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How romantic to hold your wedding ceremony outside!  All you need is a lovely garden, village green or indeed a wood - and, ideally, a Plan B.  

Flowers in the garden need to be big, bold and robust to hold their own both visually and to physically stand up to the various types of weather - be it bright sunshine, drying wind or a downpour. They must look very natural too to stay in keeping with their surroundings. I was delighted to be involved with 4 outdoor weddings in 2016 throughout the summer - one in each of May, June, July and August. For the florist, garden weddings involve an early morning flurry of activity as arches are adorned, swags hung, and lights and candles dotted about the place to illuminate the evening party. 

As for the Plan B: you ideally need an alternative space, and lots of umbrellas on hand!  And yes, one of the four did make use of their indoor space for a part of the day until the sun came out again.

May wedding

July wedding

August garden wedding

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I have been gradually gathering everything together for some wreath making. Dried artichoke heads, teasels, hydrangeas and honesty have come out of the airing cupboard. Greenery of all description has been gathered along with bare stems, fir cones, bracken, willow for 'skinny wreaths', moss for keeping a degree of moisture, string, ribbons... spray paint! The artichokes with a bit of bronze spray are my favourite at the moment.  

No two wreaths are the same – when we hold our Wreath Workshops I am always amazed at how different they all despite the same materials being available to all. 



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This year the dry autumn has encouraged me to dig up my dahlia patch for some reorganisation and rejuvenation.

Historically the advice was to dig up dahlias every year and to store the tubers in a frost-free shed until replanting the following late spring. Latterly we have been having much milder winters and – with the protection of a hefty layer of straw, mulch and plastic – the tubers have generally survived the winter in the ground and resprouted in situ. 

Dahlias growing earlier this summer

Digging them all up has been quite a job. The tubers have become very big and heavy, and they are taking up a large proportion of my shed at the moment. They are packed – strictly labelled – into boxes with scrunched up newspaper, having been dried off under cover for a couple of weeks. Over the winter I will keep an eye out for any mouse damage or rotten tubers and then replant them in the spring.

The empty field

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The zinnias have loved the hot dry weather we have had this August and September. 

They are half hardy annuals and dislike being transplanted so they are generally the last thing which I sow each spring. I do not direct sow (which is often recommended) but the seeds germinate very quickly so if sown at the end of May and quickly moved into their final growing space they should thrive. 

The plants should be 'pinched out' to encourage the growth of lots of stems and they must have plenty of space. This year they sulked through the very wet June but eventually emerged full of colour.

The flowers should not be harvested too early or the neck of the stem will bend. Instead, wait until the little ring of yellow flowers are well open. The more you pick the more they flower. 

It is possible to buy seed of a large variety of separate colours – wine red, cerise, orange, yellow, green – and some very large headed varieties, even ‘cupcake’ varieties! My favourites this year have been the smaller flowered varieties, and also ‘queen red lime’ (pictured).

On 1st September we harvested a record 500 stems and sent them out to two weddings, a 60th birthday party and in many bunches.

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There is something very special about decorating a church for a wedding. This year I have spent some happy and thoughtful hours in various churches, mostly in Suffolk. Sometimes busy with visitors, sometimes deeply quiet, sometimes very chilly. From a decorating point of view I love finding places to ‘flower’.  A floral arch or font full of flowers always looks beautiful and bountiful, but a little vase on a ledge can be just as striking, drawing attention to some forgotten carving or inscription.

The occasional church is set up with hooks in all the right places but, if not, after a really good search I can usually find an existing nail or hook on which to suspend a garland. Ingenuity is sometimes called for – the hooks were not strong enough in a beautiful Wren church in the City of London so we adapted our plans at the last minute.

Some things I am learning to research at an early stage: is there a water supply? How close can a vehicle get? Both of these I over looked in June when we filled a remote little church with flowers and must have run up and down the church path at least 40 times.

