Easy Autumn propagation for fantastic flowers next season

The next couple of weeks will be a busy time for me.

On our Surrey Chalk, where the winters are comparatively mild, and the ground is very well drained, Autumn sowings of Hardy annuals are really important. But what about if propagation isn't something you are familiar with?

How can you get early fantastic flowers next season?

Overwintered cornflowers

I grow most of my plants from seeds, but seed sowing, and pricking on, and planting out needs some knowledge, and you need to get the timings right. One way of taking out one of those processes and so enabling you to have bigger and better plants without as much work , is to buy plug plants.

If you're anything like me, you'll have had several catalogues drop through your door this week trying to tempt you, but is it worth getting plugs of your Winter bedding, or perennials or hardy annuals for next year?

There are some amazing bargains to be had ordering plug plants online, in comparison to buying plants ready grown at the Garden Centre. But that's only if you can grow on all the plants to full size. If you get a 30% or 50 % attrition rate, then they become an expensive way of buying. Here are some hints and tips when ordering your mail order plugs.

1) Don't order them if you're going to be away on holiday, or give the mail order company your holiday dates so they don't arrive while you're away

2) As soon as you order them, make sure that you have appropriate trays or pots plus compost. If you ordered a pack of 144 plants, you will need 144 pots or trays with 144 spaces. (This may seem obvious, but you never have quite as many as you think)

3) The week they are likely to arrive, leave a note out for your postman so that they don't take them away if you aren't in. My lovely postlady knows to leave mine in the greenhouse if they don't fit through the post box. (some companies have developed clever trays that fit through the slot)

4) AS SOON as they arrive, open up the tray and check if they need water. The photo below shows how some of the plugs i've had arrived very dry and needed dunking in a bowl of water to re-wet them. Look at the difference in colour or the compost of the 2 plugs. Sometimes one end of the pack is fine, and the other dry. (These plugs are Sweet Williams. Order now for flowers next June)

Dry plug against wet one

5) pot them up ASAP. If you can get your plugs in bigger trays or pots the day they arrive then they'll have a fantastic chance of them all surviving. - If not the chances of them staying healthy diminish rapidly each day. (these are perennial Monarda plants, Hayloft plants gave me a fantastic deal on these, which I hope will be giving lots of flowers next July in soft pinks and whites)

Planting plugs into tray

6) I usually sieve my compost when i'm sowing seeds and potting on. This may seem like a lot of faff, but the compost has to make good contact with the root system of the plugs if it is to grow on quickly and give you the strongest and most floriferous plants. The 3 most important ways for it to do this are

  •  not to have any larger lumps in the compost so the contact surface is even
  • use finger tips to ensure the compost is pushed into contact with the plug root
  • water well

7) Keep your pots and trays well watered, and the plugs will grow on quickly and strongly. As soon as you can see roots at the bottom they can be planted out. This is often in as short a time as 2-4 weeks.

I've used

J parkers, Hayloft plants, Thompson and Morgan and Jersey plants for plugs in the past. - All have different systems, all have given me good results if I've managed to get them planted up straight away. The only difficulties come if the post system goes awry, or if I'm not organised enough to have compost ready.

If you want to do more propagation give some plug plants a try this Autumn, or if you're feeling even more adventurous, come and do a workshop with me to learn how to propagate cut flowers from seeds, cuttings and bulbs.

 


Seasonal Flower Alliance - August. Flowers for me

As a Flower farmer here in Surrey, I pick 100's or 1000's of stems of flowers every week, and sell them to local florists, DIY brides and locals. But I don't often have the energy left to bring flowers home and arrange them here.

Last weekend, I had a bucket of blooms left over, and i'd promised myself the weekend off, so I made time and displayed my blooms in a vase for my fireplace.

Seasonal flower alliance august 18th

My leftovers included 

Annuals - Sunflower Ruby Eclipse. Ammi Visnaga, Cosmos Click Cranberries,

Perennials - Liatris Spicata, Solidago, Veronicastrum, Scented Phlox and Euphatorium. Thanks to Alice (Lock Cottage Flowers) for the plant of this last one, in her damp waterside garden this is a thug, on my chalky field, it's taken 2 years to get 3 60cm stems to pick, but they are beauties.


