Friday 7 August 2015

I'm moving!

A new blog has landed.  I'm bringing my schizophrenic online life to a close, and my blog now lives on my website so if you'd like to follow my doings, please catch up with me there.

Thanks for following Tuckshop Gardener, hope to see you over at Tuckshop Flowers!

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Popping Up for British Flowers Week 2015

A few pics from my pop-up shop with More By Design - great fun, and I think the flowers looked right at home in their stylish surroundings.

Photographs courtesy of More By Design.

More by Design and Tuckshop Flowers collaborate for British Flowers Week 2015Tuckshop Flowers at More By Design, Birmingham.  Floral cake stand - perfect for wedding flowers!

Vintage cruet with cornflowers.  Tuckshop Flowers Birmingham.  Weddings, funerals and events flowers to order.Tuckshop Flowers pop up shop with More By Design.  British Flowers Week 2015
Calendula posy.  Tuckshop Flowers pop up for British Flowers Week 2015 with More By Design, Birmingham
More By Design, Birmingham.  British Flowers Week 2015

Tuckshop Flowers and More by Design collaboration for British Flowers Week 2015.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Oh Tuckshop Gardener, where have you been? I've been at the NEC to get flowers seen....

A pyjamaish slow start to the morning.  Luxury! And time, at last, to put my fingers to the keyboard.

Carole of Tuckshop Flowers, setting up at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2015
From this..... to this..... with lots of the co-operation and camaraderie typical of flower growers it seems!
Flowers from the Farm West Midlands at BBC Gardeners World Live 2015
to this.....
Flowers from the Farm survive BBC Gardeners' World Live 2015!

It's nearly two weeks since the maelstrom began, setting up our West Midlands Flowers from the Farm stand at the NEC for RHS BBC Gardener's World Live.  Having only attended the show as a visitor before, I had no idea what the exhibitors' experience would be, but having now come out of the other side of it, I feel nothing but positive about it.  It was absolutely fantastic, if exhausting!

Luckily, as we were showcasing British grown cut flowers, we didn't have quite the same stress levels as we would've had designing a show garden - at least with cut flowers, you can harvest only the ones which are looking great and pop them into position - not quite the same tricky business as trying to bring on plants to exactly the right stage of flowering in time for the show.  Just trying to do that for plants to fill our hamper and wheelbarrow displays was difficult enough!  Out of the three foxgloves potted up, only one chose to co-operate and put a flower spike up at the right time. Grrrrr.

Working closely with other local growers from the group was great - it was brilliant to get together with familiar faces again, and to meet new growers who haven't yet managed to make it to any of our West Midlands meetings.  Penny of Wayside Flowers, and Maria of The Flower Patch were invaluable in helping to organise the show and kept me going through thick and thin - I think our blend of skills and personalities made us something of a killer team!  Penny was calm and practical, and brought prior experience of exhibiting at the NEC on a corporate level to the table, Maria (and her family) was a treasure trove of handiness - knocking up blackboards, designing posters and leading the charge (voiceless, as it disappeared during the course of the show) during 'have a go' buttonhole sessions with visitors.  And then there was me - a bit Tiggerish in my over-enthusiasm at times, but dragging all and sundry in my wake.  Thanks to all who allowed themselves to be dragged (Polly, Judith, Kate, Jayne and Heather), to More By Design for the loan of the splendid chairs and to my mum for all her flower-related needlework.  

Visitors were really taken with the stand, and our information postcards about Flowers From the Farm disappeared as quickly as we could replenish supplies, obviously there's a lot of interest in locally grown flowers out there!  Asking visitors if they had heard of the organisation and its work, there was something of a mixed response - some had spotted us in the media previously, but for others we were the first point of contact.  After being bombarded by enthusiastic growers, lots of people left knowing more about British cut flowers than when they arrived!

Flowers from the Farm Highly Commended at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2015 for their stand of British flowersOur scented displays of relaxed country flowers were also snapped up as fast as we could scribble reservation names on labels on the final day, and several people told us "You're the best stand here". The RHS judges almost agreed, giving us second place in a beauty contest which we newbies didn't even realise we were part of.  I subsequently discovered that meant we'd won a prize of £200 which will be used for expenses for future shows now that we've discovered what we're capable of - a massive increase on our budget of unlimited goodwill which generated the impressive display above.  First prize in our sights next year??!!

Urban Herbs and Tuckshop Flowers reunion at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2015Even managed to catch up with old friends, Urban Herbs and to cheer an exhausted looking Kate with a flower crown in the final hours of the final day!

Lena of Big Allotment Challenge visits Flowers from the Farm at BBC Gardeners' Word Live
Lena from BBC2 Big Allotment Challenge visits 

Toby Buckland at BBC Gardeners' World Live 2015 - just round the corner from our stand
Toby Buckland looking a little scary at the Gardeners' World Theatre next door to our stand. Sorry Toby!

