Catching up with Cloudberry Flowers

Time has ran away with me again and it is a long time since I last wrote on my blog. This has been my 4th growing season and it has been the strangest yet for weather conditions. It has taught me that each year will never be predictable and I will never stop changing what I do and adapting to the weather as it comes.

This spring was very slow in coming with the tulips all blooming in May rather than successionally from late March onwards. I had planted a lot of hyacinths to flower over a few weeks but they all came out in a day. It did mean a lot of wastage as I couldn’t use them all at once in arrangements but they did look beautiful in the flower patch.

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Then we had the arrival of some very good weather which brought all the annuals on quickly. The lack of rain meant many an hour watering outside morning and late evenings. Due to the lack of water some annuals that usually would last months flowering were going over very quickly, with just a single flush of blooms. The sweet peas were the best they had been since I started growing them. They were glorious for a few weeks but then due to the weather the stems got very short and were fine in mini jam jars but couldn’t be used in wedding work.

Summer was beautiful and the flowers were amazing. I spent time on Prince Edward Island in Nova Scotia and came away inspired by the beautiful wild flowers there. The friendly people and magic of the island put it firmly at the top of places I would like to return to. The beauty of its coastlines, fertile farmland and wild flower meadows left me feeling happy, revived and ready to crack on in the garden when I came home.

As soon as the schools went back there was a definite change in the air. Autumn feels it has come very early with much colder mornings and damp dark days. Many of the annuals are slowing down now and it has been a good time to start collecting seeds. I like to make up mixed jars of seeds which make great presents and are available to order now as well as being in my christmas shop.

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The annuals might be slowing down but the autumn flowers are just hitting their stride with chrysanthemums, dahlias, scabious, amaranthus, cosmos and soon to be asters stealing the show.

So what has worked well this season in the unexpected weather? My proudest achievement this year has been my dahlias. The last 4 years I have fallen in love with a frustrating flower I have not been able to grow. I have had minimal flowers for the amount of effort and plants I had been growing.  Any I did have tended to be nibbled by earwigs, slugs and thrips. If I had 1 or 2 perfect flowers I was lucky. This year they have been glorious. That is not to say all of them are perfect, there are still a fair few nibbled ones out there, but I have had many stems of strong beautiful blooms. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for this as I have changed a few things at the same time. Many but not all of my dahlias are growing in the new front garden flower patch so perhaps the light levels here suit them. Having said that the ones in the initial flower patch have also been good. I have been working on soil improvement a lot with the addition of compost to the beds in the winter. This was the first year I divided my dahlias before potting them up in the spring. I have also been using bloom bags to protect the buds of my wedding flowers from thrips. All of these things may have helped and next year I am full of enthusiasm for expanding these beautiful flowers.

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The sweet peas were the best they have been in the last 4 years and the only reasons I can think of for this are the good weather and the fact that they were planted in the new front garden ‘no dig’ flower beds. I planted some at the back flower patch this year too which were very disappointing in comparison to the ones at the front.

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The ‘no dig’ flower beds have been an amazing success. To think that that part of the garden was just lawn this time last year and now look at what it  has become! I am so happy with the success of these that I want to make some on the right hand side of the garden at the front so we have flowers down both sides. We can’t work out what to do here though as this is where I grow my bulbs and marking out new beds around these is difficult. Maybe a project for the winter.

My garden gate stall has always been just surviving for the last few years. It has had days to weeks of being very quiet with nothing selling and other days where I would sell a few flowers. The bonus for us on the quiet days was getting to enjoy the flowers that did not sell in our home. I have always dreamed of a busy stall with people dropping in to treat themselves, pick up a jar of flowers for a friend or nip in on the way home from work to get some flowers for your partner as a surprise. This year the stall has become busier and I have enjoyed meeting new people popping in. Growing a business takes time and patience and I am so grateful to everyone who has come to support my flowers. So a very big thank you to you if you are a regular customer or have told a friend or relative about it. It means an awful lot!

