Tuesday, 29 September 2009

late september days

Still glorious weather, and still loads of colour in the gardens. I have realised that I am really rather in love with the flowers, they are just so prolific and, well, just beautiful. And so forgiving of my rubbish care at times! Anna Pavord wrote in the Indie this Saturday of her love of late summer cornflowers, ammis, nigella hispanica, I'm completely with her there but while she only rates the traiditonal blue cornflower I do venture into multicolour territory there - the dark pink ones are particularly good in bouquets, but I think I agree with her that if I were just growing them in the garden I would stick with the lovely brilliant deep cornflower blue. I'm also enjoying my dahlias at the moment, a few of the shaggy fuchsia ones and sulphur yellows with bunches of cosmos and purple flowers make me smile.

A trip to Malvern RHS autumn show on Sunday. Fantastically busy so it's wonderful that so many people are interested, but not too many particularly special stands or gardens although the RHS flower shed is always such a joy to wander round. I suppose I went there with a very specific agenda, to see if I could find some really good interesting foliage plants, and came away disappointed, but there were plenty of happy customers brandishing arm and trolleyfuls of goodies. I did however think that my asters here were just as good as most at the Show, but then I did get most of them from the National Collection at Picton Gardens so they ought to be good. 

The dry weather means plenty of opportunities to collect seed so we're getting as much in as we can. I'm also aware there's going to be quite a weed issue next year as I haven't managed to get to lots of the annual weeds before they've set seed and scattered. Heigh ho.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Different requests

Last year my oddest request was to find 4000 oxeye daisies for a PR launch. Slightly out of season. It was a challenge. This year my oddest request is going out tomorrow - 12 matching edible bouquets for a filmset. It is always a challenge to create matching things from these gardens, plants that grow outside tend to be slightly wayward and it's hard to find identical twins, let alone duodecatuplets or whatever the term might be. Which is why I said yes! The film company also want the bouquets to look as though they have come from a mainstream florist. Hmm. And of course their budget is not what I would like..... I am going with a few roses, I can't provide dozens that look identical or even perfect, lots of herbs, catmint which is edible but I don't want to eat it as it seems to numb my mouth quite quickly (I've been trying everything this afternoon), with some white and red shaggy dahlia-like chrysanths from a local grower, tested and approved of this time. The buyer is worried the bunches won't be generous enough so we have agreed to add some non edible extras round the edges, with strict instructions to the actress not to eat them!

It is fun being asked to create unusual flower arrangements, but it's equally a pleasure at the moment to be supplying lots of church flower ladies with flowers for their harvest celebrations. I do adore the late summer flowers, apart from heleniums, shaggy headed bronze rudbeckias are fantastic value, and all the yellows from brilliant helianthemums, sulphur yellow dahlias, bright solidago, rudbeckias mixed with purples of other dahlias, verbena, second crop phlox. I love orange/yellow and purples, and combining them with a touch of acid green and fuchsia purple is very eyecatching. My arrangements are quite subtle early in the year,they get a bit brighter now although I'm also still picking lots of beautiful scented white and cream stocks, astrantias, mixed cornflowers, gauras, achilleas, asters, so subtle is still on the cards for a while longer. I'm hoping the second crop delphiniums are going to have time to bloom as they are budding up nicely, but it is nearly time to change the focus of attention to shrubs and foliage plants.

On Tuesday I chatted to a  garden group in a nearby town who boast over 60 enthusiastic and rather expert gardeners among them. I mentioned when I arrived that I would love to find and learn how to grow a few choice traditional chrysanths, not the spray ones (sorry to those of you who love them but I just can't get my head round their particular delights), and found that the host is an expert who grows dozens of varieties including many that have not been on sale for years, even decades. So I am looking forward to a tour of his garden any day soon, and he promises to provide me with some choice cuttings for next year. I never thought I would warm to chrysanths, but some of the old varieties are so so attractive. A bit like dahlias, I never thought I would get involved with them but some of them are irresistible as late summer cut flowers. I sold at the local market today and had a long discussion with one customer about the merits of dahlias, she related a tale of learning to meditate when one of her teachers had pointed her to the exquisite form of a dahlia and how amazing all flowers are when their sole desire is to grow to the perfect bloom to provide pleasure to all who view them.... a nice thought. I was also marvelling at the wonder of a simple sunflower, how much energy it takes to grow from one little dry seed to such a splendid bright cheery enormous seedfilled head in only 90 - 100 days.  Flowers really are utterly amazing!

