Heritage open day, Florists in history and buttonholes

Earlier in the year, I had a request (via Flowers from the Farm) to be open for the Guildford and surrounds Heritage open days. It was very conveniently on a weekend i'd been planning to have an open day anyway, so i said yes please, and we set too finding all about the heritage of cut flower growing in this area.

Heritage open days board

My current field has only been pasture according to parish records and maps, almost certainly because we're on the North slope of the downs, and the water flows away. However down in the valley in Ripley and Send and the surrounding areas, we found information about crops that had been grown in the late 19th and 20th Century.

Cornflowers were a main crop grown to be shipped up to London for gentleman's buttonholes. Thanks to Clare Mccann at the Ripley History Society, she found us details of accounts from Local residents who remembered which fields the Cornflowers were grown on.

Overwintered cornflowers

We were also told that the flowers went up to town from Clandon Station, on a passenger train, so they had to be loaded very quickly.

We heard from several older residents that they thought that Dianthus and Carnations had been grown locally as well. Certainly there are Glasshouse remains around that could have been used for those purposes, but the nursery that we were told about in Bookham grew Auriculas.

It was while I was researching this that I found out about the historical meaning of the word "Florist"

1620s, formed on analogy of French fleuriste, from Latin floris, genitive of flos "flower"
a person who grows or deals in flowers
Originally, florists were plantsmen, specialising in five species only for the beauty of their flowers: carnations, tulips, anemones, ranunculus and auriculae; then, from 1750, hyacinths and polyanthus and, later, pinks. But from the early 19th century, the list of florists’ flowers expanded.
I feel a lot happier calling myself a florist now, as I grow all of them apart from the auriculae.
Anyway on Sunday afternoon, the Heritage guests started arriving while we were still eating lunch, and kept coming all afternoon. Lots of them were doing a tour of local buildings, churches and events, and included us in their visits.Very few of them had heard of us before. They were all interested and friendly, and i spent most of the afternoon doing tours of the field, and explaining how we intend to take flower farming in the area forward.
My backup team as usual did sterling work. Tea and cakes were polished off to the extent that we ran out of milk. Many thanks to the lady who rescued us by going off to get some. as our cars were blocked in the very full carpark.
I had planned to make buttonholes for everyone, but in the end it was Just team Plantpassion that got them, so i'll leave you with some i made earlier.
Plate of buttonholes
(image Emma Davies)

Do you really want Gypsophila? Lovely British Grown alternatives for all through the wedding season

I do wish that i'd got a pound for everyone that's asked me

"Do you grow Gypsophila?"

It's not a surprise as White is the traditional wedding colour, and Pinterest is full of pictures of Gypsophila bouquets, jam jars, head dresses and room decorations. After Roses and Peonies, it's probably the most known Bridal flower, and it's also not as expensive as either Roses or Peonies, so it's hardly a shock that it's asked for as much as it is. I have to admit to manipulating it a bit, - after all this was a photo Emma Davies took of me with Gypsophila Covent Garden, in my 2nd year of growing.

Claire with bunch of Gyp cropped

Gypsophila Paniculata, which is perennial Gyp, and the most used type for Bridal work, looks lovely in a garden setting. It is however, quickly ruined by rain or dry weather (when i've been told with authority by Wisley gardeners it goes crispy and brown very quickly and looks dreadful) It also doesn't have the nicest of scents, in fact a big bunch of it has a bit of a pong, so not really the scented bouquet you may have had in mind.

Gyp paniculata at Wisley cropped

Here it is at it's peak in mid July in the RHS Wisley perennial borders. So if you want natural season grown British Gypsophila for your Wedding, then The middle of July is a good time to aim for.

But what if you want something White fluffy, scented and you don't want to rely on no rain, or scorching weather in July to get your table centre jam jars?

Well here are my suggestions for April through to September to cover that peak wedding season, for White, pleasantly scented British Grown alternatives that you can grow in your garden, or source from your local grower.


Clockwise from top left (Narsissus Earlicheer, Honesty stems, Honesty, Hesperis, Anemones & Leucojum.)

April Gypsophila alternatives

The season starts off beautifully in April with The bulbs of Anemones, Leucojum and Narsissus (like Early Cheerfulness and Thalia).Then the white blooms of Honesty arrive. Most people know the papery seed pods of Lunaria Annua, but the white variety of honesty is one of the first of the biennial flowers, and is really pretty for bouquets and displays.

