Ask a flower farmer to pick their favourite summer flower and they claim it is like being asked to pick a favourite child. They agonise over the aesthetic beauty of each of the hundreds of varieties they grow, over its fragrance, vase life, productivity and, of course, consider how well they sell. Undeterred, we tasked ten members of Flowers from the Farm, the association championing artisan growers of seasonal, scented, British cut flowers, with selecting their stand-out blooms ahead of the Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend (13th-15th August).
Meet the flower growers
Favourite Flower: Dahlia ‘Downham Royal’
“Dahlias were my favourite flowers even before I started flower farming, and they are always one of the customer favourites in August. It is so hard to choose one in particular, but Dahlia ‘Downham Royal’ is simply beautiful. It has neat, magenta, ball-shaped flowers. I love it so much that it makes it into every one of the mixed buckets I sell to florists every season.”
Favourite flower: Phlox ‘Crème Brûlée’
“The colour of Phlox ‘Crème Brûlée’ blends beautifully with other flowers. It is creamy with a bit of purple that satisfies event florists, and, to me, it has that moodier, cafe latte tone that is so on trend. All my flowers are multifunctional and phlox can be a filler, a foliage, and leading lady or an accent flower. I succession sow annual phlox 2-3 times a season, and if you pinch it out to increase stem length, you can use it as a soft filler foliage to get that extra, lusciously romantic, intense softness.”
Favourite Flower: Ammi majus
I am a big fan of ammi, because I can grow it quite easily on our farm. I have very sandy soil, and ammi is one of the flowers that thrive here. It makes a brilliant replacement for ‘gyp’ or gypsophila, and it is great for weddings with its meadowy-look and a great filler for bunches. It is very, very popular, so I grow in succession. It’ll overwinter, so I sow in the autumn and again in the spring and get two more batches. The first cutting is in mid-June and the crop lasts well into September.
Favourite flower: Delphinium ‘Cliveden Beauty’
Delphinium ‘Cliveden Beauty’ is my go-to bouquets and weddings. It is a really nice sky blue that works perfectly with everything and adds that little pop of blue. It is very easy to grow from seed, and is best sown from saved seed. I do really well with it: they pop up like weeds on my very sandy soil. I don’t have many problems with slugs here and nothing attacks it. It’s a very productive perennial and is not a massive, chunky delphinium - it’s more akin to a larkspur.
Favourite flower: Helichrysum
I love that helichrysums or strawflowers - as they are commonly known - are so versatile. You can use them fresh or hang them and use them dried. They hold their colours well as dried flowers, and have made one heck of a comeback in popularity. It’s great in terms of sustainability. I deliberately started growing flowers that I can dry, if I can’t use them fresh. They are reasonably easy to grow and germinate well in spring. Helichrysum are very productive as a cut and come again flower with amazing, gorgeous jewel tones from whites, pink through to orange and burgundy.
Favourite flower: Dianthus ‘Letitia Wyatt’
“Scented pinks are really back in favour. I like them for their delicious, nostalgic, clove-like scent. And - as a grower - I also like that they provide us with lots of flowers for bouquets steadily from May through to September, and that we can get two years’ production out of the plants. Pinks are not to be confused with carnations: pinks are shorter, more delicate and have fragrance that carnations do not have. Decades ago, there would be two lorries a week taking cut pinks up country. I like to think that we are now helping a new generation to discover them. We grow scented pinks in white, shades of pink and mauve, as these colourways don’t flush too much and we get a steadier crop. Dianthus ‘Letitia Wyatt’, bred by Devon nursery Whetman Pinks, is the steadiest nice pink and it has a delicious scent.
Favourite flower: Sweet pea ‘Windsor’
“I couldn’t live without the sweet pea. Being easy to grow, they’re such confidence givers, and you can’t beat their scent. One of the most special things about buying locally grown blooms over imported stems is having access to scented flowers. Even just a few sweet peas slipped into a bouquet can fill a room with fragrance. They’re self-pollinating, which makes it easy to collect seed that will reliably come true to variety, which makes them perfect for adding to my seed shop. For stem length try ‘Chelsea Centenary’, for unusual colour try ‘Suzy Z’ (pictured in Milli’s posy with Frances Kate, Raspberry Ripple and Mollie Rilstone), and for an arch smothered in flowers all season long, try ‘Windsor’.
Favourite flower: Rosa ‘Margaret Merril’
“We specialise in garden-style roses, and when we first had enough to show, I drove up to London at 2 o'clock in the morning and into New Covent Garden Flower Market. Walking in there was like being a kind of Pied Piper: I was followed by florists, who could smell the roses! We grow a really scented, difficult rose called ‘Margaret Merril’. She has always been our signature rose, if you like, but probably the most difficult you could grow, and the scent of her going into Covent Garden was phenomenal. Often too, when we’re setting up at the London farmers’ markets, you see people walking past as though the end of the world is nigh. I call out to them: ‘hang on a minute, smell this!”, and I’ll put a Margaret Merril in front of their noses. You see their faces just light up, and that is all the gratification I need. Because suddenly someone, who looked as though life was just not worth living, has suddenly said “Wow!” and is really smiling.”
Tiff Corbett and Emily Westall, co-owners of The Shropshire Flower Company, near Church Stretton, Shropshire
Our favourite summer flower? Antirrhinum ‘White Giant’
“This beautiful white snapdragon is a really productive plant that continues to flower throughout the summer. They have a gentle scent and add beautiful structure to a bouquet. We grow them in the polytunnels as this encourages them to grow wonderfully tall making them a great addition to larger arrangements for weddings and events. It’s not just us who love them - the bees do too.”
My favourite summer flower? Zinnia ‘Señora’
“I love the fact that you get loads of different colours with zinnias and that every zinnia is so different. I can pick varieties that florists can’t get wholesale and focus on those. The Queen series are all really muted in different shades that combine very well - reddish, coppery, oranges and lime green. Zinnias need heat, so in a really hot summer they are really fantastic outside. We tend to put them in the polytunnel to guarantee the best flowers. They are amazingly productive cut and come again flowers, flowering from June until September. ‘Zinnia ‘Señora’ is a really big coral variety, which make great focal flowers. It is so nice having all the bright colours back in fashion.”