Sunday, 19 December 2010

Happy Christmas and a flourishing New Year

The year draws to a close and it's time to imagine another colourful year rather than the, admittedly pretty, white out we seem to have had here for weeks and weeks. The good thing is that the weather prevents me (for now) seeing all the things that just did not get done.  Instead I look forward.....

Thanks for everyone's support this year, it's been very full on, lots of new challenges and experiences, lots more flowers, a bit more confidence that what we are doing really does work. Special thanks to super volunteers among others Fred from Prague and Emma from the Isle of Wight who were both exceptionally helpful, and of course to Meg, Goodie and Steve who does the dullest heaviest jobs with complete stoicism and a ready smile. We've had lots of successes but one or two blips and of course it's the blips that stick with me because I find it hard to bear when anything isn't as it should, I always used to think I was very laid back about everything but lately I've discovered that I fear I'm actually more than a tad neurotic....

Next year looks exciting already but I'm not sure exactly what the plan is. I'm trying to be a bit more efficient at delegating and I'm looking for someone to be a head gardener-type 3 days a week from March onwards to take over the main growing spaces and supervise other helpers while I concentrate on the business side and the outgoing flowers. I have been dreaming of more planting schemes but some may have to wait a little bit longer to realise a major one as disappointingly a winter writing project that I was rather relying on has just been pulled. Whoops! And I'm definitely up for volunteers from end March onwards, and possibly some college students on placements.

I didn't get all our bulbs planted as the ground just froze solid and then all the pipes burst and we haven't yet mended them all, just switched off, so I haven't even filled the tunnel after things inside sadly froze early on when it was mistakenly left open. But I am quite sure spring will bring plenty and all will be well.

My next job is to turn to seeds, storing and labelling all our own and fantasising about all the others I may or may not grow next year.  We start mail order again come Mothering Sunday, but have weddings lined up before then. I can hardly wait to see things growing again!

Happy Christmas to you all, and let's all hope for a productive and interesting 2011.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

christmas fairs

I believe I said I was quite looking forward to three days in comparative warmth at herefordshire's Hampton Court Christmas do. I couldn't have been more wrong! The castle is american owned pseudo medieval, fabulously kitsch, walls covered with fake and perhaps some real armoury and an awful lot of dead animals, and, my favourite, a full sized fibreglass charger with mounted knight in full armour half way up one wall.... My tables were just inside the open entrance door in the main large stone and dead animal filled hall. I bought with me some bundles of dried flowers including some sprayed foliage, very wild hedgerow hoops and some less wild very pretty wreaths with different vars of rowan and viburnum berries and unusual foliage, as well as bulbs. I had foolishly disrobed myself of thermals for the first day falsely believing it would be warmer than standing in the frozen flower house. I froze. All day the fair attracted only just over 200 punters and of those 200 about 3 actually got what I was doing and those 3 were utterly delightful. But otherwise Oh gosh it was merry. Fuelled by promises that the second day would be the busy one I returned suitably clothed in many thermals and back to the furlined boots. There were definitely more punters. Coachloads of lovely ladies from caerphilly who seemed intent on buying up the rather expensive umbrella stall and were very chatty and charming but definitely after something other than my style.  Then in the evening people were supposedly lured in with the promise of mince pies and christmas carols. There was a choir singing carols, but nowhere near my end of hell, there were mince pies but I am too mean to pay £3.50 for a tiny mug of mulled orange juice and wine and a small mince pie. There were a handful again of utterly delightful people who loved what we do. And a plant event organiser who came specially to seek me out so that was very good. I felt terribly sorry for the lovely young couple with their baby who had made absolutely glorious wreaths from vegetables and nuts and suchlike and were selling none. They had decided to avoid other events and concentrate only on this one and I suspect they really needed the income. There are some absolutely lovely christmas fairs, we just chose the wrong one. It might have helped if the venue had at least done some advertising, but it might have made little difference, win some, lose some!

The good news was that I had lots of pots (both tin buckets and rather more lovely pale biscuit coloured terracotta pots of beautiful paperwhites ready for christmas flowering which the husband rushed down to another fair for me on the saturday and sold beautifully. And those I have left over will make lovely gifts or make our own cottage smell lovely - it's probably the first time ever I have been really efficient with paperwhites and got them spot on for christmas, I had intended to be selling them in London at Broadway market but the weather intervened and meant I was completely iced up here for three saturdays in a row so just couldn't get out.

