Saturday, 11 October 2014

Rip it up and start again

….in the words of eighties band, Orange Juice.

Following my own advice, today saw me tearing out snapdragons which were covered in brown pustules of rust, making their leaves about as appetising as that description suggests.  They were still flowering, so I was sorry to deal them an untimely end.  Into the bag and off to the great compost heap in the sky… but not onto my own.

I've got to wait for the frosts to come and get the dahlias, and then I can clear the whole patch - could it be my tulip bed next spring I wonder?  Have recently ordered yet another load of bulbs - this time for a brightly coloured wedding in late May, so am looking forward to some zingy pings in the border.

I'm not using the raised bed for tulips again this year, not because it was unsuccessful, but because it has hosted them for the last two years.  It is therefore time to introduce incoming stock to pastures new (and to hoick out the old stock as flowering decreases after a couple of years).

I will probably use the raised bed to plant out the ranunculus which I've started off in the greenhouse - it could be the good spot for them as long as I can keep them watered as they like damp conditions. The bed may be a bit free-draining, left to its own devices.  The reason I've earmarked it is that in the absence of a large undercover growing space, the raised bed is probably the easiest patch in the garden to construct a mini-tunnel for - and the flowers will need protection from the rain if I'm to get a good crop to use at market.  I'm obviously turning into my dad as I squirrelled away the heavy-duty plastic which my new sofa came wrapped in, specifically for this purpose.  I may or may not show you my gimcrack construction, depending how hideous it is!!

After today's clearing and chopping session, my central border looks considerably bigger - not only is it enjoying temporary respite from ground elder, but it's also enjoying a bit more light as I've cut back the spirea shrub whose arching branches were gradually shading out an ever larger area.  I've reduced it by about two thirds by cutting out old branches from the base - this has left the remaining ones still with a graceful shape, but the shrub now has much reduced bulk.  Also took out some of the low hanging branches of the acer negundo which looms above it, so it feels almost airy and open - at least when compared with the leafy cavelike structure it resembled earlier in the day.

Planted the remaining narcissus and daffodil bulbs from my 25kg delivery in this rather shady patch - they should be up and out before the tree comes into full leaf next year, so should enjoy the benefits of being early season plants.  I'll probably dig half of them up by accident later, but as they're not too precious to me, it's a risk I'm prepared to take.

My September sown cornflowers are thriving in the greenhouse and the first of the temperamental larkspur seedlings were spotted on a watering inspection this afternoon.  I will, I will, I will grow larkspur more effectively in 2015. Repeat 100 times.  Just have to clear a few more areas in order to have somewhere to put them all.

Will leave you with a nice bunch of autumnal dahlias, picked this morning. All the more precious because they aren't going to be around for a whole lot longer as the nights get colder and frost creeps ever closer.  The 'f' word has been mentioned on quite a few recent weather forecasts, but has not yet put its tentacles into my urban garden.  Hooray for city living!

Cafe au lait dahlias in a relaxed bunch of British flowers

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Sliding into autumn

Outside the first grey skies of October are dumping, at last, significant rain onto the garden after a very dry September.  This morning my radiators even came on, reminding me that we really are heading deeper into autumn.  The dahlias are starting to look like girls returning home from a heavy night out - a bit bedraggled with deceased hairdos  and looking generally the worse for wear.  Foliage is coming into its own and the ivies are flowering like mad things, which is always great for the bees.

And, I'll let you into a secret.  I've got chrysanths in my greenhouse.  Oh yes I have.  Never thought I'd see the day when the scourge of the garage forecourt became part of my growing plans. They have resulted from a combination of several things - a desire for some late autumn flowers, a big buzz about them on the Britishflowers twitter hour last autumn, but mainly the fact that they were selling these particular plants off cheap at the garden centre earlier in the year.

orange chyrsanthemum in a glass globe

And you know what…. I actually quite like them. Not that I'll be able to find them again, as they were surely mislabelled.  I bought them thinking I was buying a tray of reflexed globular Japanese style 'mums in a deep shade of russet orange, but instead, I have a combination of flatter, slightly spiky burnt orange blooms and some off pink lovelies which are just starting to open.  I adore the colour tints on these pink ones and can't wait to get some stems snipped for some arrangements just for me…

pale pink chrysanthemum

At least now I know what to put on my list when my plans for floral world domination extend to incorporate a polytunnel….

