Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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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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Happy New (School) Year

Autumn colour

Autumn colour

It’s the first week of term… new class, new diary, new bag, new school year……………..new school garden.

I love this time of year, not just because of my penchant for stationery, which I have ample chance to indulge,  but because it’s so full of possibilities. Whether you are starting from scratch and forming a whole new garden on a spare patch of ground or are working with an existing garden, there is a sense of turning over the page and writing on a clean sheet.

If your school garden was productive last year, it is highly likely that you’ll have some things to harvest, seeds to collect and weeds and spent crops to clear. If not, then there’ll be plenty to keep your classes occupied getting ready for growing. Here’s a bit of advice for the coming weeks.

  • Wildlife gardening If you have been growing sunflowers, do leave some heads for the birds as well as harvesting some seeds.
  • Collecting seed Sweet peas which have gone to seed can be collected ready to sow in a few weeks’ time in modules. Calendula seeds are easy to collect too. Use a paper bag. Carefully cut the dried seed head off the plant and place it into the bag. When you’ve collected plenty give the bag a shake and the seeds will drop off. Then you can carefully sort the seeds from the waste plant material and divide them between envelopes, which the children have decorated. Any seeds you don’t need can be sold at the Christmas Fair. Spread the flower love.
  • Clearing away spent crops and weeds may make a whole heap of debris. If you haven’t sorted your compost, now’s the time to start. Last year’s weeds and dead stems are this year’s free fertility. Why buy compost when you can make your own? Don’t forget to chop everything up (or borrow a chipper) and don’t include the roots of perennial weeds, weeds that spread by runners (unless you’ve fried them for a couple of months in a black bag, into which you’ve poked some holes) or weeds that have gone to seed. They can go in a green bin.
  • Starting a new garden doesn’t have to be about back breaking digging. If you have time, putting down a double thickness of damp cardboard, weighted down with stones will ensure that by Spring sowing time you’ll have a weed free patch for planting. But some digging in time for Autumn sowing is a great work – out.
  • Spread the word. A great flower patch has a buzz about it. That means there will be buzzy bees feeding from it when it is in flower and  busy bees working in it all year round or queueing up to buy your flowers. Now’s the time to spread the word and tell the school community about it. Ask for volunteers to help out, compile a list of potential customers and hold work sessions where there are specific jobs to do and yummy refreshments for the workers. If your school has a ‘Back to School’ Night early on in the term, ask for a slot to tell people about what you’re planning.
  • Set up your recycling bank You’ll get through a whole heap of cardboard rolls, plastic cartons, trays and bottles during the year. You’ll also be able to make use of old plant pots, seed trays and half used bags of compost. Some of you may wish to be the happy recipients of divided perennials, seeds, bulbs and cuttings. Decide what you need and set up a mechanism for letting people know that and collecting it easily. If you’re not organised you might end up with nothing or (much more likely) too much stuff you can’t use which you then have to dispose of.
  • Have a bulb moment  Autumn means bulbs – daffodils, tulips, alliums… The sooner you order them (or ask for donations) the better as you’ll have the pick of good quality bulbs. Nothing squishy or dessiccated will do. Start with daffs in September, then alliums but don’t bother putting in tulips until November, especially if the promised heatwave actually happens as they need the cold weather. Hold school community bulb sessions. Spread the load. It’s no fun planting hundreds of bulbs on your own. Welcome with open arms (and trowels) those valuable parent and grandparent volunteers. Coffee, hot chocolate and cake is a must for the workers obviously.
  • It’ll soon be Christmas I know. I hate to think about it this early but if you want to make some money at the Christmas Fair you’ll need to plan ahead. Selling potted bulbs, natural Christmas decorations or door wreaths are all great ideas.
  • Cultivate a foraging habit The autumn term is a great time to get to know your locality and see just how much is available for free. Blackberries, elderberries, sloes, holly, weeping birch may well be just a short walk away. Honing those vital observation skills is a useful class activity. Sara can spot a useful piece of greenery at sixty paces.

If you’re one of our member schools we’ll be posting up lots of activities, suggestions, hints and tips this term to turn your school flower patch into a vibrant learning zone. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Use this blog as a starting point to see what we’re all about and take the plunge. Where else can you get a whole year’s National Curriculum linked outdoor learning opportunities, seeds, staff support and advice from experts for just £85?