Thoughts for a winter’s day

(This post is from my other site  ‘The Handpicked Flower Company

I’m very conscious that I’ve neglected this blog of late, I suppose you could say I’ve been dormant, like so many things in the garden at this time of year. But to continue with the plant imagery, whilst many things might look as if nothing is going on at ground level, deep beneath the surface it’s an entirely different matter. Roots are working their way through the soil to anchor the plant and microscopic root hairs are seeking out nutrients and moisture in order to kickstart it into top growth as soon as the world above ground starts to offer encouragement.

So whilst I’ve not quite been hibernating (if only!) I’ve been attending to tasks that get pushed to the side during the hectic months of the growing season. I’ve been catching up with the decorating indoors, tidying rooms and clearing clutter, making lists and dreaming of Spring. And reading some good books and catching up with TV too – we flower farmers have to make the most of the quiet months!

But today I’ve made a start on the new season – I’ve sown my first sweet peas. Many people start them off in November, and when I have a greenhouse or polytunnel I might give this a go – but last year starting in January worked well for me, and so I’m hoping this year will too. I buy my seeds from Roger Parsons – he has a lovely range to choose from, and I select for colour and perfume, preferring the pastel shades but with a pop of one or two vivid pinks and purples just to add an extra element to a bunch. Last year I didn’t sell many to my florists, I will hope to do better this year, but the good thing about that was that I had bunch after bunch to enjoy for myself or give away to friends.

So as I look out on to the bleak cold landscape that is my garden I know that with luck and within a few days my first sweet peas will start to put out tentative roots into their compost, and my 2015 growing season will be underway!
Sweet Peas

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A wet Bank Holiday Monday

Scabious 2


It’s rained all day today.  It has been brilliant for the garden and my flower field, but in terms of being out of doors less good.  I’ve spend the day at my computer, with the aim of getting on top of my admin, but the reality has been that I’ve tinkered here and there and the admin is still waiting in a box for another wet day!  But, I have placed my sweet pea order, I have largely completed my bulb order, I’ve had a long chat on the phone to one of my good #britishflowers friends and co-host of #britishflowers hour – and I’ve updated both my blogs.  So not entirely wasted then.

I have been in and out of my garden all summer, just not writing about it because I’ve been so busy.  But it’s all been the right sort of busy as my #britishflowers growing business The Handpicked Flower Company has had a wonderful summer and the flowers have all grown and bloomed brilliantly.  For more about my achievements and plans please do read my other blog – I suspect that for some time to come that is where the bulk of my energies will be directed.

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My garden’s 3 year anniversary

Spring flowers from the garden

Spring flowers from the garden

I’ve not updated this site for far too long, I’ve been busy setting up my other website and blog (see the page titled ‘the Handpicked Flower Company) and starting work on my cut flower field.  But I’ve not forgotten it, in the same way that I’ve not forgotten that it’s three years since my garden re-design and re-plant was completed, and this year it has really come into its own.  Everything looks so established now, and there’s barely an inch of soil to be seen which is good in that it helps keep the weeding down, but less so when I find a plant that I simply can’t live without.  I usually end up digging out two or three things first in order to make room; but then of course they also need a home!

Having so much growing going on is useful in that I now feel that I can cut the odd stem here and there to bring into the house; as well as cutting the flowers I’ve grown specifically for cutting.  The flowers in this photo are all from my garden.  The tulips and ranunculus I grew for cut flowers, everything else is from the borders.   I’m delighted to say that with the exception of the poppy, which did manage to last four days before shedding its petals, everything looked wonderful for a good week in the vase.  They will all be grown in greater quantities for The Handpicked Flower Company to sell next year and I can’t wait to see them growing en masse in my flower field as well as my garden.

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Don’t ‘X’ off Chrysanthemums

I really never thought I’d write a post on the subject of Chrysanthemums, let alone consider growing them for cutting.  I’ve spent the past “too many to count” years collecting unusual and desirable perennials for my garden, and the last twelve months hatching my plans to become a grower of #britishflowers for cutting.  But I dream of  growing flowers such as Sweet Peas, Larkspur, Nigella, Ammi and Dahlias, to name but a few – why  add ‘mums, ‘Xanths’ or however else we might abbreviate their name to the list?  After all, are they not the staple of the petrol station forecourt or the supermarket ‘grab’ bunch; stiff sprays of garish yellow or an unlovely shade of mauve, wrapped in cellophane, hardly what the aspiring grower of refined, unusual and fragrant blooms wants to be handling?

