Monday, 27 January 2014

Getting married outside in January

How brilliant, Anna and Barney got their wish and got married OUTSIDE at Barnsley House last week. The rain stopped for all of 10 minutes!

Job near Stroud - via Noel Kingsbury

"There is a probable job coming up, for a full-time gardener in the Stroud area. A variety of duties but establishing a veg garden for a boutique hotel is of central importance."If you know anyone who might be interested please contact Noel Kingsbury

Thursday, 23 January 2014

And summer will come

I just received a whole load of wonderful pictures taken by brilliant photographer Paul Debois in my garden May before last. Oh what a joy to remember that flowers will come again! Just looking at this bucket makes me smile ..... (sorry about the grimace in the photo though!)

I'm hoping Paul may do a day course at The British Flower School next year on garden photography

January treasures

I'm not sure why the nigella is budding up already, or the scabious, I hope they're not in for too much of a shock. Hellebores are happy. The little clematis cirrhosa balearica has been blooming away since well before christmas. I'm frustrated as (probably) too much kneeling on very wet squelchy ground two days ago resulted in me being all but unable to walk yesterday with a very sore and aching knee leg hip foot the works. And too much heavy pruning has reminded me about that annoying carpal tunnel thingie. Bother. I keep recommending a wonderful Bowen practitioner locally, John Wilkes, to other people, I think it's time I popped down the road to see him.....

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Winter whites

I confess I allowed myself to feel a little smug that the terracotta pots full of paperwhites were at their peak for the wedding today as planned. As the bride's favourite flower, they did a grand job as pew ends up the aisle. She also wanted a very simple very light rustic arch. Which was just as well since it is rather held up with skyhooks and branches lodged into more pots of paperwhites.

I look forward to official photographs. The bridal couple requested feathers in the buttonholes which caused me a little head scratching as I am not normally sure that feathers (definitely dead) go with flowers (hopefully not dead). But I finally decided on white hyacinth pips with buds of macracarpa and spriggettes of rosemary with a feather, bound with a tiny band of linen tape. They did look good on the lapels I saw them on, which I am relieved about as I think each one probably took more than 10 minutes, minimum, and there were 18. It was an early morning start!

The day before, I was in Gloucestershire delivering flowers for a small wedding at Barnsley House by Cirencester. This still remains one of my favourite venues, so well organised, such charming and efficient staff, as well as a beautiful place. Several years ago they were having trouble with their house flowers owing to illness and staff changeovers (historically the gardeners do the flowers) and they brought me in to do some training. Which was a complete joy.  Now they certainly need no help, their house flowers this time were lovely, I did a double take as the arrangements were so definitely my style, using what they have around them. But possibly their dried strings were tidier than mine. Well done Barnsley, spot on - again.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Outside inside

Still too full of cold and flu to do anything useful outside - I tried yesterday, it was not helpful - I am instead enjoying the garden in miaiture on the, sunny for once, kitchen table.

Monday, 13 January 2014

What's in a name?

Quite a lot I think.

I am a gardener. And a writer although I don't write much these days. And a flower provider. And a florist because that's part of what I do, not because it's what I trained as. And I grow flowers. And I lecture - currently about flowers and gardens, formerly about journalism.

But I would not call myself a grower because to me that is something more special, that speaks of years or decades or generations of dedication to growing flowers (or anything else). I have complete respect for those traditional growers who are still running flower businesses several generations in. There are quite a number of you remaining out there, thank heavens, producing beautiful blooms. And there are a few newbies too, doing a great job.

There is also a whole new crop of small scale flower growers, some even calling themselves flower farmers, so what's wrong with that? Probably nothing, it just doesn't seem to sit easily with me. On Farming Today recently there was a discussion about smallholders who called themselves farmers and how that sat with them and their communities. There wasn't any particular conclusion except that some very small scale farmers, or smallholders, seemed to be fairly self sufficient and sold surpluses to make money so were living from their plots, but perhaps they didn't need to live off the land in the same way as an old-fashioned serf of the soil needed to. The new breed of smallholders perhaps had come via a different route with different options. So although they worked hard and took themselves seriously, there was the implication that it wasn't ultimately quite serious.

Perhaps it's nothing to do with anyone else's labels but because my father was a farmer so I grew up on a farm, which was a serious business. When I was growing three acres of flowers intensively in Herefordshire alongside the garden, I never thought of myself as a flower farmer, though I know some other people did. If anything I think of myself as a gardener. And in fact I am much more of a gardener than a grower or a farmer because I don't heed too many rules, I love irregularity rather than uniformity, I enjoy seeing what happens rather than being entirely in control of my patch - though I do my best. My father, the farmer, always rather sneered at gardeners because he thought it implied a gentler edge than farming with hints of the dilettante.

It hasn't been a gentle experience, building up the cut flower business, I'm sure I have worked as hard as any farmer and just as long hours. But, almost without exception, I do not think that many of the new crop of British flower growers are flower farmers. Some are perhaps not gardeners either. There are differences, there are.

