Archive | Floristry Courses

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.



It’s All in the Vase

Last year was our busiest so far for workshops with almost thirty dates fully booked ranging from career courses, collaborations, growing cut flowers at home and floral design.

Pot by Harriet Coleridge

This year I am planning to add to our course repertoire with some new subjects including flower painting, a ‘perennials and woodies’ masterclass and a residential flower farming course in October – more about those in my next blog.

I am also keen to bring back a few tried and tested favorites.

One of the most popular newbie’s of 2017 was ‘It’s All in the Vase’, I came up with the idea for this full day of floristry after working on my book in which I focused on natural style floral designs in about thirty different vessels.

Over the past ten years of working with garden flowers I have come to the conclusion that the choice of the container is equally as important as the selection of flowers and foliage to go in them. I strive to enhance the seasonality, form and colour of the composition with the shape and texture of the vase/pot/jug – it doesn’t matter what you use as long as it is watertight.

This full day of floristry focuses on this principle with three vase arrangements in a range of shapes and sizes aimed for different places in the house.

Harriet Coleridge throwing a footed bowl.

I loved preparing for this course as it meant shopping for vases and even more fun designing custom made pots which meant indulging in one my favorite crafts – pottery. I am just a beginner who can make a pot but not one with any intentional design.

For this I needed to call on the professionals – Harriet Coleridge and Joanna Oliver. Both are local potters who like to work on the wheel using stoneware but their throwing style, glazes and firing methods are very different. Together we designed a series of ‘pots’ which I felt would enhance the colour and form of the materials for each season.

Bowl by Joanna Oliver

Vases, bowls and jugs are already being planned for 2018 and each season will include a hand thrown pot from Harriet and Joanna which is very much a collaboration of their signature style and my input to make sure it works as a vessel for the seasonal gatherings of flowers and foliage. For Spring, Harriet will be making a bowl inspired by a trip to Japan, the perfect shape for holding noodles or in this case flowers with a turned foot in a beautiful, warm, creamy shino glaze.

I am also mindful of how these vases will work in people’s homes, I want then to become a go to favorite for the kitchen table or mantlepiece for years to come.

I had some lovely feedback from people who attended last year’s workshops including a blog by visual storyteller Cristina Colli who attended the Spring class and recorded the day with beautiful photographs of everyone’s work.

As much as I love ceramics we do include other materials include glass and metallics to reflect the different seasons and play with various sizes and shapes – here are a few of my tried and trusted favourites.

There are three dates available this year, one for each season with the first spring date of April 22nd now live on the website. So, if you fancy a day of full floral immersion with lots of ideas on what to grow in your own gardens for cutting, techniques for arranging in a natural style without using florists foam and three beautiful, bespoke vase arrangements to take home, have a look!





Reflections and Rejuventation

After a couple of months ‘nesting’ in our new home on the farm it is time to put down the paintbrush and start plotting and planning what we will be getting up to in our tenth anniversary year.

Before I throw myself into seed orders and plans for 2018’s weddings and workshops it is time for some obligatory reflections on 2017 which was a year of fruition.

It kicked off with my book release in February. I felt really proud that all the flowers and foliage (bar the orchids and protea) were grown and arranged here on the farm and I have to admit it is satisfying seeing it nestling amongst some of my favourite books on flowers and gardening in the bookshops.

The Flower Book was closely followed by the first in a six part series in the House and Garden magazine about growing cut flowers through the seasons at home. Beautifully photographed by Eva Nemeth who I hope to work with again this year. It was a pleasure to work with Clare Foster the garden editor on these articles.

The finale was a seven page spread in the June issue of Country Living photographed by Andrew Montgomery a master at capturing the artisan at work…and dogs it seems.

I felt all of these publications reflected a decade of hard work building this flower farm from an excited idea and a name, conjured up on a dog walk, to a thriving business with it’s own identity enjoyed by all of our visitors whether they are a regular Saturday shop customer, a bride or one of our workshop attendees.

Photo by Clare West

Our focus has always been on growing high quality flowers and foliage on a fairly large scale so with that benchmark in mind there are always crops that delight or disappoint each year. I suppose the most important thing I have learned is never to get too disheartened by an apparent disaster, as we have had many and are still thriving. For every flower that gets eaten by something furry or flattened by high winds there will be something else that should be winning first place at the country show for it’s utter perfection.

Flowers that could have been show winners this year included our Ranunculus which included some painterly new varieties from our supplier in France. They were at their best for our annual Wedding Intensive collaboration with the talented duo Becca and Maz of The Garden Gate Flower Company.

Ranunculus table styling

Photo by Imogen Xiana

Infact the two day course was such a success we have decided to run it at the same time this year (April 24th-25th) to hopefully repeat the Ranunculus magic.

The Anemones were also the best I have grown thanks to taking the measure of sterilising the soil in our tunnel which had become rather sickly from the past ten years of intensive growing.

Sweet Peas also had a bumper year with my tunnel of Sweet Pea becoming a popular destination for photo shoots. I much prefer growing Sweet Peas undercover and have found a good selection namely from Japan that cope well with the warmer conditions.

Photo by Clare West

Roses were also surprisingly good, I was plucking up the courage to grub out bushes that had been in for 7 years including my beloved Margaret Merril but she rallied and produced blooms that were so perfect that I was reduced to tears.

There were new discoveries and favourites which there will certainly be more of this year included Phlox drummondii ‘Cherry Caramel’ and ‘Sugar Stars’, Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’, Echinops ‘Arctic Frost’, Zinnia ‘Queen Lime Blush’, Rosa ‘Ash Wednesday’ and Clematis ‘Paul Farges’.

Of course there were disappoints too, an entire tulip crop devastated by a gang of bulb addicted rats, a flattened crop of delphiniums from one wet, windy day in June and my dahlias did not live up to expectation, which I cannot blame on pests or weather. Flower farming is a juggling act and it is easy to drop a ball, which was the dahlia one so I am already making plans to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.

So what can we do better this year? More physical barriers against rodents and rabbits, more weed suppressing landscape fabric for our annuals and galvanised stock netting for our lofty delphiniums are some ideas…

On the plant front I am looking forward to a bumper crop of biennials thanks to an earlier sowing than usual, a couple of hundred new bearded iris and a few new roses and peony varieties. On top of that I am placing another order overseas for some exciting new annual varieties. Our new home has a large garden with lots of opportunity for trees, shrubs and climbers. I have also inherited a large herb garden which will be very useful for all the delicious meals we will be providing for our courses.

So what does 2018 hold ? Well hopefully rejuvenation, we are currently rebranding. The business has come a long way in the past decade and I want our makeover to reflect where we are today with more emphasis on G&G as a learning resource, a place of floral inspiration and retreat.

Photo by Eric Mcvey

I like each year to have a bit of a theme and I think this one will be about flowers in the home, now that I have a house where I can accomodate more than one vase! We have spent the last three months creating lots of posh painterly backgrounds to display our 2018 range of flowers and vases which I am busily creating in my new little pottery studio.

This theme will run through instagram and all of my workshops this year whether it is what to grow to decorate your home, how to choose the right vessel and materials for the room or how to use flowers as inspiration in another art form.

So collaborations are a foot including flower painting with Debbie George and a day of floristry with Shane Connolley. Plans area also in the making for a fully immersive residential course in the autumn, just need to get the bedrooms painted!

I am so lucky to live this flower filled life doing what I love every day and am very grateful that it has been made possible by everyone’s support and custom over the years.

All the best for 2018 x