Saturday, 28 August 2010

Natural Wedding Company and damp flowers

Lovely to meet Charlie Burton and Nick today who called in after a wedding in Hereford - Charlie set up and runs The Natural Wedding Company so do check out the site which is a really good directory of ethical/eco wedding suppliers, all about beautiful simple or sophisticated reality rather than over the top pressurised wedding planning.....

It continues to rain here, on and off, and is blowing a gale on the field again. It seems calm enough in the cottage garden but crest the brow of the hill and it feels at least 50mph. So I have been experimenting to see what still picks and holds when blasted with rain and wind as there are plenty of weddings coming up and I would like the flowers to look lovely rather than bedraggled! Some of the dahlias that are still standing do OK, some of the clumps of cosmos stay happy but others shrivel and wither almost instantly, some scabious survive happily, cornflowers don't seem too fussy, and the stocks on the field are fine because they are protected by great banks of verbena and falling down larkspur (which lasts two minutes if picked when wet). Even eryngium are not happy, seeming to brown instantly with so much weather. It's all a learning curve but I wouldn't mind less learning sometimes!

I took last week off from mail orders in order to catch up and hoping to pick masses of flowers to dry.... I chose a bad week for it, delphiniums are wet and definitely unpickable and undriable, ditto lomas, molucella, ammis, nigella..... But there are gorgeous asters just coming, and masses more heleniums and lovely rudbeckias, stocks, phlox, echinacea, more cornflowers, outrageous dahlias, delphiniums in waiting for a dry day or three, scabious, sweet annie, many pretty things.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

work boots

I know it's a standing joke that us women all love shoes, but good footwear is about the most important kit I need. It's wellies all winter, and as I can't afford le chameau I do stick with barbour as they are the most comfortable although they actually are not as sturdy or longlasting as I would like. But most of the time I wear Blundstone boots because they are supremely comfortable.  I have just had to concede my last pair have reached the end of their life and had to buy more. Don't buy them on eBay, there are some fakes out there that cost as much as the real thing or more, and no need to buy from the "recommended" blunnie suppliers either - I highly recommend Scotlands Outdoor Centre - boots are £75.00 including postage and sent out the day or day after getting the order. Brilliant!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

"bright and unstructured please"

The bride wore cream and burnt orange and requested an unstructured bouquet of whatever looks best to include yellow and orange and blue tones. It poured and poured and poured all through the evening and early morning so picking was a bit traumatic but luckily lots of flowers did manage to hold out. Bowls and jars were filled with oranges yellows and purples predominantly, and the bouquet featured mixed dahlias and plenty of other flowers and pods.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A weary flower grower!

I'm taking next week off from orders, which seems a bit perverse as there are enough flowers in the field to fill about a dozen marquees, as one of the visitors last Sunday observed.... I have realised that I am terribly behind with the non-growing side of the business so need to close my eyes to the flowers for a few days and catch up on the admin side. I also realise that by the end of some days recently I am becoming less than entirely reasonable, partly the fact that I have finally given in to some grim summer flu and am never good at being under the weather and partly perhaps that I am a little weary and not entirely rational - for example the husband made some mildly irritating comment a couple of days ago that would normally be water off a ducks back and I respond by saying (feeling entirely rational!) that I might as well leave and take the gardens with me! Now the idea of leaving house home and husband took even me by surprise, but to think that it would be entirely rational to consider moving about 15,000 plants, trees, shrubs, bulbs, tunnel, studio and everything else suggests that I am not quite my usual self. So a bit of a quiet week is probably rather a good wheeze......

On the bright side, I could probably fill about a dozen marquees with flowers with no problem, except that it is pouring with rain now so I would be loath to pick anything. Happily I had bouquets to send out today as well as other flowers and the rain held off long enough for me to pick in perfect condition. The bride wanted largely whites and greens with a few blue points so she and her bridesmaids had beautiful white phlox, white Nigella hispanica African Bride, blue scabious (various varieties) eryngium (her granny loved them), lots of seed pods, white stocks, green ammi, white ammi, cosmos foliage... I think the bouquets looked gorgeous and hope she loves them too. There were also several (coincidentally, curiously) golden wedding bouquets to send out and it couldn't be a better time as we have so many gorgeous yellows and golds in the gardens at the moment, from rudbeckias through to dahlias with lomas, achilleas, bupleurum and others. Lovely when things occur at the right time.

