Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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Wildlife Action Awards for Schools

 

Hawkshead moth caterpillar with a child's finger for scale.

Hawkshead moth caterpillar with a child’s finger for scale.

This week on  the blog we want to highlight the RSPB’s  Wildlife Action Award for Schools. For schools who are already learning outside the classroom, it is an easy way to endorse some of your outdoor learning. For those who would like to expand their provision, then it can provide a focus, which will assist teachers in creating exciting learning activities. It will also help to make  school grounds a sustainable wildlife haven and demonstrate commitment to providing frequent, continuous and progressive learning outside the classroom.This can lead to the  Council for Learning Outside the Classroom‘s Schools Mark. Good for pupils, school grounds, wildlife and the planet. That’s not bad, is it?

Of course, if you are one of the Our Flower Patch member schools, following our programme means that you have an easy way to tick off many of the action points to help secure the award.  Check out our website for information about how to join us. Here’s a list of the activities taken from the award booklet, many of which form part of our National curriculum linked activity zone sessions.

Section 1 : Finding out what’s there 
1.1What’s that flower?
1.2 Plant survey
1.3 Minibeasts close-up
1.4 Counting butterflies and moths
1.5 Pond dipping
1.6 Go birdwatching
1.7 Big Garden Birdwatch
1.8 Big Schools’ Birdwatch
1.9 Take part in a survey
1.10 Between the tides
Section 2: Helping wildlife
2.1 Where minibeasts live
2.2 Creating a pond (double point activity)
2.3 Nestboxes for birds
2.4 Feeding birds
2.5 Bat Boxes
2.6 Helping hedgehogs
2.7 Planting trees
2.8 Wildlife garden (double point activity)
2.9 Looking after a wildlife garden/pond
Section 3: Being environmentally friendly
3.1 Save it
3.2 Bike, bus or walk
3.3 Reduce, re-use, recyle
3.4 Composting
3.5 Green shopping and food
3.6 Collecting litter
3.7 Climate Action Award
Section 4: Spread the word
4.1 Get Creative
4.2 Put on a show
4.3 Make a display
4.4 Get in the news
4.5 Write to your MP
4.6 Raise funds for wildlife
4.7 Involve others

Growing a flower patch is great for wildlife and running a sustainable, eco friendly enterprise in school ensures that your pupils already understand the value of composting, recycling and spreading the word about local crops and green shopping. You see how much we’re helping you tick all the boxes?

If you’re reading this and are not a teacher in a school, here’s the good news, there are separate awards for families, homeschoolers and community groups too. Check out the website for further details.

poplar hawk-moth

A Poplar Hawk-moth


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Tulip-tastic!

It’s that time of year again. The nights are as dark as a cave; the shops have started playing Christmas songs (!!); the mornings have that touch of crispness about them. My dahlias have blackened and most of the annuals have come to an end. It’s a sad time of year, saying good bye to the glorious blooms of summer, and thinking about the bleak months to come. However, it’s also a time of hope and longing. It’s a time of preparing for a burst of colour come spring; a time for a small amount of hard work for weeks of glorious results! Yes ….it’s tulip planting time!

Now, the Our Flower Patch member seed starter pack, which you receive when you become a member is just that – seeds. Glorious Higgledy Garden seeds, to be precise. Ffteen packs of flower seeds and an ornamental grass to be even more precise. However, as a member, you also receive a special discount from Peter Nyssen, the fabulous bulb and plant online store. This means that you can extend your flower picking season. You’ll be able to cut more flowers to sell as a young business enterprise and make your school garden group self financing, or raise funds for your school. However, you may happen across a bag of tulips as you are wandering though your local supermarket, garden centre, or even Wilkinson’s. So why not pick up a few bags and pop them in the ground so you too can enjoy some amazing spring blooms and start selling your flower bunches earlier in the season? Even if you decide not to sell them, bulb planting is a great activity to get your pupils outside on a crisp autumn day getting their hands dirty and being in touch with nature. Plus it will enhance your outside classroom and school grounds earlier next year.

The advice when planting tulips is to wait until it has got cold. Whilst daffodils and narcissi can be planted earlier, November is usually the right time to get tulips in. This year is it still quite mild, but usually the cold of a late Autumn planting can help reduce incidences of “tulip fire” a fungal disease that can cause brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves.

Tulip bulbs planted in a row.

Row planting, using soil from digging one row to cover the bulbs in the previous row.

 

Tulips should be planted at a depth of twice to three times the height of the bulb, and at least twice the bulbs width apart (officially). I do tend to plant mine closer than that because they are being grown in rows, as a crop. I dig a trench and then put the bulbs along it before covering them over with the soil from the next trench I dig. (see photo above)

Row planted tulip bulbs

Pretty bulbs all in a row!