But I was wrong – on all counts.  Something happened to me in the course of last week to change my point of view; and I’d like to share it here.

I use Twitter to engage in flowery chat with other like minded souls, and it is largely thanks to that medium that I’ve developed my flower farmer plans and gained support and inspiration from others; growers and florists alike.  We all share the same vision – to revive interest in and demand for #britishflowers.  This vision is not confined to the UK either.  In the USA, Debra Prinzing is promoting ‘Slow Flowers’ i.e locally grown, seasonally produced blooms that have not been chemically treated to make them last weeks in the vase and then air freighted half way around the world; exactly what #britishflowers and the Flowers from the Farm network  is all about.

As well as following Debra on Twitter I also follow another American grower, Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm – and it was a link posted by Erin to a blog post she’d recently written about chrysanthemums that brought about my total change of heart.  Follow the link, and I defy you not to be moved and inspired to feel the same.  Erin’s blog takes you to another blog,  written by another American flower farmer, Jennie Love, again about chrysanthemums – and it contains her ‘top ten’ of recommended varieties for cutting.  You might not find all of the names on the American list on a UK grower’s site (I’m happy to be corrected on this point by the way) but I guarantee that if you spend enough time browsing the Chrysanthemums Direct site, or the site of any other UK chrysanthemum grower, you will soon have a list that easily compares.  And let’s face it, if we as the flower farmers increase our demand for the unusual, speciality blooms the UK  breeders (who deserve our encouragement) will I’m sure, be more than happy to step up to the challenge.

And just to show that subliminally, I must have been wanting to grow Chrysanthemums as part of my flower farmer plans, I just hadn’t recognised it; here is a photo of some I’ve grown this year as an experiment.  I just never expected to fall in love with the flowers in quite the way I have!

Needless to say I’ve made my list and will be placing my order for next Spring very soon.


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#britishflowers hour – Books, books, books; an update from 21 October

Taking over the reins of running this very successful weekly event from Georgie Newbery (@theflowerfarmer on Twitter) was a daunting task but my co-host, Sara Willman (@myflowerpatch) and I found that when we asked the question ‘what flowery/floristry books would you recommend?’ we were inundated with replies, so many that to our delight we found #britishflowers trending!   There are clearly many lovely books on all things floral out there – and now we’ve captured a list of the best of the best – just in time for making seasonal wishlists!

In the order that I noted them down, here are the books that were mentioned:

Arjen Huess: The Cut Flower Grower’s Handbook

Sarah Raven x 4: The Cutting Garden, The Bold & Brilliant Garden, Wildflowers, Grow Your Own Cut Flowers

Dr D G Hessayon x 2: The Flower Expert, The Bedside Book of the Garden

Christopher Lloyd: Garden Flowers from Seed

Lynn Byczynski: The Flower Farmer

Rosemary Verey:  The Flower Arranger’s Garden

DK Prinzing x  :Slow Gardening, The 50-mile Bouquet

Paula Pryke x 2: Flowers Everyday,  Table Flowers

@wellywoman: The Cut Flower Patch (pre order)

Sybil Emberton: Shrub Gardening for Flower Arrangement

Alan Peck: Buying and Running a Florist Shop

Val Bourne: The Natural Gardener

Addison & Hillhouse: Treasury of Flower Lore

Anne Wareham: The Bad Tempered Gardener

James Fenton: A garden from 100 packets of seed

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden (re-live your childhood!)

@StudioChoo: The Flower Recipe Book (florist)

Gertrude Jekyll: Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden

Vita Sackville West: all her garden writing is worth reading

Judith Blacklock: various floristry books

Lane Greer/John M Dole: Woody Cut Stems for Growers & Florists (‘foliage bible’)

Richard Sudell ed. : The New Illustrated Gardening Encyclopaedia (1948 edn)

Sally Page: The Little Flower Shop books

The Wildflower Key – and Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland (no authors given)

Roy Genders: The Polyanthus

Nancy J Ondra: Grasses

Vanessa Diffenbaugh: The Language of Flowers (nb a novel rather than textbook)

Linda Beutler: Garden to Vase

Vic Brotherston: Vintage Flowers

Flower Fairies books & Brambly Hedge: (for the young at heart!)