Fabulous August Blooms for DIY Wedding Flowers

August has been Wedding Flowers Central. Last Weekend the barn was used for preparation for a huge mostly British Flowers wedding with flowers in wine boxes, and before that could be prepared there were 3 other sets of wedding flowers to be picked sorted and collected by Brides (or Grooms)

We've got another 6 parties or weddings to provide buckets for in the coming couple of weeks, but today was just a small 2 boxes affair, so it gave me a chance to take some photos.

Meadow flowers with wispy bits

The theme was "A meadow feel, with soft colours and wispy bits and lots of herbs"

The brides bouquet is going to have soft pink and peach with white roses, so we picked the best from the field to fit with that.

Fillers for august meadow flowers

The fillers were Lemon mint in flower, Sedum, Daucus carota, Ammi Visnaga, Dill, Feverfew, Verbena Bonariensis and Grasses.

The Flowers were Cosmos, Scabious, Antirrhinum, Lavender, Nicotiana and Cornflowers.

Flowers for meadow flowers august

If you'd like one (or more) of our DIY boxes of flowers - 6 bunches of flowers and 6 filler for £60 for your wedding or party, please contact us, or come along to our next open day to talk to us about what your theme might be

 


Still to come this Season from my Surrey Flower Farm

It's August, It's hot, again, and the hoses have been out this morning. So i'm sitting in my cool office now, going through the list of what's still to come this season, and i thought i'd share it with you.

Cosmos

Cosmos

(image Emma Davies)

This morning I picked the first big bunch of Cosmos, There are Versailles  & Picotee Mixed, Click Cranberries and Phsyche white in this first batch. The 2nd batch may be later than planned, as the Deer kindly pinched out all the new growth for me a couple of weeks ago, - but they are growing back strongly now.

Gladioli and Acidanthera

Gladioli and acidanthera

Again i've 2 batches of these, - they are growing strongly despite the lack of water, but no flower spikes yet, so I expect these at the beginning of September.

Nicotiana

Nicotiana

I've only grown these in Lime Green in the polytunnel before, but this year, i've got 2 batches on the field, and the first are doing really well and flowering already. - I've sensation mixed, which is a great mix of pink, white and red, and i've also got some Lime green, which is a great filler.

Nerines

These may be expensive, but they are the Belle of the ball for an Autumn star of pink colour. - Here showing out of one of Paula's creations

Nerine bouquet

(image Emma Davies)

Dahlias are of course the stars of the late summer and Autumn show. I've plenty, and i'm already picking Evelyn and Preference.  Cafe Au Lait is there, but still being eaten by earwigs.

The link to my last year's post about the varieties I do is here

Dahlia heads

Then there's a 2nd batch of Cornflowers, blooming well at the moment sSabious, Antirrhinums and Feverfew giving 2nd (and 3rd) waves of flowers , plus plenty of Sunflowers to brighten up the vase (although it's proving difficult moving the bees off to pick them)

Sunflower with bee on

 (Image Emma Davies)

As far as Fillers go, the sedum is really strong this year, and will be colouring up over the coming weeks, although it's already great in its green form

Florists montage 9th August

and there's Ammi Visnaga, Dill, Mint, Sage and The silver foliage of Dusty miller to come in the next few months.

Plenty to pick.


Fantastic Fillers - Mint

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Before I became a flower farmer, my jam jars and vases at home were filled with pick and plonk. Wonderful mixtures of colours, but just flowers. Now, i'm convinced that the thing that most flower arrangers, florists and garden enthusiasts need more of is fillers.

Mint is my all time favourite, and I grow 9 types at the farm. Almost everyone has a patch of mint in their garden somewhere (even if it's unwanted!) So how do you get it tall and straight and strong, to last in your bouquets?

Apple mint

I have a patch of mint in my polytunnel, and then the rest is grown in raised beds on my carpark in progrow (green waste compost)

Mint in raised beds

Yes, those are just gravel boards made into raised beds, sitting on an aggregate surface, with 15cm of green waste compost in them. Look at the length of the mint stems.

Mint doesn't need many nutrients. It needs some, but not excessive water, but what it does need is cutting regularly.

Luckily as a Flower farmer, there is plenty of need for my tall stemmed mint, so it does get cut with regularity.

The varieties that I grow which help me keep succession throughout the year (from April until November) are

Apple mint. - My all time favourite. - Not only does this grow wonderful strong long stems, large soft leaves, and have amazing scent, but in late July and into August (or September if it's been planted that year), it has fluffy pink flowers.

