The Flower Farmer's Year

  • 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...

  • The garden in January

    The garden in January

    What are we doing in the garden this January?

    Well, it’s time to plant those roses we’ve ordered, and order a few (ahem!) shrubs and perennials to fill gaps in our shrubs and perennials patch. We won’t sow any flower seed until February the fifteenth (ten hours of daylight,) unless I give in to temptation (as I nearly always do) and sow a sweet pea crop on the 31st Jan.

    If you can bear it wait to sow cut flower seed: seed sown in February (under cover) or March will very likely catch up with seed sown in January, and make stronger, straighter plants which will do better for you in the long run.

    For more on our cut flower patch management do come on one of our workshops. It’s so easy to over do it on the seed sowing front: I’ll stop you overwhelming yourself with seedlings and help you make a plan for a really successful

  • Tips for planting tulips

    Tips for planting tulips

    We order them in August, and then in November we plant tulips by the thousand here at Common Farm Flowers near Bruton in Somerset.  From the end of March to early May we will have tulips in all our flower delivery bouquets as well as more for our wedding and special event flowers.  

    This year I'm glad there's been a good snap of cold weather before we plant.  Tulips like a bit of cold to help kill off diseases, which is why traditionally they're planted in November.  We do budget to lose about 10% to tulip fire (when the tulips come up short and stunted and twisted and don't really flower,) and so don't plant the tulips in the same place for another three years so there's no chance of a build up of disease.

    We treat tulips as annuals here, planting them to flower just once and then composting the bulbs.  We're growing them for cutting, not for show, so we don't need to plant them especially deep in the hope that they'll naturalise and clump up and reflower year after year. 

    So we dig a relatively shallow trench, perhaps fo...

  • Frost is good for your garden

    Frost is good for your garden

    We've had a good number of frosty mornings so far this autumn, and today's was particularly gorgeous.  I took ten minutes to beat the bounds of our little Somerset flower farm, camera in hand, to enjoy the sunshine yes, but also to admire the work the frost is beginning to do on our ground.  We grow our flowers on horrible thick, Somerset clay, and spend a great deal of time and energy managing our beds so that we can have a good tilth to sow in.  So a series of frosty mornings makes us happy because the frost breaks up the clay and works in the mulch we've added to the surface of the soil, AND it helps kill off slugs and any warmth and damp related diseases which might hang around in the soil over winter.  Altogether I love a frosty morning, and I love a series of frosty mornings even more.  So when you wake up to crisp outside too, delight not only in the light and the crunch, delight too in the frost working your soil for you, and allow yourself a little wicked chuckle at the thought of slugs not getting through the winter.

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