As you can see from this photo of my books I will enjoy adding to them from the list above!  The good thing about having a quick rummage in my book case for the photo is that I’ve found a book I’d completely forgotten I had!  I will be dipping into the Malcolm Hillier book, ‘Flowers’ over the next few days…

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A post for an October day


I’ve not blogged for a long time, and it shows!  I can’t remember how to find my way around the site, thank goodness it is reasonably intuitive!

I know that my last entry was short and sweet, and this will be as well.  I am spinning many plates right now, the most exciting being that I am starting to pull my flower farming plans together (with luck and a following wind).  Tomorrow I am off to Somerset to meet flower farmer extraordinaire Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers, and attend her Flower Farming for Beginners workshop.  I booked my place on a dark February day at the start of the year, wondering what the Spring and Summer would bring.  Here I am looking up the directions for the journey tomorrow, and setting aside my notebook which I will fill to the brim with tips and ideas, on a golden Autumn afternoon; it has a lovely sense of all things being as they should about it.  Earlier today I met up with another #britishflowers growing friend, Claire Brown whose flower farm, PlantPassion is not very far from me.  We’re close enough geographically to help each other out, but not so close as to both be chasing the same customers, which is perfect.  Claire’s farm was started at the beginning of the year and it has been fabulous to watch it grow and blossom as the months have passed – that’s the beauty of flowers, give them the right conditions and they can’t help but grow for you!  Claire is generous with her advice and guidance and it was lovely to be able to discuss some of my plans and ideas with her.

Georgie quoted some old words of wisdom in a tweet earlier in the week – she said ” All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well” – and I’m beginning to think she might be right.

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A post for Summer

Well how time flies!  It is always a telling moment that you have spent too long away from the blog when WordPress have updated how the dashboard looks in your absence – oops!  Anyway, as I’m sure other gardeners reading this will agree, why be indoors blogging about your garden when you can be outdoors in it?  And so I have; it would have been rude not to, given how fabulous the weather has been since late June.

So not a great deal to write here as I want to try to avoid a great big catch-up type of entry today (I have flowers to pick and pots to water).  I’ll save that sort of review for a dark and wintery afternoon later in the year, when recalling Summer will transport me back to the glory days, instead here are some photos of the garden and the allotment, and the results of my work so far this year.  I hope you like them.

The allotment, one year on and it's come a long way!

The allotment, one year on and it’s come a long way!

#britishflowers - cut from my garden
#britishflowers – cut from my garden

Box spirals in the garden
Box spirals in the garden

A bucket of #britishflowers cut from my allotment

A bucket of #britishflowers cut from my allotment

Planning for next year...

Planning for next year…

Posted in #britishflowers, Adventures in my allotment, In my garden | 1 Comment

A post for May

We’re nearly at the end of May and I realised I’ve written nothing at all for this month, so here is a whistle-stop tour of the month to bring us up to date.

At the start of the month my garden celebrated the two year anniversary of its re-design/re-planting and even if I say so myself, it has come on in leaps and bounds.  If anything can be said for the extended cold Spring we’ve suffered again this year it is that the plants that bloom this time of the year do at least hold on to their flowers for a lot longer (once they come into flower that is) and so my tulips and wisteria are all in flower together and both have lasted for weeks.  But that is the only positive thing.

One year ago today

Finished garden, May 2011

Two years on

Two years on

I’ve been working my allotment for about one year now – and that too, I’m pleased to say is showing a vast improvement on the dandelion infested patch I took on last year.  It still has more dandelions than I’d like, but at least I’ve reclaimed two beds and a third is now coming along – I have flowers planted but it remains if they will be flowering by the end of June, which is when I’d planned to offer them for a donation at the local fair – I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Allotment, May 2013

Allotment, May 2013

I left my garden alone for a week while we had a holiday in Pembrokeshire.  It was gratifying to see the difference a week’s growth made when I came home – everything seemed to have come into flower behind my back – but as already said, the cool weather meant it was all still looking lovely when I got home.

What a difference a week makes!

What a difference a week makes!

