Fantastic Fillers - Cerinthe Major Purpurescens

Cerinthe(

(photo credit Emma Davies)

At my recent open days, and garden club show rounds, this has been the most talked about plant on the field

Cerinthe Major Purpurescens

My chalky field gives itself to growing this succulent early flowering filler, making healthy plants with strong straight stems that are great to work with.

I originally grow it about 10 years ago, and for a while the allotment had lots every year. I've been collecting seed and resowing ever since.

It's a cool weather loving plant.  That means it's great in March, April and May, and why i'll stop picking it after the end of the this month and collect the seeds as they ripen and turn from white, to matt black, and then shiny black.

I ignore the packet instructions that say they can be sown all through the spring. Cerinthe hates hot weather, and will flop in the garden, let alone the vase if given too much heat.

It doesn't like frost either, so i've found the best way to get incredible flowers early in the season is

1) direct sow in late September, - these make small plants by winter, but can be covered against frost. The first few years i let it sow itself, but then you have to thin out as they are very good at self seeding

Cerinthe selfseeded

2) have a back up of a tray of seeds sown in pots in October, - they just germinate, and are small plants over winter, but grow quickly in February and can be planted out by the end of the month or in March if we're still having harsh frosts

3) Sow freshly collected (i.e by you the autumn before) seeds in mid February, and prick out/ pot on, to plant out in late March, early April. - These plants are already starting to flower for me now on the 11th May

Cerinthe with cornflower in back

They're a great accompaniment to spring Tulips, Hellebores, Early Alliums, Ranunculus, and the first of the Cornflowers.


April seed sowing and pricking out

I'm admitting defeat.  After an hour of rearranging the greenhouse, I really can't fit any more in. There are still more seedlings to prick out, but i have no space for them to go. - From now on there will be things outside on the patio that have to come in onto  the kitchen floor if there's a risk of frost.

That's the issue, for the next couple of weeks there might be frost or their might not..... As we had snow on Wednesday and Thursday, i'm not betting against it, so although i'd love to plant out more of my seedlings, and they're ready, i've got to be patient. So i thought i'd show you at what stage i sow prick out and plant out.

My greenhouse is the heart of my operation.

I sow a lot of my seeds in window sill propagators, or seed trays like this

Seed trays

It's amazing how many seedlings you can fit in a small space to get them to germinate, - this tray proves the point.

Full of seedlings

For all varieties that don't mind a bit of root disturbance, this is a great way of seed sowing. These Ammi, Calendula, Daucus, Amaranthus, and Cosmos all have no issues, but i try and make sure that they get pricked out within 10 days of germination. This means that the roots havn't yet got tangled with the next seedling along's, and they grow away quickly in a module.

These Ammi have been left too long, - and are now to root bound to be transplanted on

Visaga seedlings overgrown

This is when they should have been moved on (Typical, i took a photo and didn't do the work!)

Visaga seedlings right stage for pricking out

If they get fresh compost and room at the right stage, they grow quickly and make strong plants very quickly.

From this to these, with a really good root system in 2 short weeks.

Antirrhinum seedlings

So i'll continue rearranging, and finding corners to put seedlings in, so that i have healthy plants with great root systems, and then as soon as we get a last frost date, They'll be a frenzy of planting out on the field.

Healthy seedlings

If you want to find me for the rest of the afternoon, - i'll be in the greenhouse.

 


March Anemones, and the season rolling on

Wow, where did the last couple of weeks go?

Bicolour anemone-1

It seems only yesterday that it was Valentine's and Mothering Sunday (they rolled into one, being only 3 weeks apart this year) Yellow Daffodils
 and now Easter is upon us, and the boy breaks up from school for Easter Hols on Thursday Lunchtime.

But so much has happened,  - where to start to tell you.

The field is starting to look beautiful, - there are splashes of colour, from the daffodils, - above is Golden Ducat on the field, then there have been Soleil D'or and Bridal crown in the polytunnel, scenting it beautifully (most now used up)

Bridal cheer narsissus

and the Hyacinths, while not quite the Apricot colour that i had envisiged them being, have been lovely in posies (and the bees have appreciated them)

Bee enjoying a hyacinth

The anemones, both in the polytunnel and on the field have liked the warm weather this week, so there's a lot more colour, and the stems are getting longer

Mini bunch of anemones

They'll be going in tomorrow's posies along with Hellebores, Rosemary and some great scented foliages.

