Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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Treats for the end of term

Flower posies to say thank you to teachers

Pretty posies to say thank you

The end of term is fast approaching. It will soon be the school holidays and  flower patches should be looking rather abundant. Why not make the most of them?  Use the opportunity to give your flowers a good cut before the summer holidays and use the results of your prunings to make up some beautiful posies to say thankyou to anyone who has helped you during the school year.

Use a jam jar, tin can or other suitable container. If there is time you could decorate them with scraps of fabric or pieces of ribbon or raffia. Cut buckets of blooms and have a play at arranging them together.

Bright flower posy for a teacher

All things bright and beautiful

Cutting back your flowers before the school holidays can reap benefits for you if you are away from your patch a lot over the summer. School patches are often neglected over the summer and home patches are left for weeks on end too when families are away on holiday.  Cut your plants back reasonably hard just at the end of term, and give them a really good water, preferably with a drop of feed too. Don’t leave any flowers in bloom and you have a chance of there still being some around on your return from holiday. (weather depending of course) The sweet peas are a bit of an exception and unless you are picking every couple of days then they will all go to seed. Invite friends and neighbours to pick them. Hopefully someone will be tempted by their gorgeous scent to come in and cut them. If not then they will form seed pods which will be ready for you to collect seeds in September and sow in October.

Sweet peas and snapdragons as a thank you posy

Making the most of the patch harvest


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Ten ways to acquire plants for free (or almost free)

Nigella seedpod

Nigella seedpod, fab in a vase and a useful source of free seed!

If there are a few gaps in your flower patch and no cash in your pocket to go out and buy some flowery treats to pop in for instant gratification, do not despair. Here are our top ten tried and tested ways to bulk up your garden, plot or school flower patch without spending much or indeed, any money and have a fun adventure while doing so.

Plants for free, you say? Show me where to find them.

Read on.

  • Find them on Freecycle

I love Freecycle and not just to read with amusement the weekly posts from the member of my local community who regularly offers cardboard boxes, jam jars and bits of string whilst simultaneously posting requests for expensive appliances because they have accidentally dropped theirs in the sink/washing machine/toilet/driven over them in the car/had them eaten by the dog……..

Over the years I have acquired and distributed numerous plants on Freecycle. Often you have to dig up the plants on offer, but that is no great hardship. What’s more you’ll probably make a gardening pal for life, whilst helping yourself to their largesse. Win. Win.

  • Save and swap your seeds

It’s quick and easy to save some seeds from easy to grow flowers like poppies, calendula, nigella and cerinthe. One plant has more seeds than you will need to use at once or in a whole season. Nature is extremely generous and prolific. Make the most of it. You can sow some seeds yourself next year and save some to swap with others. Collect seeds on a dry day. Store them in labelled brown envelopes in an airtight tin in a cool, dark place until ready to sow.

  • Cultivate those cuttings

Learn to take cuttings. A small piece of stem is all you need, a pot of compost and some rooting powder, if desired. Pull off all but the top few leaves. Lots of leaves will make the plant work hard keeping them alive when it needs to put its effort into producing more roots. Place your cuttings into a pot of moist compost around the edge of the pot. Cover with a plastic bag to ensure moisture is retained and wait for roots to form. You may need to remove the bag from time to time to ensure that condensation disappears and prevent ‘damping off’.

  • Delve into division

From time to time plants have a habit of outgrowing their allotted space and they look like they will benefit from being dug up and divided into more manageable chunks. Replanting a ‘chunk’ reinvigorates the plant and gives you a few more plantable ‘chunks’ to fill it spaces elsewhere  or swap with friends and neighbours for different plants. Simple.

  • Set up a plant hospital

Large DIY stores with garden sections almost always have an area where they have plants marked down for sale.  This may be due to their slightly less saleable (or virtually dead) appearance,  or a genuine clearance of overstocked plants at the end of the season.  Plants which are pot bound need to be repotted or planted in the garden after their roots have been teased out. Dead head and prune back unsightly brown growth, feed and repot or plant out. I’ve rescued numerous plants which were destined for the skip and no money has changed hands.

Supermarkets too may be happy to let you take away pots of unsold bulbs after they have flowered. Take them home and plant them in your plot. Let them die back naturally and they’ll pop up hale and hearty next season. If you say that you are running a school gardening club, they may well let you know when there are freebies going spare in the future.

  • Volunteer in a community garden or help your friends with a bit of arden maintenance

Asking gardening friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues for any plant cuttings, extra plants they don’t need or seeds they may have is one of the easiest ways to grow your garden for free.Pruning, dividing and removing plants that have gone to seed are regular maintenance activities for many gardeners each season.  These are also prime times to add to your own (or your school) garden from what is often plant material that will go to waste in someone else’s garden.

