Author Archive | Rachel Siegfried

Making the Cut….in House and Garden

 

It was this time last year whilst pruning the roses that I got a call from Clare Foster, garden editor for House and Garden. She asked if I was interested in working with her on a 6 month series about growing flowers for cutting – each issue would be filled with information about what to grow for a continual supply of flowers for the house from April through to September, which are the best varieties for cutting, when and how to complete tasks and ideas for how to arrange what you have produced .

The garden photographer Eva Nemeth had been commissioned to work on the images and over the next few months she paid regular visits to the farm to capture the rapid succession of horticultural tasks, flowers, floral designs and created some gorgeous flat lays to illustrate my favourite seasonal pickings. Eva took so many beautiful images that I thought it was a shame not to show more of them in a blog to run alongside each monthly installment. It also seemed like a good opportunity to talk a bit more about what we get up to throughout the season.

April is often considered the start of the cut flower growing season but I find March a more realistic month to get started. There is plenty of cutting back and pruning to do if you are growing perennials, shrubs and roses for cutting. These will all need a good mulch afterwards with well rotted manure or compost. It is important to get this job done earlier before buds start to break into leaf and new growth starts to sprout from the ground.

I tend to do most of my perennial and shrub planting in March. There is plenty of moisture around for the roots to get established before the warmer months.

I always earmark my older more congested perennials for lifting and dividing at this time, this year the focus is on my large collection of phlox, I am saving this job for the attendees on the Propagation Masterclass who will be taking some healthy clumps home with them.

March is also when things start to get busy in the greenhouse. If you are lucky enough to have one it is a good time to sow a whole host of annuals (both hardy and half hardy) plus perennials which you would like to see flowering in their first year. I grow many of my favourite perennials from seed including scabious, Eryngium, delphiniums and Achillea, it saves a lot of money and is many germinate varieties germinate very easily. Sowing will continue into April with some of the hardy annuals that dislike root disturbance being sown directly outside.

Just as things start to get busy with growing tasks it is time to start picking all the flowering bulbs that were planted between September and November.

The Anemones are in flower first and once they start they come thick and fast, producing stem after stem from each corm. To find out more about how to grow them have a look at my post here.

The tulips follow close behind, I pull them  and lift bulbs and all, clearing the bed as I go for the next crop – more about growing tulips in my cultivated palette series here.

Narcissus are flowering in our field and in my pots, I love showing off the more delicate varieties this way and I find they last longer in a pot than tulips.

To accompany all these spring beauties April is an ideal time to go foraging, I cut from our surrounding native hedge and orchard, carefully selecting the branches that will create the shape I want in my arrangements. The emerging leaves of hazel and hawthorn accompanied by blossoming branches are my favourites.

No April arrangement would be complete without a hellebore or two, by now they are setting seed and this ripening gives them a much longer vase life.

The Flower Book

 

It was about this time last year that I was invited by the publishers Dorling and Kindersley to work with them on a book all about flowers and natural-style floristry.

Their plan was to feature sixty cut flowers through the seasons using their signature portrait-style macrophotography. My brief was to provide all the flowers for these and choose thirty of my favourites to showcase in a series of floral designs.

The schedule was tight with just five months to photograph and write the book. I have always dreamed of writing my own book so I thought this experience would be a useful way of learning about the process. It certainly turned out to be a steep learning curve!

We began work on the book in April, just in time to catch the first wave of spring flowers in the tunnels. Each fortnight the Flower Book team would reconvene here at the farm to shoot what was in flower that week, slowly working our way through the seasons. In my naivety I had not realised there are so many people involved in producing a book – at each shoot there was at the bare minimum the editor, artistic director and two photographers, one of whom was Clare West.  She has been photographing our flowers for the past three years, and is responsible for many of the images on our website, she also teaches a Flower Photography workshop here.

Clare was responsible for the arrangement shots and Gary Ombler for the macrophotography which exposed every hair and grain of pollen in incredible detail. It was quite a job finding the perfect flower for these meticulous images and to see them in this new light was revelatory even after years of spending so much time with my flowers.

