How to Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch • Common Farm Flowers
Almost exactly this time last year I said the same thing to Rich. "Do you think the garden will come back again? I can't really believe it!" Everything is cut to the ground, pinned back, brown. Gone are the rainbow brights in the big border, there's not even a whisper of the wild flowers we scattered through the apple trees and the everlasting Sweet Peas look like they have died a slow death. I feel like I am willing the peony bushes to start sprouting, like standing over them in my slippers on the frosty grass will make them magically appear in front of my eyes!
I know it will all come back, that the boys will be diving in and out of the long grass that grows wildly in May, and by June I'll be pottering in the early summer sunshine at 6pm shouting over to Rich cutting the grass, "I just adore this garden." But it feels like a long wait.
I will admit that I hacked at the garden last year. I snipped and pruned and made a real mess of the beautiful rockery and flower beds that the previous owners tended to so lovingly for 3 decades. I filled the house with flowers from the garden as well as my incredibly talented neighbour at the bottom of the hill who grows to sell at the local Women's Institute market. Her flowers blow me away. For my birthday Rich gave me a weekly subscription service - not that she'd done anything like that before! She has a rustic wooden table outside their 5 bar gates and leaves buckets of the most amazing Dahlias, Delphiniums, you name it she grew it, with an honesty box for passers by to buy them.
But through the late summer and autumn 2 black florist's bucket would arrive as if by magic on the front door step and my heart would literally burst! I'm hoping for the same for my birthday this year but I am also so determined to tend a little flower patch of my own, so that the garden can stay in all it's glory and I have a dedicated area that is just for cutting. To bring the garden inside.
We have decided to use the vegetable patch for a mixture of fruit and flowers this year. The raspberry, strawberry, courgette and pumpkin plants are staying, we are going to grow a smaller amount of climbing french beans and use the rest for pretty blooms! It's not a huge area, as flower patches go but it's a perfect start. I don't think I am blessed with green fingers but I really want to learn. And the best way to learn was to listen to the Queen of Flower Farmers, my friend Georgie Newbery. Last Tuesday I went along to her farm to spend the day in their converted barn along with 6 others to understand the basics and give us a foundation of knowledge to start our patches at home.
Georgie cuts over 250,000 stems at their family flower farm Common Farm Flowers. I visited the farm last year and was in awe of the varieties of tulips tossing their heads around in the wind. The tunnels bursting with sweet peas and the wild poppies. Man o man I couldn't get enough of them!
The workshop runs from 10am - 3pm with bottomless pots of tea and coffee and homemade biscuits and a break for a Common-Farm-does-a-ploughmans style lunch with local bread and cheeses washed down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Georgie is a brilliant teacher. Relaxed, generous with her knowledge, full of tips and tricks (slugs beware - vaseline and salt are good to smear on your wooden edging and baked crushed egg shells make a great deterrent too) and you can't help but feel like you've made a new group of friends by the end of the day. I had no idea about compost tea, simple recipes that make a huge difference to the quality of your soil as part of the preparations for your patch. Georgie recommended several seed producers to buy from to ensure you get the freshest seed possible and speaks with heated passion about her determination to encourage people to grow their own. I was staggered to learn about the empty planes that fly back to Columbia having delivered millions upon millions of roses to the UK market for Valentine's Day. It's horrifying to hear of the commercial wizardry that has to be performed to keep stems alive in transport. It makes you realise that when it comes to flowers, what we may consider is fresh is far from it.
We came away with scores of notes, handouts, supplier information and things worth investing in and what corners are worth cutting. I can't recommend this course more if you are thinking of starting your own patch in the garden. It doesn't have to be huge. Raised beds work well too.
If you can't get to a course you can find a copy of Georgie's book the Flower Farmer's Year here which is heaving with every single thing you need to know to get started without feeling overwhelmed.
Little and often is Georgie's motto.
There are patches of colour appearing, Grape Hyacinth sprouting between the Daffodils and the odd Crocus. Enough for a small posy, picked by a boy!
I'm going to order some Dahlia bulbs, propagate my seed tray with the varieties we were given at the workshop; Larkspur, Salvia, Cornflower, Ammi Majus and pot 5 sweet pea seeds in a taller plastic pot. Georgie was adamant that you place 5, just 5, seeds in each section of our trays. You need to think less about the vast number in the packet (because how hard would it be logistically for a seed producer to package up 5 at a time?!) and more about the size of the plant when it's growing in the ground.
My Sweet Peas will go outside the back door to harden up to the weather in a couple of weeks time before being planted the following week and Georgie reminded us to make sure we grow them in rows as opposed to a tipi shape structure as you will miss out on all the flowers that grown between the stakes. You are growing to cut remember!
So I am all set to go! I need to keep an eye on my seed tray to make sure they are sitting in too much water, of course my natural reaction would be to water form the top but as Georgie pointed out the pressure and force of streaming water would move your delicate 5 seeds to one end of the tray. Which would mean they all become bunched together!
This is my to do list for March, I need to tend to the earth to give my bulbs and seeds the best conditions and make my first batch of compost tea! Although we were warned it does pong! There are lots of other little bits to do as well, but nothing that even the busiest of bees can't manage. Georgie's book is going to be my bible this year, a reference and an inspiration.
Anyone else planning to grow their own flowers this year? I have quite a few seeds left over and though it might be nice to do a swap! Let me know and we can pop each other some in the post.
Check out the full list of workshops at Common Farm Flowers and see which one would be right for you.