  • Make friends with the local plant nursery 

Sometimes flower farms, local growers and nurseries will advertise end of season, closing down sales or stock at reduced prices. They may be wanting to clear out a greenhouse or warehouse or make a space for new plants, some may have been in pots too long and others are excess stock. My daughter’s school had a magnificent tulip bed last year planted up with bags of bulbs from the Sarah Raven warehouse sale.

  • Raid the local restaurants and cafes

Most businesses replace their plants as the flowers fade. Start a relationship with the businesses in your area. Let them know that you are willing to take the unsightly plants off of their hands after they are finished blooming. You know they will bloom again next year in the garden if you give them some time and tlc!

  • Bulk buy

Club together with friends and neighbours to order bulbs and plants. It will bring the cost down and you might well be the lucky recipient of a few freebies into the bargain for putting in a big order. Higgledy Ben our seed supplier is king of stashing in an extra pack of seeds for good customers. Long may he reign.

Cerinthe seed

Cerinthe seed, not quite ready yet. It will fall easily from the plant when ready.

Cerinthe seed drying

Dry the harvested seed before storing it.


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A garden for all ages?

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Julie Foster’s ‘Garden for Every Retiree’

As champions of the school garden we are always delighted whenever we hear that our members are being helped out by grandparents and senior members of the community. They may have oodles of gardening experience to share with young growers or none at all, in which case young and old can learn together.

Recently, we have been contacted by the people behind some of the show gardens at the forthcoming RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and in particular, Julie Foster’s ‘Garden for Every Retiree’ which aims to inspire all those who have retired from work to use their gardens to foster a healthy lifestyle and provide a haven for wildlife. We also love the Henri le Worm Community Garden which aims to show children how much can be derived from being outside in the garden and connecting with nature. It shows how cooking and healthy eating are engaging and can be fun. What’s more it has an outdoor kitchen and an edible green roof!

Henri le Worm Community Garden

Henri le Worm Community Garden

Gardening is therapeutic and for young and old alike.The benefits of young and old working together are well known by those of us who work with multiple generations. However, just recently there has been press coverage about  initiatives such as a pre school opening up inside a care home for the elderly. It’s not rocket science. Generations ago, when families tended to stay in one town or village, children saw a lot of their grandparents and senior members of the family. Nowadays, where people are more mobile and settle away from their extended family, children spend more time with professional carers and they miss out on a huge wealth of important shared experiences with older members of the community.

We love the idea of older members of the community and children working together in the school garden and are delighted that in some of our member schools this is going on right now in the flower patch.

If you’d like to set up a shared flower patch next school year, get in touch and we’d be delighted to support you in getting it off the ground.

 


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Six ways for flower growers to celebrate May Day

Toby-Bowood-Matt-Austin

A picnic at Bowood House. Photograph by Matt Austin Images.

All’s right with the world. Linda Snell has located. the Archers’ Maypole in time for the jubilant May Day celebrations in Ambridge at the end of the week. We love a party at Our Flower Patch and even though you are unlikely to find either of us dancing round a maypole on Friday, May Day is the perfect time of year for flower growers to stop, take stock and celebrate their hard work before their plots reward them with oodles of flowery loveliness and the odd weed.

Sara started celebrating early this year when she did a flowery photoshoot at Bowood House in Wiltshire in preparation for Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival on June 5th and 6th. Along with Saffy from Bath Flowersshe’ll be arranging, selling and generally shouting about homegrown British flowers. Why not pop along and chat to them? Don’t worry if you live too far away, Cally will be reporting on the festival for our school Flower Patch members and readers of this blog, so you won’t miss anything vital.

In the meantime back to May Day and our six top ways to celebrate this fertility festival and the start of summer.

Decorate a maypole or May tree

Unlike us, your young growers will probably love the idea of dancing round a maypole as a break from all the frantic planting, sowing and weeding. You’ll need a pole about three metres high to which you attach long ribbons. Aim for the ribbons to be about ¾ of the length of the pole. Plant the pole in a hole deep enough to prevent it swaying. Decorate the top of the pole with flowers or greenery. Then you’re ready for willing volunteers to grab an end of a ribbon and dance in and out, winding the ribbons round the pole.

Alternatively, decorate the trees on your plot with ribbons to celebrate the time of year. Write messages of thanks or hopes for the coming season on the ribbon. And if you don’t have any trees or large shrubs, plant some. Try to make it something from which you can harvest foliage for your cut flower arrangements. We like viburnum, euonymus, pittosporum and eucalyptus.

Hold a bonfire party

Traditionally cattle were driven between bonfires on the eve of May Day to rid them of evil spirits and keep them safe from harm. If you’ve been clearing space, then you might have plenty of material to burn. Getting together around a bonfire is a good way to reward your garden helpers for their hard work in getting your plot shipshape and provide space and time to chat about plans for the future. Obviously food is just as important as fire in any festival celebration which brings me neatly on to my next point.