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Janus-headed gardener

I'm gearing up for my last flowery market of the season on Saturday.  It all feels very autumnal with hydrangeas and dahlias in their rich colours, along with hips, haws and other berries.

But just as I'm looking at the end of my market stall year, I'm looking at the start of the next season, planting daffodils and alliums for next spring and sowing hardy annuals in the greenhouse.  So far, my cornflowers have been amazing - up and at 'em just two days after sowing!!  Calendula, scabious and a grass which is new to me - agrostis Nebulosa - are all zooming along, trying to keep up with their neighbours.  Ranunculus which I planted in the greenhouse border are also putting up their first tentative leaves and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good spring crop next year.

I've got anemone 'Galilee' corms winging their way to me via Royal Mail as we speak; tulips resting patiently til November in the cool, dark garage, and the allotment seed catalogue calling loudly to me from the living room.  I think didiscus is going to be my new flower to try in 2015 as I fell in love with it at a recent meeting of flower growers when I saw it in the flesh.

2014 has been a good year for Tuckshop Flowers and we seem to have poked our flowery heads a little further above the parapet into the public consciousness.  Hopefully all these seedlings that I'm nurturing now will find a good home in a new patch of land in 2015 so that I can grow my business even further.

Picking autumn raspberries at the allotment yesterday, it didn't feel like two minutes since the start of spring, and yet there I was, along with other plot holders, clearing out finished crops and doing the first bits of winter digging.

But before we get to next spring, we have a spot of wreath-making to do over the Christmas period, so I'd better toughen up my hands and keep a beady eye out for wreath ingredients.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Amused by being a muse!

I've just been given a lovely thank you from one of my customers who picked up a bunch from my farmers' market stall.  She'd forgotten her purse, but as she was someone I knew, I told her not to worry about it and we'd settle up some other time.  So off she went with a small jam jar posy to put on her kitchen table.

Not only did I get payment, I also got this:

A lovely interpretation of her bunch, made by her mother-in-law on an iPad.  I don't think I've ever seen a picture where I know each element so intimately and was delighted to see that my flowers inspired such creativity - proof that it's not just me that thinks they're beautiful!  I really love it and all that remains is for me to find it a suitable frame and location.  Now I'll  have to give her another bunch, to say thank you in return.  Do you think this cycle could just keep going?

Monday, 15 September 2014

September seeds

Wow!  Where have the past few months gone?

My lack of blog posts is a sure indication of clement gardening weather and a busy time on the flowery business front.

Now we're already in September and I'm mentally time travelling into next year's flowers.  A quick rummage in the fridge, where my seeds are kept, reveals the source material for a forest of cerinthe, cornflowers, corn cockles, larkspur and vivid orange calendulas.  And as it is raining this morning, I feel a greenhouse sowing session coming on.  All these hardy annuals can be sown now while there is still some warmth left in the season and this gives them the chance to build up a healthy root system as the weather cools and discourages them from putting on lots of top growth.  They won't be much to look at until spring next year when their rooty headstart will allow them to burst into life well ahead of any seeds sown in the early spring.

And even before the shops start playing Christmas carols, if you want indoor bulbs in flower for the festive season, between now and mid-October is the time to plant them.  Leave them somewhere dark and cool and just moist (not wet) until the growth is about 5cm tall, then bring them into cool and light conditions to put on a final flowery burst.  Hyacinths will need about 3 weeks in the light before they flower.  This year, I'm forcing prepared hyacinths, white and blue crocuses and pretty blue grape hyacinths (muscari).  Lots of limboing up and down from my three quarter height cellar with the tricky steps….

But later I'll have lots of these:
forcing hyacinths indoorsforcing crocus indoors 

And now I'll get out into to the greenhouse which I cleared at the weekend - it's now bare apart from 4 denuded stems of tomato plants with lots of green fruits, and the indoor chrysanths which I rescued from the garden centre sell off earlier in the season.  I've never grown chrysanthemums before, so am curious to see what they do (in spite of my neglect!).  I don't know what it is about things that grow under cover, but once they get beyond the stage where I would naturally plant them out, I lose interest in them and tend to leave them to their own devices.  My garden may flourish, but my houseplants all wither as a result.  I've just killed off my last houseplant, a very hardy parlour palm which has hung on for about 8 years.  It has now been replaced by dried flowers which I don't need to take any care of.  Bad mother.