Monday, 21 September 2009

autumn agendas

What flowers could sum up autumn colours better than heleniums? They are definitely on my top ten list this year. I have about six different varieties, starting in July with Sahin's early flowerer and now I'm in the full flush of Autumnale.  I've been quite good at remembering to cut them back so many of even young plants have had at least two full on flowerings already and there are masses more to come. I can hardly wait to see what they'll be like with more maturity next year - supra abundant I think, and that's definitely the way I like things.

You will have gathered that I love the abundance and variety of flowers, and the more varieties I can grow, the happier I am. I don't think I could ever be a specialist in anything, there are just too many things to enjoy! And that's why I get slightly disappointed with some of the other companies selling "English" flowers on line. Many of them are producing very pleasing floristry, but too often the variety is such a pale shadow of what it could be because they are buying in, and there is not a vast variety to buy in..... But I could go on for rather a long time about that and I'm aware that I'm a rubbish blogger because I start off meaning to do soundbites and within a few lines am threatening to write an essay!

As much as I love all the fabulous variety, I'm also really looking forward to more wintery arrangements, there's something so beautiful about berries and foliage and those few precious flowers that bloom in the winter months. I've started growing a number of different ivies as they are just so useful, and am thinking about growing a lot more - I think the rule with greenery is to be as generous as you can be, few things look sadder than a few wispy trails of foliage when a space begs for generosity. 

However one thing that does look sadder than a few orphan pieces of foliage is the state of our house at the moment. I say to myself it is so untidy because I have been so busy I just haven't had time to sort it out..... And the storage barn is little better, I send out jugs and vases and candle sticks and containers of one sort or another, and when I get them back I seem to find it almost pathologically impossible to put them back in the same place. Next time it rains I may get down to it - but first there will of course be the tunnel to muck out and replant, the bulbs to order, research to discover, plants to drool over, seed catalogues to rake through, even accounts to do...  

Monday, 14 September 2009

Time to get back to the gardens

Now I've not got so many demands it's time to get back to the gardens which are looking a little sad and neglected right now. But I went to pick for five mail out bouquets this morning and was pleased to see how much there still is and how much still to come. It has been fantastically sunny for the past few days so the blocks of cosmos are begging to be picked bucketfuls at a time, and more dahlias seem to open every time I turn my back. I grew too many dark ones this year and not enough white cactus ones, but the fuchsia pink shaggy ones are probably my favourites this year. I still have plenty of green ammi, but the white traditional forms are getting to the far end of their lives, in every block. There are plenty of red and green glads left, cornflowers in white and pinks as well as blue to come, and masses of tiny pearly achillea but I sowed them rather late so they'll probably all be over by now this time next year. Asters of course are doing brilliantly right now, I still favour the wonderful mauve blue frikartii monch above all others for pickability, though there are a few other contenders too. The traditional small flowered tall white and pink forms aren't good in bouquets as the flowers open at different times but they're great in churches and big displays for a mass of impact and background. 

Catanaches have been good this year, I seem to have had some flowering for months, and I picked sweet peas again today, only a jugful but lovely to have something for our cottage for a change instead of all for other destinations! There are of course plenty of heleniums, still verbena, many eryngiums, some lovely delphiniums, and roses are having a beautiful late flush - the top garden has quite a few bushes of scented cream and ivory roses plus old pink ones, and now we can enjoy them without picking them which is a different pleasure. 

Persicaria has been excellent, flowering for months, and all my different astrantias have done brilliantly and flowered very well for a second time. I'll be sowing huge numbers of astrantias soon as I intend to have almost a quarter of an acre of my favourites for cutting next year! Annual phlox are another thing worth considering in more bulk, I grew them for the first time this year and have been well rewarded. The bulk of the solidago I got from Noel Kingsbury is now at full burst, I'm hoping it will continue for quite a while but I didn't cut enough back hard earlier so it won't continue for as long as it could. 

