So what are we doing in the garden this month - in between cutting willow and making Christmas wreaths?
Well, mulching continues… 750 running metres of metre wide beds are mulched a barrow load at a time until the whole garden’s covered. And while we mulch we rearrange, defragging the garden so that it’s more organised, and each self-sown cerinthe (for example,) is corralled with its siblings, so that we spend less on seed next season, and walk less distance, and can generally be more efficient.
We have space still for a few more plants, and so I may have a little (ahem!) list of shrubs to order too to go with the new dahlias and roses. Next season we’ll make a few new beds (seriously, here I do mean just a few) to make more use of the space we have. The gardens at Common Farm Flowers are maturing now (we’ve been here for fourteen years - when we arrived the seven acres were an empty field with a low hedge round the edge, and a house in the middle.)
We’ve made what’s ...
Your flowers for your Christmas tables will last beautifully if you take them out of their boxes, give them fresh water, snip their stems and put them somewhere cool until you’d like them for your table on Christmas day. We've already started sending out wreaths and today is our first Christmas Decoration workshop of the year. Our fresh cut willow wreaths are dressed with gorgeous greenery and seed heads and crab apples woven into a garland. If hung on a door or a wall outside the garland will hold up beautifully through the cool winter days - if...
They're the most beautiful kind of wreath, absolutely top of the door dressing fashion this year, and we not only know how to make them, but can teach you too how to make yours.
The Common Farm Flowers willow wreath is made with freshly cut willow, which is then easier to use than other willow which will have had to have been soaked for days but might still be brittle. Ours too has this incredible colour because the willow is so very fresh (we cut each wreath to order, including the ones you make on your workshop.) We have green, yellow, firey orange, and dark aubergine coloured willow, which when carefully twisted into a perfect circle and bound makes a circle of magic for you to hang on your wall all year round.
We then teach you to make a garland, a skill which you can translate into making more goodies for your Christmas house. The garland is the Christmas decoration. We have stopped using wire in our garlanding so the whole is absolutely biodegradable. We carefully attach the garland to the willow circle, add ribbon, and voila! your stunning door...
One might think that November is a quietish month in the garden. Well, I beg to differ! After you've planted all your bulbs it's time to prune your roses.
We prune our roses hard in November because:
We aren't especially cold here in south west UK, and so, while the roses may get a little frost nipped, they're hardy enough to withstand our winter pruned - if you lived in a colder place, with harder winters, like Vermont, for example, or Northumberland, you might just give your roses a tidy up at this time of year to prevent the wind ripping them about during the winter, and then a proper prune once they're seriously dormant in, say, early February. But global warming means we're not getting the really hard winters we once did, so I take a risk and we prune our roses hard back in November.
Pruning hard in November means we get a slightly earlier crop - valuable to us as flower farmers with lots of early summer brides wanting highly scented, freshly cut, real garden roses, for their bouquets and posies.
How do we prune?
Well, they say th...
So your tulip bulbs have arrived and you're looking at them a little askance, wondering how you can get them into the ground quickly, efficiently, and without completely shattering your back.
Here are our top tips.
1 Plant tulip bulbs in November. They like a good cold spell in the ground before they start to shoot, which will help kill off any disease they come with.The more complicated your tulip (double/parrot) the more naturally diseased it is (the disease makes for the glorous doubleness, the frilled edges of the parrot etc,) so the more a cold spell will kill off the disease and give you an astonishing display.
2 If you're planting tulips to naturalise (i.e. settle in and hopefully come back year after year,) you'll need to plant them about eight inches deep and give them a bit of space so that they can increase in number.
3 If you're planting tulips to be cut flowers, or just as an annual because you like the colour this year, then you can be MUCH LESS exacting in your planting.
- In a sunny, well-drained part of the gard...
Sometimes people say to me that there are no British grown flowers in November. Well, let me put those people right. Our gardens here at Common Farm have a rest from production from November till about early April, but fortunately for us all we have wonderful growers all over the UK, and especially in Cornwall, who keep us supplied with fantastic, top quality, beautiful, seasonal British flowers all through the winter.
