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Dahlias that make the Cut

It’s New Year’s Day and my desk is covered in dahlia catalogues, plans and lists. This has become something of a tradition for me, I like to order my tubers on New Years Day so I can be sure to be near the front of the queue to get the tubers early and on to the heat bench so I can take some basal cuttings.

Choosing the right varieties for our flower business can be overwhelming as there is just so much choice, and dahlia breeding has  certainly come a long way. But to calm my kid in a sweet shop urges I find some strict criteria help to focus my mind (and hopefully yours too).

When I am deciding what to grow, whether it is an annual, shrub or indeed a dahlia I think it is always good to work back from the arrangement or chosen market if you are selling the flowers.

One of the ways I use dahlias from July through till October is for weddings so I need a good range of shapes and sizes to create large scale displays down to delicate flower crowns. Colours are predominantly soft and muted.

To go deeper I consider my brand/signature style which draws me to antique, muddy, painterly tones and interestingly both blousey and elegant shapes.

To work out how many to order I decide where they will be planted and measure out the area. For the best quality they should be rotated at least every 2-3 years, I find they always flourish on fresh ground and are less likely to succumb to pests like thrips and capsid bug.

We plant out at 45cm apart in double rows a good 1.5m apart. Calculate the number you can accommodate on your patch and that is your total.

We manage to squeeze in about 500 dahlia plants, I like to have 10 of each variety, otherwise it is hard to create a unified look for a wedding or in the bucket at farm gate sales. They also look more striking in the field in good sized blocks of colour which is great for PYO and our floristry classes.

So that gives me around 50 to choose which is always going to be a tough call. The next step is to create a list of all the varieties you are tempted by in each colour category. Here is ‘Peaches’, which has aptly named itself and firmly residing within the peach category.

They need to be a good mix of shapes and sizes and of course be recommended for cutting or be at least 1m high. Do your research at this stage, I have listed some resources at the end of the blog.

‘Eternal Snow’ (top right) – pure white, small waterlily, perfect for bouquet work.

‘L’Ancresse’ (top left) – an immaculate ball.

‘Josudi Polaris’ – new to me this year but love all the Josudi varieties, great shape for a small cactus.

‘Small World’ – the best white pompom, for all those buttonholes!

‘Cafe au Lait’ – okay not really white but a fantastic neutral that looks good with any other colour and of course creates the scale and wow factor for large arrangements with it’s dinner plate sized blooms. We grow this one in our tunnels.

Picking Dahlias

I would recommend David Hall’s You tube videos for a tour of his dahlia field. To see more than a thumbnail picture of a flower is so useful, you can see the stem length, how prolific it is and of course with David’s years of experience and comments on the varieties I had a long list in no time.

David owns the nursery Halls of Heddon which offer both tubers and rooted cuttings of a high quality, their varieties have been carefully trialled so if they say they are good for cutting you can trust they will be. One of my favourites from them last year was ‘Josudi Andromeda’.

Rose Cottage Plants are another favourite who introduce new varieties every year and are good at spotting what is on trend. One new ‘bestie’ last year was ‘Senior’s Hope’ (strange name) which I could not stop picking and has the most unusual colour which seems to go with everything.

I also look to Holland for some wholesale purchases and top quality tubers. Eurobulb are very good, reasonably priced and with a good range.

If you would like to come and see my Top 50 flourishing in our fields  (hopefully) on September 9th I will be running a Dahlia class as part of my Floral Favourites series. We will look in depth at all aspects of growing dahlias for cutting including variety selection, propagation and how to achieve continuity of quality flowers. The day also includes picking armfuls to arrange in a hand thrown bowl and to make bunches to take home. I will be posting details about the course on our website this weekend so get in touch if you are interested.



A Floral Review of 2019

After the rush and blur of Christmas and before the New Year begins, it’s a good time to stop and take stock of all that happened over the past year.

