The Flower Farmer's Year
Today is the first Saturday after Valentine's day, and in many a flower farmer's callendar, this day is known as Seed Sowing Saturday.
At last we have ten hours of daylight and so seeds sown now will grow straighter and greener than their etiolated, yellowish cousins sown by the impatient grower in January.
However this is still no time to be sowing seed outside.
Today we sowed a selection of seeds which like a little bottom warmth to encourage germination, and a longish season to get going. So we sowed Orlaya, some scabious, a few different rudbekias (give me a rudbekia over a sunflower any day of the week!)
We don't sow very many seeds at a time - perhaps half a tray, rarely a whole tray of seeds, perhaps fifteen or twenty, rarely thirty or fourty seeds of any variety at any one time. We have a strict schedule of successional sowing through the season. We would rather have a few plants flowering their heads off at any one time, with a fresh crop coming on to flower in a month or six weeks' time, than a huge bed of any one cut flower va...
It's early February and so naturally my mind turns to sowing sweet peas.
We keep the system simple here at Common Farm Flowers.
We sow three crops of sweet peas per year, 96 seeds per crop, always in root trainers.
We sow them indoors and keep them indoors until they're well germinated so that the marauding mouse (of which there are plenty in the polytunnels and greenhouses,) don't eat them...
When they're well germinated, up to having two sets of true leaves, we pinch them back to those two sets of true leaves so that they send out side shoots - I like to have lots of sweet pea shoots for my floristry as well as the flowers.
We don't soak the seed (I used to - but discovered that if I didn't soak the seed they simply take two more days to germinate, and since I'm not in that much of a rush...) or split them open with a paring knife as my mother does while sitting in front of the television in the evening. We simply pop them into good quality, peat free compost (the compost used here is Sylvagrow,) and water the compost from underneath s...
Well let’s look at flowers for your Valentine first shall we? Order from us for your Valentine now and you’ll be giving beautiful, bright, colourful, scented flowers, all grown exclusively in the UK. From Cornwall and Lincolnshire the flowers we send to your Valentine are the very best spring flowers: narcissi, anemones, ranunculus, tulips, with budding willow, scented poplar buds, and foraged foliage to make gorgeous bunches of deliciousness.
Or… Your Valentine might prefer to spend the day with us at one of our great workshops: from growing flowers, to arranging them, from specialist sweet pea and dahlia days, to tours of the farm, and for the business owners we have fantastic social media and styling workshops too. Book now and be prepared for a VERY happy smile from...
January is a time for planning and getting organised, for seed and plant ordering and for considering the year ahead. But we've also got jobs to do in the garden, whilst resisting planting any seeds (that starts mid February.)
One of our big jobs this month is planting bare rooted roses - which come the summer will literally be blooming gorgeous.
And we’re cleaning and sharpening our tools, Fabrizio, Sharon and I feeding wooden handles with linseed oil, and sharpening edges to transform the speed and efficiency with which we dig, hoe, edge… A blunt, sticking, pair of secateurs does nothing but bruise plants and leave you with worn hands: a sharp, oiled pair of secateurs is a blissful tool to use, and will hurt neither your plants nor your hands.
What are you doing in the garden this month?...
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 ...
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...
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...
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 ...
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...