Archive | dahlias

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,



The Friday Buzz – getting ready for a summer weekend


During the season Fridays tend to be rather frenetic with weddings to arrange and flowers to be picked for our Saturday shop, last minute pick ups and arrangements to be made for all the Saturday goings on and of course there are still the plants themselves that need looking after.



I am fortunate to have a more than capable team of both growers and florists to help me make all of this work possible in just one day.



Back in September I had the pleasure of being visited by photographer Mark Lord who was keen to record all these activities and capture a few good animal shots at the same time.


I first noticed Mark’s work whilst looking at Waterperry Garden’s website where he spent the last two years capturing some sublime images of their gardens, flowers and gardeners. Mark has both a garden photography blog in which we appear and a website for his wedding and portrait work.


I have to confess I particularly like his animal portraits and I am always keen to get my whippets photographed as much as possible!


Mark arrived bright and early which is always the perfect time lighting wise to photograph the garden but perhaps not my most attractive hour – oh well, as ever the flowers must come first!


We always pick for a Saturday wedding on a Thursday apart from some of the key blooms, in this case dahlias and roses which I want to look as ‘vital’ as possible.


So my first job is selecting specific flowers for the bouquet work. I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to picking roses and unless I am really up against it always cut those precious blooms myself, despite the thorns it is a job I savor.



Everyone else is sent to the field to ‘walk the line’ as we affectionately call our 100 metre long dahlia row. Flowers are picked into our trusty dutch buckets which we buy in from Holland by the pallet load. Once back at the packing shed they are conditioned and stored in our walk in chiller.


A coffee break….followed by lots and lots of floristry……


Lucy and ‘Scratch’ are on buttonhole duty and I take up my usual spot at the bouquet table.


I have quite a structured approach to making bouquets especially when there are multiple bridesmaids. Each bouquet has a bucket in which the prepared ingredients go into, that way I can ensure everyone has their fair share and all the arrangements are consistent.


Once assembled I tie them off with raffia which will be replaced in the morning with tape and silk ribbon, this helps to loosen them up and achieve the wild, ‘grown in’ look I am after.


Ash brings in the Saturday shop haul from the field in our back-saving harvesting buggy – it’s saved us a lot of walking this year. Looking like it originates from a pre-atomic era, it is a lot of fun to drive and there’s space for a lucky passenger. The one wheel at the front results in a nifty turning circle and it makes quick work of harvesting, essential on hot days.


Everything Ash and I do is centered around my mantra ‘minimum effort maximum results’ with six acres to cultivate and seventy weddings to supply and arrange it is the only way to make it work.


I am working on a new series of full day floristry workshops at the moment, some I hope will be collaborative and all will focus on capturing the essence of each season. I plan to release the dates in the New Year with my next blog post.


Talking of seasons I have always claimed to be a Spring girl, I love the freshness of everything and I guess I feel pretty good at the beginning of the season too. But I am becoming increasingly fond of the end of the season when there is a lot more to play with in both our cutting fields and beyond on my regular dog walks.