This bouquet, for example, is going out today and has in it: glorious glads, paperwhite narcissi, nerine lilies, beautiful big white lilies, gorgeous pink sweet William and chrysanthemums, Canterbury bells, and one of my absolute faves, blue ageratum, all framed with gorgeous red spindle foliage.
We have a system when we're ordering in from our Cornish colleagues, that we have our weekly order delivered and we send our flowers out straight away so that they're fresh as a daisy when they arrive on kitchen tables and drawing room sideboards and hall coffers around the land. So from now till April do order your flowers for us to send on a Thur...
Today I made my first Somerset willow Christmas wreath to send someone for the purposes of a little light publicity. I'd forgotten how very calming the wreath making process is.
- First cut your willow - ours comes from the band of willow we planted round two whole sides of Common Farm. Willow recolonised the British Isles at the recession of the last ice age, and it supports almost as much wildlife as oak. Here, during the winter, the pollard crowns of the willow are stuffed with clumps of fat, black aphids which the song birds feast on through the cold months. We're careful, when cutting the willow, not to cut into these clumps of high-protein aphids, and make sure to leave them for the birds. We cut to order so that the willow for the wreaths is fresh and easily malleable for our wreathing. We use about nine nine foot lengths of willow per wreath, and about three four toot lengths for binding. Come on a Christmas wreath workshop here and we'll show you the willow woods, and you might see those naughty goldfinches darting about eating the aphids whil...
Now we've had a more serious frost the dahlias look properly sad and it's time to put them to bed for the winter. Since we turned the barn into our flower studio and office space, we no longer have anywhere to store the dahlia tubers in the winter, so we don't lift them. Instead we leave them in the ground and mulch them hard.
- First we cut back all the above ground growth, then have a little hoe around the surface, just to get rid of any cheeky weeds.
- Then we dig round the edges of the beds to make a shallow gutter where any surplus water can sit during the winter months.
- Then we add a good heap of compost onto the whole bed (we use municipay green waste,) a depth of at least three inches.
- THEN we chop up the phacelia we've had growing between the dahlia plants and lay it on the surface of the compost where it'll rot in slowly over the winter.
- I'm about to treat us to a huge load of Dalefoot compost which we'll use sparingly as a final mulch over all and which will, over the winter, work its way down through the soil w...
I always tell people that in order to be a flower farmer you need good reserves of energy, a mind like a spreadsheet, and a determination to learn from your experience.
It helps if you're already a keen gardener, but you do not have to be up to the hilt in RHS qualifications. It helps if you know a bit about running a small business, but that too can be learned. What you really need is energy, and a mind like a spreadsheet. And to those tools you can add a little marketing and maths and you're away. You don't even need vast areas of land, or much in the way of complicated infrastructure. Obviously, if you have a desire to grow nine million gladioli in a year then yes, a few acres might help. But for the kind of flower farmers we are, you can scale down your operation to an area as small as a good sized allotment. So you don't need masses of land. You just need energy, and a mind that works like a spreadsheet.
We had a student here yesterday who has done other workshops teaching flower farming and she said ours is incomparably better because:...
The last of our big weddings for this year over, we're making our little recipe for the file which we make after each event we do. This means we've got a good record of what went well, what we liked, what we felt could have been improved upon. We do this for all the events we work with and it's really helpful in informing how we plan for the following season, and especially in advising our clients going forward.
There are lots of things you, as the giver of the wedding reception or party, might not think to ask a venue. And I think sometimes venues don't think to tell you a lot of what you need to know unless you ask.
These questions may feel very unromantic when all you want to do is imagine how lovely you can make the place look while you swish about in your beautiful silks, but a little hard nosed organisation can make all the difference to the smooth running of your special day.
What time can you get into the venue, and by what time do you have to have left?
This is a more complicated question than you might assume. You need writ...