And while thinking of labels I got to floristry. I don't think of myself as a florist either, though in many ways I obviously am. I used to have a number of trainee florists coming for a week's work experience to help with weddings or events, or simply to explore working with home grown blooms. One in particular sticks in my mind. She had won all the top awards all the way through Floristry School and was nothing if not supremely competent. When faced with our flowers she treated them exactly the same as if they were flown-in ramrod-straight chemically-preserved imports. Each bloom was stripped to within several inches of its life, they were all laid out individually in stem lengths and colours along the work bench, already looking rather startled, then they were very competently tightly positioned together to make a hand tied bouquet. A stiff, unnatural hand tied thing. Something that looked as if it had come from Interflora rather than the field. It was extraordinary and revelatory. To my eye the beauty was demeaned, rather like a gorgeous fresh faced young girl covering her face with layers of masking make up, but the trainee florist obviously was thrilled and thought it beautiful. I guess it was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it is one reason why I don't call myself a florist.

Perhaps it would be most satisfactory to come up with a whole new and more descriptive label.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The British Flower School

Opening this summer in The Old Stables at the beautiful Mapperton House and Gardens, The British Flower School will run courses which encourage participants to look at flowers with fresh eyes. Dates will be announced in the next few weeks.

The Flower School will provide courses for flower arrangers and trainee or retraining florists wanting to create beautiful natural arrangements for every occasion, and for gardeners wanting to pick flowers all year round from their own gardens. There will also be days on plant drawing, and occasional lectures. Every day starts by taking your eyes for a walk and looking at the shapes, textures and combinations that nature provides. All flowers used in the courses are British grown, and we also use wild materials.

We are incredibly fortunate to have been invited by the Earl and Countess of Sandwich to hold the Flower School at Mapperton which boasts one of the most beautiful gardens in Britain. Course participants gain free entry to the gardens and a meal in the fine cafe in the grounds.

Much more information will follow on the British Flower School website which is currently under construction.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Storms can't stop the flowers

It obviously takes more than 70 mph winds and torrential rain to stop the flowers. A few (very) late deep red roses are blooming away, and hellebores are coming on apace, as well as hordes of paperwhites. It's looking promising for the two weddings next week.

However, most of the gardens are all but under water, standing water sits over all the half hardy annuals optimistically sown early, I fear they will not survive. Masses of weeding is still in waiting, it may be waiting for a very long time. The greenhouse is now a green house as it is completely sheeted in green tarpaulins after gusts removed panes. But spring will one day come again and all will one day be well. I hope.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year with many more growing adventures...

Another long gap filled with good intentions including getting on to this blog more regularly, but intentions have gone to the dogs as ever

It's going to be an exciting year for the RCFG I think. Last year there was just so much going on with moving, resettling, trying to sell, selling, running up and down between Herefordshire and Dorset, trying to get ground cultivated, planted, sorted and flowers in as well as keeping flowers going out.... If there had been time to think it would have been spent trying to work out the best ways forward, ways to change the business and the growing to suit the new space and so on. There wasn't much time to think but nonetheless things are proceeding apace even if in a rather crabwise fashion.

Here it is all about the garden. I am not again going to cultivate several intensive acres of flowers, or put up another large tunnel, but realise I can grow the same range in quite a different way. I am trying to continue developing the garden to become a fairly self sustaining perennial cutting garden where everything pays its way and maintenance isn't crippling. It's all a way off but there is a vague plan and some aspects are progressing. I will grow all the things I want to, not in huge quantities but enough for almost everything I need and when I need more bulk of a few things I am going to get them from two other established British Flower sources, but only using things that I also grow so I can merely bulk things up if desperate. And I am aiming for more special varieties and cultivars, interesting and unusual specimens, possibly plants that people don't usually cut. Alongside all the usual subjects that I love growing.

And I of course can't resist cultivating a bit of field, but am trying to keep this to a minimum as it is just such hard work endlessly hand weeding perennial beds and I am not friends with chemicals. I have planted a load of lovely scented old fashioned roses through mypex out there, but the recent storms have done their damndest to make that all rather a m ess, and I'm waiting for the weather to subside to sort it out - the ground got so wet that no stays stayed and wind got under the covers and thrashed the mypex to stringy nastiness, which then has wrapped around everything in its path. Not pleasant. And not sortable until there is some quiet dry weather.

I'm excited about hellebores for winter and early spring. They are beginning to flower now, singles doubles whites pinks yellows and speckles. I should have plenty for bouquets for 2 weddings the week after next, along with paperwhites and scrummy foliages and flowering shrubs.

And I am very excited about starting a new schedule of courses. I will be running some at the gardens, on the perennial cutting garden, but we are also starting a new British Flower School at a wonderful garden nearby, where we will run all sorts of courses on different aspects of putting flowers together, from hedgerow arrangements to botanical couture, involving various different gardeners, florists and artists. Nothing is finalised yet, but we are getting down to planning this month and expect to be launching the BFS in May. More information will follow as and when!

Happy new Year!