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A couple of very sunny days in and around Amsterdam worshiping the tulip.  From the Hortus Bulborum where ancient types are still preserved by a team of volunteers, to the futuristic looking flower auctions in Aalsmeer.  I thought that I was prepared for the extraordinary excesses of the Kerkenhof  display gardens - but in fact still found them to be overwhelming and inspiring in a way that I had not expected.  The beautiful park like setting with the sun shining through the emerging leaves of the mature trees somehow allows beds bursting with nothing but bulbs to avoid being vulgar.  4 million bulbs are planted every year and it is a wonderful showcase for the bulb growers.

One of my favourite visits was to the ancient gardens of Aalsmeer where we found that flower farming in the way that we still do it (without the canals to transport everything, and without the incredibly fertile looking soil) was a museum item.  This came directly after the contrasting  visit to the very high tech Flower Market and it was quite a relief to see growing on a comprehensible scale.  

And so home to our own tulips, and inspired for the Tulip Workshop.

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Spending so much time outside means that we see a lot of wildlife. Every morning we walk past the pond on the way to the yard where the flowers are. It is a draw for all sorts of things – ducks and moorhens, an occasional heron, very occasionally blue flash of a kingfisher, frogs, newts, grass snakes and fish. Not to mention the adorable water voles plopping into the water from their holes on the bank.

We had the most exciting otter display last August when a pair raced and played about in the water before retreating to the thicket for a snack – accompanied by the sound of crunching fish bones – and there are signs that they have paid another visit. 

This week there have been two sightings of a stoat. Although it is exciting to see, I am not so keen on them as they terrorise the water voles as well as the rabbits, and so it all becomes rather more complicated.

Any type of gardening or farming involves protecting your crop from predation, and flower farming is no different. So some sorts of wild life are more popular than others: rabbits, mice and slugs are right down on the list due to their appetite for plants and bulbs. At least we have a hefty fence for the rabbits. The deer could hop in all too easily if they chose to and we see them (red deer, roe and muntjac) often, but so far not near the flower field. My long term solution for the mice population is to encourage the barn owls in. We have 5* indoor and outdoor owl accommodation just waiting to be moved in to in the form of two large owl boxes.

We are so lucky to see all these things on a regular basis and I try hard not to get too upset about who is eating what – unless it is my flowers of course.

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Two beasts, in fact: a pair of climbing 'Etoile de Hollande' roses growing either side of the garden door and arching over the top. It's a beautiful but brutish rose with deliciously scented, voluptuous red blooms which flower quite early and then sporadically through the summer. Its most frustrating habit is sending up huge new shoots early in the year, only to snap off at the whiff of a bit of string to tie them in...  Tackling it is one of those jobs that has to be done when in the right mood, preferably with the sun on my back, as today, and with the scent wafting up from the sarcococca below. I spent all afternoon battling and cajoling it into shape. The effect over the door and windows is just as I planned all those years ago, and it also keeps the rather hobbit like door in proportion with the rest of the house.

The roses which we grow in the field solely for picking are pruned in stages.  The idea is to spread out the flowering period.  The first flush will be in June but the hybrid teas repeat all summer and the picking encourages new growth. The picture below is from last June.

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It is good to remember that many favourite plants are quite capable of growing themselves, although not necessarily where you might choose to sow them. In fact, the ammi majus are making their point by popping up between the cracks in the paving - they are happier here than in their new raised beds in the flower field or confined to small cells in the cold frame. As I transplanted them this morning into rows in their new home in the vegetable garden (one day it will be reclaimed for it's true purpose, but possibly not this year...), I thoroughly enjoyed imagining them in June - armfuls of white lace, perhaps setting off some roses in a bouquet or in a jar packed with delicious sweet peas. All they have to do is avoid slugs, snails, bunnies, floods and drought - and hey presto.

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This week I have ordered some more dahlias. I cannot resist trying some new types so I ruthlessly got rid of a few - least favourite - in October to make way. That and looking through old photos, and finding this one of Harry modelling a whopper dahlia 'Ice cube' has been a very good cheering up exercise.

I use the very reliable Rose Cottage Plants, based in Essex. Witheypitts Dahlias in Sussex are another excellent supplier.

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