Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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It’s time to get sweet!

Sweet peas, scented gorgeous British flowers for your school garden.

Waiting for these beauties again next year!

Having spent a fab day wandering round the Natural History Museum with my three year old, well, when I say wandering, I mean rushing from one button to press to the next wheel to turn, as a three year old does! My family and I went to visit the stunning poppy installation at The Tower of London, more of that on our latest news, later in the month! Having been tourists for a while it was really lovely to settle down to lunch with a twitter chum and fellow British Flowers enthusiast Shamini, from Flowers by Shamini. As you can imagine talk soon turned to floweryness. Talking about our successes and favourites, firsts and lasts! Shamini has decided she can’t get on with Cleomes, one of my faves, so gave me some Cleome seeds. She also gave me some sweet pea seeds she had collected herself. Very exciting! So I’ve set to planting them, perfect timing as I had this blog post to write, floral serendipity at work again!

So the idea is that by planting some of your sweet pea seeds in the Autumn (October – November) you can get an earlier flowering next year. It’s a good idea to save some of your sweet pea seeds to plant in the Spring (February – April) also though. It works as successional sowing, but also as a fall back plan should anything go awry with your Autumn sown seeds. If anything does go wrong, it’s usually mouse or slug related. Mice love sweet pea seeds, especially as they are just germinating! Slugs prefer the new young shoots, so protect as appropriate for the stage of growth.

I am a relative new-comer to growing sweet peas, mostly due to the fact that I have a neighbour who grows them to prize winning standard, and indeed judges sweet peas for both the National Sweet Pea Society and the RHS. As he sells his ‘spares’ locally there was little reason for me to grow them. I have however always loved the scent of them and so grew a few plants for my own home vases this year. What  generous plants they are, the more you pick the more they flower. That can be said for many cut flower plants, but sweet peas seem especially abundant! In fact I’ve heard some British Flower Growers moan towards the end of the sweet pea season that they are fed up of the constant harvesting, but then they most likely have a ‘few’ more plants than me, or you in your school garden!

They are easy to grow, mine were sown by a young friend of mine, in fact it was the first time he had sown a flower seed. Due to the size of the seed it makes it nice and simple for even small children to sow. Although if you want to grow to competition standard there are lots of stages to tieing in and supporting the growth, for most growers, they are relatively simple. Provide them with something to scramble up and they will quite happily. I used hazel poles formed into a triangular frame, but some growers use a teepee of sticks, or green pea & bean netting.

Where to sow? Some advise to sow into toilet roll tubes, in fact I have also advised this in the past. However I am beginning to change my mind about this method. The card tubes can either dry out too much or become mouldy, which in itself is not too serious but when working with young people it is better safe than sorry, plus who wants mould in their cold frames, greenhouses etc! So this time I am sowing into compost in normal plastic plants pots, the taller the better, as sweet peas do like a nice long root run. Sow two to four seeds per pot, depending on the size of the pot, push the seeds about 3cms into the compost, cover back over with compost, water and label the pots with the name of the seed and the date of sowing. It’s also a good idea to write on the label how many seeds you have sown per pot. Then you can work out how many have germinated later. You may think it’s not worth labelling every pot, but believe me it is! Pots often get moved around, and it’s so easy to lose track of what’s what, but if each pot is individually labelled that won’t be a problem. Keep your seed pots in a frost free greenhouse, cold frame or in a protected space outside. Keep an eye out for mice, or protect against them in the manner you see fit. One grower has had success in the mouse wars by spreading holly branches over her pots, they proved too spiky for the mice, and they left her seed pots alone, having previously devoured the unprotected pots. Others have placed their pots on a shelf suspended from the bars of their polytunnel, and this seems to have defeated the mice who have obviously not watched Mission Impossible! Let us know what ingenious methods you come up with to protect your sweet peas from your local mice population. I might try chilli flakes this year, as I’ve heard that mice don’t like them!

Toddler sowing seeds

My smallest helper!

 

Pinch out the main growing stem after you see two pairs of true leaves, this is to promote side shoot formation, which will give you buckets more blooms to sell to raise money for your school garden group.

Then apart from keeping an eye out for slugs as the weather improves, and checking on them occasionally to make sure they have not dried out too much, the soil should be just moist, rather than damp or soggy, there is not too much to do until next year, when it comes time for planting out, usually in March or April, but be guided more by your weather than a strict calendar date. Plant out with plenty of organic matter or well rotted manure.