Another success of the stall as well as being gradually busier is having it open every day. I started this when Erin went to school and it has worked really well. I now know that you like to be able to pick up flowers on weekdays as well as weekends.

This year on the stall as well as liking your jars of mixed flowers you have enjoyed buying dahlias and sweet peas by the stem or as a wee bunch. I would love to know if there are any other varieties of flower you would like me to grow that I could offer by the stem for you to arrange at home or as a wee bunch?

I am hoping there will be a good few weeks of flowers left throughout October and if I am lucky into November. From the 29th September the stall will be moving across the driveway back under the tree to allow builders access where the stall is now. There will still be flowers everyday so please just pop in and you will find it in its new spot.

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As well as the successes there are always some failures in the garden and this year it has been the narcissi and the zinnias. The winter weather went for the daffodils and narcissi and they came through in much smaller numbers and later than usual this year. The zinnias were a flower I grew in my first season. I had a few flowers but they were not very productive and I decided not to grow them in seasons 2 and 3. However I am a bit stubborn and don’t like to be defeated. This year I decided to try again. I thought as Zinnias like sunny weather they would work. Again they have produced very small numbers of flowers on weak stems. I think it is time to let growers in Southern England grow the zinnias and concentrate on the flowers I know grow well here.

The other failure of the year is the grass. You may have noticed it looks more like a field than a lawn! We have had 4 lawnmower break downs this summer including the end of the life of the sit on mower. Some lawnmower incidents definitely come back to the girls and their imaginary games. A metal bar buried from some game in the middle of the grass put paid to the mower at one point. Other problems with the mowers were just unfixable and now we need to find a new sit on mower for the start of the spring next year. In the meantime it has been suggested to us we should get some sheep!

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If you have visited the stall in the last few months you may be be wondering why we have pulled apart the round bed on the opposite side with the oval hedge surrounding it. The bed here contained a number of shrubs which had outgrown their space and the soil was poor for anything to grow in. We have replanted the large shrubs at the bottom of the garden and will flatten this area using the soil elsewhere. Eventually my dream would be to have a greenhouse there with lots of pots of flowers outside that I could take into the greenhouse to overwinter there.

I have enjoyed making gift bouquets this year. The flowers are always special as they are handpicked from the garden to mark an important occasion. You have ordered flowers for birthdays, anniversary’s, moving into a new house, the arrival of a new baby and starting a new job. Sometimes I have arranged flowers as somebody just wants to say thank you or get well soon. I like my bouquets to be as fresh as can be so offer them in water. In the past I have aqua packed them in cellophane but I wanted to reduce my use of this. Now I offer bouquets in jars of water within a kraft living vase.

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I have enjoyed my wedding work this year. Every wedding is different with couples having their own ideas to incorporate flowers into their big day. I have supplied many buckets of flowers this season as more and more couples like to arrange their own flowers with friends and family. Dates are getting booked up for 2019/2020 now so if you are interested in locally grown flowers for your wedding please get in touch.

At this time of year Christmas seems very far away but already I have started to think about it. It has been the perfect time to spray the alliums that I have been drying whilst the weather is good outside. I hope you will enjoy them as part of your Christmas decorations this year.

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On rainy days I am making as many pressed flower cards as I can so I have a good stock over the winter. I am also making up gift boxes of cards which make great birthday or Christmas presents.

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Over the summer I make as much biodegradable confetti as I can. This year I have grown much more larkspur, one of my favourite flowers and it makes an excellent addition to the confetti mix. I store my confetti in airtight kilner jars in the airing cupboard. This provides the perfect dry dark atmosphere for storing it. If you would like any confetti for a wedding or event please just get in touch to order.

