Saturday, 22 August 2009

Ordering roses

This weekend the bride only had one very specific request, she would like cream roses, preferably scented and full faced. I knew I wouldn't have any now, and the garden I can usually get good roses from didn't have any either so I said that I would order from the UK's main cut rose supplier for her. So I ordered her roses from David Austen. These arrived in good time and good condition and the roses were very beautiful. But they were completely the wrong roses.

I had a few moments of utter panic thinking that perhaps I had been on some other planet when I had ordered and had actually ordered the bright orangey-peach coloured blooms that arrived. Fortunately I had ordered the right roses. And had put very specific instructions on the order that only buttermilk roses might be an appropriate substitution if my choice of roses was for some reason unavailable, and that the company must contact me if there was any problem and if they needed to substitute. When I called them to question why I had the wrong roses and see if they could ship me the correct ones immediately they said they had sent me the orangey ones because they didn't have any cream, so they could not rectify the situation as they couldn't send me any appropriate roses.

So I had to spend the whole of Friday morning, when we should have been preparing other things for the wedding, trying to track down cream roses and eventually Meg had to go off for several hours to every garden we could think of to see if we could possibly pick any potential bouquet roses. We did find a few, incredibly beautiful - thanks very much to great gardeners in Dilwyn who offered what they could - cream blooms and cream with a hint of gold but they were more fragile than those I would normally have wished to use. The bouquet looked exquisite but I was very worried how it would stand up to the day. Fingers crossed all was well, no doubt I will hear. (And no doubt a proper photo will appear in due course!)

Now I know none of us always get everything right all the time, and a couple of weeks ago I had to send off bridal bouquet and buttonholes, wrist corsages and table flowers after weeks of incessant rain, so I was concerned about the travelling and keeping qualities. A couple of things didn't survive as they should but I had sent plenty of spares and felt I had to offer a substantial discount even though the job had taken longer than usual because of the weather. It was not ideal but I did communicate with the recipient. 

I was surprised that a large and reputable company such as David Austin should fail to check before making an uncalled for substitution. It was probably just a silly error in one of their departments failing to pass on the right information, but think how disappointing it would be for a bride to order a bouquet direct from them to arrive on the morning of her wedding only to open it up and discover it was entirely the wrong colour?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The joys of work

It is curious how many enquiries I get from people who would like a few encouraging words about setting up or growing on their own cut flower business.  I don't really know how to help as everyone works differently. When a journalist visited me recently she asked me if I could give advice on how gardeners should set up a cutting patch, but she laughed even as she asked as she had been with me for over an hour by that point and realised that my flower gardens are rather more chaotic than most, rather more scattered than most, and possibly not the best way forward for anyone but me!

I think if you are really passionate about something you can make it work if you want to. There are lots of caveats about turning hobbies into jobs, how people end up hating the job and discarding the original hobby, and that's probably right. Growing was never a hobby for me, much more ingrained than that. And I do love it. It is exhausting getting any business going, and growing is possibly more exhausting than most. I have done easier work, in fact every job I have ever done has been easier than this. I get disheartened some days, of course, and physical exhaustion is a little too ever present, but I am also constantly terrifically excited by what I am doing. I cannot imagine that this business will ever pall, for me,  because I can think of so many exciting directions it can go in. 

And when I go down to the main field and it looks like a real garden, it makes me smile. Deeply.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Flowers for all sorts

One bride asked for a posy that looked as though she had just rushed into the fields and picked it for her love..... One a few weeks ago (photos just in) wanted blowsy peonies above all else.

An unusual request last weekend was for ten posies in the national colours of Burma - red white and blue, and the national colours of Tibet, red yellow and white. They have gone up the Trafalgar Square (Anthony Gormley living installation) plinth with a local man who was promoting the causes of those two countries. I checked the website afterwards and there was a comment from some onlooker who said he bet the posies were plastic...... 

Subtle and bright

One of the joys of dahlias is the opportunity to grow some outrageously bright colours that just zing...particularly when put with some of my favourite greens. Marigolds aren't half bad either. At the other end of the spectrum, why grow just any old cosmos when you can grow one as pretty as this pink edged form?

Choice and abundance

I've been looking at other available mail order cut flower options. I'm quite sure I haven't got everything right, I seem to be less expensive and provide many more flowers and varieties per bunch and bouquet than the other providers I've come across. But it's hard to tell. It's a joy making up the orders at the moment as there is just so much choice, I get fed up when I just can't possibly put everything in! I have just had someone phone me about the size of the bunches - it is hard to tell from the website as there are not really any specific photos of bouquets going out, mental note to make sure I do get these done for my update - she was worried that the cottage garden bunch might just have enough for a tiny vase or jug. No. These are the kind of flowers that have been going out the last few days - the lily and sanguisorba, liatris etc etc was for the country garden bouquet size, the others are cottage garden bunches.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Looking forward

Last week the weather was so wet that I took one day out from the mud and desecration to go to the wholesale nursery and choose some shrubs and foliage plants, both of which I am desperately short of. I am still slightly limited in what I can grow here but the hedge in the field is just beginning to provide a little shelter, and I am now fairly confident that I can grow slightly less robust species in the top garden between cottage garden and field. I have tried various artemisias with little success so far but am having one last go as their grey fluffy or serrated foliage is so good for some wedding arrangements, and I particularly like Powis Castle which is probably the hardiest even though I have lost several in different spots. I am also stocking up on basics such as various euonymus, physocarpus, loniceras and viburnums, and couldn't resist a few berrying treasures optimistically hoping I'll get there before the birds! I stumbled over the lovely lemon scented nepeta so carried home quite a few of those to try, the scent is similar but to my mind even more evocative than the lemoniest geranium leaf. Quite heavenly.

