Foliage, more important than flowers as a cutflower grower/artisan florist

As most florists will tell you foliage is key to creating beautiful arrangements.  The addition of good foliage and fillers will turn a bunch of flowers into something extra special,

If you grow all your own cut flowers as I do, you may find a quantity of good foliage difficult at certain times of the year, particularly early spring if it is cold like it is this year in the UK.

Florists can buy in Eucalyptus and Pittosporum but Eucalyptus grown outside in inland UK will not have that lovely fresh growth and your Pittosporum may


Hornbeam coming into leaf

sulk or even die if you begin hacking huge chunks of that away when nights are still cold.

I am fortunate in having a large established garden as well as my cut flower growing areas (sometimes I think that is not such a great plus point as takes a tremendous amount of work to maintain to a reasonable standard!) and one of the best things I did was to plant a Hornbeam hedge.  The emerging leaves of Hornbeam are such a brilliant lime green they are invaluable in providing zing and natural beauty to spring flower arrangements, particularly tulips.  We trim the tops in March but leave the sides long until the end of May so there is plenty of available material for use while the Tulips, Camassia, Anemone and Ranunculus are in flower.

I am also lucky in having a very large Osmanthus x burkwoodii which is really a medium size tree now.  It usually flowers towards the end of March but with the warm winter and cold spring I have been able to cut well over 100 branches from it from mid February right the way through to now.  The, nicer than privet-like leaves, make a perfect collar for arrangements and the small white flowers are deliciously fragrant.

Spring foliage/flowers

Osmanthus x burkwoodii, heavenly fragrance


I am not sure, as a gardener, that I think myself fortunate to have Euphorbia robbiae though!  It is a rampant thug but fortunately now, mostly in the hedgerow and in the wild parts of the paddock.  However, for cutting material from early to late spring it is invaluable.  Again it has that yallery-green zing which really brings flowers to life and unlike Euphorbia characias varieties it doesn’t stink!  I don’t know how florist/flower farmers can dare to use that, as far as I am concerned it has an acrid smell which I find most unpleasant and can identify immediately on walking into a room with one stem of it in a vase.

Of course, you need to sear the stems of Euphorbia before using to stop the milky sap from exuding.  I sear the base of the stems for 20 seconds in boiling water and then pour that all over the stems where I have stripped away the foliage before placing into cold water overnight.  Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin when stripping the leaves as it can be a major skin irritant to some and also your hands will feel like they have been covered with gloss paint.

Below is a list of other plants that I find very useful in raiding for foliage at this time of year.  These are all woody stems so I slit the ends after cutting and sear in boiling water for 20 seconds before plunging into cold water overnight.


  • Euonymous ‘Emerald Gaiety’ – Abundant over time, green leaves, variegated white and fully hardy
  • Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ (you need several though) Lasts ages in water in bud, flowers open cream, delicious fragrance
  • Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’ – Neat grey eliptica leaves (nasty yellow daisies later which I remove)
  • Amelanchier lamarkii or canadensis.  Beautiful bronze leaves with white blossom
  • Cercis siliquastrum (prefers acid soil) Dainty bronze leaves
  • common Sycamore when leaves just unfurling, bronze tinted, looks amazing
  • Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’ a tree which likes being pruned with lovely soft grey, oval leaves
  • Stephanandra tanakae with pretty, bronze tinted, vine like leaves and arching habit (although nice to use later too with it’s cream flowers)
  • For coloured twigs, Cornus ‘Flaviramea’ and Cornus ‘Mid Winter Fire’ (the latter is a bit of a runner
  • For lovely pussy willow Salix daphnoides and dwarf Salix ‘ Wehrhahnii ‘

There are other things but this is a good starting list.  Foliage can be provided easily with annuals in summer but if you intend to cut flowers as early and as late as possible then it is wise to choose shrubs that you can use at these times!

29 April 2016





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