10 days later, this is followed by the similar looking flowers of Hesperis. The Sweet Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) also has the positive of being sweetly scented Hesperis Matronalis in May


Moving into May, and here in Surrey, the Hesperis is going strong, and scenting most of my orders. The Aqueligias start mid month, and their pretty bell flowers may not last a full week in a bouquet, but are perfect for event table centres and bridal bouquets. The overwintered Annual Gypsophila, -Variety Covent Garden kicks in to bloom in the polytunnel in the 3rd ish week of May, and outside a couple of weeks later, but like it's perennial counterpart, it is short lived, with probably 2 weeks only to enjoy it. Following on its tail is Orlaya Grandiflora, the Lace flower, which overwintered beautifully on my field last year, and gave hundreds of lacy stems for May and June wedding florists. Don't forget the heady perfume of Sweet peas as well, by May these are available from glasshouses and polytunnels all over the country.

clockwise from top left (Hesperis, Aqueligias, Sweet Peas, Orlaya Grandiflora, Sweet peas and Gypsophila covent garden.)

May Gypsophila alternatives


By June the hardy annuals are starting to flower, so we have Ammi major, Cornflowers and Orlaya in the mix, as well as the umbellifers of Cow parsley, Chervil and coriander in the herb bed.

My clove scented Sweet William Alba can be either star of the show or supporting cast, and it may be out of fashion, but the white dianthus (pinks) are also a wonderful scent by the middle of the month.

(Sweet William, Ammi Major, Cornflower)

June Gypsophila alternatives



July is high season for weddings, and the Ammi Major, is overlapping with the now flowering Ammi Visnaga. The carrot family Daucus Carota starts flowering, and we've also got Feverfew, and my personal favourite is Achillea ptarmica the pearl, which is a perennial that give strong long stems at the beginning of the month, and a 2nd shorter flush at the end of July.

clockwise (Daucus Carota, Achillea ptarmica the pearl, Dianthus, Single Feverfew and Ammi Major)

July Gypsophila alternatives


August is our busiest wedding month, and Ammi Visnaga is a wonderful addition to bouquets and arrangements with its large heads and strong stems. The single and the double feverfew are in full flush at the beginning of the month, and the spring sown scabious are providing lots of fluffy white flowers throughout the month. We also had our newly planted Gypsophila paniculata ( white and pink) flowering in August, so maybe planting some new plants each year can increase the spread of availability.

August Gypsophila alternatives


By September, I always wish that i'd planted another bed of Ammi Visnaga, as it's looking fabulous and i'm running out of it. - Luckily the cosmos and the dahlias are providing lovely white heads and the cream and lime green Nicotiana are providing filler flowers, and there's a 2nd flush of feverfew and Scabious coming through.

September gypsophila alternatives

So without having Gypsophila for more than 4 weeks in the season, I can provide an alternative which is white and wedding like. Have I forgotten any? please add it to the comments if I have.

Here's a lovely bouquet made up by a work experience student. Not a stem of Gypsophila in sight.

September white bouquet

When and How to pick and condition Scabious flowers, for long lasting blooms and showstopping displays

Scabious. A high summer flower, loved by birds, butterflies and florists in equal measures. An annual, that you can sometimes persuade to be perennial, which can provide you with buckets full of fluffy amazing coloured blooms. But when's the ideal time to pick it, and how do you get long sturdy stems?

Dark Scabious with bee

Scabious Black Cat was my first variety. I fell in love with it in Sarah Raven's Garden, and used it in my first ever bouquet.

Each year i've added to it, and now I have a collection of 6 varieties that are a high summer staple.

Dark Scabious with bee-2

My soil at Hill top farm is chalky and free draining, it doesn't hold nutrients, but scabious are a flower that loves those conditions. I plant a first batch in Autumn, and a second gets sown in early may, and by spacing them well apart it means that I get strong plants, long flower stems, but don't have to stake the plants.

White scabious full flower-1

This fluffy flower head is at an ideal stage for using in an event display, and will continue to look good for another 3 days, but when should you pick them if you want them to last over a week in a bouquet?

Dark Scabious with bee-1

Here are the different stages a flower will go through. Top left is the bud forming. Within a couple of days, it will look like bottom left, with a single row of florets, and then a day of sunshine later it will be at the main picture stage. This is the stage that I aim to pick the flowers at.

Because they have few leaves to remove before conditioning. I tend to pick in bunches of ten, and put them into water when I have a bunch. One plant in July can produce 5 to 10 flowers a week, and then if deadheaded, there will be a 2nd flush in September. They then get a rest in the barn to condition them.

If picked at this stage, you've got 7-8 days in the vase before the petals will drop, and the seedhead will form.

I'm looking forward to picking many more Scabious flowers for in this season, but next year's plants are already started.

For practical sessions to go through the ideal picking time for this and other British Flowers, please look here

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.



(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.



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.


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


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.