On the field, we've been doing more weeding, planting new shrubs, and some shelter hedging, and pruning the roses.

Off the field, we've won a prize for this blog and being nominated as finalists in 2 business awards. Bit proud of the 3 out of 3 score for that.

Silver award

and if you really must see me out of my normal comfort zone, in a dress, not fleece, then here's the full report and pictures (i'm in part 2)

http://www.surreymirror.co.uk/Surrey-Digital-Awards-2016-winners/story-28905157-detail/story.html

The Toast of Surrey awards, and the Eagle Biz Awards will both be judged and awarded at the end of April, - i'll let you know how i get on.

 

I'm off to do more planning of what seeds i'm sowing tomorrow.

 


Every colour flowers, and they're Green

Have you seen it? Plantpassion is mentioned in the Surrey Advertiser this morning (4th March) - it's page 11, the Toast of Surrey Business Awards, because we're a finalist in the "Green" Award.

We're a real minnow, up against some giants (one of the companies is also entered in the Turnover over £5million), so i'm hoping that doesn't go against us, because i really believe our little bit is helping out. So here's my reasons for entering.

I've based the whole ethos of the company around Sustainability. For my clients what they are interested in is Fabulous Quality, Fresh, Easily available flowers, So we are immediately helping by not having crops flown in from other parts of the world. 95% of the Cut flowers sold in the UK are imported.

Wrapped bouquet

All the flowers are sold between Guildford and Cobham, so that cuts down even further the "travel miles" but we have still made sure that our company ethos is to grow in the "greenest way possible" .

We don't have electricity at the field, so all work is done in daylight hours. We have a small polytunnel to shelter some crops, but have found methods to make sure that our field grown crops are high quality, using no dig methods.

We recycle large amounts, including Manure from local stables, Cardboard and plastic trays from local shopkeepers, Newspapers and glass jars and bottles from local householders, and compost made from recycled household green waste (progro). We use minimal plastics, including none in our Wrapping, which is done in compostable Tissue Paper, and Brown Wrapping paper. Our Flowers are delivered in vases or jars, which we encourage people to recycle with vouchers

Recycle voucher

We don't use chemicals on our flowers. Because we don't grow a monoculture of crops (with on average 10-20 crops ready at each point of the year) our field is fantastic for wildlife - some of which we have to fence out otherwise we feed them a little too well. On a summers morning when the flowers are being picked, it is to a background of skylark song, and with care not to pick a bee or squash a lace wing.

Bee on hyacinth

We are also taking care to grow the company sustainably as well, so we havn't invested large amounts in equipment yet, because we want to grow our reputation first.

We really are a "Green" Surrey company and hope to be providing flowers for many years to come.

 

 


February on the flower field - what we've been up to

February has been colder and frostier than the rest of the winter put together so far. But that's ok, because we're now almost at the end, and it's light when i get out of bed in the morning, and when i collect my son from School, so all's well with the world.

I am feeling the spring wake up call this week.

White Anemone

There are Anemones starting to flower in the polytunnel.

The tulips are just starting to poke through the ground

Row of tulips

and we've been busy as ever making beds and weeding.

I know that my no-dig beds are something i get asked the most questions about , - so here it is again.

When we first started, we stripped turf off the field, and then put on a good layer of Progrow compost to plant into. We thought we needed lovely grass paths in between the beds, but actually they just created a whole load of work, mowing, and edging, and seeding themselves into the beds.

So last year we set about filling in almost all the grass paths with additional beds.

Bed making

We lay cardboard (with the plastic packing tape taken off, - that takes the longest!) onto the grass, and cover it in the middle with a thick layer of well rotted manure (provided by our lovely field neighbours in East Clandon) and then a decent layer of Progrow compost, and ensuring we make some bark chip paths on either side for us to walk on.