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As autumn approaches the flower patch gradually winds down. It is a busy time outside with bulb planting to do, pulling apart beds, composting, mulching and arranging the autumn flowers. There is always the tax return and accounts to do and this winter I will be working on my new website. As the days grow shorter I start to plan for the coming year and one of my hopes is to start running workshops. I would love to share my garden, flowers and what I have learned with you. I also have a love of baking and really like the idea of running workshops along a particular theme with the flowers and including refreshments with homemade cake. At the moment I would love your ideas. Would you be interested in workshops? Would you like 1 to 1 workshops or groups ones with 6-8 people? Would weekends, weekdays or evenings work best? Would you like to spend a whole day in the garden with a light lunch or a couple of hours with cake and tea/coffee? I would love to know your thoughts. My initial plan was to start my first ones in March but I think it is likely building work on our house may still be going on then. It will all depend on that winter weather but I am excited to start sharing what I love with you.

2019 will be Cloudberry flowers 5th birthday. I have so enjoyed the last few years, learning about gardening, flowers and finding myself and my creative side again after having the girls. There are so many things that I am still hoping to do and I am looking forward to sharing my flowers and new projects with you over the coming years.

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At Long Last The Garden Awakens

It has been a very long winter and the growing season is off to a very late start. But at long last there are signs of life in the garden and I can start to catch up on the many jobs that need done outside. It is so nice being back out there working, even in the rain!

Growing flowers indoors has been a saviour this year for having early spring flowers and being able to fulfil my orders. I have also been able to buy in flowers that have been grown by colleagues in the South of England to use alongside my own for larger orders. Being able to provide flowers that have been grown in Britain is important to me and it is lovely to be able to buy from fellow growers if I need to. Next year I have some early weddings and we have no idea what kind of a winter we are going to get. Luckily my brides have booked over a year in advance and this means that I can plan the planting for them specifically. I will grow flowers both indoors and outdoors for their weddings to cover all weather conditions we might have thrown at us then. Booking so far in advance also means I can grow the colours of flowers they would like too.

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The flowers outside are a month behind so far which is the latest they have ever been since I started growing for you. Just a tiny bit of sunshine this week has been enough though, to get some hyacinths, narcissi and iris flowering. The daffodils are finally getting buds. I wonder if they will end up just flowering all at once rather than staggering themselves like they normally do? At long last the tulips are getting larger and the perennials are putting on new growth too. I always find this time so exciting to see my plants remerge after a cold winter and my seedlings come on indoors. Nothing can beat planting seeds and coming down in the morning to see a whole tray germinated overnight. Or going round the garden and seeing some aquilegia and astrantia leaves peeping out from the ground.

Inside we are bursting at the seams with plants everywhere. In the last couple of weeks I have started hardening off a lot of my autumn sown hardy annual and perennials. This involves taken them all out in the daytime and then putting them all back at night as the temperature dips. With so many trays going in and out it can take a good half hour at the beginning and end of the day to do this. After a couple of weeks of doing this they are ready to plant out. We are not out of the woods yet with threats of ‘beast from the east 3’ looming! so any I am planting out are getting covered in heavy duty fleece to protect them.

Today was the first day of planting out which felt such a satisfying thing to do after being stuck in limbo for so long, waiting for the snow to go. Below is a picture of some feverfew  that I grew from seeds in August and now are ready to grow on outside.

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I have been trying out my new bulb auger I got as a present for Mother’s Day and boy does that make planting bulbs easier on areas of tough ground! I am looking forward to putting it to better use in the autumn. Here I am just transplanting some snowdrops from one area of the garden to another.

I have been planting lots of new hellebores. Every year like my roses I like to add a few new ones. These ones are all a white variety to be used in spring bridal work next year. Many people think that hellebores do not make a good cut flower as they wilt, but if cut at the correct time and conditioned properly they are magnificent.

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I have been making new pressed flower cards with the flowers I have in bloom and these will be ready to go on the stall over the Easter weekend along with some jars of my first outdoor flowers, sempervivums, the last bulb baskets for this year and my seed jars. If you fancy having a go at growing some mixed cut flowers using seeds from the Cloudberry Flowers garden these little jars contain a good mixture of some of my favourite annual flowers. The stall is already open 7 days a week and as new flowers start coming into bloom more arrangements will be added daily so please pop along anytime for a treat for yourself or a gift for someone.