Fabulous dinner with friends on Saturday where I was given loads of brilliant ideas for the future of cut flowers from a truly brilliant gardener. But what was truly impressive about the dinner was how the roast pork was traditionally roasted on a 17th century roaster hanging onto the huge fire. Very festive, very delicious. All the dried flower hoops were sent off yesterday  - thanks to everyone who ordered one, it was a fantastic response - and I've had almost a day off now and am beginning to feel enthusiastic for next year already!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

fur boots and frozen fingers

Utterly beautiful hoar frosts and blue morning skies, and everything looks magical when I raise my head from christmas orders. Barrowloads of mistletoe, benches full of hollies, bay and conifer, piles of dogwood and willow.... and all in minus many degrees, no water in the flower studio for a couple of weeks, brief thaw meant that all pipes burst, no power yesterday, ice rink for a drive but 60 packages must go out, permanent delightful drip on the end of my nose, pots and pots of poor sad utterly frozen paperwhites even though I moved them out of the (frozen) tunnel into the house last week.... Oh Joy! But I'm looking forward to three days in the comparative warmth at Hampton Court Castle (Leominster) Christmas fair from Thursday to Saturday, I just haven't quite had time to make any of the decorations yet ... fingers crossed (when they unthaw!).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

about face

I'm generally rather perverse about christmas decorations - I don't usually do gold, I don't usually do conifer, I don't usually even do holly. And I think I've also said on more than one (hundred) occasions that I don't do dried flowers. But this year I am doing gold, conifer, dried, and holly. Mainly because I cut masses of lovely glossy bay last week for decorations, as well as some really silvery blue eucalyptus, but the past two nights have dropped deep into the freezing zone (it was 18 degrees below zero a few miles up the road on Sunday night). So when I checked the foliage today for sending out a multiple order I found it had nearly all suffered from frostbite and was not looking its glossy best. Time for the 24 carat gold spray - and a touch of conifer, and holly, and statice, as well as some preserved beech leaves..... amazing how things change. But that is what tends to happen here, we work with what we've got so it's hard to predict exactly what will be coming out. And that's why I also decided to do dried flower hoops this winter, for once I know what we've got to work with then.

 I've also been asked if I could provide some very inexpensive but effective hanging decorations. There is no way I can produce any kind of a wreath for well under a tenner, so I'm going for very simple hangers. I'm just waiting for the snow to calm down enough for my delivery of ribbon and raffia so I have something pretty to bind them with.

Monday, 29 November 2010

early snow

Not too thrilled with the weather. I would have preferred to get all the bulbs in - just when I thought I  still had time for once. I'm wondering if that will be it for 2010. Still, at least it means I will have to get into the flower house (with a million layers on ) and get stuck into all those christmas goodies. Pics will follow when I'm a bit better organised.

On the plus side, it's fun to be inside for once editing a book on resilient plants. Wondering how many of them would actually be resilient for this level of weather.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

no maintenance gardening?

I have been checking out another field this weekend, a field which is sheltered and warmer and on the alkaline side rather than acid. Soil is however still heavy clay, but actually I am growing used to that and it certainly has advantages for a minimal water regime. I am considering planting a few blocks of shrubs there next year to see how they do, and leaving them to fend entirely for themselves. As I am not a believer in chemical controls this probably would mean planting through landscape fabric, but my mind is whirring for other methods of keeping the good going and the bad down. I would like to experiment with no maintenance growing for a while, as everything is so incredibly high maintenance here, and it might be a good site for a few volume crops of foliage, berries or flowering shrubs. My mind is far from made up. The reason for even considering it is that I get frustrated by the exposure of this site. Yes there are advantages to all that movement of fresh air, but the lie of the land means it is hard to plant convincingly for windbreaks, and I just can't bring myself to put up that  industrial windbreak material. Yet. But it may come to it. Or I may try some planting elsewhere.

Oh yes the main disadvantage of the other site is that it is not close by. That is an advantage in that the climate is much much softer. But a slight disadvantage being three hours drive on a good day! So it really would have to be no maintenance for a while.

Monday, 15 November 2010

landscape fabric - hints please

The winds last week were fairly fierce here. On the far patch which is most exposed yards and yards and yards of landscape fabric paths dislodged themselves from their stakes and pins and disappeared to other areas of the field where paths really are not needed.  Does anyone have any helpful ideas how to keep the stuff down through winter gales. Last year we dug in the edges of wider strips, and weighted them down with metal gates, pallets, iron bars..... but still lost some of them in the worst weather. I suppose the solution here always has to be to plant more windbreaks but that won't help right now. All suggestions very welcome.

More funerals this week. I really like doing funeral flowers though the gardens are looking rather less than productive now! Tulips plod into the ground, as long as I do a few hundred most days we will eventually get them in, and as the last ones went in between the spells of snow and ice in January last year I'm not too worried.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

a glimpse

I think the bridegroom is getting a huge hug from his new father in law, but who knows......