Flowering apple mint

Plenty of flowering mint in this display.

My next workhorse mint is Moroccan mint. This is a white flowering spire, and the leaves are smaller. But the stems are tough, so don't need conditioning for as long as the Apple mint, and is less susceptible to drooping.

Flowering moroccan mint

Morrocan mint also produces the most stems per square metre, so is very productive.

Basil mint, is a tall and highly scented variety. Slightly darker leaves, and purple flowers in September mean this is great to take over from the Apple mint when that's all been cut back hard and used.

Basil mint in bouquet

Then with even darker leaves, and dark coloured stems too, there's Chocolate mint.

Obviously a favourite with Children, this really does give an initial smell of chocolate. Again it comes into it's own later in the season.

Chocolate mint

I've also got a variegated Pineapple mint, - which although it doesn't grow as tall as the others, makes useful background colour and scent in a lighter colour bouquet.

Last year's prize find though was Lime mint. - This is a tall branching mint, that has a fresh smell, and strong upright stems.

Lime mint

I've also got smaller amounts of Ginger, Lemon and traditional Lamb mint. All good, but with less strong/straight stems, so not quite as good for flower arranging.

Whichever Mint you choose, It will need splitting regularly. I do this by trying to dig out most of it, and then putting fresh compost on top. - You never get it all out, so it starts again from small fresh pieces, - or if you're growing on a smaller scale, - cut your pot of mint in quarters with a knife or pruning saw and give away 3/4 keeping the other quarter and replanting it. (more info here)

Of course Mint doesn't have to be for bouquets in summer, - the Apple mint is particularly good in a Pimms enjoyed in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 


July Catch up

Whew, it's the 2nd half of July, and what a Summer it's been so far!

Blue Scabious bed

For those who havn't noticed that i've been a bit quiet on Social Media recently, You may not know that i've had a nasty bout of pneumonia which attacked me in British Flowers week. Obviously I couldn't be ill at a  quiet time of the year! It really knocked me out, and as someone not used to being ill, or even keeping still, it hasn't been easy. I have to say an enormous Thank you, to my family, friends and florists, who all pulled together, watered, picked and planted for me. and put up with me directing from my bed or a chair in the corner, while they did all the work.

I've also got to say the biggest Thank-you to Dana Leigh and David Pile, my fantastic friends who looked after the farm so that I could go on Holiday and finish my recuperation without worrying. Even though we've had the longest dry spell since i've been Flower farming, and everything is curling up it's toes and refusing to grow tall, I could be confident that it would all be alive when I got back, and with my brilliant parents on potting up duty, I'm even up to date on next year's Biennials. Now i've just got to have another x-ray next week, to check all the nasty stuff has gone away.

So I havn't been able to keep you up to date with details of everything i've been involved in over the last couple of months. 

1st there was my great Florists Open Day in June. We had 15 Florists in the barn making "Jam Jars with a difference" and after a fantastic inspirational demo from Jay Archer, there were amazing results. (and lots of smiling happy ladies)

Florists jam jar open day

Thanks to Jay and Emma Davies, who again helped us to take better photos of our creations.

I then had 2 public open days, where I had visitors from all over the country, thanks to mentions in the English Garden Magazine, The Garden magazine, and the British Flowers week website.

There were less visitors than my weekend open days, but they all stayed longer, and showed amazing interest in what I was up to. (And sat and chatted in the barn with tea and cake for longer) I also ran out of Flowers from the Farm postcards, so hopefully they will go away and find their local flower farmers to buy from. I had some amazing volunteers help on these open days, as my normal weekend crew were all at School, - so thank you Penny and Judy, Claire and Julie and Alyson, Plus Mum and Dad (again)

As well as Florists orders, (lots of them) the field also produced flowers for Midsummer flower mandelas at Clandon Wood Burial Ground , and more DIY wedding boxes - Here one going off in the car boot with Laura to be made into scented displays for a wedding at RHS Wisley.

DIY flowers in boot

 If I hadn't been poorly I would have been demonstrating at Parham House in Sussex, which i'm so disappointed to have missed out on,- and I also couldn't help out at Hampton Court with the Flowers from the Farm Floristry Stand, - however my flowers did take part, and i've already been contacted by several new florists keen to come and see my farm for flowers in the future.