By planting with this method you can plant lots of bulbs quickly, and they are in nice easy rows to make cutting them as a crop to sell more efficient. Of course, if you are not planning on cutting tulips, to sell, or to have in a vase then you can plant them in areas around your home or school garden to make it even more attractive come the spring. Another trick I use is to plant my tulips in the beds that my dahlias have previously flowered in. I go against many folks’ advice and leave my dahlias in the ground over winter.

I do not have space to store the number of dahlia tubers that I now have, and even when I had many less dahlias I found that I always lost some during storage. So last year, I tried something new. I had planted the dahlias in raised beds, and come tulip planting time, I cut back the blackened foliage and planted tulips around them and then piled a load of recycled compost on top to protect the dahlias. I had a pretty good result from the dahlias. I lost a few but not as many as when I’ve previously lifted, and the tulips were fantastic. Hopefully the extra depth of planting of the tulip bulbs may also mean I get some tulips to re-bloom next year. I’ll let you know. It’s a bit of an experiment. I can normally get two rows of tulips between each dahlia row and then squeeze a few more in between the dahlias themselves. (I normally get three dahlias in a row across my raised beds.) This method also means that my beds are being used pretty much all year round. Even if you decide to lift your dahlias then you can plant your tulips in those spaces.

Tulips interplanted with dahlias.

Tulips interplanted amongst the dahlias.

So enough about the technicalities of planting. You can read more if you do so choose here by Sarah Raven or here from the RHS.

Now on to the good bit, the best bit, the glorious flowers! I had not really bothered growing tulips for cutting previously, but last year proved a revelation to me. I had been bored by the small lifeless tulip blooms that you pick up in the supermarket at £1.99 for 10 or whatever they cost. They seemed to die very quickly and although they would grow a little bit in the vase, they didn’t excite me. The short vase life of those had put me off growing my own. How wrong was I! Twitter chums encouraged me to give it a go, and I will never look back. There’s an amazing vibrancy of colour. Some are even scented – Ballerina smells like orange jelly! They have a vase life of a week to ten days, sometimes more. They grow in the vase and move to create a living display. Some even open and close their petals during the day. They are a  true revelation. So here I share with you some of my favourites in a festival of tuliptasticness!

Tulip blooms

Tulip Mania

Look out for these…………….

Orange

Ballerina (super lovely), Orange favourite, Orange Emperor, Orange Angelique, Cairo, Malaika (also known as Bruine Wimpel), Princess Irene (gorgeous with dark purple/black).

With this year adding Perestroyka, Apricot Impression, Jimmy

Dark ones

Black Hero (amazing bloom looks like a peony), Black Parrot, Havran, Jan Reus, Recreado.

With this year adding Ronaldo,

Whites and pales

Purissima, Swan Wings, Snow Parrot (my absolute fave white but I can’t find it this year!), Spring Green

Menton, Angelique, Greenland, La Belle Epoque (petals like ruffled silk!)

With this year adding Ice age, Tres Chic and Albert Heyn But how did I miss Mistress Grey! That looks amazing!

Bright Pinks

Doll’s Minuet (just gorgeous), Artist

This year Antraciet as I missed out on it last year.

I’m sure there are more, but this gives you a snap shot of some of my favourites. You can be very thorough about it and choose some to flower one after the other, or you can do as I do and just buy all the ones you love the most from the drool-some photographs! Just scanning through the photographs online at Peter Nyssen now, I have spotted some that I will add to next year’s collection. The great thing is you can search for tulips by colour, and then pop them on a wish list for next year. On Friday I planted 350 tulip bulbs. Not that many in comparison to some growers, but a lot more than I planted last year. I get the feeling they may become a bit of an addiction for me. You may be too late to buy tulips online, but you might find a bargain bag hanging around in the garden centre. Just check the bulbs are still firm and show no sign of mould and then go for it! Pop them in and wait (impatiently) for them to bloom. Start planning next years purchases now. The best tulips sell out quite quickly.

I also shared some of my favourite tulips over on Veg Plotting. Why not take a look? Knowing me, as I wrote that on another day, my faves may be a little different now. But isn’t that the glory of growing your own? You can grow so many faves and pick the ones that look the best to pop in a vase, or to sell as a bunch.

If you have any questions about the tulips shown in the photos please comment below and I will dredge my memory banks.

Happy Tulip growing! Let me know if you get caught by Tulip mania, just as I have.


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World Science Day

The Official World Science Day Poster.

The Official World Science Day Poster.

Did you know the 10th November is UNESCO World Science Day for Peace and Development? This year’s theme is the promotion of Quality Science Education: ensuring a sustainable future for all. This sees the launch of the UNESCO’s World Library of Science, which is a free online resource with the aim of making scientific concepts easy to understand. At the time of writing this, no link had been published – but hopefully there will be a link soon, which we will share with you.

In our own small way, here at Our Flower Patch, we are contributing by promoting quality science education and our ethos is certainly all about sustainability. So World Science Day seems a good day for us to mark.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a fennel flowerhead. Our Flower Patch

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a fennel flowerhead.

