High’s and Lows of this years flower growing

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November is just around the corner, and for me this year’s growing season is coming to an end, even though there are still a few blooms to enjoy in the cutting patch thanks to the mild autumn we have been enjoying.

As a farmer, rgardless of what crop you grow, the weather plays a significant role in your day-to-day activities, as well as affecting the crops growth and harvest. When have you not heard a farmer grumbling about it. Too hot,too cold too wet, too dry, too windy etc, very rarely is it just right for us miserable lot.

The season really was a difficult one to get going, as it was cold and wet for so long. Seeds were incredibly slow to germinate, and direct sowing into cold wet soil was not advisable. When the weather did let up a bit and we thought at last things will get going it soon turned cold again. In desperation my darling husband with help constructed some mini tunnels to put over rows of seedling to help them along, it really made a difference, and will definitely be used again next year.

One of the plus sides to a late start in flower harvest is that it moved the whole season back so that I was still enjoying some of the flowers in September that would normally have been over in August. I also benefited from sowing a late cop of sunflowers for a September wedding where the bride loved the flower so much we used it in virtually all the arrangements, this ment that I was still harvesting sunflowers well into October.

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I have loved the variety of occasions I have been involved in to supply flowers this year it has been a real privilege to meet and get involved with so many different people.

Some of this year’s brides have been happy to have a selection of garden flowers to arrange at the venue themselves, with the odd one having enough time to come and cut their own a couple of days before the event, which adds to the whole wedding experience. Others have asked me to arrange all their flower needs, church, venue, and bouquets etc. A huge task to complete on my own, and so this year my children have been an invaluable help. My daughters are becoming experts at conditioning flowers and arranging small jam jar posies, and even my son is showing some flower arranging aptitude.

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I had two weddings in July which set me new challenges. Firstly the heat, as we experienced a heat wave and cutting flowers in a hot spell and hoping they would look amazing in a warm marquee is not for the faint hearted. It involved a lot of moving around arrangements to keep the flowers in the cool for as long as possible and only placing on the tables last minute, which when they are arrangements in tall vases is quite a task .P1020953.JPG

Then the next challenge was the mother of the bride who when she see’s the flowers in their half-finished state starts to question the flowers saying I didn’t think that was what we were going to get. Just stay calm my husband says and let her see the finished article. When she did it was all smiles and “they are wonderful” thank goodness, but it does give you a wobble.

The second July wedding was a real family occasion with every member of the family involved. I was given free rein on the flowers I coud use, as long as they were blue and white,which as a grower makes life so much easier, you just choose what is at its prime in the week before the day, and the mother of the bride even let me raid her garden for foliage, what a privilege. The biggest challenge here was decorating marquee poles with flowers. Its amazing what you can so with a strong rope and oasis. Thank goodness the family were on hand to put the flowers in place, my eldest daughter volunteered to climb the ladder to fix the rope in place, she has a good head for heights.

 

I have also hosted a couple of workshops this year, mainly for flower crowns. One was a surprise hen party for the bride by her bridesmaid. They had a lovely evening cutting flowers, learning how to make crowns, and enjoying homemade nibbles and bubbly as well.

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Another new item I have been creating are autumn wreaths. These created an opportunity for me to get involved with Neptune, a home furnishings store in Canterbury. One of their customers was discussing wreaths with her daughter in the shop, and was overheard by a member of staff who wanted to offer wreath workshops fo Christmas, she very kindly mentioned me as shed had seen a friends wreath last year and loved it. So my next project is Christmas wreath workshops both at home and in Canterbury, there are still opportunities to join me if you like, check out the website for details.

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When life gets you down go for a dog walk

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I am a one man band trying to grow flowers, (mainly from seed), cutting and arrange flowers, and sell them as well. Quite often I wake up in the middle of the night panicking about the days to come, especially this year when my flowers are so late growing and coming into flower, and I have weddings looming in the not to distant future.

There are never enough hours in a day to do all I have on my mental list, and quite often walking my dogs feels an extra chore I could do without. But my two companions Fred and Gus need regular exercise twice a day and so on goes the wellies and off I go for a brisk walk around the orchards and Perry Wood.

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By the time I have had about 10 minutes walking without distraction i have managed to put my life into some perspective and it does not look so bleak. Just the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and having time to think is so important, it helps me to have the much needed time for myself.

I also find it a great way of spotting greenery and flowers that I can later forage for arrangements, so the time is never wasted. Living where we do there are always stunning views to admire as well. So if you need gentle exercise, an excuse to get outside and time for yourself GET A DOG or two.

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My love affair with plastic

As a cut flower grower to try to get ahead of the seasons growing under cover is a great help. This winter my small poly tunnel was damaged in the high winds so that I could no longer use it to start my seeds off and get ahead of the growing game.

