Thursday, 19 March 2015

Rotten luck and quick results.

I've just had a poke in the blank, undisturbed pots which house my anemone corms.  I'd had them in the cellar to try to force them into slightly earlier sprouting, but having seen no signs of life, moved most of them into the greenhouse.  Still nothing.  However, one little pot in the porch has started to show stirrings in the compost during the last couple of days.

The lack of activity in its blank-faced contemporaries led me to conduct investigations.  Using a pen as my probe, I firked around the compost until I met with the little truffley nuggets which are the swollen corms of the anemones.  I uprooted one to investigate, and found that despite it maintaining its shape, it had turned into a splodge, rather than a nugget, and oozed whitely when poked.  Oh dear. That's not going to grow.  The lesson to learn from this is that I MUST remember to make a really sharply drained potting mix next time I plant them and perhaps water more sparingly to boot.

But for every tragedy there is a triumph.  Sowed seeds of achillea 'Ptarmica' a few days ago and read with a heavy heart that 'germination may take between one and three months'.  Spotted a fleck of green on the surface of the seed tray when peering through the condensation of the propagator lid, pulled it out of the fuggy warmth, and found a whole downy crop of sprouters populating the surface of the compost.  Yippee!  Result! So for my 12 deceased anemones, I have about 200 achilleas....

Gardening in my view is muck, magic and learning lessons.  Like British football teams in Europe, a lot of what we sow doesn't make it to the finals.  But if something fails, just sow something else. There are lots of seeds in a packet and the law of averages tells me that if I keep going, I'm bound to get something to grow.  It seems to have worked so far!

British cut flowers, Birmingham.  Tuckshop Flowers
Last year's pink achillea  - this year's will be white.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mission theoretically possible

I'm on a mission.

My allotment is going to be good this year.

Every year I say this, and most of these years, I fail!  But this year is going to be different.....  I've made a good start with the  half plot - it looks so spick and span that it appears that Dave the Tidy Man has taken it over.  But no, it is the work of ME!  That messy-round-the-edges, slightly chaotic gardener who has the shaggy patch of currant bushes and ankle breaking potholes next door.

I'm even on the way to eliminating the bear traps which masquerade as paths - they're a legacy of when my children used to have a penchant for digging to Australia on the plot - and while a bit of gentle subsidence and weathering has done a great deal to moderate their handiwork over the years, the literal pitfalls of allotment life, remained in evidence.    In my new incarnation as virtuous creator of tidy plots, I'm making it my mission this month to get paths that go right across the two plots, from one side to the other, to make life easier with my wheelbarrow.

This has involved digging out forests of raspberry canes that barred the way at a junction, necessitating a few sharp wiggles (tricky with a full load in the barrow!), and levelling the ground somewhat with some fairly major earthworks.

But lo - now a passable route has appeared... the only work which remains is to cover the cardboard weed-smothering layer on the newly excavated area with some of the wood chip mountain which still lurks down at the bottom of my own garden.

Another sound bit of sense which has emerged through the new path system, is that the plot is now effectively chopped into three sections - I know for the perfect crop rotation it should be four sections - but having any sort of systematic way of thinking about the plot is a new treat for me!

Perhaps I'll get a rush of blood to the head and go for the fourth section before the month is out. But then again... maybe next year.

Outside the sun is burning off the last vestiges of mist, the greenhouse needs opening to let the fresh air circulate around its residents, and more work needs to be done.  So I'd better get out of my unsartorial pyjamas, stop writing and go and actually do it!

Let's look back at the blog in 6 months time and see if the resolution has been upheld.  I set my jawline in determination at this point.  This WILL be the year.  Maybe...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Putting away winter

Usually February is a fallow time, with only mental gardening to while away the drizzly dank days.  My long silence on the blog is an indicator that this February has been far from quiet - it started with meeting up with other growers at the beginning of the month to hatch plans to mark British Flowers Week in June, progressed to an application for a stand at a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) show, and finished this week with meeting other local(ish) members of the British Flower Collective, followed by a giving a talk on cutting gardens to a local gardening club.  And all of this was punctuated by Valentines Day, and a rush of funeral flowers for both natural burials and traditional funerals.

Today felt like a day off, with nothing to rush off to, so made the most of this welcome hiatus by planting out my September sown cornflowers into the borders.  They're such sturdy plants now that I can't see the point in potting them on again - I think it's time to let them get out into the big wide world after spending their juvenile years penned up in a cold, draughty greenhouse.

I'm slowly working my way around the garden, clearing away the dead stems of dried out perennials from last year, cutting back the dog-legged stems of roses and dreaming of where to plant my many new roses.

