Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Season stretchers

When the garden is a fairly blank muddy canvas from December to February, it is easy for the spirits to sink.  Borders brimming with flowers seem a million miles away at this time of year and it's hard to believe that they genuinely will return - even when I look in the greenhouse and see pots of sturdy ammi and ever-larger cerinthes, just waiting to leap out of their pots at the first sign of a lengthening day.

So it was with a quickening pulse that I seized upon some Christmas roses (Helleborus Niger) when I spotted them on my way back from a family park trip.  A bit of a bargain at just over two pounds a pot.

Tucked into a shady bed under the apple tree, they add a glimmer of brightness which will keep me going until all the cowslips and primroses in that patch get a shift on, later in the season.  These Nigers are a welcome addition to my hellebore family - I have Corsican hellebores from my own parents' garden - my dad gets fed up of them as they love his garden not wisely, but too well. There is much muttering about 'them green things' as he digs their straying seedlings out of his well tended vegetable patch.

The strangely named green hellebore 'foetidus' is already putting on a show of its first flowers, but no fetid smell is apparent. This one came from my sister, so adds more family connections to the hellebore gang.  I also have several 'Orientalis', which I have nurtured from babies after scooping them from their casually scattered birthplace at the feet of my mother-in-law's plant, and these now yield a sturdy and regular crop of flowers throughout spring. Cutting back their leaves (which get a bit grotty at times) to reveal the nascent flowers helps to display them at their best and stops them getting leaf blight in abundance.  Another job to add to my current tidying list.

Dusky pink flowers of hellebores oriental is have a drooping habit.

I will just have to wait for my new plants to start breeding and then I'll be able to pay all my relatives back with hellebores in kind!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Signs of life

Things are growing!
It may be soggy, but the first signs that things are still living in the cold, damp world outdoors are now visible in the garden.  A relief to the prowling gardener, desperate for seasons to turn and for the next year of plants to begin.

I suppose an enforced hiatus in the gardening calendar affords opportunities to do other things.

Lots of cake stands have been made, and teacups drilled in readiness for spring bulbs and violas.  Also lots of fellow flower folk were met in Devon, and tips and experiences exchanged.  It also gave me the perfect excuse to visit a friend whose path, it transpires, I haven't crossed for 5 years.  Indeed, her once-child has now morphed into a very large adult since he was last sighted as a 12 year old….  Which just goes to show how quickly time flies. And soon it will be spring again, so I shouldn't wish time away.

But perhaps the most important outcome of the British Flowers meet was that I was bossed into writing a letter enquiring about the abandoned walled garden which still dominates my gardening imagination.
Those who told me that if I didn't follow up on it, I'd regret it or always wonder "what if…" were right, I think.  So on my return, google was searched and a letter was sent.  What next? Hmmm.

However, without taking on any further land, I've still managed to increase my growing space, having spent the last few dry days digging over the viburnum-vacated patch and grubbing out the ground elder.  I was moaning in a previous post that the black plastic had failed to make an impact on this pernicious weed, but now have to revise my opinion.  Once a fork is jabbed into the snaky rooted mass to dislodge it,  the ground elder can be teased out of the beautifully friable compost layer that has accumulated on top of the plastic. And when the elder is removed, the plastic can be dragged back to reveal dry, diggable soil (a contrast to the adjoining soggy mass) and this can then be stripped of the somewhat desiccated roots which snake across its surface in their quest for light and moisture. Sadly, I've learned through bitter experience, that without a chemical blitz, ground elder is for life, not just for Christmas, but at least this way I get to remove a lot of it in one big purge.  Enough to have a new 10 foot square growing space at any rate.

Newly vacated
Death to the dominators...

I can tell, just by my quest for a photo of this spot in its previous state, that it was a fairly nondescript, unproductive area, as there is barely any record of it for the last couple of years.  Look forward to planting it up in a few months time and letting my seedlings get their roots into this fantastically compost enriched soil.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Joining flowery forces and growing a business

New Year, new resolutions.

Yes I'm trying to do a bit more exercise, yes I'm trying to eat virtuously and all the other stuff we all vow every time January 1st rolls around.  But perhaps more importantly on the flowery front, I've finally taken the plunge and joined Flowers From the Farm (FFTF), a network of British growers which has been at the heart of the upsurge of interest in locally grown flowers.

I always thought that self employment might be a lonely path and that I would miss the sociability of working with a bunch of other folk, but either I've become more self-contained in my old age, or my love of what I'm doing more than compensates for a lack of collegiate chat around the (often malfunctioning) photocopier.  But in this internet age, I feel very much connected to a whole new lot of like-minded people who pop up on twitter every Monday evening, and who share questions, bulk buying opportunities and nuggets of advice via Google groups daily.  I don't feel out on a limb, and I don't feel unsupported - it's all rather marvellous really!  I feel happy in my work, fulfilled and in control of my own work life, even if I still need to sort out the financial aspects of it all a bit more systematically.