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I remember as a child loving to go into my grandfather’s poly tunnel to pick cherry tomatoes which always tasted sweet and juicy, and seeing the beautiful veg that could be produced with a bit of protection inspired me to get my own.

When my daughter Sophie was about 2 I received the best birthday present from my husband John, a small tunnel where I could go and escape from the family and spend hours sowing seeds and raising a few tomatoes etc. There is no where better to be on a spring day dodging the April showers than in the poly tunnel. You can still do some of the many gardening jobs that pile up and stay dry. Very satisfying.

The next tunnel came when I first started growing cut flowers, and John spotted in the back pages of the farmers weekly two 45m tunnels needing a new home. Thinking how many tomatoes more I could grow for his lunches as well as the flowers, he bought them and erected them for me one Easter weekend. That was rather backbreaking work digging all the trenches by hand in lovely clay soil.

When I moved fields so did one of the tunnels, and the other was put away for the time being. So the decision to re-erect the second tunnel seamed the best solution to my dilemma of not having anywhere to grow my seeds.

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Frustratingly over Easter this year when we had a lovely spell of dry weather on the Saturday, the darling sheep escaped from their field so the priority that time was to get them fenced in, which always takes longer than you think. This was probably  a blessing as on Easter Monday we were hit by storm Katy, which did a lot of damage to commercial poly tunnels in the area.

The next stumbling block was the lack of anti-hot spot tape, which you place on top of the metal hoops to help protect the plastic from the heat generated by the sun. I thought John had sorted this!  Along comes another good forecast for the weekend and alas the tape was not ordered, so Friday morning after sourcing a company who could supply, and with Royal Mails next day delivery hopefully the tape would arrive on Saturday for the job to be completed on the Sunday.

No postman arrives on the Saturday!!  The tape finally arrives on the Wednesday and hallelujah the tunnel can be finished. All is going well. hoops are taped, plastic is stretched over and fits, sides are back filled, and the beautiful blue sky’s are slowly getting darker and darker. We are in for an almighty storm. Thunder rolls and lightning flashes and we start to think that standing under metal hoops in a storm is not such a good idea, so again it has to be abandoned. Thankfully this time just to let the storm pass.

So now I have a beautiful big space to grow my seeds in and with a few raised bed (still to come) will be able to grow lots of tomatoes, lettuce and peppers this year, and hopefully some bulbs in the autumn for next spring.

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Family help with wedding flowers

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For me January is normally a real anti-climax after all the Christmas and New Year celebrations, with not a lot to look forward to except the dreaded birthday. But this year was different as I had a winter wedding to keep my creative juices flowing. Marcus and Frances were getting married in the beginning of January, and after a consultation way back in the Autumn they asked me to supply and arrange the flowers for the venue as well as the bridal party.

Normally for a spring and summer wedding I can be a bit more flexible about what flowers I could use, going with the season and what is in flower, but for a winter wedding I needed to order the flowers in, and take account of the dreaded Christmas rush and price hike so not as much flexibility on choice.

After initially having chosen a theme of red roses with winter berries and foliage, and a few white lysianthus as well, Frances became superstitious of having arrangements with predominantly white and red, ( a real no no in hospital flowers with the association of blood and bandages), so we opted for cream roses instead, which were beautiful.

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The greenery was going to come from the garden, which when we first discussed ideas way back in the Autumn meant evergreen foliage, but as this has been such a mild winter I was pleasantly surprised by the selection I had on offer when going round the garden last week cutting. Not only could I select variegated pittosporium, eucalyptus and the most useful plant I would recommend to anyone to find space for nandina domestica, which had delicate red berries, white flowers and light open leaves. But there was also cerinthie, ok it was in my polytunnel but not scorched like some years from frost, cineraria, euphorbia and variegated  vinca. What a great selection for January.

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I needed to create 26 table arrangements on the Thursday, which normally I would have done at home and brought to the venue ready to place into the vases, but this time it was a real family affair with Frances’s mother helping as well as her aunts.

When I arrived it was just Frances and her mother at the venue which was great so we could establish what combination of greenery, berries and foliage looked best, and create a template for everyone to work to. As the morning went on various members of the family arrived to lend a hand and decorate the hall, and there was a great atmosphere of fun as everyone did their bit to help make this a beautiful space to get married in. What is so lovely when a family work together on a wedding is that when you look back you will have memories of the family members helping do their bit, especially when its your aunt who has gone off to “source” some berries she saw on the local supermarket roundabout.

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The last items to make and deliver and hopefully put ” the icing on the cake” are the brides bouquet, bridesmaids bouquet and flower crown (a good idea for young bridesmaids so they can be included in the flower theme but not have the worry of flowers to hold and damage), and of course button holes. There is nothing more satisfying as a florist then delivering a bridal bouquet and being told that you have created exactly what they had hope for. This is why I love my job.