I got the photos through to look at for the Gardens Illustrated article next year. It's very exciting, but as a gardener of course I feel the gardens were looking much better the week before and definitely a few weeks later when the gales and rain stopped..... But I know they'll make it look beautiful and I have to admit I'm rather looking forward to it.

I've just started editing lovely Alys Fowler's new book. She's a hard working gem and deservedly popular. As someone rather older whose first gardening forays - apart from those in my mother's garden - were rather hippy gardening where anything went and we grew masses of vegetables in a rather higgledy piggledy fashion with flowers mixed in when we felt like it, it's fun to see how a younger generation have reinvented hippy eco gardening and given it more credible labels. What we experienced as ordinary gardening is now presented to a new generation of young hip ( as opposed to hippy) gardeners as polyculture, growing a mixture of flowers and vegetables together in drifts for effect and productivity. 

I've never been a great fan, on the other hand, of permaculture. I feel it was rather hijacked by grunge eco-gardeners (now I'm using silly vocabulary) to denote a state of gardening where aesthetics were of no importance, often to justify a state of non gardening rather than gardening. Though I know there are also some brilliantly sound principles. I was a friend of the late delightful Robert Hart, pioneer in this country of permaculture and forest gardening and spent many happy hours in his gardens and cottage. It was challenging having lunch with him, not because of the delicious produce from his permaculture plots, but because he didn't believe in using water very much so nothing was ever washed up. The residue between the tines of his few forks was serious and demanded a different way of eating! His gardener was called Garlic, and the two of them had a penchant for making extraordinary juices. I do not remember finding sycamore juice particularly pleasurable and can still remember the after taste and dried out mouth effect!

That rose bouquet from late August wedding

Photos have now appeared from Sarah and Oliver's wedding. This was the wedding where I was terrified that the bouquet would be a disaster as the roses I had ordered from David Austin were a disaster and we spent all Friday afternoon dashing around trying to find some beautiful cream roses from friends' gardens. In fact I think this bouquet was so much more beautiful than anything I could have produced from even the best bought in roses. 

autumn arrives

This weekend was the last of my summer weddings, so I officially consider it autumn now. We held a wedding in our field this weekend, and amazingly the sun shone throughout the weekend so it was all rather wonderful, happy bride and groom, much festivity, many merry campers.... the groom had asked if sunflowers could be the main flower feature, and happily I had plenty at just the right time. The bride had asked for nothing pastel so I made hanging sunflower and ivy balls, a huge arch with hops, sunflowers, brightest dahlias, daisies... the way into the field for guests was down a tree lined secret pathway which I adorned with flower balls and an arch, again using hops and brightest dahlias and sunflowers and rudbeckias. Outside the marquee was a huge container of gladioli, rudbeckia, bright red dark leaved Lobelia cardinalis Queen Victoria and other bits and pieces, with hugely long maroon red trails of amaranth. The tables had bright daisies and cornflowers, rudbeckias and snaps. The brides bouquet was all bright, reds, white, greens and yellows tied with red ribbon, a first for me to work with a bride with a bright red dress.

And on the other side of town..... I also prepared flowers for an opposite sort of occasion where the bride was much more traditional and wanted to major on bronze and ivory flowers. She had asked for bronze chrysanthemums which I do not grow so I had organised to get some from another grower. I collected masses on Thursday. Tried to find ways to use them on Friday. Threw them all away on Saturday and used beautiful bronze rudbeckias instead. Sometimes chrysanths can be beautiful, these were just not good enough quality and I couldn't bring myself to use them.  Meg pointed out to me that it's never worth me using flowers I don't like, I always end up throwing them out of the arrangements. I must learn. I won't use that grower again, but I think I have found a brilliant chrysanth grower for next year as they really can be beautiful.