Within a couple of months, what looks like a funeral pyre, has settled down and become a lovely rich bed to plant annuals in, and by the following year, you wouldn't know where the added matter ends and the soil begins thanks to lots of earthworm work (unless you find packing tape that you didn't take off the cardboard)

Things are starting to grow, but our (far too) friendly wildlife have been in for their normal spring visit, (anyone want rabbit or venison?) so as we need a far lower attrition rate on our crops this year, we're resorting to covering everything at munching stage with Environmesh.

So far* It seems to be working

Environmesh

It does seem to mean that at the moment vast swathes of the field are covered in either plastic (keeping the weeds at bay) or Environmesh (protecting our newly planted crops) I'm hoping by the time of our first open days in April, the plants will be big enough to withstand the onslaught and i'll be able to take photos that don't make us look like a garage sale.

However blank the field seems though, there are corners of the farm and my garden that have lovely flowers already, so i'll leave you for now with a montage of some of the  British Grown Flower displays that we've done this month.

February flowers


Seeds to get started soon for season long flowers

It's that time of year when all keen gardeners are waiting for the off.....

Our seeds are sitting there yelling at us to sow them, but experience has told us that actually waiting is a good thing to do. That until the light levels are higher, and the days are longer, they won't germinate well, and if they do they'll sit there and rot, or be thin and etiolated.

All of this is true, and there are many many years that i've started seed sowing on a sunny day in January, and sown the same things in the 2nd week of March as nothing germinated at all.

But there are a few things that it's worth getting your propagators ready for early, and clearing your sunniest windowsills in their honour, - and these in my opinion are they.

Antirrhinum

Antirrhinum beds-1

Now i'll admit that before i started Flower farming, I wasn't a fan of Snapdragons,  but i was told i really needed to be able to offer them to my florists, so in my first year i bought plugs of White Admiral because i missed the seed sowing window. They were amazing, and i was still picking them in October. So from then i've grown more each year. I sow these in a seed tray, because they are easy to prick out, and don't mind root disturbance. Those in the picture were sown on 13th February last year and were flowering by the beginning of July, - and only finished flowering in early September.

Larkspur

Larkspur row

I have no luck with Larkspur if i sow them later in the season. My most successful ones are always those from an Autumn sowing, but i love them, and so do my florists, so i need a succession. Putting the seeds in the freezer for a few days, and then sowing them early seems to work for me. You do have to make sure there are no slugs in your greenhouse or propagator tho'. They can smell larkspur seedlings at 100m.

Iceland Poppies

Iceland poppies

A surprise success story for me has been Iceland poppies. These loved being in the polytunnel overwinter, but the rodents/slugs/ something loved them too so by spring i only had 8 plants left, so i sowed more seed in early February. They worked great, germinated quickly and grew despite the low light levels and the fact i had no room left in the propagator for them. I've just had single colour seed of pink and white arrive, so they'll be sown tomorrow to go with my mixed colours that are already in the polytunnel.

Gypsophila Covent Garden

Gypsophila covent garden

I can never grow enough of this, I sell out as soon as it's ready. I'm trying about 10 times as much this season, and i'm putting it outside, but under protection of environmesh. A sowing in the next 2 weeks will almost catch up with the Autumn sown ones, and should be flowering by Mid June (following tailwind and lack of rabbit nibbling permitting)

Cynoglossum Pink and Blue

Cynoglossum

I've only had really good flowering from this at either end of the season. My really early sowing is ready by June, - my late May sowing is blooming in September, but 2 years running anything i've sown between March and late May has been stunted even if the seedlings have germinated well. They are an amazing filler though, so i'm sure i'll try again, but my main sowing will be made tomorrow!

I'll also be trying Ageratum, more Cornflowers and Amaranthus,  but they'll be 2nd successions of them going in at the beginning of March.  This lot should be enough to whet my appetite (and fill my propagator)

Here's looking forward to the beginning of the seed sowing season.