Our Flower Patch’s main aim is to provide an easy to follow educational programme that can be run in primary schools. We like to support our member schools to get the most out of their outdoor classroom, by giving them week by week guidance, lesson plans and seasonal activities for their pupils to do. We are all about getting children outside and making it fun!

Whilst our name is Our Flower Patch the activities we have designed are not only about flowers. Whilst there is a flowery element, we also cover many other areas, such as increasing biodiversity within your school grounds, recycling, reusing and reducing waste, composting, and understanding the importance of conserving water. We encourage the use of recycled and re-purposed materials in our activities, and the obtaining of items and plants through donation or from sites such as ‘free cycle’.

Our aim is that by giving young people a greater understanding of how their choices will impact on their longer term future, we can encourage them to make positive choices. If you like the sound of all this, or think a primary school you are involved with might, why not take a look at becoming a member here.

 

Children with biodiversity  bug hotel

Leo & Beau at the bug hotel Hilworth Park Devizes.

 

This week on our ‘latest news’ (left hand side of our main website) we will be talking about bug hotels. It’s that time of year when insects are looking for a cosy place to hide away for the winter. Somedays I wish I could just curl up too! Many beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybirds can be encouraged to rest awhile in your school garden if you provide suitable spaces for them to hide. Then when they wake up from their long slumber on your patch, they will be ready to munch away at any aphids you may have.  You will find top tips on how to make some bug hotels with your pupils on our Latest News published on Thursday.


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Win a copy of ‘The Cut Flower Patch’ by Louise Curley

The Cut Flower Patch By Louise Curley front cover.

The Cut Flower Patch

I’m one of those people with a pile of books on my bedside table at various stages of being read. At the moment I have a couple of crime novels from the library, Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, which I’m adapting for the stage for a local theatrical group, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce, a business mentoring manual, Sarah Raven’s Christmas book and one which has been a constant source of inspiration and advice on the plot since I picked it up several  months ago. That book is Louise Curley’s highly readable and beautifully photographed insight into the home (or school) cut flower patch and is destined to grace my bedside table for many months yet. Louise is a regular columnist for the Guardian newspaper, Grow Your Own, The Simple Things and Gardens Illustrated magazines. I first came across her in her informative wellywoman blog and was delighted when I heard she was writing a book, telling the story of her cutting patch and offering inspiration to others.

Statice flowers perfect for drying.

Statice growing in a cut flower patch, perfect for drying.

Aspirational as well as inspirational Louise’s book is an enchanting yet  practical guide for anyone who wants to start a manageable cutting patch on their allotment or in the garden. She begins with a rationale for growing flowers both for pleasure and for wildlife and explains just how much can be grown in a relatively small space. There follow chapters on planning your patch (with top tips on what makes a good cut flower and suggested planting plans for beds), getting started, caring for your patch, cutting and arranging your flowers along with detailed notes on more than thirty annuals, biennials, bulbs, corms, tubers. There’s even a dedicated section on growing your own wedding flowers.

A bucket of freshly picked flowers.

Freshly picked blooms.

Louise also shows you how to supplement your patch with a spot of responsible foraging so that you’ll never be without something beautiful in your vase throughout the seasons. For those who like their advice in bite size visual chunks there’s a handy sowing and planting calendar and plot maintenance calendar included at the end along with a comprehensive list of Lou’s favoured resources. The book is liberally sprinkled with fantastic photographs by Jason Ingram, which really highlight the beauty you too could create at home or in your school garden.

Autumn collection, dried flower material and foraged berries.

Autumn Bounty. Dried stems and foraged goodies.

I can’t think of a better more readable book for novice flower growers who have been inspired to devote a bed or two to make a cutting patch or those who want to provide themselves with a vase or two of flowers every week for the home or to give to friends. Even more established growers will, I’m sure find plenty of handy hints and advice, and keep coming back for reference. Home grown flowers are in vogue. Rachel de Thame has been showing us how on Gardener’s World recently, an increasing number of flower farmers are growing and selling their blooms on a commercial scale and there is some indication that there will be a revival in local, seasonal flowers in the way there has in respect of local, seasonal food in the past few years. Sara and I have been spreading the flowery love around primary schools who are now preparing to supply parents and grandparents with blooms next year, as a clever and enjoyable way to raise funds for their school garden group.  Why not join the flower revolution?

British Flowers in a funky cardboard vase.

Fabulous vase! Gorgeous flowers.

Frances Lincoln have very kindly given us a copy of the book to give away to one lucky follower of our blog who is resident in the UK or Ireland. It’s a perfect early Christmas present for you or a friend (if you can bear to part with it).

All you need to do is subscribe to this blog, via WordPress or follow by email and leave a comment telling us the name of your favourite flower.

We’ll put all the names into a gardening hat in two weeks and get one of our young growing apprentices to draw out the name of the lucky recipient. We’ll publish the name of the winner here on November 18th.

If you can’t wait till then to get your hands on The Cut Flower Patch, you can buy it online and through independent bookshops, or via the RHS shop.