And of course as soon as I got things home that really need to be in the ground the rain stopped and the sun came out. I must remember that trick to change the weather in future!

Cosmos is finally thriving, better late than never and it means I'll have lots very late in the season, but one patch in the main designated annual area is failing, as soon as the flowers open they crisp up and fold. The variety is Psyche, I haven't grown it before and can't imagine what the problem is. I shall use the feathery foliage instead if the flowers continue to fail, it is a good green and pretty texture and can be lovely in bouquets, giving off the distinctive cosmos scent. Another thing that is thriving is amaranth. I'm not at all sure whether I like them or not, slightly too brash perhaps but the green one is interesting - I think! Stokesia is not quite what I was expecting, never having sown it before. I'm not at all sure I like that either....

But I do love cornflowers, the traditional blue ones are past their best in a couple of areas but I have lots of white, pale blue and black ones coming on now so they should last well into the autumn. I also love scabious and the seed heads of ping pong are as pretty as the (short lived) flowers. I seem unable to get S. caucasica or any of its forms thriving in the field, I don't know why but it never really comes back which is a shame as the form is so attractive, and perfect for bouquets and for buttonholes.

The different pinks of achilleas are stunning now, and I have some excellent dark red dahlias, some lovely deep pink ones, and some very marginal tomato red pom poms which i can't believe I ordered, I was expecting something pink and white. That can be the problem with using the cheap large sellers, the varieties are not always at all reliable but I shall probably persevere as it is not that important for me if something clashes, unlike in a more conventional garden where design plays a larger part.

I sent off a package to the north of Scotland today, the very limit of the next day posting service. I shall be interested to hear if it does get there tomorrow. People knock the reliability of Royal Mail but I have nothing but praise for the service, Special Delivery has been incredibly reliable and it's still a wonder to me that something I send off from here will arrive in northern Ireland or western Scotland the next day. But they do get there. Invariably. And my local Post Office is fantastic, they have even opened several times on their half day specially so I could send off bulk orders. While other couriers wouldn't even quote me when I started as they considered me too small fry.

On that track, I was rather fed up last week when I went to the box for one of the two remaining rolls of cellophane (biodegradeable, not plastics based) to pull it out and find it was not cellophane but black plastic film, as was the last roll. I phoned up the supplier who asked if I had not checked the order when it arrived. I said that I had done so but hadn't bothered to pull out all three rolls from this final box as I assumed if one was right the others would be. The woman on the other end of the phone first tried to tell me that the cellophane would go black if it was kept in a damp shed (It wouldn't. It wasn't). Then refused to exchange the faulty goods as I hadn't complained within 7 days of receiving the original order. Even though she did admit it must have been their fault. She wouldn't even take the film back although i cannot use it and actually don't know what to do with it, it is definitely far from eco and quite hideous.I have bought all my florist supplies from this wholesaler since I started, I'm quite sure I'm not one of their smallest customers, but they have lost me now.

Pat the not-so-young WWOOFer left on Friday, and I haven't any others lined up for the moment. It's interesting, having volunteers, but next year I shall be more prescriptive with whom I would like to have here. It's great having interesting young people, and great that they try it, but I have realised that what I really need at the moment is not an interesting cultural exchange but independence, enthusiasm and muscle!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

summer may yet return!

A couple of photos from a wedding under a treehouse earlier this summer. I had forgotten it was once hot and sunny! But it's looking better and I was able to send off bouquets and flowers for a bride yesterday, and have a lovely wedding locally this weekend.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

barbecue summer

Phlox, snaps, achilleas, gypsophila, bupleurum, amaranths, clarkia, veronica, alliums, catanache, scabious, rudbeckias, crocosmias, sanguisorbas, sweet williams, ammis, cornflowers, dahlias, eryngiums, cosmos, persicaria, solidagos, asters, veronicastrums, monardas, campanulas, heleniums, nicotiana, calendulas, scabious, daisies..... So many lovely flowers, so much rain, so many bowed wet heads. Last summer was wet. The summer before was wet. I could really do with a bit of dry weather, please! It is a little disheartening because it is difficult to pick. When flowers are saturated they won't last. I grow a number of very large headed phlox maculata varieties, these have suffered badly as the heads are heavy, even the tough achilleas are rather bashed about, but I think this is more the wind than the rain. I must have the latest cosmos in Britain, but if we get some sun I'll have it very late this year

So yesterday, rather than watching the downpours, we - me and my current WWOOFer Pat who's helping this week - took time out to go to a nursery and fantasise about sunny futures in gardens full of lovely things. I stocked up on some shrubs for foliage. I wouldn't normally even consider buying these at this time of year but the Dingle wholesale nursery is very reliable so plants are cared for well in their pots, and the ground is so, um, damp, that it's fine for planting. I don't think they are going to die of drought or scorched leaves! Today if the rain continues it means we can't even get on to the docks in the drier part of the field as I'm growing on clay and it really doesn't help to be continually trodden on when saturated, so it's time to strip back some landscape fabric and do some planting. It has now been three weeks since we have been able to strim or mow so you can imagine it's looking rather wild down these parts!

At 78 fit and active years old Pat is my oldest WWOOFer so far. By about 50 years. And by far the best to date. She is brilliant, very interesting to chat with, never stops, and knows her weeds. She reminded me about salad burnet - I had rather wondered how sanguisorbas had ended up so widely scattered and so varied, then remembered they are the same family, I grow some lovely ornamental varieties as I love their little foxtails waving about in the gardens and in bouquets, but I can't say I would ever be much of a convert to the taste of salad burnet leaves. But it's good to realise how many weeds are edible, specially when I look at the vegetable beds which have not been tended much, there are veg there but you have to search quite hard for some of them this year. I hope I'l do better next year. And that next year it will rain gently in the evenings and leave perfect days.......