The Flower Farmer's Year
In this flower farmer's year, November is the month for clearing, mulching and prep. We have seven hundred and fifty running metres of metre wide beds here at Common Farm Flowers between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset, and to keep our thick, Somerset clay workable, every inch of those beds needs mulching before the growing season starts next year.
One barrow of mulch (mostly municipal green waste compost from Viridor - and some very well rotted horse manure) covers a three metre stretch of metre wide bed. So that means we'll have to fill two hundred and fifty barrow loads to cover all our beds.
We've had delivered sixteen tons of compost and it's in a great big heap in our yard. We barrow loads one at a time by hand (no tractor, plus this stilightly fiddly way works for us as our farm is laid out badly so that the wildlife can flourish, often at the expense of our backs.)
First the beds are given a light hoe. Then the barrows of mulch are appied. Sharon and I did ten barrow loads yesterday. If we do te...
Why be a flower farmer?
Well, not for the money, that's certain. Not if you like a short working day with a certain pay check at the end of it. Not if you like glamorous foreign holidays, or an excuse to buy sparkling shoes because you need them for work.
Why be a flower farmer?
Because you may not earn much, but you can make a great saving on gym membership.
Because you can turn your garden into a haven for wildlife and call it work.
Because your commute is a gentle stroll across to the flower beds with a cup of tea in hand, sniffing the wind, stealing a march on the day while the rest of the world still slumbers, and the sun climbs into the sky in the east and the moon sets, and the air is clean, and sharp, and the day heady with possibility.
Be a flower farmer if you hate winter, because throughout the autumn you plant spring, and those tiny seedlings, nestling in greenhouse or field, are what you focus on in the dark days, watching them, seeing their tiny unfurling of promise as the spring equinox comes by....
It may seem odd to you that we should be deep in planning the cut flower patch in July. Surely the cut flower patch is in full flower and for once we have an opportunity to stand back and admire it, sit nearby, even, drink wine and watch while the butterflies dance about it? Well, yes. But we're also always planning what we're doing next and where we're going to put it.
For example, last week I was pricking out biennials. Now I have a ninety foot long bed available for these seedlings when they're big enough to plant out in September. How do I know I have the right number of plants for the space? Well, if a bed is 90 foot long, and three feet wide, and I plant at roughly five plants across each three feet width (a little tight in spacing, but there will be some loss during the winter,) then I have room for 450 plants. Now I pricked out biennials until I'd frankly had enough, and I found I had 240 seedlings. So they will take 48 rows. Which leaves me 42 rows to fill. Happy days. So what will I put there? Well...
We had the garden team from Yeo Valley HQ here at Common Farm Flowers between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset yesterday - what a compliment that they wanted to visit our little flower farm! And how could I say no, since each time we do a joint venture with Yeo Valley our web stats go ballistic? Besides, I was curious to meet the lovely lady who Instagrams the Yeo Valley garden feed so beautifully. And what a great gang they were. And how I envy an organisation which can run to five gardeners! We, on a bigger patch of land, have me, Sharon, Fabrizio, Sue 10 hours a week, and lovely Penny our volunteer who comes in most Mondays.
As is often the case with people who keep a smart garden open to the public which must be kept pretty much immaculate all the time, they are nevertheless amazed at what we achieve on a pretty slim budget, and with often less than two hours a day each in the garden.
And so I come to the qualitities necessary to be a flower farmer.
Yes, horticultural knowledge is useful, but one can le...
Woohoo! It's British Flowers week! The annual celebration of our lovely home grown not flown flower growing industry. All over the UK flower farms small and large, florists, wholesalers, designers, we're all celebrating our wonderful home-grown flowers and the gorgeous English country flowers style we have.
Today we're feeling super British flowersish, sending flowers to London for a cricket match, and to Portishead for a Scottish lady - we created a bouquet with cardoons for Scottish thistles and red to match the lady's tartan.
It may feel south of Francishly hot here, but our British flowers are at their most lovely (I think this every week!) with the scented philadelphus, scented sweet peas, scented roses setting off in their flower boxes, taking freshly cut to order delicious scented flowers all over the country - for flower delivery surprises UK-wide.
Why buy British flowers?
Well, they're fresher by days than anything flown in from afar.
An environment in which flowers grow means an environment in which bees a...
Foxgloves as a cut flower are absolutel winners: tall, graceful, velvety stems, speckled fairy hat flowers, and flowering from mid may and through early June. They've given us almost a month of total joy and nearly all of our bouquets over the past few weeks have had foxgloves in them.
I sow them now to flower next season, and their velvety rosettes of leaves are deeply reassuring as they settle in through the summer, and hug the ground all winter, ready to shoot incredibly quickly next May. They reassure me that there will be a garden next summer. that we will have flowers next year. In these uncertain political times this reassurance has a brilliantly calming effect on me. Whatever happens, there will be foxgloves.
You may not have space to sow foxgloves and other biennials direct in the soil at this stage of the summer, but it's worth sowing a few seeds in modules and protecting them while they germinate, pricking them out into small pots, and keeping them watered until you clear space in the autumn. I have foxgloves, sweet w...
So what are we doing in the garden?
Well, new dahlia stock is being kept under cover till we harden it off from mid May and it won’t be planted out until the first of June. Anyone who’s been to any of my cut flower patch workshops here will know I am a stickler for putting in the diary garden jobs almost a year ahead. Dahlia planting out is 1st June.
I’ll sow a little more annual seed before the end of May - successional sowing is the key to a long season’s flowering. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the same cut flowers in my garden in October that I had in June. I like hotter colours to glow in the autumn. And so I’ll sow some of those hot colours in May.
And as my crops of annuals finish, I’ll whip them out and feed and mulch the soil and have a new set of seedlings to fill the space I’ve made.
Well it’s been a glorious spring - and I hope it’s going to be a glorious summer. Can it already be May? It’s planting out a go-go here, despite there being no rain to speak of. There’s a tunnel full of new dahlias waiting for the 1st June and planting out day. And in the cold frames more and more plants fattening up nicely for our charity plant sale on 6th May. And in the studio we have lots of goodies piling up for the plant sale raffle.
Plant sale? You say… I know, don’t we all love a plant sale? Well, for more info on what we’re raising money for have a read of my blog post here. And if you don’t really mind what we’re raising money for but just fancy coming alon...
Although strange urges do take one at this time of year: accepted practise is that you wait until you can feel the earth radiating heat until you sow seed directly outside.
Last year I sowed directly outside on 27th March and it was bitterly cold and I had quite a nice crop off my sowings. So this year I sowed a *little* (ahem! - read whole three ninety foot beds) seed outside in the sunshine while the long tailed tits built a nest in the Common Farm Flowers shed and the second batch of compost tea bubbled happily in the greenhouse. We’ll see if I’ve been precipitate. Certainly the larkspur and Bells of Ireland won’t mind a few cold nights to help it germinate.
I’ve also started the seedling rearrangement waltz - starting to bring trays of babies out to harden off in the shelter of the cold frames by the poly tunnel, making room for more sowings in the warmest of the greenhouses and moving tenderish babies into the cooler greenhouse.
At this tim...