Its time to get the dahlias out of storage. In late autumn after the first frosts I lifted these up and prepared them for storage. I tried a new technique of wrapping them in clingfilm I had been reading about and I was impressed to see they have all come through the winter with no shrivelling or rot. In the last few years I have just repotted my dahlias in the spring, brought them on inside and then planted them out after the last frosts. This year I have been dividing the tubers for the first time to give me more plants. To do this you must cut a tuber away from the old plant making sure that you have a few eyes on them. A tuber without eyes will not grow into a new plant. They look like little raised bumps close to the top of the tuber. Below you can see the original plant on the left and the 4 new tubers I have cut from it.

Crows, pheasants and pigeons are a bit of a problem in our garden as well as the rabbits! They like to nibble on the narcissi so I have invested in some bird netting to put over the top of the growing flowers to keep them off.

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I have been laying more ground cover over the grass paths. This week I have been doing the ones surrounding the beds built in the front garden last year as I had some left over from doing the top flower patch. This will help cut down mowing time for Robert and keep the weeds and grass from getting into the beds. I have also been putting black polythene over particularly weedy areas over the winter, mulching the beds and laying fleece over the perennial bed to give them a head start getting established again.

Inside I am still sowing seeds constantly. Up until now I have been sowing hardy annuals and perennials. This week I have started off the more tender annuals such as cosmos and statice. These will be brought on indoors until the risk of frost has past in late May, early June. Seed sowing starts in January each year with my first sweet peas, but did you know I will be sowing different types of seeds every week up until September. This is what allows me to bring you flowers right through from spring until late autumn.

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This blog has been all about the garden and me in waiting, on the brink of getting those first outdoor flowers. Next time I write my blog I am hoping to have lots of beautiful pictures to show you of them all blooming away and ready to find good homes. I am so looking forward to providing you with beautiful locally grown seasonal flowers again this year and if you would like to find out more about how you can buy them to enjoy please just get in touch anytime.

Catherine x

Email: cloudberryflowers@gmail.com

Tel: 07813700786

 

Can we just press pause….

May was the last time I sat down to write on my blog. Now already we are approaching the school October holidays. This year at Cloudberry Flowers has been the fastest season yet. I am becoming more and more conscious of time passing too quickly and I would love to press pause and keep my girls just as they are. Kirsten and Anna are growing so fast and next year will see more change with Kirsten starting high school. She has not got far to go before she will be taller than me and if she keeps eating us out of house and home I think that time will come sooner rather than later! The biggest change has been Erin starting primary school. My little girl has grown up so much in just a few months and loves her days full of school and activities.

I thought having the longer days without my wee chatterbox around would be long and quiet but amazingly the days go so quickly. I still don’t seem to have enough hours in them to truly do justice to our house, garden and Cloudberry Flowers. As wedding season is still in full swing it has kept me run off my feet and I have not had time for a quiet moment. Lunchtimes are when it hits me most that there is no small person there to share their stories with you. As a consequence I am not very good at stopping for lunch and eat on the run! I will need to work on that as I find physically working in the garden all day you do need a proper break in the day.

Cloudberry Flowers continues to grow. I love that every day is different. I am always learning, whether it’s looking up a gardening book on best methods for planting or teaching myself a new skill such as making a wrist corsage or hair comb of flowers.

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I love to learn and it is amazing how you never stop in the garden and I don’t think I ever will. The flowers vary so much from season to season affected by so many variables. This year one bed of sweet peas was brilliant but at the opposite end of the patch a bed of them was really poor. My white cosmos are brilliant but my pink nearly non existent. The rudbeckia, chrysanthemums and dahlias just don’t want to flower this year but the cornflowers and scabious are proliferous.

I am enjoying growing the confetti and cards side to my business as well as my flowers. Last year I always had a good stock of confetti. This year it has sold so much I am constantly making new batches.

