Archive | Polytunnels

Palette on a Plate from an English Summer Wedding

When I asked if they had any colour preferences for their wedding flowers, keen foodies Gaenor and Paul presented me with a picture on their phone of an amazing plate of salad…


They certainly had food at the top of their list when they chose Michelin-starred Caldesi In Campagna in the village of Bray, Berkshire for their reception celebration.

Their wedding was in June, in the midst of a heatwave, it certainly felt like the hottest day of the year…

Fantastic Foodie Wedding in Bray - Clare West Photography

I was so pleased when they chose Clare West as their photographer, as I knew her love for photographing flowers would mean there would be more than the normal quota of flowery pics and I would get a good idea of how well my flowers stood up to the extreme conditions.

I never guarantee specific flowers for a couple’s wedding day, that would be a dangerous game when you are relying on our unreliable weather to play along. But I always work with colour choices and in this case I had a plenty to conjure up – blue, lilac, pink, peach, coral, oh and of course, green were all on that inspirational plate.

June is the peak flowering time for hardy annuals,  so sweet peas, cornflowers and nigella ticked most of the colour boxes, whilst the annual quaking grass briza added movement and a wildflower meadow feel.

I love arranging with sweet peas –  they come in such a range of colours, are wonderfully fragrant and if picked with some of the vine, create a lush, untamed feel. We grow about 30 different varieties both indoors and out so that they are available from May through till July.

Sweet pea jungle in our tunnel, seasonal British flower grown by Green and Gorgeous

The high temperatures had brought my roses on all at once so they were centre stage in the bouquets and table flowers, providing plenty of scent along with the sweet peas.

Tall spire shaped flowers for the milk churn and church pedestal arrangements were provided by larkspur in an unusual smokey lilac, blush pink delphiniums, peach chantilly snapdragons and a punchy coral penstemon.

These grow to extraordinary heights in our tunnels sheltered from the wind and the rain.

I was pleased to see that even the flower girls crowns stood up to the high temperatures, a testament to using freshly picked, seasonal flowers.







And being next to a picturesque stretch of the Thames, the guests were able to have a chance to cool off at the end of a perfect day…




The Cultivated Palette Series – Tulips


I have decided to make this post short and sweet because that is how my tulips are this year! Our record breaking mild winter did not give the bulbs the cooling period they need for good stem length. Ideally they require a good 12-14 weeks ‘cold period’ to produce quality cutting stems. I think I will try to order the bulbs as early as possible this year and store them in our chiller to pre-cool them before planting in November, if and only if it is cold enough.

Anyway, looking back at taller years, here are some of the varieties and cultivation methods I use for luscious blooms to grace my March and April floral work.


I opt to grow the majority of my tulips under cover which normally results in better stem length as they get slightly drawn and unblemished perfect petals. Planting them closely together also helps, no more than 10 cm apart. The only downside to this being if we get a warm spell in April (which any normal person would be very happy about) as it tends to make them all come at once, early, middle and late cultivars.


I often get gasps of horror when people watch me harvesting tulips as I just pull them out, bulb and all.

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The bulb is then cut off and composted and so it becomes an annual (albeit expensive) crop.

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There are many advantages to growing them this way; even more stem length as you get the extra bit under the ground, bulbs are dibbed in shallowly so no trenches or backbreaking work, the ground is cleared and ready for the next annual crop and it means you get to try new varieties every year!

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Talking of varieties I am a sucker for anything with ‘new’ written next to it but I do have some reliable favourites that I grow year on year. My favourite groups are peony/double and viridiflora types.

I always start the season with lots of ‘Verona’ a pale yellow peony tulip with decent stem length for an early double type and such a long vase life.


These are closely followed by ‘Blue Diamond’ an unusual antique, puce colour and two classics ‘Angelique’ and ‘Mont Tacoma’.

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The recently introduced ‘La Belle Epoque’ rounds off the season with a mouthwatering colour combination of coffee and peachy pink.

