Starting a last-minute cut flower garden from scratch may seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be done. If you, like me, have thousands of things to do and gardening feels like the last priority, don't worry! Here's my “almost-stress-free guide to starting a cut flower garden in just three hours for anxious busy people”.
Over the past three years, I built a small yet productive cut flower garden behind my home in Devon. It may not have been much, but it provided me with enough flowers to start my first flower side-hustle in 2022.
However, this January, I made the decision to move back to France. In February, I found a new flat with an allotment in Bordeaux. In March, I began packing my boxes and by April, I was living in Bordeaux.
Then it dawned on me: I had to start my garden from scratch. I felt paralysed by the fear of a blank canvas. The work ahead of me felt humongous, and ordering seeds was the last thing on my mind. My thoughts were flooded with work and administrative tasks. I almost gave up, but then I thought of Summer Romane and how happy she would be with flowers to pick…
So, I decided to dedicate one evening to planning a late flower season. A month later, my little garden is well underway. Here’s my approach.
1. Grow what you enjoy.
When starting a cut flower garden, remember that you are the one who will be enjoying the fruits of your labor. Don't overthink your plant selection too much: just buy the seeds. Working out the perfect distribution of flower types in the perfect colour palette will require a lot of work and can be agonising. If you’re low on time, add to your basket your flower wish list, keeping in mind how much space you have for planting. If you select flowers that speak to you, you’ll most likely be able to make something with it. Worse case scenario: you’ll learn what not to buy next time.
2. Experiment and learn new gardening techniques
When starting out, it’s a good idea to grow many different things in small quantities. This will allow you to see what works well in your new growing space and help you learn new gardening techniques. A late season is the perfect time to experiment. This year, I’m trying to get better at growing poppies, camomile and gypsophila. I’ve also only ordered varieties of dahlias I’ve never grown before - look at me branching out! That being said, it was extremely difficult not to add a Café au Lait tuber to my cart…
3. Learn about your soil
Before planting anything, it’s important to learn about your soil and new growing space. This will help you determine what plants will thrive in your garden. You can get your soil tested professionally or do a quick test yourself. Mould a soil sample into a ball with your hands:
4. Dig or no dig?
I’m a huge fan of the no dig method: rather than digging the soil to remove weeds, this method involves applying organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to the soil surface, emulating the natural processes of decomposition, as plants die back and leaves fall. It sequesters carbon and also reduces weed growth over time.
I practiced the no dig method in my Devon garden and it worked pretty well. That being said, this method can be very expensive, in my experience, to start with since you need to add a thick layer of compost to make your beds, that you’ll need to top up every year. It cost me £800 to get started with 4 beds in 2021 and I probably invested another £400 in compost in 2022.
For my new allotment garden, since the soil was already pretty good, I decided to dig and save the expense. It was also a lot quicker to get started. I’m now working on making my own compost and will probably transition most of the beds to no dig over a couple of years.
5. Slowly invest in tools and infrastructure you can reuse
When starting a cut flower garden, it’s easy to get carried away with buying all the tools and infrastructure you think you need but remember you won’t need everything from day one. Instead of doing a big haul, take your time and invest in quality. For example, I only bought 5 seed trays but made sure these trays will last me for a couple of years.
6. Your first season is just like the first pancake
Consider your first season a trial run. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to create a perfect garden. Beautiful gardens take years, if not decades, to make. Ignore Instagram and use this time to learn and experiment with different plants and gardening techniques instead.
If, like me, you are starting a cut-flower garden to launch a side hustle, I highly recommend waiting until your second season to sell your flowers. This will take a lot of pressure off and make your first year more enjoyable. You can share your flowers with friends and family in the meantime.
You can also use the first season as an opportunity to do some market research. Believe me, once you're in the high season and selling your flowers, you won't have much time to figure out how to get rid of your stock. It's better to be prepared.
Think about what works best for you: Would you prefer to attend markets, run a flower subscription, take ad-hoc orders, or even cater for restaurants? Check out other flower growers and observe how they sell their flowers, where they sell them, and how they price them. You'll learn a lot and be well-prepared for your first side-hustle season.
7. It’s never too late
It can be very tempting to think that now is not the right time to start your garden: maybe it’s too late, maybe it’s too early, maybe it’s too hot or it’s too cold. The truth is there is always something to do in the garden at any point of the year and so anytime is the right time.
If you start your garden in…
Starting a last-minute cut flower garden from scratch can be a fun and rewarding experience. By following these tips, you can create a beautiful garden that provides you with fresh flowers for your home or business. Remember to have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Gardening is a learning experience, and there is always room for improvement.
You can follow my adventures as I build my new cut flower garden in my allotment on Instagram ✨