Review of Rachel Siegfried’s The Cut Flower Sourcebook

By Glennis Byron
May 22, 2023
Filed in Reviews
6 minutes

Review of Rachel Siegfried, The Cut Flower Sourcebook: Exceptional perennials and woody plants for cutting, with photographs by Eva Nemeth. Filbert Press, 2023.

Rachel Siegfried’s The Cut Flower Sourcebook has its much anticipated North American release on 23 May 2023, and this is quite simply the best and most useful book on cut flowers to have emerged for many years. Whether you are a commercial grower or just growing cut flowers for your own enjoyment, this book will change the way you garden, and, just as importantly, the way you think about gardening.

Rachel Siegfried. Photo: Eva Nemeth ©

Siegfried is a flower farmer and florist, owner, with her partner Ashley, of the Green and Gorgeous flower farm in Oxfordshire. She began her career as an estate gardener in a Victorian walled garden in the Cotsworlds, producing the vegetables, fruit and cut flowers for the ‘big house’. It is central to the success of this book that she still sees herself, and approaches her work, primarily as a gardener. Hers is a garden-led approach, and this shows not only in the detailed advice on growing, but also in her arrangements, always guided by the seasons and by the growth habits of the plants she uses.

As a gardener on a much smaller scale, I suspect I’m not alone in getting a touch grumpy when it comes to books on cut flowers and floral design that continue to show a reliance on market supplies of cut flowers grown with chemicals and plastic packaging and flown in from around the world. That’s an approach that has surely had its day. Over the past decade, there has been a huge growth of interest in cut flower gardening, and an accompanying surge in the number of small-scale flower farms, both in North America and in the UK. The emphasis is now on local, seasonal, garden-grown cut flowers.

But to date the focus has been on annuals, and one of the things I’ve been noticing in the social media community is how many hobby and commercial cut flower growers are realising that growing annuals from seed each year is time consuming and high maintenance and the results unreliable. Siegfried’s book, which argues for growing perennials and shrubs for the cut flower garden, couldn’t have appeared at a better time. This is a ‘low-impact approach to growing cut flowers, which centres around cultivating a backbone of permanent plants for cutting’ (12).

It is, above all, the changing seasons that govern her approach to flowers. As she notes, climate change has started to ‘blur the edge of our four distinct seasons’ and many plants, especially hardy annuals and spring-flowering bulbs, have been struggling (14). Perennials and woody plants, says Siegfried, deal with the challenges that are coming with climate change, with flooding and drought, with extremes of temperatures, more easily than annuals. This certainly resonates with me, as I sit here in the Pacific North West, watching my Iceland poppies wither in the unseasonable heat, while the unusually strong winds batter my anemones and blast my sweet peas off their supports. The shrubs and perennials, however, do indeed appear to be flowering as normal.

When it comes to arranging, the growth habits of the plants and the ways they interact with each other is central to Siegfried’s designs. There is quite a trend for a more natural approach to arrangements at the moment, and some of it, I confess, has left me cold. But Siegfried’s use of the term ‘garden-inspired’ involves arrangements informed by the natural growth habits of the  plants. There are no huge installations or altars or, heaven help us, those endless feasts for friends set in wild meadows, tables decorated with a few weeds and the odd cherry tomato, and lots of floaty dresses. There’s nothing here I wouldn’t be exceedingly pleased to have in my house.

Autumnal arrangement. Using a vase with a generous flared opening, Siegfried suggests, allows the flowers and foliage to be their natural selves. Photo: Eva Nemeth ©

Focusing on perennials and shrubs subtly changes the criteria used in selecting flowers and foliage. While colour is usually the main concern when using annuals, with perennials and shrubs it is the structure. Many perennials have, as Siegfried notes, ‘many stages of growth and consequently different shapes throughout the year’ (57), from buds to flowers to seed heads, and the changing of the leaves with the seasons.

Pick of the garden in mid spring. Photo: Eva Nemeth ©

Many of the seasonal garden tasks also change when you move from annuals to perennials. Some are, of course, similar: sowing and collecting seed, picking and conditioning flowers. Others are inevitably different from those associated with an annual cutting garden, and include such issues as plant division, propagation through cuttings, pruning, and coppicing.

Spring flowers. Photo: Rachel Siegfried ©

While some of the book is directed specifically at those wanting to set up commercial operations (for example, information on creating shelter for your cut flower fields, or on getting mechanized) most of the information and advice is equally relevant to hobby gardeners. And for us amateur cut flower gardeners who want to start moving towards more perennials and shrubs, the plant directory that constitutes the second half of the book is pure gold.

The directory contains a selection of 128 plants that Siegfried has tried and tested, biased, as she says ‘towards plants that are trusty performers with a relaxed attitude and natural style’ (134). It’s divided into five sections: bulbs, perennials, climbers, grasses, trees and shrubs, and each entry includes information on size, recommended species or cultivars, planting and cultivation information, with tips specific to cut flower production, harvesting, conditioning and vase life, uses in arrangements, and propagation techniques. This is all so helpful, and it is absolutely clear that we are getting this information from someone who is a gardener rather than just a floral designer. My only criticism would be that I’d have liked another 128 suggestions.

Clearly, the book is directed primarily at a British audience, and readers in North America will need to assess whether the plants suggested are suitable for the zone in which they garden. While the directory is very useful to me here in the Pacific North West, where the climate is relatively similar to that in the UK, I’m aware that not all of these perennials and shrubs would survive a long and icy winter in the heart of the Rockies, or be particularly happy in a sizzling Arizona summer. But this is always the case with books on growing cut flowers. As Siegfried says, the goal is to find plants that don’t just manage but thrive in your particular conditions.

I won’t be giving up growing all my annuals, because the process of growing from seed brings me so much joy, but I’ll be using this book to help me cut back on annuals and instead introduce more perennials to my cut flower garden – including some I plan to grow from seed. 

With lots of fabulous images by photographer Eva Nemeth, as well as by Siegfried herself, this is a book to inspire as well as inform. Check out more of Siegfried’s work on Instagram and Facebook.

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  • Ashley Pearson

    Thanks for writing such an informative review, you’ve really understood the concept. I hope the book can help you choose some new perennials and woody cuts for your garden,
    best wishes
    Ashley at the G&G team

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