The garden can be a great source of foliage for flower arranging if you plant the right things. Whether you are arranging a few flowers in a vase in the house or decorating a church access to the right foliage is a real advantage.
Just as foliage is the foundation of good planting in a garden, it is the perfect setting for cut flowers. If you are doing larger arrangements it is nearly always essential and is certainly my starting point if I am doing decoration work.
Growing your own foliage can save a considerable amount of money, if you have to buy it you will spend as much on leaves as you do on flowers.
Here are my top ten shrubs for summer foliage for flower arranging. I grow and cut all of these and can vouch for their usability and lasting quality.
1. Physocarpus ‘Diable d’Or’. I love this as a garden shrub and for cut foliage. Its copper-bronze leaves on arching branches mix so well with other colours and it adds depth to a planting scheme without weight.
From midsummer the foliage the foliage lasts really well when cut. If you cut it when the leaves and shoots are soft early in the season I find it flops. When you cut, try to cut sprays of foliage from low down to encourage nice arching shoots to cut next time.
When you prune, do so in winter cutting out some of the older stems; flower arrangers will already have done most of their pruning.
2. Pittosporum tenuifolium. Evergreens with small leaves are few. Pittosporum is great for flower arranging all year round, but is at its best in summer when the new leaves are fully developed.
With finely branched black stems and shining leaves it is lovely as a base for anything. Pittosporum ‘Irene Patterson’ with white and pale green foliage is fairly slow growing, but nonetheless is lovely to cut.
It’s a good plant to grow where you want something you can keep under control, so flower arrangers can snip regularly
In a larger garden grow the plain green Pittosproum tenuifolium. You will find its light airy stems of emerald green leaves are invaluable as a base for floral decoration throughout the year.
In summer they add that perfect midsummer green and I find them particularly useful with white flowers.
3. The purple sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ is a low shrubby herb with highly aromatic grey-purple felted leaves. It will not strike you as a natural choice for flower arranging but the colour and texture is superb with soft summer blooms.
It is perfect in posy-style arrangements with a few roses. Or perhaps with lavender and rosemary in a fragrant, herby composition.
4. Hosta with firm foliage are superb to provide bold leaves for simple contemporary arrangements. I love them with callas and lilies or just in a cool composition of leaves.
There are many to choose from but Hosta ‘June’ with soft blue green leaves with creamy centres is a favourite. Falling into the category of blue-leaved hostas it is more slug-proof than most.
Keep your hostas slug free by growing them so that the leaves do not touch neighbouring plants and surround them with slug-gone pellets early in the season. This is an organic, nature and pet friendly means of control.
5. Symphoricarpos, the snowberry is a really modest shrub that you will probably overlook as an ornamental plant for your garden. However if you have a shady corner where other things struggle, snowberry will thrive.
It grows on wet soil and in clay and its arching stems make good ground cover. The small rounded mid-green leaves with paler undersides are ideal as a green base with any flowers. If you have a space, grow it and it may become your most useful source of summer foliage.
6. Hedera helix. Ideal in similar growing conditions are the ivies. Not all are rampant thugs and many have superb foliage that will provide that slightly trailing growth that is so useful in arrangements.
Hedera helix ‘Green Ripple’ is a great favourite of mine, with shining emerald leaves on strong, compact stems. Each leaf is waved and pointed and the colour is superbly fresh.
7. Common rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis is another shrub that’s great with flowers at any time of the year. In summer the leaves are soft and aromatic and because of their high oil content they last superbly.
The fine silvery leaves are a good contrast to the shape and colour of most others and work well peeping out between soft petals. It goes particularly well with blues, pinks and mauves; anything you associate with silver foliage in the garden.
8. On a larger scale the olive, Olea europaea has a similar silver quality. The leathery willow-like leaves and silver stems are superb in larger arrangements where you want a touch of lightness.
They are also lovely against plain wood or white linen with fat white candles as a table decoration. Used like this the flowers are superfluous. I also love it for church pedestal arrangements where the branches sweep down with such a graceful habit.
9. Cornus mas ‘Variegata’ is a slow growing shrub that you will not be able to cut immediately. However when it gets large enough small cut stems of the white and green pointed leaves are wonderful detail in arrangements.
Few shrubs have such definition in their variegation and the colour is very pleasing. By late summer the tiny fruits have turned scarlet, a striking contrast to the foliage.
10. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ I am always sceptical about cutting the foliage of Japanese maples. As a plantsman I hate cutting treasured ornamentals but as a flower arranger I am torn!
This one is a vigorous maple that won’t miss a few sprays of its wine red leaves. The stems are slander, but they do seem to drink well as long as you cut after the foliage has fully matured. You should never prune a maple in winter as this can cause die-back. So cutting a few sprays in summer keeps them in shape. I was amazed how well the cup acer foliage lasted on the floral dress creation at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Always condition your cut foliage properly for several hours in water containing cut flower food before you arrange it. This is essential, even if it is cut fresh from your garden.