I was partly amused partly fed up to see today that the local girl who has started doing exactly the same thing after visiting me is even trying to sell flowers containing the ammi visnaga that originally came from here, very odd!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

open day pix 2

open day pix 1

A family affair - my mum sorted the gate, shown with Goody the gardener having a rare sit down, daughter Rowan sorted the tea house, and children enjoyed mimicking the husband's wicker handstanding figures... more cars than I could have imagined filled the car park field and people seemed to be having a jolly time throughout!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Open Garden Day

Sun shone, lots of people came and we raised over £1100 for Macmillan, and more to come from various bits and pieces for the local Laurie Engel fund. THANK YOU EVERYONE! I'm hoping someone will send me some pictures as I didn't quite get around to taking any as I was too busy chatting (and am hoarse today!). Derry Watkins Special Seeds went down a treat, in fact so well that by the time I got round to trying to purchase many of my chosen varieties were Sold Out, I was delighted she had a good afternoon as she drove several hours to appear here... Lawton Hall Herbs also had a fab selection, and the Teas were a triumph - special thanks to daughter Rowan, her partner Dan and their two friends Suzie and Adam who not only manned the urn and cakes but cleared up the Flower House beforehand so it was totally transformed. Shelley Faye Lazaar has a secret talent, not only does she create beautiful hand painted textiles, she makes what is probably the best ginger cake in the world!

I met some great people, and was amazed how far some of you travelled to visit. Lovely to see Barbara from Devon again who came to my hay festival course in 2009 and is growing her own flowers for weddings and planning expansion, also Sue and Mike from North Wales who are about to jump in to cut flower production, and Marie from Derbyshire who trained as a florist but now plans to do the growing too. So much energy out there.

And if any of you have any photos of the day, I'd love it if you could send me a few!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

OPEN DAY tomorrow, torrential rain today

Oh well it would have been good to have been able to spend today tidying up as there's a gang of family and friends here specially to help. But rain has definitely stopped play, even an attempt to dash out and do some labelling resulted in a near drowning experience. The ground still feels totally dry, I feel totally drenched. Derry Watkins is kindly coming despite the rain but if this persists I'll put her off first thing in the morning. Lawton Hall herbs are also coming, plus Coppice Wood project with beautiful and practical willow and hazel structures, Brook Street Pottery with a selection of their hand thrown frost proof pots in all sizes and Shelley Faye Lazaar with her hand painted scarfs and throws. Teas are only really possible if the weather is half way decent as there's not enough undercover space.... hope for sun!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

OPEN DAY preparations

I love Wednesdays, we always have a team here then so loads gets done. This week everyone decided I did need to do some tidying up for Sunday so they got stuck into some of our serious weeds in the far patch. Photo from left - Steve, my regular mowing machine and general tidier, former bank manager. Fred, garden designer former finance whizz from Prague, currently volunteering to learn about cut flowers. Anna at the back, brilliant garden designer. Caitlin, taking time out after degree in international relations and before heading off to study in Damascus, and Goody, brilliant all round gardener with the broadest smile and most infectious laugh around. A fantastic team and a fun day!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Day course September 10th Open Garden this weekend

Finally fitted in a date for a Planning a Cutting Garden day here - September 10th 10.30 - 4.30ish.

And it's our Open Garden this Sunday afternoon. I'm slightly concerned people will be disappointed as it's rather in-betweenish at the moment but I hope there's still plenty of interest....

Fantastic to have rain last night as I was on the brink of having to water things, which I do very reluctantly. I should have hundreds of fab glads now but they re understandably disappointing this year as I moved them from their established patch into the new bit, rather late, and gave them no help or water. But I'm fairly confident they will be good again next year. That's one of the wonderful things about gardens, there's always next year!

Scabious are looking wonderful now, dahlias doing their thing, delphiniums returning, lots of asters coming on, first crop of eryngiums nearly over but I'm hoping for another flush later on, still more larkspur coming on, lovely clear yellow tall rudbeckias but rather bashed over last night (and as they're about 8 feet tall they bash over quite easily) plus others, heleniums galore, good crocosmias at various stages, nice plum coloured seedheads from my favourite Nigella... lots of good creamy Ammi Visnaga but only a couple of plants of the really green form, why is it that so often the things one wants most are the shyest?

Visited Noel Kingsbury's garden for the first time in ages this weekend and feel very insignificant, his is looking wonderfully mature and grown up (and grown-up) now. Amazing plant forms. And his hornbeam hedge is about three feet taller than mine which I felt totally depressed about until he said he had put it in two winters before mine, I should stop being so impatient......

Saturday, 7 August 2010

passing on information

It's always good to talk about flowers with fellow enthusiasts, and to encourage other people to get growing if that's where their passion lies. I have loads of mails and some calls from people wanting to get going, wanting advice and so on. I know everyone does it differently and I want more and more people to grow real seasonal flowers and get the market going - think how many conventional florists there are, there's room for a whole heap more of us.