If you'd like to learn how to Sow Seeds and take cuttings to make your own cut flower patch, there are still a couple of places left on each of my

Early Spring Workshops

 


5 Reasons to do something different this Valentine's day

So it's February, the evenings are starting to get a little bit lighter (i could still see when i did pick up at 5.15pm today) and by the end of the month i'll be able to start sowing seeds again. The Middle of the month brings Valentine's Day (and half term - already!) which heralds the start of my Floristry season again. Well normally it does, i've actually been producing flowers and foliage all through January, thanks to the mild conditions.

January Flowers

Anyway Valentines. I guess i've been lucky to be with my Hubby for ages. We don't do luvvy duvvy,  but we do (with a few forgetful exceptions) do Valentines day. A card, - usually a lovely meal in, sometimes a present, or a plant, but not in the past, flowers.

And here's the reasons why

1) The air miles

The Roses that are sold on Valentine's day aren't growing in England in February. They may come via the markets in Holland, but they didn't begin their journey in a glasshouse there. They'll have been flown from Columbia, or Ecuador, or India or Kenya. There's more about the flower trade in those countries in this article

2) The packaging

Your single Rose will most likely come in a plastic tube, your bouquet of flowers in an Aquapack. But all of that non biodegradable plastic wrapping gets thrown in the bin the minute your flowers get home and arranged in a vase. What a waste.

3) The cost

It's the one day of the year when other colour roses are defunct, not wanted, cast aside, - of course the markets will put up the prices on the thing that everyone must have, - that's a free trade economy. The markets put the price up, so the retailers have to or they don't make any money. - The downside is, suddenly flowers cost a lot more than the rest of the year

4) Getting the same as everyone else

If everyone else is having Red Roses, are you special if you get them too?

5) The compost bin

Of course in order for those buds to get on the plane, and last until the day that you want them, they need chemical assistance. Fungicides & pesticides sprayed on them before they board, so that no bugs/ diseases are brought here.  Plus Silver Nitrate that the stems are dipped in to ensure they last the Journey (unfortunately this also mummifies the flowers, and as it's no longer decomposing, it won't give off any scent) This all means that the flowers have to go in the bin, rather than the compost heap when they've finished.

But now, for those of you near me in Surrey or if you've got a local British Flowers grower, there is another way, and you can do something different for Valentine's day.

We've ensured that our flowers and gifts have

  • No Air miles, and few van miles
  • No Plastic packaging, all our displays are presented in vases with tissue and paper wrapping
  • The Cost is the same as flowers the rest of the year
  • You'll have something different from everyone else
  • And when they finally decompose naturally after giving off their intended scent, you can put them on the compost heap.

So now you can send flowers (and there will be some in my house ) More details here


Should you DIY your wedding flowers?

We work with some wonderfully talented florists, and i'll be highlighting some of them over the coming months, but this week i've been going through the wedding enquiries that have been coming in, AND, looking back at some of the email conversations that i had with some of last year's brides, and my Question this week is

"Should you DIY your wedding flowers?"

Claire cutting sweetpeas-1

It's a big trend at the moment and Georgie Newbery's new book "Grow your own Wedding Flowers" will i'm sure encourage even more to try.

But if you have your own wedding happening in the next year or two, or you've been asked to grow flowers for your son, daughter or friend, there are a few things to take into account.

Have you grown flowers for cutting before?

If you have, and you know what date you've sown seeds, and what date they've flowered, then great. It also means that you've probably already got a greenhouse/ polytunnel / growhouse to get seedlings going in, and you've already got fleece/environmesh / cloches to protect crops, and maybe some already self sown seedlings coming up from last year.

Ammi seedlings-1

Is the Wedding in the 2nd half of the year?

Weddings from late July onwards are a lot easier to grow for.  An April or May wedding will need Bulbs and Biennials that have been sown/planted the summer/autumn before. A June or early July wedding will need Hardy Annuals, and Biennials sown the previous May to September. However from late July onwards, it is possible to sow Hardy and Half hardy annuals in the spring and have them flowering later the same year 

Is the bride willing to have any choice of flowers in her bouquet?

To get perfect flowers you need to grow lots, (think of the greenhouse full of Chrysanthemums for the showman to get 3 perfect blooms.) To get perfect flowers for a date in a year requires previous knowledge of flowering dates, and successional sowing so that there is a row of blooms at the right time. If the bride is willing to have whatever flowers are looking wonderful on the day of the wedding, then that makes things a lot easier.

