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.

 


April Florist's Open Day at Hill top farm

Whew, what a week it's been.

On Saturday, Ashley finished the fence round our new planting area. - Hopefully my 24 extra beds are safe from marauding deer and rabbits now, although a pheasant had managed to get in by Sunday morning.

Ranunculus pastels

On Sunday afternoon we welcomed between 80 and 100 people to my open day (we all lost count).  That's a lot of cups of teas and talking. I am so grateful to Mum and Dad for helping me host, and to Jasmin and Molly who bunched and sold flowers for me, gave out cakes and got everyone to sign my list to win a bouquet.  (winner announced on my email newsletter tomorrow) Thank you to everyone who came.

it's lovely when you get feedback like this

Just wanted to say how much we enjoyed visiting Hill Top Farm on Sunday.  Your mum was great as was the tea and cake!
I am so impressed with how much you've achieved in such a short time
A real inspiration!  Hope you have a great year.

Then on Monday morning through my bleary eyes, I went and did an early picking of flowers, foliage and seedheads ready for my Florists workshop.

Florists on field by tulips

I love working with local florists, But I totally appreciate that unlike their usual Wholesalers, where seasonality isn't an issue, they can't get whatever they want whenever they want from me. 

So it's really important for them to see how I grow things. Here I am waxing lyrical about annual and perennial Tulips, and explaining how I can wait until they flower to give longer stems and bigger heads, and still give them at least a week of vase life.

After lots of questions, and a tour round a bright but breezy field, we repaired to the barn to drink coffee, and for these talented ladies to use lots of my April field ingredients to make Buttonholes and boutonieres.

Here are some of the results.

Buttonholes on square tray

Personally as someone who enjoys growing, but isn't the most creative, I thought the displays were all stunning. For me as a grower, the most important bit is how long does each of the ingredients last out of water? So after having a fantastic making session, and a great photography session, - watched over by Emma Davies, I set everyone homework of letting me know when each of the ingredients expired and whether they could be trusted to create the desired effect for a bridegroom, Mother of the bride or usher. Here are some of the results. - All of the florists went for a natural effect with just raffia, or Twool, none of them used wiring or guttering.

Buttonhole Jodie_

Jodie Vigor of Boutique Blooms, Made this Beauty with dark Ranunculus, Hypericum leaves, Grey Senicio foliage, Purple Fennel, Anemone and Hellebore.

Her feedback  (at 6pm) was.

"My lovely little buttonhole is sat here next to me on my desk...the fennel is very limp now and the hypericum foliage is too. The anemone and hellebore are doing ok, slightly drooped but I think that's good going and would be happy to send those out (they would have reached dancing time at a wedding at least). The senecio looks good and the ranuncula has done really well, still really firm stem and has opened a little more, beautiful!"

Buttonhole Caroline

Caroline Davy made this creation from Rosemary, Fennel, Mint, Senicio, Monarda seedhead, Ranunculus, Anemone and Hellebore. Her feedback was

"The buttonhole stood up really well.  Surprisingly enough, the worst to fare was the Hellebore.  The mint also  dropped quite badly but still smelt amazing … so could be forgiven!  By the time I got home, it did appear quite floppy generally but as a buttonhole – it would have been supported all day when it was fixed to the guy’s jacket … so probably not too much of a problem!  I did cave in about 5.30 as I couldn’t bear it all to die so I put it in water and everything is now perfectly upright again!  The Ranunulus have partly opened (they were both quite tightly in bud this morning) and  the Ran. Champagne is revealing more of its beauty!"

Sarah from Myrtle and Smith (check out that new website!) got a little carried away and made 3 buttonholes

Buttonholes Sarah

Her feedback was

"So, my buttonholes...

The Rosemary, anemone and other stem of purple flower who's name I can't remember (Erysimum) lasted the best.  The purple flower started to wilt a little but if cut short enough and secured in amongst other sturdy items would last week. (Top / Middle in picture)

The poppy seed heads, ranunculus and (other flower which I loved and can't remember..!) (Cerinthe)didn't last well at all and we're all floppy by about 2.30pm, including the mint.. But it smelt great!

The Hellebore lasted well as well, drooped a little but unless you knew what you were looking at you wouldn't have noticed."

Here's some more pictures and feedback from the morning. - Thank you to everyone for taking part, and for Emma for setting up the studio, and giving us hints and tips.

Florists openday montage

Jackie said

"The hellebores, tiny allium, senecio and rosemary all stood up well but the fennel and the poppy heads drooped after an hour or so. I remember being told that if you want a natural look for a buttonhole/ corsage and so don't want to use tape you can seal the bottom of the stems either with florist glue or - more eco friendly -  wax. I haven't tried it though!"

