Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

“When you see someone putting on his big boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.”

Wellington boots on for adventures in school gardens.

Putting on your ‘big boots’ for an adventure.

We quite agree with this quote from one of the world’s most famous bears. Last Sunday January 18th was ‘Winnie the Pooh Day’, the anniversary of the birth of his creator A.A Milne. I don’t know a single child who hasn’t enjoyed the tales of Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. With his penchant for honey and reliance on bees, Pooh Bear would love the fact that we’re spreading the love for flower patches everywhere.

More flowers equals more nectar.

More nectar equals more bees.

More bees equals more honey.

More honey equals one very happy bear.

Winnie the Pooh is a kind bear who cares about his friends and always seems to be happy and positive. A fantastic role model for little people. He’s full of sensible advice for life like appreciating the little things, relaxing, and he knows the benefits of doing nothing from time to time, keeping life simple. We love his philosophy.

We could think of nothing better than celebrating the day by creating some artwork, reading a Winnie the Pooh story and holding a picnic with honey sandwiches in your school flower patch. After all, you’re creating your own ‘enchanted place’, a perfect patch to feed the bees and feed the soul. And as Pooh’s favourite day is ‘today’, it makes little difference if you’re a few days late celebrating the day itself.

And it won’t be long before your school garden group will be able to start sowing seeds to make your dream ‘bee friendly’ patch a reality.

If you like the idea of joining in the adventure with Our Flower Patch in your own school garden then take a look at our website for more information on how easy it is to become a member and start receiving weekly lesson plans for outdoor education activities.

Winnie the Pooh and friends having a picnic.

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have a picnic.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

Celebrating British Flowers Week

British Flowers Week Logo New Covent Garden Market

The beautiful British Flowers Week logo from New Covent Garden Market

This week has been British Flowers Week, a celebration of the revival of the British Flower Growing industry. Unlike thirty years ago, the bulk of flowers sold in this country (and that’s HUGE amounts) are not grown in Britain. People have already woken up to the importance of the availability of locally grown, seasonal food and there has been a revival in the numbers of people and schools growing their own. Now it’s the turn of flowers. At Our Flower Patch we want to turn the map of Britain flowery with schools in every local education authority growing a flower patch and making their blooms available to members of their local community.

Dog with British Flowers for British Flowers Week Ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Sara’s dog Tilly has created quite a stir on Twitter posing with British Flowers.

Sara is already supplying shops and businesses in her area. You can see how here on Katie Spicer’s blog.

Nigella & geum Katie Spicer Photography British flowers week ourflowerpatch.co.uk

Nigella, Geum, Feverfew, a pretty country meadow look.

 

Cally has been helping Fitzmaurice School in Bradford on Avon, our very first member school grow and sell their blooms to parents, teachers and friends at school and also through a shop in the town. They now have regular customers and an opportunity to spread the word further by running a flower stall at the school Strawberry Fair on Saturday.

Lonely bouquet for British Flowers week ourflowerpatch.co.uk

This Lonely Bouquet has made its way to North Wales from Wiltshire.

To celebrate British Flowers Week the young growers will be leaving a lonely bouquet somewhere in town. If you find it, take it home to enjoy or spread the love by passing it on to someone. Do let us know where it ends up though.

There’s still time (just) to enter the competition over on Wellywoman’s blog to win a copy of her fabulous book The Cut Flower Patch in her post about British Flowers Week. The competition closes at midnight Friday 20th June so hurry hurry! Its a really well written book, full of great information and gorgeous photos.

And if you want to support the revival of British grown flowers from the grass roots, why not talk to your local primary school and sponsor a flower patch? Details are on our website. You could help local children grow flowers like these.

Bees like the selection of flowers grown by Our Flower Patch school garden group members

Bees like ‘Our Flower Patch’