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The viridiflora types are characterized by a green stripe on the the petals. My favourite is ‘Spring Green’ because they go with anything and are effortlessly stylish. This pink variety ‘Greenland’ has been paired with a coral single late variety called ‘Menton’ and pear blossom.

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For stem length, Lily-flowered varieties are worth trying. Their pointed petal tips and hourglass shape bring a contrasting elegance to the fuller peony and parrot types. They tend to flower a bit later as well giving some succession to the tulip harvest.


Floppy Parrot tulips are definitely happier in my tunnels where they are sheltered from heavy Spring showers. Black Parrot is great for a sophisticated look and Flaming Parrot or Apricot for some Dutch Master decadence.


To source your tulips and see a whole host of other varieties I would recommend looking at Peter Nyssen or Gee Tee.

They both supply good quality and reasonably priced bulbs, which is important if you are going to use them as an annual in your cutting beds.

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When conditioning tulips I just put a couple of inches of water in the bucket, I find if they are immersed in deep water it ruins the leaves.

Photographs (mostly) by Clare West.


Next up will be my favourite Spring flower – Ranunculus.

The Cultivated Palette Series – Anemones


I have been picking Anemones in our tunnels today, they have started flowering a month earlier than expected this year, which to be honest is a bit of a pain as I am not in the full swing of weddings, farm gate sales or deliveries. So that means I get to have them in the house – great, generous vasefuls…what decadence.


Looking back at my blogs I discover that I have written about them before in ‘Anemone Crush‘, I class them as one of my best sellers and a welcome bit of colour and cash flow after a long winter.


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They are good little moneymakers with each corm producing up to twenty stems over a prolonged period of at least two months.

I am always intrigued at what makes a flower popular and I think in the case of the Anemone it has a multitude of assets to persuade people to buy, including it’s jewel-bright colours to jolt us out of our winter hibernation, a surprisingly long vase life and an irresistible sense of nostalgia.

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I source my corms from France and as they are cut flower grade they are expensive, more than Ranunculus claws so this is important to bear in mind when/if you are selling the cut flowers. They are bred in Israel (hence the biblical names), I have tried all the varieties and prefer Galilee, particularly the pastel range, which has stonking stems and good resistance to Botrytis which is an issue when growing in tunnels over winter.

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If you are not blessed with a tunnel or greenhouse I would recommend the Jerusalem strain for outdoors with a generous mulch, or opt for a Spring planting instead.

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I try to get the corms tucked up in the polytunnel by late September/early October, as I find later plantings are never as productive. The growing area must be well prepared, we till in plenty of organic matter and give the bed a good soaking a few days before planting. Good, even moisture is essential particularly in the first couple of weeks, so we irrigate regularly during this period with 3-4 lines of t -tape across metre wide beds.


I soak the corms for about 24 hours before planting which helps to get them shooting quickly, but also makes it easier to see which way is up! They are dibbed in at about 20cm apart.

You may find voles are an issue, they love feasting on Anemone corms and can devastate a crop if not deterred. We use a combination of cats, garlic, chilli, traps, mole repellents and physical barriers. I know it sounds a bit over the top but this arsenal does seem to work.

Depending on temperature they normally start to flower in late February and then all you should have to do is keep picking.

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Anemones are one of the flowers I tend to pick myself as I have found people struggle to see when they are at the right stage. Too tight (or as I call it unripe) and they never reach their full potential.

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When they first emerge their heads are bowed down, wait until till they are pointing upwards and slightly open with the eye peeking at you.

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I condition mine for 24 hours in bunches of ten with a band at the top and bottom of the stems, this helps to set them straight.

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Once the crop has finished we clear and compost the corms. Anemones are prone to virus spread by aphids and I find they are never as good the following year, plus I need the precious covered space for the next indoor crop.

Next month I will be looking at tulips, my favourite varieties for cutting and the tricks to getting a quality cut stem which would make the Dutch blush!


All pictures by Clare West Photography