Helen said

"I've found the ranunculus and rosemary have lasted very well, the anemone is starting to droop as is the mint, and unfortunately everything else gave up not long after I got home, but the buttonholes were in the warm car for about an hour and a half as I had errands to run on my way back. I'm sure they would have survived a lot longer if I'd either pipped them in a drop of water or kept them somewhere cooler on the journey back!"

Rowena said (at 5.30)

"My buttonhole is fine, it is only the dill that is a bit floppy."

Thank you all once again for taking part, - for me, it's so interesting to see which ingredients were used. - I notice that No-one went for the pinks or the mini gerberas, and everyone used herbs and seedheads.

If you're a Surrey Florist who'd like to find out what's on my availability list each week, - do download the pdf on my Florists page, and signup for my weekly emails here


An Abundance of Tulips for Sunday open afternoon

Square tulips photo

Image Emma Davies

I've Written before about Tulips, and how I love them

Some of those in my 2010 blog post are still going now, even though they've been totally neglected in my front border while i've created an allotment and a flower farm. But I think I may have gone slightly overboard on planting them at Hill top farm this year.

Luckily, it's my open day this Sunday afternoon. So I need your help, - please come and wander round the farm between 1.00pm and 5.00pm, - i'll provide tea and cake, - and they'll be plenty of Tulips for sale (and quite a few other flowers as well)

Interested? -We're at Hill top farm, Staple Lane, East Clandon, GU4 7FP

Tulips montage


My Flower of the month for March - Anemone

As we finish March and move into April, I have to show you my flower of the month.

At a time of year, where the field is waking up, but there aren't huge amounts of blooms on show, - The Anemone has been an amazing flower to add to my collection.

White Galilee anemones

I've grow Anemone de Caen, and named varieties such as Mr Fokker (Blue) Bicolour (Red and white) and The Bride (White) for the last couple of years, but this year I was lucky enough to add to my collection some White Anemone Galilee, and some coloured Meron varieties.

The White ones are being grown in the polytunnel, and have been getting to an amazing length, with some up to 50cm tall. The coloured ones, which have been grown under fleece on the field all winter, have now been uncovered, and although they aren't quite as tall, the colours are great.

Anemone montage

While Red and Pink are amazing for making a bright bouquet zing, - I have to admit to this Bordeaux being my personal favourite.

Bordeaux anemones-1

I'm sure this is almost as close as you can get in a flower to the current Pantone colour of the year - Marsala (18-1438)

Last week, We had the first of this year's photo shoot collaborations, with Paula, using just my flowers, and Emma doing the fantastic pics, to produce this rather gorgeous creation, with Anemones in pride of place.

Anemone Bouquet

Here's the Galilee Anemone showing it's full depth

Anemone detail in  Bouquet

For those who like to know all the ingredients available in March in Surrey. - This bouquet also contained - Hellebore Foetidus, Hellebore Orientalis, Leujojum, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Senicio, Twisted Willow, Hyacinths & Tulip Super Parrot

Anemone bouquet montage

 


What's happening at Hill top farm - March update

Spring is here. The wind may still be chill, but we've had a couple of days without rain, and the sun has come out. The flowers at Hill top farm are loving it.

Bed of Euphorbia

As well as the Euphorbias and Hellebores which i've been using in bouquets this month, The anemones in the polytunnel are now doing their thing.

Bed of Anemones

These have a fantastic length stem and a gorgeous black eye, - i've been boring everyone watching my instagram stream with lots of them this week.

The tulips are peeking through the ground, there will be 100's of them flowering over the next 6-8 weeks. The Autumn planted Cornflowers are doing well, - it's really easy to spot where I didn't plant them quite along the straight line, or if one isn't doing as well as the others.

March beds

And the greenhouse is full of seedlings that will need pricking out soon.

Trays of seedlings

plus that Dahlia propagation workshop is paying for itself - lots of cuttings now in the propagator in the greenhouse

Trays of dahlia cuttings

We've also pruned all the roses, and planted more, both at the farm and at home. Although I want lots for my florists this year, I also have my eye on the Horsley Garden Society Trophies! they've been well manured, and i'm hoping that the lovely paths we've created with thick Wood chip over newspaper will keep the weeds at bay so that I can spend my time picking and planting.

Roses pruned mar 2015

So we're all set now for a busy and productive season. - I'm hoping i'll have lots of orders for Mothering Sunday flowers available for local delivery or collection on Saturday morning. - there's bundles of local foliage to go with our lovely flowers. If you'd like to come and see how things are coming along for yourself,  do put our Open Days in your diaries - the first one is next month.


Propagation, Learning to grow Cut Flowers and more

Wednesday was a full day of propagation. - For someone like me who is a plant fan (yes, total fanatic) it wasn't a difficult day, and as I was in the company of some lovely people it passed very quickly.

In the morning I hosted the first of this year's "Cutting gardens from seeds and bulbs" workshop.

