. There are many different options to choose from, which can inject some colour and sunshine into your planting scheme from June right through to October. Sow seeds in a heated polytunnel very early in spring, or indoors, then harden your plants off and plant out in late May after all risk of frost has passed and the weather has begun to warm.
Hollyhocks are another English cottage garden classic. You can sow the seeds in early spring in your polytunnel, prick them out and pot them up, then plant out in June. However, it is important to note that the hollyhocks you start in your polytunnel will not flower well until the following year – so a little patience is required.
Delphiniums are another popular choice for an English cottage garden. Seeds can be sown in September and placed in an unheated polytunnel. These should be potted up when the seedlings have two true leaves, and then transplanted out into the garden in the spring.
A wide variety of Dianthus can also be sown in the polytunnel in early spring to be planted out in an English cottage garden later in the season. Though the seeds can also be sown directly in your garden in the summer months. Called ‘pinks’, Dianthus are certainly not all pink in colour – and can bring a range of vibrant colours to your garden.
Which English Flowers, or flowers traditionally included in an English cottage garden to you start in your polytunnel? Let us know 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.