The writing was squeezed in during spare moments of a busy growing and wedding season – quite a challenge! It certainly takes discipline although I was writing about a subject I love and know well. The premise of the book is to encourage people to have a go themselves so each arrangement comes with a list of what you will need, my inspiration behind each design and a description of how it was achieved.

Each of the sixty flowers featured also come with advice on what to look for when buying from a florist or flower market, or for those who are able and willing, a few growing tips. There is also information on conditioning, the best way to display them and how to prolong vase life.

I have learnt so much from working on this book namely how to arrange for the camera and how to work with a publisher. It certainly stretched my abilities and patience at times but I am already keen to do another one, this time about growing cut flowers.

I think as a floristry book it is unique in one significant way, every flower bar the Leucospermum and Orchid were grown here on our flower farm, this makes me very proud and just goes to show what is possible.

The Flower Book is now available to buy on Amazon and I will be selling copies here on our courses and in our Saturday shop once the season starts.

It’s All in the Vase – homegrown & handmade

Here I am back in the blogging saddle, with my usual January good intentions. I thought I would focus on a recurring theme that shaped 2016 – the vase– and how it has motivated me to introduce a series of new floristry workshops for the season ahead.

This preoccupation with what to put my flowers in has been bubbling away for a few years now with my attempts to master the potter’s wheel and fulfil my dream of setting up a ceramic studio here at Green and Gorgeous, where I would throw tailor-made vessels to perfectly complement my garden-grown beauties.

This longing was reinforced this year whilst working on a floristry book with Dorling and Kindersley in which I was commissioned to create a series of seasonal vase arrangements (more about that next month when the book comes out maybe…). As we progressed through the flowering months I struggled to find the right shape and finish of vessel to echo my seasonal selections. Instead of feeling compromised by what you can find, wouldn’t it be great if you could design and make that ‘enhancing’ vase, perfect in shape, colour and texture for your arrangement..?

I have always felt that the vessel, vase, container (whatever you choose to call it) is equally as important as the flowers. I guess I have become a little bored of vintage (apart from fan vases of course!), very very bored of jam jars and find the throwaway imports offered at the wholesalers rather depressing. Being a bit of a purist I wanted to explore the idea of everything about the floral design being not only homegrown but handmade….

My quest to throw that vase is ongoing – just before Christmas I spent three days on a residential pottery course at the wonderful West Dean College. For anyone who yearns for a bit of quiet, creative downtime in a gorgeous setting with great food I can highly recommend it. I was so excited by my progress that on my return I went and bought myself a pottery wheel. Now all I need to do is keep practising!

Anyway I am fortunate to also know a very talented potter nearby, Harriet Coleridge, so at the beginning of the year I asked her to make me some footed bowls to use as centrepieces for my wedding work. I recorded the process so you can see the skill and time it takes to make beautifully hand crafted pots. I have collaborated with Harriet for some years now for Artweeks and always enjoy the unique blend of my flowers and her pots.

We decided to go for a stoneware clay which can take a bit of wedding wear with a tin glaze, which is white, shiny and opaque, a good neutral for the florals.

The first step was to throw a bowl the correct shape and size ten times.

Some tools of the trade.

Once these were dried to the leather-hard stage they were ready to be trimmed to get a smooth curved shape ready for the foot to be attached. A bit of cross hatching marks the spot.

The foot is made separately by throwing a short cylinder of clay.

Once attached it is shaped on the bowl. Harriet makes this look easy but I can assure you it takes years of throwing to be so adept at it.

After a bisque firing the bowls are ready to be glazed. This requires a large bucket of well stirred glaze and a pair of tongs.

The finished bowls after their glaze firing, already booked for a number of weddings next year.

The next project for me and Harriet to work on will be to create a vessel for my first ‘All in the Vase’ workshop in the spring. I am imagining a wide, shallow shape to accommodate the fleshy stems of tulips, anemones and Ranunculus perhaps curving in slightly at the top to make arranging a little easier.

I have just put up dates for Summer and Autumn ‘All in the Vase’ classes, each will be quite distinct in the selection of florals and the vessels I source and create for them, if you would like to add to your vase collection and learn how to get the best out of them come and join us.