Another month of flower markets to go, and then my brain has to really switch into Christmas mode, organising venues and supplies for wreath-making workshops, planning my range of plants and products for Christmas markets and drilling those china teacup planters for all that I'm worth!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Right weeds, right place.

Serendipitous weed growth is what I like.

Hidden under netting, my little crop of peas has been coming along nicely over the past few weeks.  But each time my eyes wandered over to them as, crook-backed, I picked the laden blackcurrant bushes, I shuddered at the sight of the yellow flowers and bindweed, twining their insidious way through the black fabric of the protective net.

My horror turned to jubilation when yesterday, with blackcurrants finally and safely gathered, I was able to turn my attention to other harvests.  Peas, fat and juicy in their pods, hung from stems which ignored the twiggy sticks I'd supplied as supports.  Instead, the woody stems of the weeds which had sprouted up amongst my careful sowings did the job admirably.   I wouldn't normally be grateful for a crop of weeds, but for every plant there is a time and place: and this time, happily, I found it.

If you know the name of this yellow-flowered pea supporter, let me know for future reference!

If you know the name of this yellow-flowered pea supporter, let me know for future reference!

Monday, 7 July 2014

And they wore flowers in their hair….

CoCoMad is our local festival - a free affair comprising of dad-bands, tasty local food, hand painting, face painting, henna painting and any other type of painting you care to mention.  Along with drum-bashing, wood-whittling, teddy-naming and many a hyphenated activity.

Decorated trollies arriving at the park announce the start of festivitiesA trolley dressed as an owl.

In my case, it was flower-crowning.

Tuckshop Flowers selling British Flowers at CoCoMad in BirminghamReady for action - crown making station.

 As I sat in front of the World Cup footy on Friday evening, threading cornflowers onto wire stems, I did wonder if I was a bit mental.  But no.  The flowery hunch paid off, and crowns were very much the festival thing in the Saturday sunshine.  And the great thing is that they made everyone really happy,  from the violet-shirted cub scout girls with cornflowers adorning their curls, to the women who hadn't worn flowers in their hair since their wedding days years ago.

The crowns proved popular at the festival

If you can't sprout a hair flower at a festival, when can you?  And so they flourished, keeping my wiring and fixing fingers busy well into the late afternoon.  The more people they adorned, the more interest they generated. Indeed the steward ushering cars off the field at the end of the day said they'd really be one of the abiding memories of the event.  The smiles they put on people's faces really made my day - whether on the faces of people looking on, or on those wearing them - my flowery adornments clearly gave a lot of pleasure.  I was very, very chuffed!  Especially when I got a few men to sport them too.

The word about Tuckshop Flowers has definitely spread a little further into the locality as they really got noticed.   All in all, a job well done.

A local policeman gets into the festival spirit with a flower crown.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

From seed to stall.

Gardening for one of my clients yesterday, we got chatting about jobs and the bits of them that we don't see.  Her husband is a retired gemologist and used to choose the raw stones to be cut and set by one of Birmingham's fine jewellery companies.  It's a long journey from a lump of rock to a finely cut sapphire and we were musing on how little we think about what goes into the various end products that we use or wear everyday - and its the same with a bunch of flowers.

When my stall is set up for markets, people constantly murmur and exclaim about how pretty it all looks (and smells, if I'm not set up next to a generator or sausage stall!!) and that, I guess, is combined result the loveliness of flowers, and the art of presenting them.  But behind that visual appeal, what makes them different from other flower stalls?

Firstly, they are all locally grown - cut the night before market and kept in the cool and dark to be fully hydrated before being arranged early the next day.  Secondly, they are different because I can offer varieties which aren't currently commercially grown on a huge scale because they're more delicate and don't travel brilliantly well - cornflowers have flown out of my buckets in the past few markets.  And thirdly, I love them!  I know their names, and in many cases I've watched them grow from seedlings, picked them, arranged them  and I'm sending them forth into the world to spread the word about British flowers.

I had a huge smile on my face at the last market when a gentleman, who'd bought a bunch of cornflowers and tansy daisies as  one of my first customers of the day, came rushing back half an hour later saying that they'd looked so gorgeous in his house that he come back for more flowers for his kitchen!    The two florists who've used them for wedding photo shoots recently have both said that my flowers had also stolen the show from their commercial counterparts, attracting universal oohs and aahs about their natural charms.