The Display was designed by Rachel At Green and Gorgeous, and it showed off British Summer flowers wonderfully. Here's one of the pictures that Rona Wheeldon took, and there are lots more on her wonderful Flowerona blog

RHS-Hampton-Court-Palace-Flower-Show-2015-Flowerona-127

well done everyone in the Flowers from the Farm team who took part, and especially those who covered my shifts for me.

While I was away in France, I made time to go inland in Normandy, and visit the team at the Tea Garden in Sallen. - I will share more about what Lucy and Freya are doing, as I have amazing pictures of their flowers, and they were so welcoming, - amazing what a few tweets as contact can do.

Tea garden cutting patch

Since my return, As well as doing record numbers of Florist orders, and Party flowers, plus local bouquets, i've also run a "Designing the cutting garden" course at Wisley. I loved using my old workplace as a backdrop to a course. It was lovely to have the facilities to do a full day workshop. I'm very honoured to have been given "carte blanche" to demonstrate deadheading and at what stage to pick flowers to my group in the Wisley borders of the Rose Garden and the cottage garden.

I'll keep you updated about any future courses i'll be doing.

Whew, do you think August might be quieter? - somehow with rather a lot of wedding flowers already booked in, plus the boy to look after, I think not.


Conditioning your flowers Why? and what we do here at Plantpassion

Conditioning your flowers is the thing that makes the biggest difference to how long they will last in the vase.

Trailer of cut flowers

Although it would be lovely to wander around the flower field (or your garden), pick a handful of the best blooms, and then arrange them in a vase, - that will actually be likely to bring you the biggest disappointment when the flowers wilt and die later that day or half way through the next. So what methods do we use to make sure that the flowers that leave here, will last ages. Usually over a week.

  • Grow them hard. Conditioning the flowers actually starts before you pick them, with how you grow them. Our Chalky Hillside, means that flowers don't have it easy in a glasshouse being fed and watered on tap. They have to grow sturdy stems, which don't bend and snap easily
  • Cut them early. Stupid O'Clock, is often the time I call it when I need to pick for a big order. Just after dawn, and the following hours are the best time for the plant stems to be full of moisture. I aim to have finished picking before the sun is hot on my neck. In the middle of June, that's before 9.00am. The 2nd best time is in the evening when the sun is going down,  then the flower is full of sugars.
  • Get them straight into water. Because I still farm on a small scale, I can pick everything into water. My buckets are cleaned, and filled with tap water, and taken out on my tractor trailer, or hand cart depending on the size of the order. I also strip lower leaves before putting stems in the water, so nothing makes the water mouldy. When we get back in from the field, we often add more water to the buckets, so that they really are "up to their necks"
  • Let them rest. Preferably in the cool and the dark. This is the one that most people don't get round to. Each flower has a different period that it would ideally rest for. Sweet Williams don't need much, - but Mint really needs 12 hours to soak up as much water as possible. Foliage generally needs longer than flowers, and thicker stems longer than thinner. So a Rose will need longer resting than Orlaya. Dahlias, longer than Zinnias.

What is does mean that each morning the numbers of flowers sitting in buckets in the barn swells. Then there is a pause (usually a great time for Breakfast / School runs, Instagram photos!) Then the florists and DIY Brides start arriving, and the buckets empty again, so that by mid afternoon I can review what's left, (usually very little) and work out what will need picking again tomorrow morning.

 


June Flowers & Open Days Galore

The first Field Rose opened today. It was a Darcey Bussel

First red rose of the season

This isn't a picture of it, as i'd sold it to a florist within a couple of hours of picking it. This is another that opened this evening. It's Rose season.

It's also Scent season

June scent montage

The Sweet peas are still amazing, and they've been joined by Sweet Williams, Dianthus, Herbs and more Alliums, these hanging bells are Nectaroscordum (used to be known as Allium Bulgaricum)

My Newly planted Lupins have been flowering their socks off. (although both my friend Dana Leigh and my Mother in Law had displays that I'm aiming to emulate next year) and there are whites, brights and every colour in between on my field at the moment.

Lupin montage

The Planting continues. Most of the Dahlias are in the ground, and there are lots of beds of small plants, or direct sown seeds just coming through. The Polytunnel is emptying, although the greenhouse has now been filled with Biennials. There are lots more Iceland poppies, and Hesperis and Honesty being sown as they've been so popular this year.