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I have also loved my summer of weddings. They have challenged me, they have all been different and I have loved how natural seasonal flowers have looked so beautiful and been such a special part of many of my couples big days. I have 2 more weddings this season, which prove to be a big challenge at this time of year as you keep your fingers crossed jack frost stays away and the flowers survive what the weather throws at them, gale force winds tonight! All I can do is take as many precautions as I can staking flowers and covering them where I can to withstand the weather. Despite the stresses the weather brings weddings are such a special part of my job and arranging the flowers I have grown in my own style is one of the most fulfilling bits. Look out for a blog coming up soon where you can read all about this summers weddings. Here’s one of my bridal bouquets from this season and some table flowers.

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Weddings are also a challenge from a work life balance perspective. Peak wedding season falls right over the school summer holidays and each wedding takes along time to do. First foliage is cut and conditioned, then flowers need to be cut and conditioned. Table arrangements need to be made and then there is the brides bouquets, bridesmaids, flower girls, buttonholes, corsages, flower crowns and confetti. Sometimes there are accommodation and thank you flowers too. This summer I have learned a lot about organising myself and working weddings around the children. The girls are fantastic and are really good for me on the busy days that lead up to a wedding. They have loved coming with me to deliver wedding flowers when their dad is away working too.

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At the beginning of this year I had hoped I would be able to supply local florists with my homegrown flowers as well as have enough for my stall and weddings. Unfortunately as the season had gone on this has not been possible this year, partly due to the weather and also wedding bookings that have come in after the flowers have been planted so it is not possible to increase the numbers I am growing. I hope in future years to be able to build on my planning and flower growing so that I will always have flowers available if a local florist needs a particular variety they cannot source elsewhere.

The new beds at the front of the garden have been a great success and given me the extra flowers that I have needed. As they have a different type of soil and different aspect, flowers have grown differently here. As autumn approaches I am hoping to improve the soil quality with compost and plan how I can use the beds more effectively next year. In the top flower patch my beds are deliberately narrow so I can cut flowers from all sides which works brilliantly. The beds at the front are much larger and it has been a challenge with horizontal netting in place to reach those central flowers in the beds.

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This year I have found once again that the strongest performing flowers were those that I plant from seed in August and overwinter ready to produce big healthy plants in the spring. The seeds I sow in the spring are useful to fill gaps but are not neatly as robust as my autumn sown hardy annuals. My cornflowers planted last autumn started to flower in a June and are still flowering now. Not all seeds can be sown in the autumn as they would not survive the winter outside so half hardy annuals and tender annuals do have to be sown in spring. Here are some of the seeds in early September that I had sown in August.

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Daily life at Cloudberry Flowers is always busy with digging, sowing, planting, staking, deheading, weeding, cutting, conditioning, arranging, pruning, dividing and transplanting going on. I go out in all weathers but some time in the week is spent inside card and confetti making, creating new ideas, research, liaising with brides, learning and squeezing in the odd bit of admin too! A morning last week was spent washing buckets from weddings ready for the next one and weeding the flower patch. The wheelbarrow loads then have to be taken from the top flower patch to the bottom compost heaps at the bottom of the front garden, which helps keep me fit!

The weather this year really has been awful for flower farming. We have just had so little sun and lots of damp, rainy cloudy days. Flowers do need sun and warmth to perform at their best. I am so pleased to have come through such a challenging season and still been able to produce all the flowers I have for weddings and customers. I could not have done this in previous years as I would not have been growing enough. The extra beds and flowers I now grow has really helped. Also growing enough different varieties of flower has helped as some flowers have not done at all well with the lack of sun but others have come through. I planted a lot of cherry brandy rudbeckia this year with the sole purpose of using it in a September wedding I had. Not one has flowered due to the lack of sun but I had lots of red scabious, cosmos, dahlias and larkspur I used instead which looked beautiful. This is why it is important to me to never promise a bride a particular flower in her bouquet and you do need to be adaptable if having flowers at your wedding that are seasonal and locally grown. I can promise you some absolutely beautiful flowers but I can’t promise you exactly what they will be!

One flower that in the last three seasons since Cloudberry Flowers began that I have never been able to grow is freesias. This year I had some left over bulbs and I thought I would just pop them in a bed and a few pots, plant over them and never expected to see anything come, just like previous years. In the last week I have had freesia flowers in bloom and they just keep popping up! I do like surprises and this has been a good late season one!