Claire starting a workshop in the barn

A bleak February morning isn't necessarily the most pleasant time of year to spend on my exposed field, but as these ladies were keen to know how to improve their flower yields from whatever their size of patch this year, they braved the M25, and came layered up to learn about how I plan and pick out the flowers and fillers to grow on my field.

We started with my explanation of the types of stems to put together to make a bouquet. - This was where my journey from "pick and plonk" to British flower floristry started 3 years ago. My Hellebore foetidus gave a fantastic example of a sieve as a base foliage.

Workshop in the barn

 

A tour of the field proved  how hardy and devoted these ladies were as they asked questions about all the hardy annual, biennials and perennials in the ground already, and learnt about our No dig theories

Workshop 2014 field tour

After coffee and marmelade muffins (well done Ashley your homemade marmelade was the star sticky ingredient) We warmed ourselves up in the Polytunnel, and I gave demonstrations of seed sowing, potting on, and taking cuttings.

Propagation demo and coffee

By Lunchtime everyone went home with a tray full of seeds, - and pots of cuttings, - Rosemary and Dianthus Green trick, plus lots of root cuttings of mint.

Thank you all for your enthusiasm, which was infectious. Despite the cold and damp, I stayed on when everyone left, and made 2 more trays of green trick cuttings, and planted out more Ammi and Larkspur. Then I went home and took more Dahlia cuttings. - Richard from Withypitts Dahlia's (from his workshop in January) had produced more, plus the tubers I put in the propagator were sprouting as well. so i've now got Cafe au Lait, and Pink Diamond being molly coddled in the greenhouse at home.

But my day wasn't finished, as in the evening I walked down to the Village Hall to our Garden Society meeting, and listened to Nick Morgans from RHS Wisley give a talk about propagation.

An extremely good turnout for a February evening showed how much esteem our group hold Nick in, and his talk was informative, educating, and entertaining. - I may even be tempted to try propagating some houseplants again.

There were lots of points that we both agreed on, and think are extremely important for anyone propagating new plants, - the most important are.

1) Use a good growing media (don't say compost, that's the stuff you make in heaps at the bottom of the garden) and sieve it for seeds so that the uneven lumps are taken out

2) cover most seedlings (apart from the tiny ones) with vermiculite

3) invest in a good watering can with a fine rose

Propagation is something that can seem scary to new gardeners, - but with just a bit of direction and practice, you could be producing hundreds of productive plants. - If by some chance you have too many of them, the Horsley Garden Society Annual Plant Sale is Saturday 9th May, - entry is 3 plants (or 50p) come and see what we've all been propagating.

(all photos by Emma Davies )

 


What do Flower farmers do in winter?

It's been cold the last couple of weeks. - Too cold to do anything at the farm other than a bit of shoveling of wood chip (thanks to my wonderful local Tree Surgeon Paul). So what else do Flower farmers do in winter?

Winter picture of me

(photo credit Emma Davies)

Well, I havn't been sitting around with my feet up, for the last few weeks, - here's some of the things i've been up to

Planning

Seed planning

My love of Gantt charts goes back to my engineering degree, but i've been sitting planning what seeds i need to fill which beds, and what I need to have done before I can plant them. - The large seed order from Moles seeds arrived within 4 days, - and it's now all catalogued by the week number that i'm going to sow everything. - Nothing starts until week 6 (that's next week), - but the propagator in the greenhouse is already full, because i've been

Learning

Nothing like using your quiet season to go and learn more from the experts.

in this case Withypitts Dahlias .

Now my Dahlias weren't too bad last year, but I grew them all from Tubers, and most of the top show Dahlia growers propagate theirs from cuttings, - so I went along to learn how to properly take Dahlia cuttings so that I can grow lots more of my successful varieties from last year

Richard taking Dahlia cuttings

Richard from Withypitts showing us the correct way to take Dahlia cuttings. As soon as I got back I filled my temperature controlled propagator with dahlia tubers, sitting in compost, to start them growing. -I'll let you know how they come on.

I've also been down to Cullompton in Devon this week, - as well as more learning - A great talk from Rona Wheeldon of Flowerona, and a Demonstration from the Academy of Floral Art

i've been Networking

Mostly meeting with lots of other flower growers, (and lots of members of Flowers from the farm) chatting about what they're up to, what's going well for them. Talking to florists about what flowers they want in the coming season, and generally putting the world to rights, and enjoying others company.

plus i've been Writing lots ready for some Talking i'm doing over the coming weeks. There's a "business of selling flowers" workshop on Monday, and i'm talking to the Farnborough Fuchsia and Pelargonium Society next week about Herbs, and there are Growing your Cutting garden from Seeds and Bulbs workshops at the end of the month.

and of course i'm answering all the email enquiries that i'm receiving about flowers for weddings and events later in the season. So although it's still snowing outside my office window, - there's lots to be done, - better get ticking things off that to-do list.