Sunday, 31 May 2009

What a difference a week makes

What a difference a week makes. Now the gardens are beginning to burst with flowers, already far too many to keep up with the picking. Delphiniums are fantastic this year, and white camassia seem to have spread hugely. Iris sibirica last for such a fleeting time in the garden but they are just so beautiful, I can stand in the middle of the patch and spend ages just looking at their subtly different forms, I have white, pale blue, dark blue and deepest purple, some with very mottled pale falls, some darker. Aquilegias have taken over the top garden for May and they are now going over, they are lovely for weddings, especially the paler ones and pink and green Nora Barlow. Astrantias are romping away, lots of shaggy ones as well as pale pink and dark red, and poppies are opening everywhere, though not lasting long in this fabulous sunshine. The tunnel is bursting with stocks, nigella hispanica, cerinthe and the first larkspur are opening. Alliums are appearing en masse, heavily scented pinks lining the top garden path.... it's all rather lovely suddenly. Bouquets this week will choose from all the above and may include sweet williams, libertia, cerinthe.... the choice is expanding.

This has been  the first of my busy wedding weekends, creating a very informal wedding with lots of wildflowers as well as lovely garden specimens for Jessica and Neil, and a country vintage style wedding for Kate and Robbie. Photos will be posted up when they arrive. Jess and Neil had huge buckets of cowparsley, buttercups, daisies as well as jugs of garden flowers, single species rather than mixed bunches. They had iris, campanula, aquilegia, stocks, bright red poppies, glamorous white poppies, astrantias..... and in the church as well as vats of cowparsley they had a central decoration with cardoon, delphiniums, euphorbia and camassia plus bits and pieces, and willow hearts with wound ivy. All very simple, everyone said it looked lovely. Jess's bouquet was white poppies and love in the mist, and buttonholes were shaggy pinks, euphorbia and sweet peas. Kate and Robbie had mixed jugs of garden flowers, and a bouquet of creamy peonies and rosemary. It was all huge fun to do, but a long day!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Hay Festival

It has been a rather hectic few days. On Saturday I spoke at the Hay festival, I hadn't had time to think about it but suddenly on the Saturday morning realised I really don't do public speaking and had an hour or two of feeling terribly nervous. Luckily the audience were extremely friendly, there were lots of interesting questions and thank you very much to everyone who came. Then yesterday (Monday) I gave a course here on making simple bouquets. Again, thank you very much to everyone who came, you were all incredibly positive and I hope you had a good day, even though you didn't get to make bouquets to send out as the course fell on a Bank Holiday which I didn't know would be the case when the Festival organised it. And thank you so much for posing just before you went for a shot wearing the aprons that I had completely forgotten to give to you to wear for the day!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Perpetual rain has stopped so we have had a chance to dive into the gardens. I think there is probably too much to do at the moment to worry too much about trying to keep on top of everything, but my wonderful helper Meg is fabulous, she works incredibly hard and just seems to know what needs doing next. Hay festival has just begun and gets into full swing tomorrow. People keep asking me whether I'm ready for my talk. I reply entirely honestly that I haven't thought about it as I am just too busy, and that's probably the best way otherwise I would be terrified of standing up in front of a tentful of people. It is very generous of the organisers to ask me to talk, I do hope people aren't disappointed, I feel like the commercial break in the middle of all the serious and brilliant speakers. I probably should also be preparing for my workshop on Monday but again, no time, I will just hope that people will be happy just to take what they find and enjoy the day. I am more concerned they won't have anything to eat as the Raybirn has been playing up and the engineer came yesterday to fix it but it hasn't done the trick so it would probably take me about a day and a half to make a single strange cake at this temperature!

Yesterday I was out of the house before 4am, went to look at some flowers that I may take for the business order next week (I supply flowers for one business who don't mind if they are not homegrown here, they just seem to want my style and British flowers so I source specificlaly for them from other growers when I haven't got bulk here, it's not a route I was intending to go down but when I was asked it seemed churlish just to say no so I am running with it and trying to make it work for them, it's a different challenge), got home soon after 5 and picked for later today and for the Hay market, just managed to get down there with enough bunches and orders by 8.30am but wasn't very happy with my selection as I just hadn't given it the time it warranted because it was raining yesterday evening when I should have been picking and preparing. Happily I had some good conversations (I have fantastic support locally and it's a shame that when I'm really busy the market customers don't get the best of me) and sold out by 11am to get back here into the gardens. The bright orange Oriental poppies mixed with grey foliage were stunning, and the white ones with black splodges, they are great for the market, for events and weddings but I couldn't send them out. I'm also really keen on deep red Sweet Williams mixed with acid greens, gorgeous! I then picked more for the mail orders going out at 4.30 and for a late birthday bouquet order - I should have picked them earlier as the flowers should stand for at least half a day so I had to be extra careful with my selection. Meg arrived, we had a quick scratch lunch including fresh picked salad that came complete with many creatures (it's quite disconcerting watching a worm crawl up your knife!) then into the gardens. I could only garden with her for an hour or two then it was back to the packing shed making up the mail orders and getting them to the post. Then it was time to tidy up  and get into the tunnel to water and check everything, then a bit more scurrying around, but by 6 o'clock I was weary so we stopped in the gardens and did spend half an hour sitting in front of the flower house taking in the early evening view - Beautiful! Then to the computer, dealing with queries for orders and suchlike until 8.30pm. By which time I realised I was officially exhausted.  I remembered in the middle of the night that I didn't post some letters that I really should have and failed to make a couple of phone calls that should have been done. There's sometimes rather a lot to think about quite apart from the state of the gardens. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Finally yesterday there were a few hours when it didn't rain! I know I'll be wishing for it in a month or two's time, but right now I could do with some sun. The good news is that the moat round the tunnel has worked and now the little plants have dry feet again. The stocks are starting to bloom and the tunnel smells glorious as soon as you slide open the door. Fingers crossed they'll last a week or two until something else comes on. The earliest sweet peas in the tunnel - planted to flower for weddings at the end of the month, 10 days time - are budding well but then many of the buds are dropping off. My fault, but I haven't yet checked to see what's causing it and why. 