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Helichrysums have been a new flower for me this year too and I love them. They look fabulous in bouquets where bright strong colours are needed. They dry really well. They are strong flowers on strong stems and they mix really well with other late season flowers like dahlias and scabious.

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It is also nice to gain inspiration and for the first time we went on a family holiday abroad this summer to the Italian lakes. I loved seeing the flowers they could grow there with a bit more heat and sunshine. Their agapanthus were the first thing that struck me, so many and such strong stems and flower heads! The photograph below shows a favourite place we found. Isn’t it beautiful with just my kind of flowers, a meadow full of wild flowers in the garden of an Italian villa.

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I love my new garden gate stall that Robert built me after the last one had seen better days. Ever since Erin went to school and I have more time for Cloudberry Flowers I have been cutting and arranging flowers for the stall everyday. Robert would often be cutting grass in the evening over the summer and see people coming to the stall but as it was not a weekend there were no flowers on it. So now you can pop to the stall 7 days a week for your flowers. I like to keep the stall open in the evenings until it gets dark as it gives you a chance to pop by if you are walking the dog or after work.

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For most of us it is far too early to be thinking of Christmas and for me it normally would be as well! However the garage is now full of baskets I have been planting bulbs in which will hopefully have been done early enough they will flower around or just after Christmas, making a lovely present. Last year was the first year I had planted bulbs for forcing. I love the idea, I think the look and smell beautiful but I wasn’t happy with the height of the narcissi and hyacinths as a gift for a loved one. They were too tall and floppy! Staking with pea sticks or branches just wasn’t enough. So this year I have been planting more dwarf varieties of bulbs including iris and narcissi and I hope they will look lovely. I am still growing my tall narcissi but I will use these for Christmas jam jar posies instead.

At this time of year the question is how long will the season last? In November last year I was still making up bouquets for customers. I will have to wait and see how long it takes Jack Frost to put in an appearance this year! In the meantime I am going to keep bringing you lovely autumn flowers, clear beds for next year, plant new seeds and get on to the mammoth task of the annual bulb planting. This year I was going to be so good and not buy too many new bulbs, but then the catalogues pop through the letterbox and those tulips just look divine. The temptation was just too much and you do have to plant enough for any spring brides that would like some flowers! The result of my large bulb order will be some gorgeous spring flowers for you to enjoy in your bouquets and jam jar posies in the spring!

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER AT CLOUDBERRY FLOWERS

Bouquets and Jam Jar Posies will be available to order daily until we have a run of frosts and the flowers stop blooming in the garden. The garden gate stall will also be open every day until this time too. Fingers crossed its November like last year!

 

 

My new Etsy shop https://CloudberryFlowers.etsy.com 

I’ve been feeling excited this week after opening my Etsy shop yesterday. I wanted my pressed flower cards and real petal confetti to be available to customers that were not just local to where I live. Etsy seemed the perfect place to start selling online as it champions homemade and vintage products.

So far I am selling my pressed flower cards and individual boxes of confetti. By the end of the week I am hoping to have my 1 litre bags of confetti and gift boxes of cards available there too.

As the flower season draws to a close for this year it has made me focus on how I can make my homegrown flowers last longer than the short growing season. For me pressing flowers and drying petals for confetti has allowed me to make a piece of my garden last through those cold winter months.

Each box of confetti and card is made with a lot of love. It takes me months to make each one, starting from growing the seeds, nurturing the seedlings, transplanting and growing on the flowers, to finally choosing the perfect ones to cut and then press or dry. It is a process I love from start to finish, although there is a lot of hard work that goes into it and often a few gardening disasters along the way!  I think it’s amazing that a tiny seed can become something so beautiful and my passion for this goes into every plant I grow and all the arrangements, cards and confetti I make.

My new Etsy shop is CloudberryFlowers and you can find it at: https://CloudberryFlowers.etsy.com 

I would love for you to visit and let me know what you think.

Catherine x