The Flower Farmer's Year

  • Gardening in December

    Gardening in December

    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 ...

  • Tips for pruning roses

    Tips for pruning roses

    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...

  • Tips for planting tulip bulbs

    Tips for planting tulip bulbs

    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...
  • How to put your dahlias to bed

    How to put your dahlias to bed

    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...
  • Top tips for taking atumn cuttings

    Top tips for taking atumn cuttings

    September's a great time to take cuttings from your tender perennials just in case they get killed off by a cold snap in the winter.  I call it hedging your bets.  Plus, if they're loverly plants you'd like more of then this is a great way to make new plants for free.

    All you need is some good quality, free draining, peat free compost, a few clean pots, and a label or two.

    We especially take cuttings of what's beginning to be quite a nice salvia collection - I don't want to lose these!  But you could also take pelargonium cuttings, penstemon cuttings, phlox and lots more.

    What you do is this:

    • Pick a stem where there is a side shoot (or perhaps two!) coming out from between the leaf and the stem. 
    • At a sharp angle, cut the stem just below the  next join below this side shoot (where there are more leaves coming off.)  
    • Strip the bottom leaves and pop the stem straight into the pot you've filled with well-drained compost.  Cuttings root best when the stems are popped into the pot right against the side of the pot, so ...
  • Tips for ordering tulip bulbs

    Tips for ordering tulip bulbs

    In my book, The Flower Farmer's Year, I advocate a 'bold' bulb budget for anybody growing flowers for cutting.  For me, most of that budget is spent annually on tulip bulbs.

    Unless you're growing tulips as flowers which you'd like to naturalise about the place, I say grow tulips as annuals.  The bulbs are inexpensive (currently - increasingly warm winters may put paid to that eventually!) and for a smallish investment you can completely reinvent your cutting garden's look each spring.  Besides, I won't necessarily love the lemon coloured tulips I had this year in the same way next, or I might find a colour which really sang for me this, comparitively dull next.  Fashions change, tastes change, and the desire for a particularly coloured/shaped tulip changes from year to year too.

    So what are my top tips?

    • Order in August from a reputable supplier.  All good bulb suppliers have excellent websites, often showing pleasing combinaitons of bulbs together, so pour yourself a cup of something pleasurable, give yourself an hour or two's leisure, and sit d...
  • August in the garden

    August in the garden
    So what is there to do in the garden this month? Well, other than watering, do cast your mind forward to next year.  We have biennial seedlings fattening up nicely under shade awnings by the polytunnel, so they’ll fill cleared spaces when we have them in September.  If you’re planning a show of new bulbs for next spring then now is the time to start looking at the bulb catalogues and ordering in.  Do order now so that you don’t find that the varieties you fancy are sold out when you do order them, but you can always ask your bulb supplier not to deliver till you’ll be ready to plant out. So maybe order some daffs and narcissi now, but also check your diary for a late-September planting date, put the bulb planting in the diary, and then ask your bulb supplier to deliver just a day or two before you know you’ll have time to plant.  Ditto for tulips, alliums, and other spring bulbs. ...
  • Our August news.....

    Our August news.....

    Goodness the heat! Throughout early July there was I, sagely nodding my head, and forecasting downpours from the 14th July (St Swithun’s Day,) flooding us out until next March. Well St Swithun’s came and went and here I am still wiping sweat from my brow in a relatively cool office and avoiding the garden unless it’s between 5 and 10am in the morning.

    The flowers are holding up amazingly well. We successionally sow flowers so that we have new crops coming in to flower every six weeks or so, which means we don’t have to water old crops trying to keep them going, but can focus on the new, helping them get their roots down by not watering too often, but watering well when we do, and watering at cool times of day, ideally morning so that excess water has time to evaporate during the day helping us avoid mildew and other damp causing issues. Of course right now this minute it’s 6pm and I’m watering the new crop of sweet peas just beginning to flower, so please do what I say, not what I do!

    I also say do be careful if you have seedlings hanging in there for a...

  • Gardening in a drought

    Gardening in a drought

    Ok, so it's not funny any more.  These endless boiling hot days of relentless sun are getting me down.  I really really really would like some rain.  And I bet you would too.  

    So I thought I'd give you some hot tips (ha ha! you should see the perspiration gently glowing off my nose!) for keeping your garden going during a drought.

    The cut flower patches at this flower farm between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset are holding up surprisingly well considering the boiling hard sun.  So here are a few of the tricks we employ to keep our garden flowering.

    • In the winter mulch your garden beds with a good couple of inches of compost - this will not only feed the soil and your plants, but also help prevent water evaporating from the old surface should the hot weather come.
    • We have lots of seeds germinating (our last annual crop for the small tunnel) and seedlings fattening up for when we have room to plant them out (biennials like foxgloves and sweet rocket.)  If I left these in the green house or even just outside in the cold fram...
  • British flowers week

    British flowers week

    Hurrah! It's British flowers week again - THE week in which we flower growers and specialist florists take the opportunity to showcase our work all over the place.  So I thought I might give you a couple of paragraphs on how we began and what we do here.

    Common Farm Flowers grew out of a desire to create an eco-paradise, abuzz with bees and butterflies, on our seven acre smallholding between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset.  We started assuming we'd be more traditional smallholders, fattening pigs and keeping chickens and maybe stalling out at farmers' markets with fruit and veg.  But we soon found that we couldn't bear to send the pigs to slaughter, that the fox was a keen thief of our chickens, and that we were better at growing sweet peas than cabbages.  So when a neighbour sent me a bouquet of flowers through the post I was inspired: I could grow flowers and sell them!  This was eight years and two months ago, and we now send about 1,600 bouquets by post per year, supply flowers for between fifty and sixty weddings, and I teach and give talks and garden tours etc...

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