The Flower Farmer's Year
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...
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
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...
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....
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...