But it makes me smile, somewhat wryly, when people call them 'wild flowers' - having them on the stall (and in the garden) involves a bit more than a happy accident!  I know they mean that the flowers look natural, relaxed and just gorgeous in themselves, with that freshly picked feel (that's because they are).

So I thought I'd share the market day of some Tuckshop Flowers:

The evening before market, as the day fades and cools, the best blooms are picked and inspected, then left to fully hydrate in  water overnight.

Very early next morning- arranging and bunching begins - with a fortifying cup of tea.

 8.30am - the welcoming sights and smells of Tuckshop Flowers are ready for market opening time.

Come rain, come shine, the market bustles and there's lots of chat to be had about flowers with interested customers.

Any leftovers get labelled up with my details on lovely new cards (from Moo) and are sent out to work to do some marketing for me. They're delivered to hand-picked local cafes to spread the word about British flowers so when the last delivery of the day is done, finally it's time for sit down with a well-earned cup of tea!   And I wouldn't have things any other way…..

I've just ordered a copy of 'Gilding the Lily' - a book about the journey of imported cut flowers to market, and I think it is going to be a very different kind of read from the one above.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How does my garden grow?

A marmite jar of Tuckshop Flowers.

The most common comment I get on my market stall is:
 "Marmite jars!  What a good idea!"

The second most common is:
"Your garden must be lovely."

I think seeing a stall full of cottage garden flowers, people are intrigued as to where they have come from.  So for those of you who want a sneaky peek into the Tuckshop Garden, walk this way.

The Tuckshop garden before I took my spade to it.  Wall to wall lawn.
When we moved into this house, the garden was wall-to-wall lawn, with a few trees, tired shrubs and lots of ground elder and conifers.  First stop, tree surgeons.  In with the chainsaws and down with the conifers.  Light reached the soil and things started to grow - as did the ground elder (and still does - grrrr).  With every passing year, the amount of lawn is reduced and planting areas extended - much to the disgust of my eldest son who has a passion for petrol-powered lawn mowers.

The garden has changed over the years and continues to do so!
Some time after….
Even since this photo was taken, the planting areas have extended:  the expansive patio has now been reduced - a significant number of slabs have come out, and a largish border created in their place, further bringing the garden right up to the house.

Hard surfacing has given way to vegetation in my quest to extend the cutting garden.

It is a place of constant change - every season brings different flowers, and every year brings new areas coming under development, or old areas which had been left to their own devices getting a significant overhaul.  The one thing I've learned in my gardening life is that plants don't last forever.  And when they start to run out of steam, I'm afraid I'm quite ruthless.  Get them out, take cuttings or divide them where possible, and put something else in to fill the gaps.

Last week was spent culling all the aquilegia which put on such a lovely spring display.  But I know if I leave them in with their shapely seed heads rattling in the breeze, next year I'll have an forest of Granny's Bonnets nodding at me.  Pretty though that may be, I don't want the garden to be a mono-culture, so out with the secateurs and off with their heads.  And more often than not, out with their roots too to make way for some of my current crop of maturing seedlings  which are begging to be planted out.  It's the only way to keep things productive and to keep colour coming later in the season.

The tulips in my raised bed on the patio have been over planted with dahlias and sweet peas and these are now just starting to flower.  I'm so pleased I took the sledgehammer to this particular area of concrete as I now have something much nicer to look at out of my kitchen window.


I've got a tulip catalogue on my desk and a wish list in my head - so am already plotting and scheming about where I can make my tulip bed next spring, and what to use the raised bed for instead.  Tulips don't really flower brilliantly after they've been in for a couple of years, so the ones above are due for replenishment.  I always feel a bit guilty for abandoning flower stocks that have served me well, but getting them out gives me chance to put some goodness back into the soil with compost, leaf mould, manure and other such additions.  And as soon as the replacement plants start to flourish, I'm afraid I never look back!

So don't be afraid to overhaul scruffy patches, or be lenient with tired plants.  Prune them, split them or chuck them - but do these jobs in spring or autumn if you want them to regenerate elsewhere in the garden.

If you want to see more pictures of the garden, visit my Pinterest board.

This post has reminded me that I need to take some more photos of the garden as it is now - I've got lots of flower photos, but not so many of the garden as a whole.  Next project….