No doubt photos of the flowers from the weddings will follow at some time!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Points to remember

Point One: Picking takes twice as long as I think it will, and then a bit longer, so it is a really good idea to have a very firm picking list before starting, and don't veer from it
Point Two: Wedding preparations are never relaxed
Point Three: It takes two people two long days to prepare for even a local wedding for church and marquee displays, plus driving and setting up time, plus de-rigging time

The problem with growing everything here is that it's terribly tempting to keep picking - Oh a little bit of this would be nice, Oh I haven't got any of that and so on. Because the weather had been so rough I fell victim to too much random picking for this weekend, so it took far too long. I picked in a couple of rain free hours on Thursday evening, then picked between 5-9 on Friday, then Meg continued picking all Friday morning. And I still hadn't finally made up my mind about bouquets and buttonholes as lots of things were slightly less than perfect because of the rain so I picked final subjects on Friday evening after we got back from decorating the church. 

But happily the church looked stunning, we did nothing too complicated, a simple pedestal near the main altar with clouds of white michaelmas daisies, white and dark red gladioli and other bits and pieces, rood screen decorations with pittosporum and eucalyptus bases covered with ammi, stocks, mauve Michaelmas daisies, blue cornflowers, mauve perovskia and a few dark pink heads of sweet williams as the bride's main theme colours are blueish toned pinks. The side altar had a huge arrangement, massive spires of purplish liatris, cream gladioli with purplish throats, lots of tall green ammi and strong large headed white ammi plus other foliages. The font was completely filled with a foaming mass of gaura, gypsophila, white phlox and perovskia, a jug at the back had largely delphiniums, ammis and Michaelmas daisies. 

The marquee had hanging globes with the broad umbelliferous heads of different ammis over green and grey foliage, lots of pinks and whites dotted in, jugs were predominantly cosmos with a few scented stocks and phlox and lovely old roses. The bride had asked for dynamic hearts which I  made out of willow covered with eucalpytus and tied with big ivory bows. Bouquets were largely a mixture of pinks and ivory whites, including lots of heavenly scented stocks, roses, achilleas, deep pink cornflowers with touches of eucalpytus... the children just had cornflowers and achillea the Pearl. I had no time to take photos, just a couple of the marquee, but I am quite sure there will be some from the bride and groom in a few weeks and I intend to put up a wedding gallery from this year at some point. It's useful for me to see what I've been getting up to as things move on relatively fast in the gardens and when it's a completely different season it's really useful to know what I may expect to have in the gardens at specific times next year.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


What to do if it's so windy that it's virtually impossible to pick? This weekend's wedding needs stacks of cosmos as that's the main feature in the marquee display (as requested). But I've discovered that you absolutely can't pick cosmos when the wind has been blasting through it as it is too crispy and dried out. I have masses of lovely varieties in the field, but I can't get at any of them. Nor at anything else. I have four flower globes plus a large garland as well as all the usual decorations to make and am rather wondering how........ I don't usually get stressed but sometimes it is a logical reaction!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Autumn arrives

Nothing to do with flowers, but seasons. When spiders appear in the basins autumn is definitely here! I'm sure there is a quasi-folkloric saying in there somewhere....

Ah, rain

Torrential downpours and galeforce winds mean many flattened flowers though most are managing to stand well, though very soggy. Glads hit the ground as they give up the will to stand, and the dark red varieties get water damage really quickly though paler ones don't seem to mark in the same way. Dahlias aren't mad on being picked in the rain, cornflowers refuse to revive, ammis droop, sweet peas have to be chucked.... but hopefully there are still plenty, today I am in love with eryngiums because they withstand just about anything! This morning there was a lull in the weather and I picked all the snapdragons that were still pickable after their battering, bright pink phlox, lots of dark cosmos in a brief spell between rain, nicotianas, clarkia, lime green, dark red and amazing fuchsia pink dahlias and lots of different greeneries for a wedding. Tomorrow I'm hoping for a sunny day as I have the last of this year's pastel summer flowers weddings to pick for, plus a selection of bright yellows, reds and oranges for another party. Happily the cream and white stocks are just about ready in the tunnel, I have been relying on them opening in time and I think there are about enough.