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

finally some planting

Fantastic couple of days with perfect planting weather, the first 3000 tulips and 1000 alliums are in the ground. Hoorah. I'm told so often that I should be more mechanised but actually it's rather pleasant work planting bulbs on a nice day......

An interesting approach from a local MIND garden organiser to see if we can join forces in some way so the MIND group can grow flowers for us or something of that kind. I hope we'll work something out as I've been contemplating how we could work with some social organisation or other.

And we've booked for Cottesbrooke Plant Finders Fair next June, if you don't know it, it's the one fair definitely worth going to if you're a keen gardener. lots of wonderful specialist small nurseries and beautiful garden goodies. I'm planning already!

Monday, 8 November 2010

behind the scenes

If I could be granted one wish it should be for a bit less chaos and a bit more order in the way I do things..... my studio could never make a shopfront! But I guess I still must kind of love my chaos to hang on to it with such dedication! Old man's beard, spindle, hips and bryony are my current top hits.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

autumn wedding first snaps

The brief was to bring a bit of country into the city so I hope we managed to do that. Lots of autumn foliage, hydrangeas, berries, scabious, cornflowers and schizostylis, hips, clematis seedheads and old man's beard, plus the bride wanted traditional scented roses so I bought those in for her from the traditional scented English rose grower.... Personally I would happily stuck with all the home grown and hedgerow treasures but I can't deny that the scent of roses is rather divine at any time.  The scale of 1 Whitehall Place and the amazing decoration in the building mean that it isn't the easiest venue to decorate so I decided to stick with a few large arrangements - a lovely autumnal urn and two large hanging arrangements plus some fairly wild pillar decorations including lots of bryony and old man's beard - and more conventional table decorations and rather neater than usual table pedestals to follow the bride's brief. Her bouquet was a mixture of flowers, berries and roses, the bridesmaids had just roses (actually the most challenging part of the brief for me as I'm so used to doing our very mixed mixtures!) and a flower girl had a pomander of hydrangeas and roses. Buttonholes were hips, hydrangeas and roses. 

We had a lovely day getting everything ready, all rather stress free thanks to fab help from Florence and Kathleen who nobly turned up without having any idea what they would have to be doing, and Meg did a brilliant job with the hanging arrangements and urn. I hope the bride and groom loved their flowers..... if all was well I'm sure there'll be some proper shots and bouquet pix for the blog later.

Dissembling everything took a while, not just the difficulty of detaching the hanging arrangements and derigging the urn, but a film crew were using the venue for some 1950s film so I couldn't use the usual lifts and had to carry everything miles from the kitchen service lifts which involved getting lost several times in the basement labyrinth! All rather interesting!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

tulips still waiting

We did finally get started on tulip planting on Wednesday, but only got a couple of hours in as so much else to do. Look out for an offer on our christmas hoops in Gardens Illustrated december edition, and on courses in Gardeners World mag. But meantime it's full on preparing for the Whitehall wedding, photos will follow.....

Monday, 1 November 2010

november means thinking about christmas

Help, it's time to think about christmas fare although we haven't started planting the bulbs yet...whatever happens to time? And nothing is going to get done in the gardens this week because we've a big London wedding next Saturday so that's occupying all thought this week. I'm going to make huge arrangements with autumnal and preserved foliages, berries, fruits, old man's beard, clematis heads and loads and loads of very scented roses that I am buying in specially, and tables will have delicate arrangements with ivies, ammi, berries, fennel heads and suchlike, cornflowers, nepetas and roses. The venue is very large but I'm fairly confident the scent should still fill it and the whole should look magnificent. Fingers crossed.

And meantime it's time to think about christmas. I will be selling hoops on line but no winter flower arrangements this year, hoops will be made with bases of willows and dogwoods, covered with lots of mini posies of our dried flowers, seedheads, berries plus herbs. They will be lovely, but they can't get made yet!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

things go on just fine without me!

Lovely pictures of the wedding bouquets last weekend. The brief was for wild but soft, hedgerowy rather than formal, The bride was Rosie, hence roses in the bouquets, and one had basil in in honour of a bridesmaid's nickname..... It's fab to know how things can go on in my absence just the same, a stage I've been looking forward to. I've a horrid feeling I was rather bossy about it all before I left, and probably gave too many instructions that were quite unnecessary as Meg does flowers beautifully, now the only thing is to persuade her that she doesn't need to worry so much..... She also did 14 beautiful table centres but sadly I have no pix of them.