And finally, I returned to Chelsea Flower Show!  I’ve worked it out as being about 20 years since my last visit, when put off by the crowds and the crush to get to see anything I decided to spend my money on tickets to the Hampton Court Flower Show instead.  I bought Chelsea tickets for this year and took Mum as a birthday present.  We hoped for the best, but went prepared for the worst if I’m honest – and we were very pleasantly surprised.  It was busy, but then it was the second day, and it is always going to draw crowds.  But we could see every garden we wanted to see, and we could get around the pavilion comfortably (it might lack the romance of white canvass but in terms of space it’s a great improvement on the old marquee).  All in all it was a lovely day out and we’re going back next year!

Chelsea 2013

Chelsea 2013

As May turns into June I am now waiting for all the little plants I’ve brought on from seeds so carefully to bring forth lovely flowers and maintain my inspiration to make a business from growing #britishflowers for cutting.  But we need some warm weather, and soon – we now have lovely long light evenings, perfect for sitting outdoors and enjoying the garden at its best, but without some warmth in the day time the evenings are chilly and best spent indoors with a bulb catalogue or three!

Handpicked Flowers, from my garden and allotment

Handpicked Flowers, from my garden and allotment

Posted in #britishflowers, Adventures in my allotment, In my garden, Out of my garden | 2 Comments

Gathering momentum


Looking down the garden

Looking down the garden

I had intended to spend most of the day in the garden today, lots of things to do, but it started to drizzle before lunch and from the kitchen window I can see that the rain is still speckling the surface of the pond.  An update on my blog being long overdue, writing about the garden is the next best thing to be working in it!

So, how and what is gathering momentum?  I believe the coming of Spring is at last; as the hours of daylight continue to stretch out the temperatures have started to rise and head in the right direction for April, and this in turn means that tasks for the garden have increased too.

View from the house

View from the house

As it had continued so cold at night I brought the seeds I sowed at the beginning of the month into the house to try to encourage them into life.  I’m pleased to report that it is working.  The Cosmos germinated within three days, the Ammi have followed suit and the sweet peas that were dithering whether or not to fully emerge from the compost are standing tall.  I just have to turn them all regularly to keep the stems in an upright direction rather than growing horizontally towards the window.  And joy of joys, some of the seeds I sowed in March and placed in my growframe are finally germinating.  First to show life were the black cornflower, closely followed by the blue.  Now if the calendula would just get a move on I might feel confident that I will have some flowers for sale by the end of June.  This is when I want to try on being a flower farmer for size and see if I like it – I can’t for a moment believe I won’t.

The growhouse

The growhouse

We have a little local fete in late June, very small scale but it is a start.  This year I have offered my cut flowers for sale – but if things don’t get a move on I will not have anything to offer.  I made this offer because on my allotment and to some extent in my garden, I am growing flowers for cutting, partly for the sheer fun of it and how beautiful I imagine the plot will look in high summer, and also because I am presently learning how to create a (small) flower farm and the fete gives me an opportunity to see my flowers go out into the world.

For now I’ll say no more about my flower farmering plans, but I really am excited by them and just need to remain positive and focused on bringing them on – like my flowers.


Posted in #britishflowers, Creating my garden, In my garden | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“April is the cruellest month”

My under gardener gets stuck in (and blisters!)

My under gardener gets stuck in (and blisters!)

At least according to T.S Eliot it is, but from where I’m sitting and looking back, March 2013 is a top contender and that is in the relatively mild South East of England; I pity the poor farmers in the North and in Scotland.  Today is April 1 and whilst it is now sunny with blue skies there is a bitterly cold wind blowing, the type described as a ‘lazy wind’ because it blows straight through you!

Being Easter Monday it has meant that at least some of my day has been given over to gardening  and so first thing I headed out to the allotment, taking the under gardener with me for a long-promised (by him) digging session.  We spent about an hour there before the cold drove us back home but I was able to turn over the square bed (for my flower planting) and I set my helper to work to finish digging a previously untouched, at least by me, bed that I want to put my runner beans in this year.  Both beds now need a good weeding, but if the drying wind keeps up, this along with a few more frosts will break down the clods of earth and weeding will be much easier.  And of course the birds get the chance to root around for lurking bugs and beasties.

So  I’m now crossing my fingers crossed that Eliot’s statement is not proved correct this year and that April proves kinder than March – we gardeners need to get on with the Spring!

Posted in Adventures in my allotment | Tagged | 4 Comments