Pack a picnic or hold a ‘bring and share’ feast on your patch where everyone brings something they love to make.

No celebration is complete without food. If you’re lucky, you might even have a few homegrown early strawberries to munch on or, at least, some jam made from last year’s crop to spread on scones. May Day marks the start of summer to me and so some homemade lemonade might start to make an appearance. You’ll find the recipe here.

Make a flower crown or a daisy chain.

Flowers are a big part of any May Day celebration. Floral crowns can be used to crown a May Queen or just to give your young growers some valuable practice at working with flowers to make something beautiful. If you choose a May queen then her throne (chair) can also be decorated with seasonal flowers. Check back through this blog for more information about flower crowns.

If your lawn is anything like mine it’s full of daisies. I love them and my daughter loves them even more as she has a steady supply with which to make daisy chains. If you wear a daisy chain around your head past midnight on May Day eve, you can attract good luck.

 Give a basket (or bunch) of flowers to a neighbour.

We have plenty of tulips on our patch at the moment but what might be even more special is a packet of seeds to spread the flowery love. Higgledy Ben our seed supplier has a huge array from which to choose.  Just a couple of packs will be enough to start a love affair with cut flowers. Soon you’ll be devoting a whole bed to a cutting patch. It’s good for bees and good for you, giving you a steady supply of beautiful blooms to cut for the house and saving you money. May Day tradition is that you must leave your gift in secret. If your neighbour spies you, they can claim a kiss apparently – so choose the lucky recipient wisely!!

Sow some herbs

Any excuse to get outside enjoying your garden is good and growing herbs is a great way to kick start a growing habit which will last a lifetime. I’m a fan of any plant which has more than one use. Growing herbs was the start of my love affair with gardening. One of my earliest memories is picking mint from an old Belfast sink and watching my granny make mint sauce. Herbs are bee-friendly plants, easy to grow, fragrant, edible and some make fabulous additions to cut flower posies. Rosemary, dill, mint, lavender and lemon balm regularly find their way into my jam jar posies.

Rosemary sage narcissi

Herbs and flowers are a natural pairing in Sara’s arrangements too.


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Six Top Tips for sowing seeds with children.

 

Higgledy Garden seed packet

Little packets of hope and promise

So, it’s that time of year when you start seeing seed packets everywhere. Little packets of hope & promise, often with bright shiny photos on the front. Most of us have been tempted to pop a packet or two into the trolley or basket at this time of year. In fact if you are one of the #Britishflowers seedaholics you might be tempted by more than one or two packets. In fact you might find you take your new purchase home to find you already have the exact same variety already. Of course that would *never happen to me!

Flower seed box

Just one or two packets!

If you are an Our Flower Patch member you will already have your wonderful Higgledy Garden seeds, sat waiting patiently. If not then you can always join us, buy from Higgledy, or pick up some flower seeds that look promising.

How can you help seed sowing go well with children. Here are our six top tips.

  1. When filling modules or pots with compost make sure they are well filled. They should be filled to just below the rim. The levels should be checked again after tamping.
  2. Don’t overtamp the compost. The compost should be gently firmed into the pot or module into which you are going to sow seeds. This is often best done by tapping the pot onto a firm surface, rather than letting the children press the compost into the pot.
  3. Sow from a plate – children often find it easier to push seeds off one by one from a plate, or from the crease of a piece of folded paper. They may find it difficult to sow smaller seeds thinly from their hand. The plate method may help with this.

    Sowing seeds from a plate

    Sowing from a plate may be easier for small seeds and small fingers.

  4. Mix small seeds with fine sand for direct sowing. This helps you see where you have sown and also helps the seeds be distributed more evenly.
  5. Don’t overwater. Best practice is to either water the soil before sowing for direct sowing. Or in the case of sowing into modules or pots, place the newly sown pot into a tray of water to allow the water to soak up from the bottom. You could also use your wheelbarrow to do this. Both pre-watering and bottom soaking reduce the risk of washing away seeds with over enthusiastic watering. Pots and modules should only be watered when they are dry. Don’t keep them too damp whilst the seeds are germinating.
  6. Labelling. No matter how well you think you will remember which pot had cosmos and which had cornflower, you will most likely forget. Make sure everything you sow is labelled, whether it be a pot, a module or a direct sown row. Apart from anything when you are growing plants in a school environment other helpful people may move things around.

Hopefully these top tips will help you sow seeds successfully with children. We’d love to hear any of your top tips. Please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or our Twitter feed.

*has happened…frequently…probably every year I end up with doubles!

Zinnia with bee

Soon you too could have blooms like this.

 


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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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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.