The nights are drawing in and for many that means a break from the toil of gardening, to spend time planning and drooling over seed catalogues on what to plant for next year.
As a florist, every bloom in my garden has to work doubly hard to earn its keep – once to look good in the plot, then again to look utterly fabulous in the vase.
Autumn Cut Flowers
My fail-safe go-to flowers at this time of year are…
Gloriously splendid right up until December and beyond, theis tall, shade-tolerant, daisy type bloom has a super vase life and is a delicious contrast against some of the darker blooms and foliage out there.
Sedum is a drought tolerant plant and the mainstay of the cottage garden. This perennial is as tough as old boots and comes in a variety of colours. With succulent, waxy leaves and flat, rounded flower heads, it is a great filler and another one which will last for weeks in a vase. It underwent a name change a few years ago, and is now referred to as Hylotelphium ‘Matrona’ – if you ask me, this new-fangled name will never catch on!
Hands up if you are a fan of Hesperantha – I cannot live without this on my perennial cutting patch. With long, strap like leaves, its delicate pink or red flowers are supposed to bloom until the first frosts and although I keep reading that it needs winter protection, it happily romps through my garden giving me cut flowers from September through to January.
No autumn cut flower patch would be complete without a bed of dahlias. These blousy blooms fell out of favour for decades, but thankfully, they are deliciously on trend, and look tremendous in a vase. Many have a bad press when it comes to vase life, but something this gorgeous should be short and sweet. The best thing about a dahlia plant is, the more you pick the more they flower.
I can lose the will to live digging up tubers and over-wintering them, only to find in spring they have either rotted or eaten by rodents. A single tuber will only set you back the price of a bottle of plonk and will give you a vase full of colour right up until the first frosts of November so I now treat mine as annuals and throw them on the compost heap come winter.
No, behave yourself.. surely they are the epitome of summer? Do not be so quick to discount them as the weather takes a turn for the worst. If you have been good, and mulched, and fed your repeat flowering shrub in spring, then gave it another feed in July, and have been deadheading regularly (now might be a good time to cancel Netflix – you are going to be busy), then you will have an envious display of blooms right up until December.
Often treated as a weed in gardens as it can spread so prolifically, the seed heads of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ are magnificent – there is no other word for them. Place them in a tall urn, to give drama to a standard arrangement.
Make Your Cut Blooms Last
So how do you make your cut flowers last as long as possible in a vase? It is well worth taking some time here, as it really does make a difference. Always pick your blooms first thing in the morning, or last thing at night after the sun has gone down. Snip at an angle, strip off all the leaves below the water line, and plunge straight into a large bucket of clean water (it is worth sterilising the bucket thoroughly). Leave the flower-filled bucket somewhere dark and cool to condition for 24 hours. Next, make sure your vase is clean enough to drink out of, and change the water every few days.
Despite the trees losing their leaves, foliage is in abundance this time of year. Oak and beech have gorgeous leaves which look better as they take on their autumnal hue, with deep reds and golden leaves which are almost ever lasting.
Do not forget the ferns and bracken which are slowly turning that beautiful russet colour. Some may say dead, I say ‘at its finest’. I adore the autumnal shades of the forest floor. Among my other favourites are…
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’
Commonly known as Ninebark, its deep purple, almost black leaves, make any arrangement pop. It comes in a range of colours and is well worth adding at least one shrub to your garden.
Even though peony flowers may be a distant memory, peony foliage can still be used as a fabulous filler in vases. Cut the stems to ground level and snip off anything that looks a bit tatty.
Beg, borrow, or steal some if you do not have your own (I’ve been told stealing plants is apparently frowned upon in certain circles, so please disregard that last piece of advice). Eucalyptus is the stalwart of autumn and winter foliage: it looks fabulous, smells amazing, and lasts …forever.
Try making an autumn wreath with some foraged foliage. Be brave, next time you are out for a walk, pick up old twigs, bare branches, and foliage and add them to oak, beech, and ferns to have an autumn display that will last beyond Christmas.
Theresa Talbot is a boutique florist and garden consultant based in Glasgow. Following a successful broadcasting career with the BBC, Theresa embarked on a new path, training with some of the best florists in the UK, and launched Willow & Herb at the start of lockdown. Her passion for sustainable floristry, creating natural, rustic style arrangements includes blooms from Scottish flower farms as well as from her own plot.