Monday, 25 October 2010

on being away

Surprisingly wonderful to take a week away, knowing all would be well on my return. I was actually rather excited about Meg doing a delightful small wedding while I was away, a first, knowing she had good help from Emma. They produced beautiful flowers that the bride and family were completely delighted with, as I knew they would as Meg has a wonderful touch and Emma really enjoys doing fiddly bits. What I didn't anticipate was how very many long long hours it would take them, how there was more than a small degree of panic, and how it was not quite the pleasure for Meg that I had anticipated it being, especially as she was just off for a few days holiday too and really didn't need to be putting in double overtime here ...... Thanks Meg, you really are a star and I can't wait to see the photos of what you created plus E's buttonholes and corsages.

Frosts had ripped in with a vengeance the past nights before I got back. But I hadn't worried, knowing all was in safe hands and house dogs ducks and gardens were being happily looked after. Then went out into the gardens this morning to find the tunnel was open at both ends. Just a bit one end, and the window fully open the other, and a night of well below freezing.... Suffice to say I was not thrilled. I only have one tunnel and have been trying to experiment to see just how late in the season I can get annuals such as stocks and cleome and moluccella plus cosmos, cornflowers etc to keep on flowering, plus get lots of other annuals off to a very early spring push by getting them established now (thinking Chelsea as much as anything as I have flowers to do then). Some things may survive, others are looking brownleaved and deflated. Can't really blame anyone else except myself thinking it was ok to go off for a week.....

Any advance on "Bother"?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Four funerals and a wedding and a possible mechanical funeral

Funny old week lining up, I've been asked to do flowers for four funerals this week but can only do two as I'll be away attending one of them. Then I'm away for a week and Meg is doing what sounds to be a delightful rustic wedding in my absence. I actually really like doing funeral flowers, I think they can make a difference.

Started rotavating new tulip patch this morning, thrilled to have the old Titan running again. Until it stopped. Oh bugger.

Has anyone got a sturdy old rotavator tucked away in a shed somewhere looking for a new billet?

Monday, 11 October 2010


Great to be in London this w/end - I thought I'd been promised a place on the main drag at Broadway market but no I was off in the schoolyard, but it was still fun though I didn't sell quite as much as I'd hoped, and I'm sure next time will be better as everyone who passed by loved our flowery offerings. Lovely to see another spectrum, but rather worrying that the 70s and 80s are so popular again, I'm really not sure about that particular "vintage" trend  as I don't think fashions looked that great first time around, though at least they're worn with a certain cliched panache these days. Whoops I'm sounding really vintage myself, and not in a good way either.....

On vintage - I just purchased a load of lovely metal mesh bottomed dutch bulb trays. The guy I bought them from imagined I'd be reselling them somewhere but they are now all in use for their original purpose, trays and trays of bulbs in waiting. I don't want to plant for another month but wanted to be sure I got the varieties I wanted so orderer earlier than usual. So it was fab to find exactly the right method of storage. Half of the remaining space in the tin barn is filled with buckets and buckets of foliage as I'm experimenting with preserving different forms. Fingers crossed that many of them will work as I've a wedding next month in a substantial venue that is crying out for huge autumnal arrangements, but all autumn leaves will have fallen by then so I'm trying to get the same effect. I always find it hard to predict exactly what I will use for any event, and do tend to take inspiration from what's around in the week leading up to the date, but I do need to plan a bit more for winter weddings as bad weather can mean little to inspire. So I'm filling up with lots of old man's beard and trailing berries too. and will see how they keep, they may look lovely against coloured twigs and preserved foliages. And I've been experimenting to see how late things can flower in the tunnel once the light dims. Stocks and cleome are looking as though they may get to do their thing, but they may just stop on the point of flowering in which case they'll have to be ripped out as they won't overwinter at that stage.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

See us in the smoke

It's the first time at Broadway market this Saturday. An odd time to start as it's the end of the season, but I'm taking lots of late flowers plus arrangements with berries and foliage and we'll see how it goes. The plan is to do four or five before christmas, moving from fresh flowers to lovely pots of paperwhites and suchlike and christmas decorative hoops and arrangements - but definitely no holly and ivy wreaths as I just don't do them. And no conventional dried flower arrangements although my helpers keep trying to persuade me to go down that line. I'm afraid I lived through the 70s and have deeply unpleasant memories of hideous decaying dusty dried flowers and bowls of potpourri and it is not an era I wish to revisit! However, I do have some gorgeous flowers drying at the moment for some purpose or other, just nothing 70s style...... It's rather lovely to be making up autumnal country bunches as I don't get to do that normally except for October weddings and occasional events. Do call by if you're vaguely in the area.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

still blooming - and that cauliflower sheep

Rain more rain and then some torrents after the first frosty nip. The good news is that some of the dahlias came back from the brink for a last flourish, and cosmos and scabious seem positively ecstatic after a nip of frost. Delivered wedding flowers on Friday through torrential rain and floods to worried bride who feared rain might have stopped play, but all was well, especially as she had no colour preferences but dahlias are her favourite flowers and we still had some wildly bright survivors.