 

For more detailed information on sweet peas please see the National Sweet Pea Society.


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Walk to School Month…..Flower Patch Style

Toddler walking a country lane

Striding out on his own.

Young girl walking to school celebrating walk to school month Our Flwoer Patch www.ourflowerpatch.co.uk

What a lovely walk to school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This month is Walk to School Month, a worldwide initiative taking place in forty countries to highlight the benefits of walking to school. Evidence suggests that in Britain less than half of all primary school aged children travel to school on foot. In an age of childhood obesity, pollution, conjestion, road rage and worries about a generation becoming disconnected from nature, perhaps it is time to start highlighting the advantages of walking to school. We are supporters of the benefits of fresh air and so you’d expect us to champion the cause.

 

Rose hips in an Autumn hedge.

Rose hips shine out from Autumn hedgerows

October is a great month to start a new regime. In general the weather isn’t all that dismal and getting up close and personal with nature can be a veritable attack on the senses. Even in urban areas you can experience the changing of the seasons at close quarters. There are leaves to crunch through, an array of burnished colours to admire, wildlife to spot and treasures to collect in the form of conkers, sloes and rose hips. For Our Flower Patch members walking around the local area can bring hidden benefits as you discover where to forage for a little filler foliage or collect pinecones and eye up evergreens for Christmas projects later in the season. (Did we really just mention Christmas! Oops sorry!)

Spindle berries in an autumn hedge

Dazzling Spindle berries

When you are the parent of young children a walk to and from school twice a day, come rain or shine, can sometimes seem like a bit of a chore, especially when there are a million demands on your time. Even if you are a working parent with a desperate need to get to work before your boss, find time to do it. Set off earlier and park further away from school. Fifteen minutes spent out of doors every day can bring  huge rewards in keeping mind and body healthy. Some schools have set up initiatives like the Walking Bus, where groups of children walk to school together supervised by a rota of parent volunteers.

Now that my children are older and walk themselves to school, I really miss the routine of  ‘chat and stroll’ which bookends the school day, when we were undisturbed by telephones, pcs and all other demands on our time. Our family chat now takes place with coffee and cake in the garden at the end of school, which is pleasant but considerably less good for the waistline.

Related to the subject of safer walking to school we would like to let you know about a fantastic charity called The Finlay Foundation. Here are some words from Nikki Connor, its founder.

The Finlay Foundation is a charity that was set up after the tragic death, whilst walking to school, of my little boy Finlay Joseph aged 6 years  in 2011. The charity has really grown in the 2 years that we have been running and we have provided many children in hospitals, hospices & charity run groups not only in Wiltshire, but in Hampshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon & Bristol with toys, play equipment, art & craft materials as well as sensory equipment for brain injured children and a specialist boat for the charity ‘Sailability’ based in Bristol. We have also donated thousands of pounds to both The Wiltshire Air Ambulance & The Great Western Air Ambulance in Finlay’s memory.

Another aspect of our charity is promoting children’s safety, especially when out on the road. A child’s safety is paramount and with this is mind we have been giving high visibility vests to local primary & nursery schools as well as child minders and scout groups. It is so important we make our children visible to other road users and we hope this simple preventative measure of wearing a high visibility jacket when walking or cycling along the roads will help to reduce the chances of injury”.

Niki Connor

www.finlayfoundation.co.uk Please ‘Like’ us on Facebook

Giving out high visibility vests to improve child safety.

Louis & Isobel give out High visibility vests from The Finally Foundation at The Emergency Services show.

Nikki has said that primary & nursery schools in Wiltshire are welcome to contact her to apply for High Visibility vests for their children. They would love to be able to offer them further afield, however they are looking for a more competitively priced printing deal – so if you know anyone who might be able to help out with this then also get in touch with Nikki.

High visibility vests help improve child safety.

Busy Bees Nursery received vests for the staff and children from The Finlay Foundation


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Reading by the pool…. or what does a flower farmer read on holiday!

Poolside reading

Not a bad view from the holiday office!

I was lucky enough to squeeze in a family holiday in the middle of September. It will be our last mid September holiday as a family for a while as my son starts Reception class next September – how did THAT happen!! It was also a way for us to “celebrate” my 40th birthday – HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? Apart from my knees I still feel 24!! Now that I grow flowers as a business it is quite hard to find an appropriate time to take a holiday. There is always something to be done at the Patch, sowing, growing, harvesting selling! But I recruited some lovely friends to go and pick for themselves, and deadhead and came back to a flower patch in a glorious state of floriferousness (wasn’t even sure that was a word – but I’ve just checked and the Collins English Dictionary online says it is!)