 

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Harvest Review

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Day length shortens, and nights are spent in front of the fire, with the hens put to bed around 6pm, which means apart from letting the dog out for the occasional pee you can stay inside till next morning.

Its so easy at this time of year to feel all is done until spring next year, but now is the time to sit down and review how this year’s growing season went. With all the ideas I had in spring its important to see how many of them I carried out this year, and what worked and equally what didn’t.

New for me this year are the workshops I have been hosting with Julie Davies, which from the feedback we have both have had, have been a success. A few pointers have been learnt along the way, such as providing chairs for clients to sit on during the displays, (obvious now, but it did slip our minds at first). I have even held a couple of workshops my self, trying to demonstrate how I mix flowers and foliage to create my arrangements. We are offering a couple more for Christmas wreath making (see website and social media for more information).

What have been amazing this year due to an Indian Summer were the dahlias.11 002 They have been flowering their socks off for ages, and a lot of them have been grown from seed, not tubers, so have come into flower latish in the season as well.What a good value flower these have been. Also worth growing was a batch of late sown cornflowers in August, when the ground was dry, I did think I had left it too late for the plants to come to maturity and flower. But with the good autumn weather I am able to still cut cornflowers in October.

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The warm days and autumn sunshine have also given fantastic leaf colour, which I am enjoying when out walking the dogs.

The next task to do now I have planted my bulb order is to place a seed order from the inspiring seed catalogue which arrived last week. I just need a wet day when I can justify staying indoors in front of the fire, flicking through all the glossy photos of beautiful flowers I would love to grow. I know there is still the garden beds to tidy up, and layers of compost to put on the soil to feed it for next year, so really my work is not yet finished, just slowing down a little. I am  allowing myself a bit of time to enjoy the last of the seasons flowers and foliage, and the odd rose that continues to flower is finding its way onto my kitchen table now.

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Field and Forage workshop

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Sadly summer is now behind us, and this year we did get some good weather to enjoy. Autumn brings its own interests, and colours. Its a time of year that I find dog walks with a plastic bag in your pocket essential for foraging finds. If its not field mushrooms to use in a sauce for gnocchi, or blackberries for the apple crumble, then its wild damsons and rose hips for cordials and jams. There is so much to find if only you know where to look.

I am hosting another workshop with the talented Julie Davies to show you where you can find lots of extra foraged items to use in flower arrangements, we might also find a few extra goodies on the way such as blackberries and damsons to take home. The day out also includes a delicious farmhouse lunch, and the opportunity to cut flowers from my field as well. If you would like to join us there are still places available, so please get in touch.

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Hydrangea’s and holidays

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For me a summer holiday is a much-needed break, a week to get away, chill out from the daily chores and have time together as a family. But the hardest thing is its in the summer which is the main growing and flower cutting time of year, and because I am on my own there is no one I can delegate to  carry on in my place whilst I am away. As much as s Spring holiday would be good for me and we could get away at Easter with the school break, this doesn’t work for the farm as it is crucial spray season. Autumn is also a good one for the flower grower as things are slowing down, but for the fruit farmer it is HARVEST time so definitely a no-no, so summer it must be.

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Brittany was our choice this year and a region we had never been to before Finistère. it was stunning and a place I would return. We were not far from the coast which had a well-marked  footpath running its full length, great for a wet weather day activity. There were also plenty of deserted fine sandy beaches, each little cove and inlet had them as well as rock pools so you were spoilt for choice were to spend your day.

The weather was a mixed bag just like home, a damp start which improved as the week went on. It was this mixed weather with a good soak now and again followed  by long warm days which allowed the abundance of hydrangea to grow everywhere. In gardens, abandoned farmsteads, communal plantings, along roadsides. and the plants looked like they thrived in the conditions growing into hedges were a row had been planted.

It wasn’t just the luxury of growth that caught my eye it was the range of colours too within a few meters there were sky blue flowers on one plant hols 15 245 and then the neighbour down the road had a deep pink bush, with almost  burgundy ones in places, hols 15 244 my fingers itched to pick up a pair of secateurs and do something with the blooms, but I had to contend my self with the camera instead.

A week is never long enough, just as you start to unwind, and I did until I received a phone call one day asking for a bunch of flowers to be delivered to the next town at home, and the guilt sets in when I explained to the customer that I was away for a week and had no one to offer this service at home and was unable to help this time. We all need time off and the customer understood, hopefully he will call back another day when I am home.

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Why though do we tire ourselves out before we go away getting everything ready to hold on for the week we are away, and then go like mad when back home putting the house and garden back into order ( you don’t realise how much growth of weeds etc happens in a week) so that all the relaxing benefits of a week away are soon a distant memory. But I have some great photos now to jog that memory.

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