Foxgloves in the Learning Garden at Green and Gorgeous

My review at the end of each year is of course always in flowers –  I like to look back at both the triumphs and the failures. I must confess it is incredible how I struggle to remember it all by the time we get to December. Fortunately taking pictures most days is a great way of record keeping, so I thought I would share a few of my favourite pictures through the season and reflect on what I could tweak to have more triumphs and less failures in 2020. Of course that is with a big caveat – all my knowledge and experience can be scuppered by the increasing challenges of our weather. How to sustain a flower farm with prolonged periods of wet or dry weather putting a lot of stress on the plants is something we are all having to adapt to fast to stay in business. Sustainability will be my keyword for 2020 and ways to keep both myself and Green and Gorgeous thriving.

Our Spring got off to a good start with all of our flowering bulbs doing well just in time for our busiest Mother’s Day ever, which was a wonderful way to open our Farm Gate Sales for the season.

I was really impressed by the outdoor tulips which were just as good as the polytunnel grown varieties. I think planting them in raised beds next to the tunnel meant they benefited from the tunnel’s radiated warmth giving just as good stem length but a longer flowering period. I couldn’t resist planting more in the Autumn so there will be a Tulip class looking at both growing and arranging to make the most of the harvest in April.

The mild Winter and dry Spring meant the plants were stressed and succumbed to the worst infestation of black fly I had ever seen. Flowering shrubs like Viburnum opulus were unusable and the only thing which would remedy it was rain. Thanks to our irrigation system we could keep everything else going and with a decent enough stem length to cut.

The rain finally came and by the bucket load, flowers were picked in full waterproofs and dried off in the greenhouse.

The Sweet Peas flourished in the tunnel, I always find early flowering indoor varieties so much more reliable and longer in flower than the Spencer types which seem to come in to flower just as we get a hot, dry spell. I am considering not growing them next year but it is hard to let go of beauties like this striped variety called Nimbus. I think a position that only receives sun for half the day would make a big difference.

One of the most triumphant flowers of 2019 was the Foxglove, both biennial and the summer flowering Camelot series. Not only were they premium quality but I sold or arranged almost every stem. I can only class something as a success if it ticks both boxes.

I was so excited to see our second rose tunnel come into flower with lots of new varieties to trial buy (not pick – hands off until 2020!).  We will be celebrating with a Rose class in June, as part of our Floral Favourites this year.

Perennials were a big subject this year with an ever-increasing range thanks to visits to specialist plant fairs and plantswomen like Jane Edmonds. They are one of my strategies for creating a resilient and sustainable business, as they are generally more tolerant to weather extremes and of course as I celebrate my 50th birthday next week a little easier to look after and basically less knackering! They will also keep me interested as there seems to be a never-ending list of varieties to discover. If you are interested in learning more I will be running a Garden Masterclass through Gardens Illustrated in July.

Dahlias were good this year and plentiful with 500 in the ground and over 50 varieties. They were at their best for a magazine shoot with Clive Nichols and then an early frost at the beginning of September put a bit of a downer on things. Flower farming really is about the highs and lows (Celsius!) with some hasty covering not really being up to the job.

However, after some brutal cutting back they returned with a final flourish in the last days of summer.

Dahlia drama at the end of the season

To round the season off the Chrysanthemums really did us proud this year, by having them all in the tunnels even the early outdoor varieties they stayed in good condition and allowed me to continue arranging for events right through November. Each year I add to my collection carefully saving the ones I have so I can generate new plants from basal cutting in the early Spring.

All of this beauty and general flower hustle and bustle has helped me through a tough year on the personal front with much bereavement. Thanks to the flowers and my wonderful team and customers I felt enormously supported through it all. I put everything I have into caring for our rather large garden/flower farm and in times of need I know I can step into it and feel that care returned to me.

Best wishes for 2020 and another decade of Great British flowers,



Clearing, caretaking and composting

It’s been that busy time clearing the remains of the flowering season and trying to get things put to bed for the winter. Doing this properly will save you time and effort both now and next season, as well as getting the soil in the best place for growing next year.