Monday 1 June 2015

Flowers and Custard

Flowers and Custard - British Flowers Week - Custard Factory

Just a wedding, some lovely funeral flowers and BBC Gardener's World Live to get through first! Take a look at the link above to find out more about what I'm getting up to for British Flowers Week 14-19th June.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Contemporary Green - The Chelsea Fringe

I was asked  to contribute to an collection of garden writing for a free e-book, edited by Darren Lerigo of Modern Mint, published as part of the Chelsea Fringe Festival.  It launches today and you can download it here to find out how a wide range of people answered the question:

 "How do you cultivate your garden?".

Find my answer on page 5!

Locally grown flowers in Birmingham.  Tuckshop Flowers B30.

Friday 15 May 2015

Onwards and upwards

Event flowers in Birmingham.  Locally grown, lovely and natural.  Tuckshop Flowers B30.

As you might surmise from the hiatus in blog posts, the world of Tuckshop Flowers is getting busier and busier as I frantically sow both literal and figurative seeds.  Above is a photo of the 100% Brummie event flowers supplied to Birmingham City University earlier this week for their Student Awards Ceremony.

In the literal world, I hope I'm coming to the end of the period where the propagator is a fixture on my kitchen worktop - as the weather gets warmer, the greenhouse should suffice to germinate even the most recalcitrant seed.  But those consistently warm days have not yet quite arrived and I had to have an emergency run down to the allotment with a roll of horticultural fleece to do some cosmos safeguarding on a chilly night earlier in the week.  You'll be pleased to hear there were no casualties due to frost.  Slugs have, however,  chomped all my dark 'Dazzler' seedlings in the Tuckshop garden, while leaving the white 'Psyche' variety untouched.  Haven't tried a taste test myself, so have no idea why it should be so.

In the figurative world, I'm preparing to exhibit at BBC Gardeners' World Live at the NEC, heading up the the Flowers from the Farm team.  Daunting, but exciting and a brilliant opportunity to reach a wider public with the British flowers message.  Hopefully the stand will also encourage a few people  to find the flowery path in future years too!  (And here's a discount code for tickets.)

British FlowersWeek, organised by New Covent Garden flower market  is also peeking just over the horizon from 15th-19th June, hot on the heels of Gardeners' World Live. For this celebration of British grown blooms,  I'm teaming up with the very funky More By Design, an interiors shop in my new favourite haunt, Birmingham's iconic Custard Factory.  More By Design are hosting my pop-up of locally grown arrangements, and I'm also going to do a few larger designs for their window display.

The shop team, Abbie and Heather have got equally over-excited about British Flowers Week and have just commissioned their designers to produce a range of greetings cards to accompany the event.  Wow - how things snowball!!  Will post a link when one becomes available.

And now I must go to sort out my plans for DIY wedding flowers next week, and for my 'Dying Matters' display for next Friday's event with A Natural Undertaking.  All systems go!

Sunday 12 April 2015

Cutbacks in the lavender department

Freshly sharpened secateurs glinting in the sunlight, I approached my overgrown lavender in the front garden.  Loved by bees, but possibly not by mum's pushing pushchairs past its thrusting exuberances….

Today it was tamed back behind the railings with some judicious snippage and is now an even, lower growing hedge.  I never want to get rid of the flower heads, so tend to leave my lavender pruning until growth restarts in spring.  A quick haircut now, and it encourages the plant to grow more bushily and form that nice, dense, perfumed thicket which I love so much.

And what to do with my prunings?  Some are used as cuttings, in readiness for the next generation of hedging.  The current plants all started out the same way 10 years ago, so I don't think they've got too much longer before woodiness takes over completely and straggling sprawl sets in, so I need to get some replacement plants thriving to take their place in the next couple of years. The cuttings I took last spring are all looking happy in their pots and are bushing out nicely.

To take lavender cuttings, cut a 10-15cm length of non-flowering stem just below a leaf node, and strip off the bottom leaves.  Fill a small plant pot with gritty compost and push the bare stem of the cutting in at the edge (helps the cutting form better roots if it's at the edge, rather than in the centre of the compost).  One plant pot should accommodate several cuttings.  Water, cover with a clear plastic bag secured with an elastic band and leave on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.  Cuttings should root within about 6-8 weeks. You can tell when they have taken as new growth will appear at the top.  If you're not sure, you can always tip the pot carefully and slide the compost out to check if roosts are appearing.

As for the rest of my copious quantity of prunings, they've been used as mulch around my working area and the compost bins.  Never has the composting area smelled so fragrant!

You can never have too much lavender.  If you are lucky enough to have a south facing frontage, it is the most community-minded bit of hedging you could wish for.  Not only do the insects love it, the passers by never fail to comment on the menthol tinged fragrance at pruning time.  So generous is it when in flower, that I don't even object to the school children running their hands along it and yanking off the odd head or two to accompany them on their way to and from school.  Lavender smells gorgeous and its glory should be shared!

how to take lavender cuttings in spring.

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!