Planted up beds

If you'd like to see behind the scenes at Hill top farm, we have 3 public open days coming up.

This Sunday 7th June 1-5pm

Tuesday 16th June 1-5pm

Wednesday 17th June 1-5pm

There are more details and where to find us on the website Open Days page

 

 

 

 


First of the season's DIY Flower boxes

Wow, we're into June already today. The season has kick-started wonderfully this year, and last week we did the first of this year's DIY Flower boxes.

Pastel was our theme for Julie. She had been busily growing flowers in her own garden, but they were being reluctant to flower, so we boosted her blooms with a bucket of ours.

Pastel theme for DIY wedding

Pale purple Iris, Astrantia, White and Baby pink cornflowers, Pink Alliums, Creamy Alstroemerias, and Aqueligias Nora Barlow made up the Flowers, with scent and froth from the fillers with Orlaya, Gypsophila, Ammi, Rosemary, Mint and Thyme.

Lesley was our 2nd bride of the week. There was help in the offing from sisters and friends, so they were making a pedestal, and table arrangements from 3 boxes of flowers. The theme was Baby blue, White and Yellow.

For height for the Pedestal, we provided foliage of Beech and Ligustrum, - good background foliage is always important for large displays. We then added in Flowers of Blue Iris, White and pale mauve Allium, Delphinium, Hesperis, and for the touch of Yellow, Euphobia Oblongata.

DIY Blue Yellow white theme

For the table arrangements, there was again some wonderful background fillers with scent included, Mint, Bulplurum, Rosemary, Orlaya and Ammi, and they were teamed with Nigella, Cynoglossum, with Yellow splashes of colour from poppies.

DIY Blue yellow white theme 2

 Both of these were last minute bookings, so I was delighted that the field could provide for these and large florists orders even though the Sweet William is still stubbornly slow. If you'd like to find out about our DIY boxes, and how many you might need for your summer event or party, please contact us to find out more, or come and see us at one of our open days

 


May on the Flower Farm

May is the hard work month on the flower farm. - In another 4 or so weeks, everything will be in the ground, and there will be "just" tending and picking to do. - But this month i'm running round trying to finish beds, plant or sow into every one of them, weeding like fury, and trying to let everyone know that they need to buy flowers from me.

Sweetpeas framed in polytunnel

and there are plenty of flowers coming on now.  My months of winter planning is paying off, and last week I sold 26 different varieties of flowers, and 15 foliage and fillers to florists, and the local shop. (details here)- If anyone tells you they can't get a wide enough range in British Flowers, - they just aren't looking in the right places.

I have had help this week. - The Mowtivated team of Tristan and Nathan, shifted lots of manure and compost for me, which meant I had to do my least favourite job of Trailer driving to go and get loads of fabulous quality manure from David at his stables round the corner. This next picture may not be the most scintillating for most, but any flower farmer will know that perfectly prepared beds in the middle of May are just what you need.

Newly prepared beds

These beds will also mean less weeding, as they're all created with our no-dig system, and the wood chip paths won't need mowing or edging. These are my August flowering beds, I'm trying to keep those flowers that'll be in bloom at the same time as close as possible together, so i'll walk less distance when i'm picking. - The August Asters, Sunflowers, Zinnias, Ammi, Ageratum, Daucus, and Amaranthus will all be in this area.

Allium season

It's allium season at the farm. I'm now growing 10 different varieties, as they were so popular last year. - The Purple sensation and nigrum have come back wonderfully this year. - I had dispared at the grass and weeds in this bed, - but after they died back, we covered with a layer of well rotted manure, and put down black weed membrane. - This breathed and let the water in, - but it killed the weeds, and since taking it off in February the bulbs have grown back perfectly and very strongly.

The fences seem to be working.- and the perennial bed hasn't had any intruders in the last few weeks so it's growing well, and most importantly providing me with great blooms

Perennial beds

and the annoying wildlife may be being kept out, - but i'm very please to see lots of insects all over the farm

Here's a bee on my cerinthe this morning

Bee on the cerinthe

There's no open days in May, because i'm busy planting, - but if you'd like to keep up with what i'm doing, please do follow my instagram or facebook feeds, - lots of photos on there to let you know what i'm up to.