At least the garden looks like it is almost getting ready to do something.  Fat buds are forming on the hazel (which I think I'm going to chop right down to ground level as I don't want a tree, but the long straight wands it will throw up after being coppiced would make handy supports for lots of my plants).  The mature hazels at the allotment have been a brilliant resource this month when making bouquets - their dangling yellow catkins are wonderful combined with spring flowers in a bunch.

Wedding flowers Birmingham.  Spring buttonholes by Tuckshop Flowers.
Catkins and ivy berries add texture to these spring buttonholes


Tulips are poking their noses out of the earth in my big zinc tub, and the ones which still remain in the raised bed, over planted with ranunculus and protected by horticultural fleece are really starting to motor into growth.  Funny, as I could have sworn I'd dug most of them out in autumn to make way for the ranunculus.  I'm obviously not as ruthless as I thought.

Only 3 more days to go until March, but I'm not going to sow too many seeds too early - just don't have the indoor space to keep them going until May, so better to delay for a couple of weeks more yet.  It's a bit like being held on the starting blocks once the 1st of March clicks into place on the calendar.

It's been a busy start to the year, so here's hoping it continues in the same vein!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Recycled Rootrainers

With my last seed order, I ordered what I thought were Root Trainers, reusable long thin plastic containers, hinged in the middle to release their deep rooted contents when the time comes to plant out.  These were to be  a special treat for my sweet pea seeds, which are usually left to find their way, planted 3 seeds to a 10cm plant pot.

But when my root trainers arrived, they weren't quite what I thought they were going to be:  my mistake entirely for not reading the catalogue carefully enough.  They weren't the reusable plastic versions that I'd imagined, but instead were a kind of rough, semi-durable material, formed into cylinders.  They'll still do the job for which they were intended in a most splendid fashion - and the seeds will be delighted at the lack of root disturbance which their new homes will  guarantee as the whole thing can just be planted into the ground where it will gently biodegrade as the seedlings grow and prosper.

Which is all very fine, but these new purchases have set me off on a new collection with which to annoy my family.  (The younger members roll their eyes at my nests of old china teacups and pressed glass vases - blind to their own heaps of childhood jumble which creep from room to room until their progress is checked).  But at least my new collection is guaranteed to be short-lived.  For my new passion is  loo rolls.  Or more specifically  the cardboard tubes from the middle of toilet paper.  These will do exactly the same job for me as my specially purchased cylinders - their only drawback being that the cardboard does tend to get a bit squishy and rather alarmingly 'hairy' as they sit in the greenhouse whilst germinating their resident seeds.  My way to combat this is to use them for later plantings in March which will spend less time in the greenhouse and be moved relatively quickly into the ground.

I'll treat them the same way as my 'posh' planting cylinders - put them in a tray lined with green, felty, capillary matting to keep the open bottoms of the cylinders moist and to allow them to take up the water they need.
Recycled containers for sweet peas

And it will be interesting to see how many loo rolls we get through between now and March….

Friday, 23 January 2015

Annuals for the cutting patch - top picks

Nip on over to the Tuckshop Flowers blog to find out what made me drool on my seed catalogues this year….  and my two favourite annuals for the cutting garden.



grow your own cut flowers, worskhops Birmingham with Tuckshop Flowers

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

I dig no dig

I dream of creeping buttercup and bindweed roots after a session at the allotment.  Even as I sleep, I know they are poking their snaky tendrils out into my newly dug soil, filling my blank canvas with exuberant growth of the wrong sort, the minute my back is turned.

So this year I'm experimenting.  Instead of trying (and failing) to deal with weeds by digging, I'm going to try Charles Dowding's 'no dig' method.  This involves covering areas with biodegradable materials (e.g. cardboard) to prevent light reaching the soil, and then topping them with a mulch of organic matter  thereby providing a rich, friable growing media which is ready for planting. Flower growers I know who've adopted it have reported that it was much more effective than traditional digging in keeping perennial weeds at bay, and in reducing the general weed population.

It all sounds like a very good plan, except that evil weeds like bramble, bindweed and dock will have to be tackled before cardboard can go down as their roots are so indestructible, that, like post-holocaust cockroaches, they'll just keep on keeping on.  But, according to Charles Dowding's website, a couple of inches of organic matter on top of the soil should be enough to see off creeping buttercup (one of my worst enemies at the allotment), and perhaps even the grass.

I've saved lots of the Christmas cardboard delivery boxes, all stomped flat, in my garage for the purpose. The next job is to ferry them down to the allotment, lay them down on the soil, and then weigh them down either with mulch or odd bricks to stop them becoming airborne in the current windy conditions.

The local garden centre is currently selling off last year's compost at a large discount, so I may go and invest in some of that to boost my home-made supply to provide a sufficient quantity of mulch.  Along with visiting horse-lodging establishments to relieve them of some of their manure…  I sense a smelly January coming on!


