Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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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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Fairtrade flowers

Fairtrade Fortnight logo

Fairtrade Fortnight

A walk round my local ethical supermarket ‘Who Cares’ in Bradford on Avon has revealed that once again we are in Fairtrade Fortnight, a time to highlight the importance of buying ethical coffee, sugar, chocolate, bananas and all manner of other imported goods. In food terms, despite the slightly higher cost, people are more aware now of the importance of buying ethically when it comes to food, if they can afford to. There have been a number of high profile campaigns highlighting how big companies are committed to paying farmers of imported goods a fair share of the profits from their cultivation and investing in their communities too. Sadly the fairtrade flower market is not so well known. I’d be surprised if more than a small percentage of the millions of people buying flowers on Valentine’s Day recently asked exactly what conditions their blooms were grown in. This article from the Guardian is an interesting read and perfectly illustrates how far flower farming has to come to be on a par with coffee growing in terms of Fairtrade. Although at Our Flower Patch we are championing the cause of locally grown, seasonal flowers by helping schools set up their own mini flower farms via our enterprise programme we are aware that there are times when people will want to buy blooms out of season. In that case, buying ethically from fairtrade farmers is the best thing. You’ll find more information on Fairtrade Flowers here.

Fairtrade Flowers logo

Fairtrade Flowers


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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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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.


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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.


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A load of rubbish

Large compost bin at a National Trust property.

This is a compost bin to aspire to! Your school compost bin can be a more modest affair!

We’re thinking about compost this week – especially Cally who is wrestling  with the problem of how to get hold of a tonne or two of compost to mulch the beds on her allotment, now that the recycling centre no longer delivery bulk bags to her area.

Her problem is helped a little by the fact that she is fanatical about making compost from the veg  peelings, cardboard, grass clippings, egg shells, chipped twigs and waste plant material which would otherwise find their way into the green bin.

There are plenty of books about how to make compost at home. We’ reviewed a particularly family friendly one by Ben Raskin of the Soil Association earlier in the year. Look out for a repeat of this here on Friday. For the uninitiated the basic principle is this.

Good compost is made from a mixture of green waste like grass and veg peelings  which are high in nitrogen and brown waste ,like cardboard, paper and hedge clippings which is high in carbon. The best mix is 3 parts brown: 1 part green. Chop everything up as small as you can before adding, layer it up, turn it regularly, make sure it isn’t too wet or too dry et voila!

For members we have a whole heap of child friendly activities  coming up to teach you how to be a master composter at school and at home.  If you have shied away from making compost in the past, why not let loose your  eco side and build a compost bin out of old pallets? Or get creative with the plastic darlek type and decorate to your hearts’ content?

Cally doesn’t include many leaves in her compost but keeps these separate to make leaf mould later in the Autumn. (We’ll be leading our members through this adventure in a few weeks’ time.)

And for something a little more exotic, but smaller scale and equally good for your garden, how about making bokashi? You’ll find a few details about it on last year’s school garden blog of one of our members. We’ll be showing our members how to make their own low cost bokashi bin.

Some rubbish is good for your garden. Start mixing and watch your garden grow.