Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


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Fabulous, festive, foliage wreaths!

Christmas foliage wreath primary school tutorial ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Here’s one I made earlier!

After last week’s post discussing what foliage to look out for in your local environment, this week we provide you with a tutorial on how to make a wreath with all that lovely, foraged foliage.

You can also watch it using this link.

If you have any questions please get in touch with us, contact details are on the website ourflowerpatch.co.uk

We’d love to see if you have a go at a wreath, after watching the tutorial. You could post a comment here, or a photo on Twitter or our Facebook page.

As we know how busy your schools will be from now until the end of term, this will be our last blog post of the year. We’d like to wish our member schools and all our followers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. May your flowers bloom and the sun shine on you all.

Happy growing in 2015

Sara & Cally

x

 


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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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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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Don’t worry; be happy (from March 20th)

bright and cheery daffodil always brings a smile on international day of happiness.

A bright and cheery daffodil always brings a smile.

Did you know that March 20th is United Nations International Day of Happiness, a day to celebrate and recognise that happiness is a basic human right? How appropriate that it falls just before the Spring Equinox when Spring is definitely springing, buds are budding, shoots are shooting, there are a few flowers to cut from the patch and, if you’re anything like me you’re overrun with packets of seedy potential.

Gardeners know a thing or two about happiness. There have been numerous studies in recent years indicating that gardeners are more optimistic, healthier and less prone to signs of depression than those who don’t get their hands dirty. Even putting your hands in the soil increases levels of seratonin (the happiness chemical). Gardeners are natural optimists, believing that, however bad the season, next year will be better and all that fresh air and physical exercise can’t be bad either.

For children the effects of gardening are even more marked. Research suggests that, not only does gardening make children happier but it can boost their development, enabling them to become more  resilient, confident and healthier. Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research found that teachers who used gardening as part of learning said it helped improve children’s readiness to learn.They also said it encouraged pupils to become more active in solving problems, as well as boosting literacy and numeracy skills. The research points to the way dealing with difficult weather conditions and plant disease teaches young gardeners to think on their feet and solve problems and that exposing young children to insects helps them overcome their fears, whilst waiting for crops to grow teaches patience.

That’s amazing –  but the greatest of all things gardening can teach children is happiness, whether on this special day or everyday.And for our schools, not only are they gaining from the process of gardening but the end result – buckets of beautiful flowers brings happiness to others too.

A bucket of daffodils brings smiles on international day of happiness.

A bucket of daffodils brings even more smiles!