Behind the flowers

When you pass the garden gate at this time of year and see the stall empty of flowers it would be easy to think things have ground to a halt. There is not much sign of life and the garden looks like it has gone to sleep. However behind the scenes things are as busy as ever.

November is the time to put the garden to bed for winter. It has been towards the end of the month that I started this as it has been unusually mild. During the end of October and the beginning of November I was still surprised that a few flowers were continuing to pop up. I did wander whether I had shut the stall too early but I think it was the right decision as I have had flowers but not in any quantity to sell.

Gardening at this time of year has required a bit of chivying myself along. It’s warm inside. I could have the kettle on and could be staying dry tackling the never ending pile of washing with a nice cup of tea. Or I could tog myself up in waterproofs and wellies and get out in the flower patch. For me a morning in the wet and wild outside digging is much preferable to the dreaded ironing, so it’s not too difficult to choose! Once I am out its really not bad, there is the fresh air, the physical exercise, the satisfaction of planting and often a friendly robin sitting beside me for company. Spending all this time outside at this time of year has meant I have ended up looking some state by the time I run last minute to pick up my daughter from nursery. Looking down in the cloakroom the other day I realised I was covered in mud from the tops of my legs down! Another day I was heading out the nursery door when I felt the teacher touching my hair. I wondered what she was doing but she was just pulling twigs out of it! I find I lurch from intensive sessions in the garden during nursery hours to running to the pick up and spending time doing activities with my daughters in the afternoon. The evenings are dark now so I am no longer in the garden once the girls are in bed but I am busy pouring over books and catalogues learning and planning for next season. I find this bit exciting, what to grow, the favourites from last year of course but choosing lots of new and interesting varieties too.

So what am I doing in the mud and rain in the garden at this time of year? The first job is removing all the spent annuals. I have been doing this gradually as I kept holding on to the last few scabious and cosmos. It’s hard to let go when they are still beautiful!

The very last flowers from the garden this year

Now however we have had the first snow and ice and it is time for them to come out. This has been a harder job than I thought as some of the stems have become very thick and are well rooted in the ground. Lots of digging, a little muscle required and a lot of mud!

The weather has finally been cold enough to be the right time to dig up and store the dahlias. In milder climates you could mulch them and leave them in over winter but in Scotland I am doubtful they would survive. When I dug them up I washed the soil from the tubers, chopped the leaves off and left them upside down to dry for a few days before storing. Erin thinks they look like odd potatoes. I have to agree they do look very strange and it’s hard to believe they can produce such beautiful flowers.

Dahlia tubers or ‘strange potatoes’ as Erin calls them!

The weather has also been cold enough to plant the tulips now, bringing to an end all my bulb planting for this year. Last year I planted 300 bulbs in the garden. This year I have just finished planting 2200. I am hoping it means I can properly extend my season providing a good supply of flowers in April and May. It has also enabled me to try lots of new varieties of bulb and I am looking forward to seeing which become favourites.

Earlier in the year I planted anenomes and ranunculus for the first time. I loved these flowers and know that I could have them flowering earlier in the spring if I plant the corms now. How they will fare over the winter I am not sure so I have planted some indoors in the unheated conservatory and some outside in the raised bed which I have covered just now.

These ranunculus bulbs have been soaking overnight to rehydrate before planting.

Tulips getting planted. My husband says maybe I should aim for straighter rows. I didn’t think they were too bad until I saw the picture! 

Roses have always been a favourite of mine for years but not the kind you might buy in the supermarket which all look the same with no scent. Traditional garden roses are what I love full of rich scent and gorgeous blooms. November is my birthday month and also the perfect time to plant bare root roses so I was lucky enough to get a few more favourites! I have planted ‘The Generous Gardener’ and ‘A Shropshire Lad’ to be grown over two arches over the two entrances to my flower patch. Hopefully these will grow up over the next few years to make a nice welcome if you are visiting Cloudberry Flowers. I have also been increasing my stock of roses and peonies for my beds I started last year with the view to use them for cutting as they become established.

One success I have been proud of is the leaf mould we made. We collected lots of leaves last autumn and have been letting them rot down over the last year. It has produced a really good mulch which I have been spreading around my perennials to help protect them against the winter weather. It is an amazing free product you can make yourself in the garden with just a little effort and a small area to store the leaves. If you do not have much space just collect leaves up in black bin bags with a few holes in them. Dampen down the leaves a little if dry and leave in a shady spot for a year and you will end up with a great mulch. Leave it for a further year and you will end up with a much finer texture. Due to the success of this we have been back out this year collecting as many leaves as we could for next years batch.

Winter is also a good time for networking. Flower farming is a job you do on your own so I do not have the daily contact with worth colleagues I would get in an office. Previously working as a dietitian I had contact with colleagues and patients all day which I loved. My new career is very different in this aspect and meeting fellow flower growers has been especially important to me. November saw the annual meet up of Scottish Flower Growers and we are all members from Flowers from the Farm. It was a chance to discuss what had worked well and what hadn’t over the season, our plans as individuals for the following year and also plans for working together on projects in Scotland. It was a great day full of discussing what we all love ‘home grown flowers’.

So what will the next few winter months bring? I think I will realistically still be putting the garden to bed for the winter in January as there is just not enough child free time in the day to get it done, but slow and steady wins the race!

Winter also means Christmas. I have loved this time of year all my life and I am definitely not one to skimp on the decorations, size of tree or family traditions. I love the chance to do creative projects from baking with the children to last year making my first wreaths. This year I am looking forward to making some wreaths for customers at Cloudberry Flowers. My first task is to collect moss from the garden. I am sure my neighbours must think I am very odd scarifying small patches of my lawn before Christmas! I collect cones, berries and whatever material in the garden I think will look best and last well. The smells in the kitchen as I dry the orange slices for the wreaths put me right in the Christmas mood! Then it is time to put the wreaths together. This is very tough on the hands as you are using wire to bind the materials so I know I will be asking for handcream for Christmas!

I will finish making the wreaths the last weekend before Christmas. This is early I know but while my girls are still young and caught up in such a magical time I just want to hold on and cherish it. I will enjoy spending some precious days with them doing lots of Christmas activities and baking before the big day when we will enjoy time with my husband and both our families. It will then be time to look forward to a new year, growing in the garden and growing Cloudberry Flowers too!

Enjoy your festive season and Merry Christmas

Catherine x

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