This time last year, I was nervously applying for farmer's market stalls for my flowers and looking in from the outside, feeling very much like a kid who'd just arrived at a new, and slightly scary, school. But now various markets and events are taken in my stride (most of the time!), I am on tweeting terms with lots of well-established growers and can even go "OOOOOH, it's Gill!" when she (Gill Hodgson, one of the founders of FTTF) appeared on Rachel de Thame's BBC feature on British cut flowers in last week's 'Great British Garden Revival' programme along with fellow flower tweeter, Rachael Petherham.  Looking at Rachael's wedding jam jars, I felt a surge of pride that we grow such lovely things and make such lovely natural bunches!

Lovely, natural table centrepiece.

Even better, next week is the great #britishflowers twitter meet up in Cullompton, Devon and I'm very much looking forward to meeting the actual people behind the tweets for the first time and having more than 140 characters to share ideas in!  I'm also pleased to be hosting a flower tweeter from Glasgow later this year when she comes to do a wedding in Birmingham.

All of these lovely flowery networks help to nurture small enterprises and provide a very welcoming environment and an internet presence to promote the flowers we are all growing, on various scales.  They have helped me grow (both flowers and confidence) over the last year and made such a difference in every way. The past year has seen me go from looking at  Flowers from the Farm and thinking, "but I don't really qualify to join that group" to being a fully paid up member.  And that, in a nutshell, sums up the experience of 2013.  Looking forward to this one with my first wedding bookings in. May the sun shine on us all in the next twelve months!!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Revolution in the seed box and space on the bookshelves.

Small seed producers under threat?

Happy New Year and a floriferous 2014 to you all.

The lashing rains and winds have kept me indoors, going slightly stir-crazy, with only the odd nip into the greenhouse to pluck out mouldy seedlings or a quick snip around the flower borders to clear the brown limp leafy matter providing hidy holes for slugs.

But my indoor time has not been without its harvests. As I write my hallway is stacked with Victorian English authors, waiting to go to the charity shop.  This is due to the Yuletide arrival of my shiny new Kindle and the free availability of venerable books, no longer in copyright.  It is also due to the need for shelf space to house the reading library gifted to my kids this Christmas if there is to be any chance of  books being put back on shelves once they've been looked at.

Thus enthused by the desire for clear outs and fresh starts, I've cast my pruning eye upon the contents of my wardrobe, my library of ancient university folders and anything else that has lurked in a cupboard, untouched, for years gone by.

Nor has my seed box been exempt. I've made my annual lists of what I've got and ever-growing wish lists of what I'd like to grow in the forthcoming year.  I've even been online and let my enthusiasm run away with me in the face of tempting seed catalogues.  And I've also evicted things I know I won't plant this year - such as brussel sprouts and  cabbages - brassicas involve too much of my most hated gardening job i.e. netting things. Without such protection it isn't worth bothering with them at the pigeon feasting ground which is the allotment.  Also, brassicas are cheap to buy, take up lots of space and need time to mature into a worthwhile crop.  So…. into the compost bin they went.

Further victims were seeds which I partly sowed last year and which had patchy or non-existent germination rates (probably due to age, or to the cold start to 2013).  Also, where I have lots of seeds for a particular variety, I've put a batch aside to donate to the school gardens.

Everything has been filed, by sowing month, and is looking ready for action. My no-longer compost stained fingers are already itching for activity, twitching towards my packets and waiting longingly for longer days. I am going to be very strict with myself this year and resist the urge to sow until March as last year's incredibly late spring really put paid to any miserable attempts to get ahead. Until light levels increase with the turn of the seasons, we are all fighting against the conditions anyway. I refuse to have a greenhouse full of weedy scraggly things which refuse to prosper until spring arrives: better instead to wait until things can be sowed, raring to go.

Alarm bells for seed savers

My clutter-busting activities also unearthed a letter from Garden Organic, outlining a new EU plant material directive.  As an avid seed saver myself and a member of the Heritage Seed Library (HSL), this legislation seems rather threatening. Along with other seed libraries and small seed producing companies, HSL's work is at risk from a proposed new law to enforce the licensing of all seed production regardless of the quantities sold (or freely exchanged) and the their commercial viability.  It would force seed libraries, small breeders, specialist nurseries and amateur enthusiasts out of the market if the legislation is passed in its current form.  Garden Organic are therefore petitioning for amendments to the proposal for exemptions to be granted for small scale operations and amateur growers, amongst other things.

Support the campaign to amend the legislation

If you would like to find out more about the seed directive and the impacts small seed producers feel it will have, you can follow these links.  They also contain information about lobbying your MEP to register your concerns about the legislation.