So what does a flower grower take on holiday as poolside reading? We were lucky enough to receive a review copy of “The Flower Farmer’s Year” by Georgie Newbery just before I left. So with that and a downloaded copy of “Fresh from the Field Wedding Flowers” by Lynn Byczynski and Erin Benzakein on my iPad, I was pretty much set. I even managed to squeeze in a bit of grizzly, homicide, thriller action by Tess Gerritsen as a complete change!!

Georgie Newbery is one of the first flower farmers I came across on Twitter. It was Higgledy Garden‘s Ben, the Our Flower Patch seed supplier, that got me into Twitter in the first place, and I soon found a whole array of wonderful, funny, supportive British Flower Growers there. It’s a great support network for me, a place to ask questions, bounce ideas, have a laugh and gain support on tough days. As has been said before it is likely that without Twitter, Cally and I would not have re-connected and therefore Our Flower Patch would not have been created.

For those of you who haven’t come across her, Georgie is a flower farmer in Somerset. She grows, cuts and arranges flowers for bouquets, weddings & gifts. They run many workshops at Common Farm Flowers and now, the much anticipated book is due to be published in October.

Our Flower Patch reviews The Flower Farmer's year by Georgie Newbery.

My poolside reading!

The title of the book is “The Flower Farmer’s Year. How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit.” As the title suggests, the book is slightly more focussed on the business element of growing flowers than some of the others out there.  There are sections on the main groups of flowers that can be used for cutting. Georgie is a big fan of sweet peas, dahlias and roses, so these all get their own dedicated section, and then other sections cover annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs etc. Georgie doesn’t try to tell you what you should grow. She mentions some of the things that are grown at Common Farm Flowers, and suggests that you experiment to find others that you like. Whilst there are some plant lists, she herself says they are not exhaustive. Rather they are a starting point  for you to adapt to your taste in flowers, colour schemes and what you can fit into your growing space. There is a flower farmer’s year planner as an appendix, which gives ideas of what you could sow or plant, harvest, propagate and other jobs that may need doing each month and a list of the types of plants that are grown at Common Farm Flowers.

One of the beds at Common Farm Flowers.

Some of the beds at Common Farm Flowers.

Whilst there are some very good elements for the beginner flower farmer – building a propagation sand box and constructing raised beds and how to lay out a larger scale cut flower patch for example – I would suggest that the majority of the book is aimed at gardeners with some experience and is more of a guide to take you forward in your quest to grow and sell flowers, with sections on how to start your business, where to sell and how to market your flowers.

There is a section in Georgie’s book called a Hedgerow Christmas explaining how to make willow wreaths and garlands. They grow a lot of willows with vibrantly coloured stems at Common Farm Flowers, and use them to make wreath bases, these can then be dressed with hedgerow garlands. As you know, our aim is for your young growers to set up mini eco-enterprises and sell their flowers as a way to raise funds within your school, and we will give you tips and hints on how to approach this as the season progresses. So why not take inspiration from Georgie and try some natural Christmas decorations?  We will be talking more about these in Our Flower Patch latest news as the season draws closer.

Some inspiration for the upcoming festive season.

Some inspiration from Common Farm Flowers for the upcoming festive season.

There is also a lovely section about growing wildflowers. Georgie and her husband Fabrizio are committed to making sure that their flower farm functions not just as a wildlife friendly area but as a wildlife beneficial area. They use no chemical weedkillers or pest controls. They positively encourage all manner of wildlife into the area to act as a ‘biological pest control army’.  The native wildflowers are an important part of this, as are wilder areas of nettles and comfrey (both also useful as natural plant food – with recipes included in the book). Georgie lists some of the wildflowers that she grows and uses in her bouquets and wedding work. Some of these may already be growing in the wilder verges of your school garden, so why not go and forage for them, but leave some for the benefit of your wildlife.

We also strongly encourage a wildlife beneficial approach to gardening in your school flower patch! It just makes sense to us! And we hope it does to you too! Why not take a look at becoming a member of Our Flower Patch so you can find out even more about our education programme to help you fully utilise your school garden as a learning zone.

Adonis Blue on a cornflower.

Gorgeous Adonis Blue butterfly feasting on a cornflower.