White dahlia bouquet

Have you arranged bridal flowers before?

3 years after starting the flower farm, after making many bouquets each week, going on lots of workshops, and having one to one sessions with trained florists, i'm just about ready to make displays for brides on the most important day of their life. You may have arranged wonderful flowers for the house, and the church, but have you done it under pressure before?

Is your idea of an ideal evening crafting with friends? 

If you want to spend the last evening of your single life without a care in the world and with a glass of wine in your hand, then it might be a good idea to delegate some of your preparations, because the day before the wedding is when the flowers need to be made up. The more decorations you have to prepare, the higher the likelihood that it will infringe on the relaxing and enjoying time.

 

But if you answered Yes to all of the Questions, then I think you should DIY your wedding flowers, - you have a lot of ideal skills, and i'm sure you'll have lots of fun and create lots of memories doing it.

I will however leave you with a Quote from one of my last year's brides.

She had done 2 grow your own cut flower workshops with me, she'd bought a small polytunnel to protect her seedlings, and she'd been planning and planting and weeding for 9 months.

5 days before the wedding I received

"You have helped me so much with your workshops for my wedding so far I'm just hoping you can help a bit more. 

My flowers are budding if not flowering I'm hopeful I'll have some but probably not enough. If at all possible I would like to have one of your buckets of flowers to add to mine. "

and 2 days before the wedding, when we were confirming the theme for the flower bucket

"my life has become ridiculously manic!!! If anyone suggests doing everything themselves for their wedding I would tell them not too!!!!"

 

If you're ignoring this advice then here is some additional information that you may need

Plantpassion Options for DIY flowers

Growing your own flowers workshop

Gypsophila alternatives

March Seedsowing

Grow your own flowers for September wedding

Dahlias for cut flowers


Seasonal Flowers for all year round.

There are always flowers for those that want to see them - Henri Matisse

A year of flowers

I just want to say, right here at the beginning, that i'm not against imports....

Our Island can't grow all the things that we want all year round.

I love avocados, the occasional mango, and a Christmas tub of pecan nuts, and none of them grow here, - but you won't find me buying Strawberries outside of the summer months, Asparagus is a May/ June treat, Beans are just for August and September, and Apples will be soft and squidgy after February.

In exactly the same way that British Food is available all year round, Just not everything, every month. There are British Flowers available all year round.

If you want seasonal flowers, you have to be aware that you need to want what's available at that time - whatever that is.

If you want a particular flower for your special occasion, you have to either

a) have your special occasion at the right time for that flower

or

b) use an imported flower

Want to know when the right time of year is for your special occasion flower?

email me - Claire@plantpassion.co.uk

or follow my instagram , facebook and pinterest feeds to see what's in season all year round


New Year's Resolution - Paths with no weeds

Happy New Year to you.

After a full 8 days of lie ins, FAR too much food, and a lovely rest, i'm really ready to get on with 2016.

They say that you learn from your mistakes, so this year my resolution is not to put down a path without putting wet newspaper underneath it first.

I'm aiming for paths with no weeds.

Row of Asters with woodchip paths

Over the last few years, we've been refining our methods of bed building, This is our No Dig Philosophy Article and in 2015, the plastic that we put down over winter meant that we had clear ground to make the new beds in spring. - Although the mounds of manure and compost that we grew in were great for the plants, and thick enough to mean that minimal weeds came through, we made a big mistake on the paths, and just used woodchip on the soil.

By the end of the season when we removed the spent Half hardy annuals from these beds, the beds were practically weed free, the paths however were a different matter. Even in this photo, you can see grass and weeds starting to come through.

We've found that Newspaper, if soaked first, makes an excellent mulch. It's free, sustainable, doesn't cause as much compaction to the soil structure as the mypex or silage sheeting, and is easy to lay. The paths were we used it for in the perennial area have been easy to top up this year.

As the area we're growing in expands, we need to use every method we can to be productive, so i'm hoping this resolution will go a long way towards that in 2016.