Outside things are not as they should be. I haven't been able to get on to the field to even think of weeding for 10 days as it's just too wet and claggy. But in every break between showers more weeds leap up so it's not looking brilliant. I'm sure it will all get sorted out in time. Maybe! The main weed problem in the top area is the corn spurry which is beating all the annuals to germination then strangling the little seedlings that do braved it. So I did some emergency liming a couple of days ago - actually induced because a bag split in the van when I lifted it out so I had to use the bag then and there. Some went on to the compost heaps, some straight on to the soil. The idea is that it will neutralise the soil so the corn spurry, which likes a slightly acid environment, will eventually be persuaded the field is not a hospitable place for it. 

I was lying in bed wide awake pondering my growing project early this morning. When thinking about the talk I'm giving on Saturday I realised that I have only had the field for three years. It feels like for ever! So I suddenly felt terribly excited by all the possibilities as it's really doing quite well for itself considering it was only a bare patch of land three years ago. But I also so wish I was doing it better..... I am very aware of the shortcomings and perhaps don't so often see the good bits but other people assure me there are good bits. I'm getting fantastic response at the moment for mail order flowers and lots of wedding enquiries. It's such fun......

One of the many good things about not being a great sleeper is catching the colours in the gardens in early light. The blues at this time of year are incredibly rich, the greens vibrant with life. The red poppies like bright lamps. I love it. (This photo taken through the window doesn't really do it justice but might give a tiny flavour).

Monday, 18 May 2009

It's still raining. Usually I'm sanguine, but I have been worrying about it since 2.30am so got up early to dig a trench at first light outside the tunnel. I hope it will work.

On the brighter side, the gardens are now starting to bloom with Iris sibiricas, Hesperis matronalis sweet rocket, black and white and bright orange Oriental poppies, the last of the palest yellow tulips are still standing - they last for ages in water, gradually going stiffer rather than opening right out like the other varieties I grow - lots of euphorbias are still showing, the first of the alchemilla, early nepetas, swathes of libertia, Scilla hispanica are still flourishing and look wonderful in the early morning light that I experience daily! Alliums are starting outside and I have a few forced in the tunnel - though I seem to have lost lots of my wonderfully useful christophii last winter. There are aquilegias everywhere, some now lying flat on their faces, these are no good for regular cutting but wonderful for weddings or events where they just need to look great for a day or two. Campanulas have started to bloom but I have lost a lot on the field, mainly I fear to rabbits as their early foliage seems a favourite delicacy. Delphiniums have started blooming but have got so very bashed by the heavy rain and wind that they are struggling to hold their heads high. Sweet Williams are happily romping over the well drained bank in the top garden, but cerinthe is yellow and over wet at the base of the bank.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

I have been meaning to start a blog for a long time but never seem to find any time to do so.  Today it is pouring with rain, so hard that I am forced indoors. Even the tunnel is inhospitable. it is hard to believe that one week ago we were in Cornwall in blazing sunshine where I did flowers for a wonderfully eccentric wedding. I hope all will improve before Hay Festival next week where I am giving a talk about small scale cut flower growing, and due to run a day course up here which has been fully booked for weeks so I hope there are flowers to play with! 

In 2006 I bought a cold windy weedy field of old impoverished pastureland and began to cultivate the first acre. In 2007 I started selling flowers at markets and for events, and in 2008 began the mail order business. It was well received so this year I have more than doubled the acreage of intensive cultivation and erected a small commercial tunnel to extend the season. Another three quarters of an acre has just been cultivated and I have sown a cover crop of sunflowers, phacelia, cornflowers and calendula which will try to compete with the undoubtedly huge amount of grass and weeds that will also come through as I didn't spray first. I try to grow without chemicals, but am not officially organic and do not intend to go down the Soil Association accreditation route. 

Today I am feeling guilty and stupid as rows and rows of beautiful about-to-bloom stocks in the tunnel are threatening to drown. I erected my tunnel on a levelled out site on my sloping field, but didn't put it on a raised platform, so drainage on the top side is still a problem despite digging land drains. The rain last night and today on top of three days solid rain has proved just too much for it. I have thrown as much extra compost on to the soil as I can to sop up excess but can't dig any more grit in at this stage. I have a day's course in a week's time here, I just hope I will have flowers to look at and to pick.... outside everything is looking particularly sodden. The joy is that everything will sort itself out over the next few weeks, and flowers will bloom eventually, even if I lose some at this stage. The despair is that perhaps not for next week.... I knew that it was a bit risky organising for visitors to come and pick a good selection of flowers in May, which is a slightly in-between month in any year, but I am usually terrifically optimistic. Perhaps not today!

Gardening on a cold windy slope on clay can be problematic sometimes. But when plants like it, they do fantastically well. I had fabulous tulips again this year, I'm always rather sad when they finish.