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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.

The Cultivated Palette Series – Hellebores

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I have been cutting back the old leaves on my Hellebores this week followed by a quick weed and mulch. My favorite tool of all time the Japanese Razor Hoe does a great job at getting all those pesky weeds out that like to colonize around the crown of the plant.

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I don’t think they have enjoyed this mild winter, there is a lot of black spot around so I think a good mulch will help keep the spores from being splashed up on to the emerging flowers.

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Hopefully in a months time they will be looking something like these which were photographed in March last year by photographer Clare West. We got together a few times last year and focused on just one flower on each occasion, so I thought it would be fun to share these beautiful images with you over the coming months in a series of blog posts called The Cultivated Palette. I will include lots of growing tips and recommendations for sourcing stock plants and seeds and I will share some thoughts on why I choose to include them in my ‘palette’ of plants for cutting.

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I am going to have another go at hand pollination next month. I will have to select a mother and father plant from each variety, based on stem length, good flower shape and general vigor. This Harvington double pink is a good example, the plant has formed a big clump relatively quickly with long stems and well you can see heart-breakingly beautiful flowers.

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So on a sunny day I will set aside ten minutes and go to my Hellebore bed armed with a pencil and some odds and ends of yarn. Firstly I rub the end of the pencil over the anthers of a fully open flower on the father plant, then I will select an almost open flower bud from the mother plant and tie a little bow of yarn around its neck.

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It is important that no others pollinators have been there first. I then transfer the pollen from the pencil to the stigma.

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That is all you have to do until the seed ripens around the end of May, the shiny black seeds should be collected and sown on a loam based, gritty compost whilst nice and fresh. They do take a few months to germinate, so keep the seed tray in a cold frame and hopefully by September you will start to see some signs of life.

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All my hellebores were bred by Hugh Harvington whose nursery Twelve Nunns, now run by his daughter Penny Dawson in Lincolnshire, has recently been featured in the January edition of RHS magazine The Garden. They do supply wholesale plug plants, as long as you order ten or more of a variety, they can be potted up and grown on for a season before planting out. Harvington hellebores have a purity of colour which I find very useful for my wedding work. This one below is Harvington single smokey.

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Hellebores are an investment but I cannot resist them, I think they add a subtlety to the more flamboyant and bold spring bulbs and have a good long harvesting period from February to April. Once you grow your own from seed you realize why they are expensive, it takes two years from pollination to the first flower.

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I have found the double forms hold better so I have just placed an order for some more including blush, apricot and double speckled cream…yum! I am establishing a new bed under a line of mature beech trees which should give them a bit of shade in the summer months.

Vase life can be rather fleeting especially before they start to set seeds. I don’t think searing the stems does make much difference, but scoring a line down either side of the stem and then plunging the stems in a deep bucket of water up to their necks overnight seems more successful. I have to confess most of mine are picked in April when my season is in full swing, they are very ripe by then and happily hold for up to two weeks.

The next instalment will be on Anemones which I have just started picking, the earliest harvest recorded here at G&G.