First things first, do you need to? It is always better to have something growing or covering the soil. The soil around roots is the most biologically active part so clearing and composting old crops is never as good as letting them rot down in situ. This is where a ride on mower can be rather handy or a strimmer if not, or it if is too wet. A hedge trimmer is also useful to separate out staking and support netting by cutting above and below. Tunnel crops are always coming out to make room for the next course and so will need composting on your heap.


Ride on mower clearing



If you have been using mypex or membrane to grow your annuals/biannuals in, you shouldn’t have too many weeds and so you can let the mypex cover and protect the soil, let the remaining flowers rot down over the winter and you can get on with something else (an easy decision to make as the weather deteriorates). If you haven’t used mypex or ground cover then you will probably have more weeds and want to strim/clear and cover.



All that organic matter can be left to decompose over the winter, preferably covered with mypex or black plastic to prevent weeds growing and allow worms to move up to the surface freely. An alternative to covering with plastic is a liberal and generous mulch of something sterile, green waste, DIY compost (if you made it well!) or even straw. Anything to stop the winter rain trashing the soil and to prevent excessive soil leaching. You will need considerable amounts though, in order to stop light getting to any leftover weeds.




Commercial green waste being delivered

Commercial green waste being delivered





If soil temperatures are still warm enough, Sept or possibly early October you can try and get some mustard established as a winter cover crop. Depending on where you live and the severity of the winter this may not make it through to Spring but will have suppressed weeds and donated lots of organic matter to the soil before it expires. A rye/vetch mix is also an option here, if you don’t need the soil for early crops, as it will add more organic matter and N, and really keep weeds out of the picture.





Everyone has their own take on this and it’s a really important part of recycling fertility and physically dealing with all the material you will be producing, especially from covered cropping. Here are a few pointers for flower growers, especially if you are newbies or have not been producing anything resembling the crumbly, friable, sweet smelling goodness that everyone else always seems to manage to.


The End Result



The first issue is that of the Nitrogen : Carbon ratio (or ‘greens’ vs. ‘browns’ in old allotment speak). Our heaps of flower farm waste are going to be simply too woody to really break down properly and so will need some amending. Ideally with something wetter, greener and with more Nitrogen than all those woody stems – like the veg waste from your kitchen but in larger amounts. Practically this means some sort of manure to be mixed in at regular intervals, we use chicken manure, horse manure (ideally without bedding) or fresh digestate (from a digester). This added Nitrogen will allow the first set of microbes to multiply rapidly and start to heat up the heap.

Secondly, most of our cleared material is bulky and will need physically breaking down before it can decompose properly. This can mean shredding (although I only manage this once or twice a year) or usually hedge trimming larger stuff with considerable stems. At any one time I typically have a pile of waste next to the pile to be added once cut up or weathered for a few months. Too much bulky material will lead to large air pockets and dry heaps that won’t decompose. Shredding really eats through all those piles of stuff, turbocharges the entire process with all that extra surface area for microbes to work on and may be an important factor if you don’t have much space for your heaps.


Compost heap

MAY NOT BE THE PRETTIEST PART OF YOUR FLOWER PATCH (but the blue Europallets are the best..)


Practically, compost heaps made of pallets work really well – they will need some serious bracing or they can also be made of straw bales if they are easily available. I have 3 heaps (3 -4 pallets along each side) so that I can leave them for 12-18 months with no mixing- I just walk/jump on them to pack them down after adding manure. They will rot down to a third of your finishing height, so you need to keep piling on material until it’s practically impossible. They won’t look pretty and so you may be tempted to hide them away but they still need to be accessible.



STARTING TO STEAM UP DURING THE FIRST FROSTS – a pretty picture of a compost heap


And so at this point of the year, once all that is done you can start to take a breather, unless you haven’t tackled the dahlias of course which has not been easy during this wet autumn.