Have you tried gardening using similar methods?  What  were the results?


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Favourite containers

By now, you all know my fetish for old china teacups, but it's hard to pin down one favourite container for flowers.  In this post, I'm inviting you to post pictures of your own alternatives to the glass vase - so come and join in the fun….

I'm just experimenting with setting up a blog on my Tuckshop Flowers website, so this is where you'll find the post.  Bear with me as I work all the tech-y bits out!


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year from a happy flower grower

Another year is here.  What will it bring, I wonder?  Lots of flowers and a new growing space would be top of my wish list (along with a polytunnel and more local business links in 2015).

It's funny how the year passes in a whirl of activity from March til December but as soon as the New Year's Eve celebrations are over and Christmas put away for another 12 months, my fingers and mind itch to get started on the next growing year.  My second seed order was placed last week and my mind is now constantly roaming over what new cutting varieties I'm going to find space for in the coming months.


I am, however, fully intending to remain strong and bolt down my seed packets until March - not a lot of point in making early sowings until the daylight levels are extended with the imminent arrival of spring.  I made an exception for a very late sowing of self-collected sweet pea seeds yesterday, which I've put in my unheated porch as I need red sweet peas for late May wedding flowers in Birmingham.  I will have to murmur words of encouragement to the sproutlings on a regular basis… and hope that a lot of them are indeed red like about 50% of the parent plants.

This will be one of my first bright coloured weddings with hot oranges, yellows and reds.  Nearly all wedding requests to date have been for pastels and blush shades, so it is nice to have something different.  I'm providing the bride with buckets of flowers which friends and family will arrange for the wedding themselves.  A lovely idea to get people involved in the day - and one of the ways I got started on this path myself, so you never know, I might even germinate some more local flower folk!  My first DIY wedding flowers order, so it will be interesting to see how it all works.

Flowers from the Farm is a network of British flower growers working throughout the UK.
Photo courtesy The Great British Florist
It's been lovely to meet so many other local growers in 2014 as part of my role as regional co-ordinator for Flowers from the Farm, a network of British flower growers nationwide.  We had our first West Midlands meeting in January, and have met up every couple of months as a group ever since, but nearby flowery neighbours met via this route are seen regularly.  Being part of something bigger has been good for developing my expertise and my network - I now know who I can call on for more supplies and helping hands, whilst all the time keeping things local!  Judith of Pollen Floral Joy has become a key ally for moral support and is a very handy brain to pick for ideas and collaborative projects like our crowning of Bully, Birmingham's iconic Bullring bull for British Flowers week in June.

Knowing there are other people out there, willing to share growing and business expertise is invaluable and makes single-handed self-employment much less like being a horticultural hermit.  Far from it. Flower growing has thrown me into a generous world full of green-fingered folk and I'm loving every minute of it.

January sees me resolve yet again to get my allotment shipshape - my half plot section is already something like ready, with beds weeded and covered with weed suppressing membrane to hold back the insidious self seeders and their bid for world domination.  The scruffy big plot however, still needs some serious attention and as ever, I vow that this year I will get the path layout right to enable better access across the plot.  I've got a massive heap of woodchippings which I scrounged from tree surgeons working in the neighbourhood, and I plan to press this handy waste product into service, laid down over some cardboard in the alleys which I earmark for paths.  I sense a whole lot of earthmoving coming on.  Let's hope for a drier winter than 2014 if it is all going to get done before planting starts in spring.

What jobs have you prioritised on your plot for this year?

I wish you all a happy, fruitful and floriferous 2015.


Seasonal British flowers.  Homegrown flowers for weddings Birmingham

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like wreathmas….

A long lapse since my last post - my life seems to have been consumed by round things and Christmas markets!  So to give you a peek at what I've been up to, here are a few glimpses to put you in the picture:

Fresh handmade wreath, Tuckshop Flowers, Birmingham
Making fresh Christmas wreaths for local delivery. Here's one I made earlier.


Christmas wreath making workshop, Birmingham B30

Christmas wreath making workshops, Birmingham B30.. Tuckshop Flowers.
Running wreath making workshops
Tuckshop Flowers Birmingham B30 for wedding flowers, funeral flowers and events.
Selling at Christmas markets in South Birmingham





Friday, 21 November 2014

What's it like to be a flower grower in winter?

The Tuckshop Garden in winter
Brrrrr…….. Luckily this is not the scene just yet….


I was recently asked by Modern Mint, a Essex-based landscape gardening company and curators of garden writing, to contribute a guest post to their blog on this topic.

So for this week's blog entry, we need to wander over to their site…. (click here)