Monday, 30 September 2013

Last minute call up for end of season debut

Having last week posted about my final flowery stall of the season, I got a surprise phone call on Thursday night asking me to do a prestigious local Farmer's Market on Saturday. Couldn't really say no as I've been trying to get on it for ages, so...out came the scissors, purple buckets (and torch), and off the merry-go-round went again!

Spent Thursday night thinking "But what have I got? What can I sell?" and came to the conclusion that if I could muster flowers in April after a foot of snow the week before, I could come up with something in late September....

A session of sitting in the sunshine peeling the papery cases off honesty seedheads proved worthwhile, as I dressed up some of my dried herb wreaths with these, and the results proved popular on the stall.

The dahlias provided much of the bounty once again, bless them - such good bloomers (of the petalled kind).  Also taking a starring role were schizostylis coccinea 'Major', although my mind went completely blank when asked what they were by curious customers.  I could only think of the 'coccinea' part of their full name, as it puts me in mind of the red food colouring, cochineal.

Schizostylis adds late season colour and grows easily in UK gardens.
Schizostylis Coccinea Major

I decided that I should start an 'Aaaaaw, cute!' monitor, as it seemed to be an exclamation drawn from a large number of passers by as they gazed upon my stall.  Should set myself targets for how many I can extract from people at each market, and see if there is any correlation with my takings!

Had my first wedding meeting last week (for May next year) - the most laidback bride imaginable in terms of being relaxed about the small details, so that should be a kind introduction to this element of the floristry world.  Lots of teacups for tables, which is right up my street.  It's a win win situation as the bride to be gets teacups for her guests, and my guests get more room to swing cats etc as my spare room is currently crammed with china on every once-vacant surface.

Still have to plant all my spring bulbs to provide me with lots of fragrant narcissus, tulips and other lovelies, and to sort out my china teacup planters which I'll be selling with white crocuses as Christmas sets.  Lots of prepared hyacinths to force for the festive season too, so have now got to set my mind to the issue of what containers to use for those.  Ah the dilemmas of the day job.  Beats the educational funding minefield of my previous working life hands down!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sleigh bells in September

No, this post isn't a moan about music in department stores - not even they have started their Christmasitis yet.  It's simply that the flowers for my stall yesterday seemed to encompass the look of about three different seasons:

dahlia 'Peaches', salvia, alchemiila mollis and magenta dahlia 'Purple Gem', arranged in an informal bunch with cosmos 'Purity' and 'Seashells'.

The rich colours of faded hydrangea heads combine well with rosehips.  The up cycled beer bottle vase makes a perfect container!  (from

This screams Christmas!  Falstaff and Black Baccara roses with fennel and ivy flowers in a victorian fluted teacup. By Tuckshop Flowers.

So many vibrant colours still around - love the summery abundance of cosmos (at last, after a very slow start), dahlias and salvias which bring bright and brilliant hues to the first bunch.  I also adore the faded glories of hydrangea heads as they start to turn deep reds and greens as the colder weather comes along.  As soon as I put this clustered head together with rosehips, I thought "I know just the vase for this" and I was right - a cut off classic beer bottle from St Peter's brewery formed the perfect container for this combination.

And then there were the Christmas roses.  What a genius cup to set them off!  If only deep red roses bloomed in my garden in December... I know what I'd be selling lots of come the festive season...  I might just have to print this one out for Tuckshop Flowers Christmas cards!

Arranging flowers for this weekend's stall, I was also raging against the dying of the light.  At 5 o'clock in the morning, it was pitch black and even with the house lights on, I could barely see what I was arranging on the outside table. (Evil plan to turn garage into flower studio goes up by one notch at this point).  Swearing abounded until about 6.45am when the sun got switched on and made the world a better, lighter place.

When I returned from the market, I spotted a fabulous colour combination which had got left on the table.  Inevitably, some blooms are too spoiled and tatty for the stall, so get shoved unsentimentally into the compost bin.  But in my haste yesterday, I just shelved the rejects in a small vase and their colours leapt at me when I got home.  Tatty or not, they are now on my kitchen window sill and I am inspired by this combination - not something I would necessarily have planned, but wow!

Dahlia 'purple gem', rose ' Savoy Hotel' and dahlia 'Peaches'.
Faded beauties
The last flowery stall of the season is now done and dusted.  Have made it through my first year of flower selling and have enjoyed it hugely, but now have to cope with the flatness of the wind down.  Ah well. September sowings still to do, damsons to pick and an immense tidy up to be done everywhere to get things shipshape for next spring.  And a garage to transform??

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Dahlias of infinite generosity

The weather may be tending towards autumn, but those dahlias just keep on coming. Every time I look at my dahlia bed, I'm gobsmacked by the amount of flowers which have appeared since I last saw it.  Witteman's Best, the crimson dahlia, is still out there in front in terms of quantity and quality of blooms, and being reliably long stemmed - I really have fallen for that one in a big way.  Rip City, the dark, nearly black, beauty has been lovely, but has, in my experience, a tendency to be a bit short in the stem and hasn't had anywhere near as many flowery explosions as its scarlet cousin.

My forays into flower arranging have also led me to a new favourite colour combination which I will aim to replicate more in the garden next year - peaches and ... not cream.... but silver.  Definitely need more silver foliage plants next year.  Lambs Ears are a treat to arrange with and always a hit both in bunches, and in the garden. Variegated pittosporum is also lovely for a pale and delicate foliage, whereas artichoke leaves do big and dramatic very well.

