From plot to vase

We asked four Partner Gardens about their favourite cut flowers, and for tips on getting the best from them

Rows of cut flowers at Forde Abbey Gardens
Forde Abbey Gardens, Somerset
In praise of dahlias


Forde Abbey grows a wide range of cut flowers in its walled Kitchen Garden, including statice, gladioli, Cleome,  Amaranthus, sweet peas, Alstroemeria, Camassia, peonies and Aconitum. These are mixed with other plants from around the garden to decorate the house for concerts and other events. 

Dahlia 'Cherry Wine'Alice's pick of the bunch

Owner Alice Kennard is fond of dahlias in all their forms, but particularly Dahlia 'Cherry Wine', a red waterlily type.

'It has a lovely open habit, is long lasting both on the stem and in the vase, and the more you cut it the better it performs,' says Alice. 'It is extremely easy to pair with almost any other flower in the garden, especially the various Asters and Aconitums that we grow.'


Visitors admire dahlias at Forde Abbey GardensGetting the best from dahlias: The Forde Abbey way 
In the picking garden the dahlias are lifted after the first autumn frost, dried out for a few days and then stored over winter in sawdust in the cellars of the abbey, which offers the perfect climate.

In March they are transferred into large crates in the glasshouse and surrounded by leaf mould until they start to sprout. Once there is enough green showing, and the risk of frosts has passed, they are planted out in two lines for ease of picking.

As they grow they are supported with garden netting on posts at about 90cm high. 'This keeps them all upright throughout the season,' says Alice.

Priorwood Garden, Borders

Priorwood Garden, Borders
Perfect flowers for drying

Priorwood's cut flower garden is one with a difference: it specialises in flowers suitable for drying. 'All of the plants in this area can be preserved or dried in some form, including flowers, grasses, foliage and seedheads,' says Acting Head Gardener Andrew Leitch. 

The peak cutting period is from late July into September, and once dried, visitors can buy dried flower arrangements and individual dried flowers to take home. At the time of writing in June 2017, the garden also plans to offer hats (made by an onsite milliner) and candles using dried flowers from the garden. 

Eryngium giganteumAndrew's pick of the bunch 

Andrew sings the praises of Eryngium giganteum as a great cut flower subject.

'It's an unusual shape - not a classic flower, and it has a striking steely colour,' says Andrew. He finds it also dries very well for long lasting displays. 

Helichrysum at Priorwood GardenGetting the best from dried flowers: The Priorwood Garden way 

Visitors to Priorwood often remark on the colour of the garden's dried flowers. The secret, Andrew says, is to dry flowers away from sunlight, which bleaches petals. A dark shed, garage, loft or drying cupboard would be good places to dry flowers at home.

Once harvested, the flowers are treated in one of two ways.

Sprays of blooms are hung on coat hangers using elastic bands, and stored in a windowless room at room temperature. A dehumidifier is used to to extract excess moisture.

Where flowers need more support, individual flower heads are placed into frames of chicken mesh. Eryngium giganteum is treated in this way, to cradle the feathery bracts and give an 'open' look to the finished flower. The frames are then placed in the 'hot cupboard', heated to 90 degrees.  

  • Priorwood Garden offers the same free access arrangements to RHS members as its nearby 'sister' garden, Harmony Garden.  

Doddington Hall, Lincoln
Foliage with character


The 0.8ha (2 acres) Elizabethan walled garden is home to fruit and vegetables but also a cutting garden run by Rachel Petheram of Catkin Flowers. Rachel is an artisan florist, gardener and teacher with a special interest in seasonal, British-grown flowers.

'I grow a range of glorious scented flowers and foliage in all colours and textures - proper, old fashioned, cottage garden flowers,' says Rachel.

Rachel's pick of the bunch 

'For my favourite, I've chosen trailing, tendrilly foliage - when you add it to a bouquet or arrangement it makes it really special, unique and obviously home-grown,' says Rachel. 

Rachel says perennial sweet peas, Cardiospermum halicacabum and Clematis tangutica give lovely curling tendrils and can't easily be bought. 

'I think when you add this sort of foliage to an arrangement it adds an extra dimension and makes it feel truly from the garden,' she says.

Getting the best from foliage plants: The Doddington Hall way 

​'Everlasting sweet pea likes moist but well drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Cardiospermum halicacabum is best grown as a half hardy annual, so sow it under cover in spring and plant it out when all risk of frost is over and the weather has warmed up a bit,' recommends Rachel.

As well as growing plants with interesting foliage, Rachel feels scented plants are indispensable in a cutting garden. 

'I really love scented plants and firmly believe that scent is a vital element of any arrangement, so grow lots of herbs to go in my arrangements alongside other highly scented flowers like sweet peas, pinks and roses,' she says.


Alstroemeria Elizabeth Zeschin used in a floral arrangement

Parham House and Gardens, West Sussex
In search of the best cut flowers

Part of the 1.6ha (four acres) walled garden is given over to borders of cut flowers which are used to create charming displays throughout Parham House - a tradition that began in the 1920s.

2017 is the third year that the garden has held planting trials aimed at finding 
the best cut flower cultivars. 

'Sunflowers, tulips, alliums and sweet peas have all been trialed in the past; this year we are focusing on Iris sibirica, I. germanica, gladioli, zinnias and dahlias,' says Head Gardener Tom Brown. 

The best performing cultivars will be selected to grow in the garden in the future. 

Tom's pick of the bunch 

Alstroemeria aureaAlstroemeria (Peruvian lily) is a reliable herbaceous perennial which grows well in most good garden soils with reasonable drainage, either in full sun or part shade. 
It comes in a wide range of colours and stem lengths with successive flowers, making it ideal for use in cut flower displays. 
'They have an incredibly long flowering period and vase life of up to two weeks. They also work well when combined with lots of different garden flowers,' says Head Gardener Tom Brown.

Getting the best from Alstroemeria: The Parham Park way

If growing Alstroemeria in colder areas, Tom recommends protecting plants with an autumn bark mulch. 

Another good tip when growing Alstroemeria is that stems should be pulled, rather than cut, to encourage re-flowering,' Tom says.


RHS Membership

I enjoy a refreshing walk… my membership gives me free family days out as often as I like.

Mrs Giddings, RHS member

Join the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.