Early last year I had a visit from a local girl, very enthusiastic, had a patch of land nearby and was asking what I thought would be good for her and what the market would like as she wanted to carve a niche. She was waxing fairly lyrical about growing roses and I was v encouraging as there's huge room for that, but I think I was fairly enthusiastic about all of it, showed her round after re-organising the appointment time several times to suit her childcare needs, she stayed for several hours and chatted with me and Meg, coffee and cake and all the usual. I never heard from her again. Until this year I hear from the guy who runs the local town market that she'd been asking about selling bunches of seasonal mixed flowers in the market but he said no because it is too small to have two people selling effectively exactly the same thing. Now I know business is business but it would have been good if she had at least called to say thank you after visiting here and taking up our time, I gave it willingly at the time but it didn't feel so good when she seemed to be trying to be on exactly the same patch doing exactly the same thing - only with more fancy packaging! It wasn't about competition because frankly that is not a large part of my business but it is about good will and local pr and I do like to try to sell locally when I can. And this area is very underpopulated and no huge centres on the doorstep so not really appropriate to support two cut flower businesses, not on exactly the same patch. And if she had talked to me it would have meant she could maybe have helped me out if I had a large wedding, I could have used some of her flowers, or even vice versa, I just didn't like the attitude.

Then this morning I got up specially early to prepare a small amount for the very local village farmers market which I've been supporting since it started. I couldn't go last month because I was at Hampton Court and I certainly don't do it for the money but because I believe in community enterprises. It is in my local community hall, up the road from where I live. And find the organisers have let this other girl in, even though I have been coming since the start and they profess to want me to be there and the other girl is not from the village. I was tired and fed up as the market is so tiny (no more than 15 tables) it certainly doesn't need two local flower producers. It is not about the cash, but about the attitude. I do believe that we all need to respect and cooperate with other local producers rather than trying to walk over them, and I was tired and left as I just couldn't be bothered with it all. It was great to be at home as that was where I wanted to be anyway, but I was annoyed at the lack of loyalty, or communication. If the organisers had told me they had let the other girl in last month because I wasn't there, or that she was coming, I could have stayed in bed. The good thing is that we're out to dinner tonight so I can take some magnificent bouquets!

There are lots of autumn colours appearing in the gardens, but still lots of lovely soft blues and whites and creamy yellows too.....

Friday, 6 August 2010

following on

I thought it was going to be a fairly relaxed week, but somehow I've struggled through till Friday and relaxing is not the word to describe how I feel. Try haggard, knackered, and similar epithets. Not helped by recurring hip problem that I've put off doing anything about though all it needs is a visit to the surgery of the hugely long needles then I will be able to run again. Or at least walk round the gardens without wondering if I'm going to make it to the far end and back! Booked in for next week. Then I think I'll take a week off toward the end of this month as it's rarely too busy in August because of holidays and I realise I haven't actually had a day off since March. Which is stupid, and exacerbating the haggard feeling I suspect!

At least feedback got better and better this week, and after the horrible feedback that totally threw me came wonderful remarks from another mother of the bridegroom who had received the same flowers (almost) sent in the same way and almost to the same place so probably travelled in the same van . She apologised for taking a few days to get in touch but said the flowers were totally beautiful and so on. Hmm.

Only just avoided posting disasters at the beginning and end of the week - on Monday I lazily gave the flower parcels to some friends to post as they were passing a PO on their way home and it saved me going into town, but their local post office had stopped the special delivery line half an hour before they got there so I had to get in car, drive like a lunatic over to them (half an hour) to collect packets to try to get them to Hay on time, I got there with two minutes to cut off time. And today Friday I left Fred to put the flower parcels in the van, drove in in rather relaxed chatty manner with 15 minutes leeway. Got to the Post to discover possibly the most important of all the parcels (a bridal bouquet) had been left at home. No leeway. Mad drive back to re-collect. This time there was less than a minute to cut off time when parcel and I got back to the post........ That might teach me to check and doublecheck.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Better news

Fabulous Fred from Prague is here and inspiring worker. He is looking to set up cut flower business over there, and with a background in corporations and serious organisation as well as horticulture and landscape design I am sure he will do brilliantly.
NGS Herefordshire organiser is trying to persuade me to open under yellow book scheme next year. I'll decide after our Open Day.
Bouquet making course great success but camera temperamental - snaps show the palette people were working with.
Lots of interest in planning a cutting garden course for September, date still to be levered in.

mixed fortunes

Disaster. Got up this morning after sleepless night not sure what I was worrying about but it felt armageddonish. Early to computer. Email One: Complaint from recipient of flowers last Friday who said the loose flowers weren't up to scratch and if they had any photos they would have sent them me to show how awful my flowers were.....
Email Two: Mail from wedding couple saying flowers surpassed all expectations and hope I wouldn't be offended that they had added a bit onto the invoice.
Response. Delighted about email two but somewhow it's email one that gets through to me. I feel like going out of business as suggested immediately. I wish they had phoned me up immediately to say all was not well if it was not well then we could have rushed more flowers to them if necessary. I can't understand what went wrong. I can;t understand why they waited until the middle of the night on Tuesday/Wednesday to send their email. Definitely can't understand how bundles of flowers such as eryngiums, echinops, lavenders, sunflowers, phlox could have been awful but obviously something went horribly wrong.
Must shift that armageddon feeling somehow.


Lots of flowers blooming. Parts of the field looking spectacular. Head down so no time to blog recently! Weddings, courses, admin, weeding, cutting, planning, sowing, sorting.........