Honesty provides a gorgeous silver counterpoint to dahlia 'Peaches' when you peel off the nasty brown seed casings.

My mission this year is to chop down and remove all viburnums except bodanentse 'Dawn' in an attempt to get rid of viburnum beetle which has decimated all of its hosts except the aforementioned lady.  Maybe they will migrate to her in the absence of any other hosts but it has to be worth a go.  I will miss them as I love their early, neat flowers and their metallic blue berries, but I'm sick of the ragged leaves and the stench of beetle havoc.  So, out they will come this winter, and instead, I plan to plant more variegated or silver foliage shrubs.  I have my eye on variegated cornus plants, as that is such a great shrub for dramatic winter stems and also for foliage for cutting.

I do need, however, a replacement evergreen to screen my compost bins if my sizeable viburnum 'Eve Price' is going to be relieved of her sentry duty in that part of the garden.  Suggestions on a postcard please...
Viburnum Tinus Eve Price, showing early signs of beetle attack. Sorry mate, but you're going....

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Blackberries: the pain and the pleasure

Nettle tingles and searing scratches ripple through my typing fingers this evening, and 6 jars of blackberry and apple jam stand on the worktop for my pains.  But despite the scars (and they are abundant), there is something deeply satisfying about blackberrying - it marks the end of summerness and the start of the slow slide towards autumn.  I love the fact that my children love it too - munching dark, stainy mouthfuls and spitting out seeds, reluctantly dislodged from dental crevices.

Why, my younger son asks, do the best berries always dangle from the most inaccessible part of the bramble eruption?  Not quite so inaccessible to my longer arms, but still an annoyingly uncomfortable and often scratchy reach.  Dress carefully for such forays - tough old jeans, long sleeves and boots to stomp down the accompanying nettles - or regret it at your peril.

An afternoon of bush-lurking, to the backing track of of Sunday league ladies football ("Come on! We can DO this.") has resulted in about 3 kilos of blackberries, some of which have been dispatched to the deep freeze until I buy further lemon and sugar stocks to foster the next bout of preserving frenzy.  

But look at these almost metallic beauties with their juicy juice-bags.  Yum, yum, yum. Ouch, ouch, ouch. More painful than Estonian mushrooming, but just as satisfying.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Autumn rains

Hedge cutting in the rain today, admiring a client's tree, heavy with figs.  Seemed funny to pluck a ripe fig under grey West Midlands skies, but the sticky pulpy fruit was none the less delicious for it.  What a great summer we've had.  Sunshine, showers and more sunshine.  It might not even have gone completely yet either, just having a rest?  Let's hope we can eek it out for a little longer.  Sooooooo much better than last year's dismal effort at seasonality anyway.

A good fruit year with abundant damson crops.  Yippee!
My dahlias are still going bonkers, raspberries, apples and damsons are drooping in weighty bundles and the spires of gladioli puncuate my borders.  I guess that means it is September - and I still haven't been blackberry picking. A lack of purple jam tells its own tale so I don't think scoffing hedgerow fruits with my son on the way back from school counts as proper blackberrying.

A grabbed trip to the allotment on Monday night gifted me a carrier bag of runner and French beans, a hessian shopper full of eating apples, a collection of turnips and a to do list which includes digging up the rest of the potatoes and tying up the tomatoes properly in an attempt to help them ripen before the frosts arrive.  They are scrambling all over the floor at the moment. Bad, bad, BAD allotmenteer.

On the flowery front, I also need to get my September sowings in.  Based on last year, I'm going to sow in trays in the greenhouse, with just a couple of direct sowings in the garden as a point of comparison.  Can't believe that I've nearly completed my first year as a flower grower and have to say that I've loved it, despite the early mornings!

Allotment open day arrives on Saturday and the forecast is for more rain.  I might not get around to any cakery makery, but will be able to donate a bucket of mixed flowers and a rather wimpy gazebo to the allotment cause.  I just hope that plot inspection is not imminent - especially by an expert tomato grower...

Dahlia 'peaches' with lambs ears.
Dahlia 'peaches'

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Treasure troves and happy accidents

"Very Michelle Obama" remarked my mum as I waltzed in, all dressed up in my embroidered flowery skirt for her golden wedding do.

"I bet she didn't get hers from the St Mary's hospice shop though" was my prompt response.

Indeed, while visiting the town of my youth in search of non-chrysanths and un-carnations to boost my flowery haul for the said do's flowers, I also popped into the various charity shops in search of more buried treasure to show off my lovely blooms and to grace future wedding tables when my eclectic charms get more widely recognised...

Charity shops cannot be praised enough.  Below is a taste of what other people's unwanted tat, or "rammel" as my Derbyshire dad would term it, can look like with a bit of flowery love:

vintage blue ceramic basket with country posy
Who coud resist a vintage 50s ceramic basket for table flowers? Fell in love with that blue.

teacup arrangements for a golden wedding
Golden wedding teacups - you know these are my favourites by now!

The pearlescent glaze of this simple jug sets off the fading tones of this hydrangea.

Wasn't planning the jug or basket combinations, but had the containers to hand to stuff cut bits in. The hydrangeas were only put in the jug to condition, but go with it absolutely perfectly. Don't think I'm ever going to paint that garage door again either as I've now discovered it makes a great backdrop for photographing flowers...

...don't you think?