Meanwhile the husband was in Bridgend making a 10 foot cauliflower sheep - picture of it's birth on a very wet Friday. Sadly it just reached it's full magnificence on Saturday when it could cope no longer and the combined weight of rainsodden base plus 600 cauliflowers and aubergines proved just too much and it sank to its knees and disintegrated into its component veg.....

Monday, 27 September 2010

First frosts

Clear skies, bright days but alas the first frost. Probably not too sad to mean the end of the courgettes as they have been outgrowing themselves for weeks, so much so that we have just about forgotten to use them and their bed has turned into a mass of enormous yellow zeppelins. But very sad to herald the end of the dahlias which have been blooming their heads off for weeks and weeks. And other annuals are not impressed with the change in weather so we are only doing automatic mail order for another week or two. But I'm thrilled to note that Mother's Day is late next year so we should be well up by then!

Waiting for bulbs to arrive so we can start looking at that job, which is massive. Ground not yet cleared. And there are days of weeding everywhere to start putting things to bed for winter. Some days the tasks seem a bit daunting, and the expense of having enough help to make most of them happen.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

an autumnal week

Another week has flown by and we are getting toward the end of the mail order season as the asters all bloom and the dahlias pull out all the stops before the threat of frost. Still a surprising amount of flowers in the gardens - scabious have done terrifically well this year, almost all types, the lovely purple podded nigella are only now finishing, there are still spots of ammi, second time around campanulas, aconitum, solidago, rudbeckias, heleniums, verbena, persicarias, catanaches, nicotianas, cornflowers.... plus many I can't think of this second. I'm experimenting to se how late we can keep things flowering in the tunnel and wondering whether the stocks will come through to flower before day length gets too short, ditto cleome and molucella. If they don't make it I'll let some stay to see if they hold out for early flowering next year, but only a few as tunnel space starts to get precious.

Next job is clearing for bulb planting. I hoped we'd get on to it this week but we got nowhere near.

I start to get desperate for a bit of pavement walking at this time of year, so have decided to do Broadway market b y London Fields from next month - an odd time to start, at the end of the season, but they said they'd love me there for a few goes on the lead up to Christmas so I'm thinking of inventive creations and we are picking masses of material to dry to put in our hoops etc.....I seem to remember I was going to have a quiet time before christmas but as ever seemed to forget to remember when it mattered.

Wonderful WWOOFer Emma has been taking pictures. The husband's sculptures look particularly fetching. And it's interesting to have a completely different eye on the gardens. My photos are usually record shots so I can try and discover what's going on year on year, I hardly ever take the top garden areas as these are not really the productive areas, but I think they look rather lovely in some of her pictures. I'm keeping my fingers crossed Emma may decide to stay around this area as she seems genuinely interested in the flower business and has some very good ideas. She's even done lots of flower arranging courses and has showed me reams of pix of very well thought out arrangements - but I would need to knock the florist out of her a bit.... She is also the best gardener we've ever had here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

A WWOOF wonder

After some earlier less than thrilling WWOOF experiences, the tables have turned. Emma Gardner is here for I hope a couple of weeks and what a star. Kew trained, she's looking for the next gardening direction so trying lots of avenues. She's also a very good photographer so I'll be posting some of her pix any day soon. She did get rather thrown in the deep end, WWOOFers are supposed to work about 5 hours a day, I'm sorry to say her first day was 12 hours (a full day's work then picking and preparing for market) and her second 10 hours (a day's work then wedding prep) before a normal 8 hours..... I promise I do keep suggesting she can stop but somehow she just doesn't mind mucking in as it's rare to stop here unless physically removing oneself from site.

That said, she has just removed herself from site, in her van, so perhaps she'll never be seen here again..

One of her many jobs so far was picking and helping get the market stuff ready. All very bright and late summery.

september colours

No longer any point pretending there's an Indian summer in waiting, things are definitely feeling very autumnal here, and the field's exposure very apparent. But colours are still very bright and cheery - a few pix of a yellow and pink (and hops) wedding, one with autumnal shades and pinks, and bouquet from seasonal but "vintage" request, plus mixed buttonholes.

I love it when morning views of the field are of mist rising above the river with the sky clear before the mist evaporates.