With all the world exchanging flowers, I set myself the challenge to pick a pretty bunch from my garden. It has been a strange old year, with plants blooming out of sequence and birds nesting way before their time, but I was still surprised by the generosity of my plot. Nothing showy, but I came away with a fragrant snapshot of what’s growing now.
I could delve deep into the language and meaning of these flowers, and tell you the arums denote ardour, bay constancy, cherry blossom beauty, hazel peace, hellebore scandal, myrtle love, rosemary remembrance, and sage esteem, but that would be telling. I just put them in a vase and let them speak for themselves. To keep stems upright, I scrunched up some chicken wire and popped it into a container, then covered it with moss, though a bunch of parsley looks just as effective. If you’ve been caught unawares this morning, there’s still time for a foray in the flower beds, not because it’s Valentine’s Day, but because it’s mid-February and there’s hope in the air.
If your garden has nothing to say, forgo the garage or supermarket: a red rose is a mere platitude in the language of flowers. Promise next year to order from florists who grow their own. Flowers from the Farm, Green Union and British Flower Collective websites will direct you to those who specialise in fresh seasonal blooms, astonishing in beauty and fleeting in nature.
I contacted Jen Stewart-Smith at Blooming Green who grow organically and offer a pick-your-own service. She made up a sweet posy of fragrant myrtle with little black bell-shaped flowers, eucalyptus, Pittosporum 'Irene Paterson’, pale green Corsican hellebore (wired to stop them drooping), rosemary, twisted hazel and snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) with a frill of tiny Cyclamen hederifolium leaves around the edge. The celebratory vase is one Jen made herself from a small Champagne bottle.
Rachel Petheram (catkinflowers.com) from Doddington Hall, sent me a lovely bouquet, with foliage (black Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens’ and cardoon) as a base, and jewel-like flowers.
Hellebores flower reliably in February and last longer in the vase if you catch them just before they set seed. She added ivy berries, birch catkins and fragrant Sarcococca hookeriana, and suggested searing the ends of the stems of flowering cherries in boiling water for a few minutes, then leave them in cold water overnight to stop the petals dropping, though she added, “I love it when the blossom petals fall round the vase”.
What could be a prettier offering than a boutonnière from Fiona Haser Bizony at Electric Daisy Flower Farm? Just a few spring blossoms, fern fronds, grape hyacinths, snowdrops and primroses. She also created a floral crown for a Mr or Miss February of Pittosporum tenuifolium, Chaenomeles superba, Lonicera fragrantissima, Anemone De Caen and Viburnum x burkwoodii.
Anna Evans (at annascountryflowers.co.uk) suggested a small basket framework of red cornus stems filled with flowering prunus, dried Miscanthus seed heads, euphorbia, wild hellebore, and catkins; and Sheila Hume (of Blue Hen Flowers) says everyone should plant lots of bulbs and hybrid hellebores and watch them spread.
Kept away from radiators and fruit bowls with their water changed every day, these fresh offerings will last almost as long as the sentiment behind them.
Now’s the time to add a few plants to your garden so that you’ll have plenty of interest in February this time next year.
Plants to plant
- Hazel (Corylus avellana). Useful on so many fronts with long yellow catkins, pea sticks and food for your wildlife – with maybe a few nuts left over for you.
- Pink fluffy pussy willow catkins on Salix gracilistyla 'Mt Aso’, a spreading 6ft shrub that should be coppiced every second year.
- Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) with delicate palest pink flowers on bare dark branches. Mine will be covered in tiny red edible plums in late summer.
- Winter-flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii) with fragrant cream flowers on bare branches. Great planted in a pot by the front door, then moved as flowers fade.
- Arum italicum 'Pictum’ has marbled foliage that looks wonderful with snowdrops, plus striking red berries later (bluebellnursery.com).
- My rosemary has been in bright blue bud since November, and has a myriad uses in the kitchen.