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

 

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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!

 

 

March at Cloudberry Flowers

March means waiting…. It is a time of year for me when I go through a right mixture of emotions. I can be frustrated, disheartened and lacking in patience one day and feel happy, excited and hopeful the next.

Today was a great day. It was sunny and I got so much done. I dug another bed for my perennials I use for cutting. I did think I was done cutting beds but you can never have too many, so just one more for now! I got it planted up  and then divided a lot of perennials and transplanted them. I finished off the afternoon helping Kirsten sow some seeds for her garden.

Not every day is so productive and February and the beginning of March can feel like the hardest months as I just want to get going and I can’t. If I sow my seeds too early they will be too leggy trying to reach the little light there is or get bitten by a frost. Unexpected snow or really rainy days hamper what I can do outside when there is so much to be done. It all feels rather frustrating!

Its not all doom and gloom at this time of year though! There have been glimpses of sun now and again. I have been able to grab my spade put on my oldest clothes and take advantage of these nice spells. Digging, weeding and transplanting plants for all its worth. I tend to completely overdo it on these brief nice days and often end up eating a lot of chocolate and having hot baths at night to ease those aching muscles. Who needs the gym when you can garden! I love these times with the sun on your back digging and a robin just perched watching you nearby. Often I might see a frog or a mouse jumping out from nowhere and the birds are starting to sing in the trees. Its peaceful and my happy place.

Flower growing is a lot of hard graft and sometimes you just have one of those days. I raced out to the garden last weekend when the weather was dry and the girls had thought it would be fun to soak themselves as much as they could washing our cars. I managed to mend some arches, tie in roses, transplant plants and was feeling rather chuffed with the amount I had done! This was followed by a swinging branch in my eye and skidding on the slippy stones and ending up flat on my back. Feeling more than a little bit sore I suddenly realised I had gardened for far longer than I thought and I would have some very hungry children if I didn’t get on to tea fast. Learning to slow down just a touch might help sometimes as I raced to cook tea and rubbed chilli in my remaining good eye! That night sitting down at tea I was exhausted and sore but feeling otherwise great. I had got so much done. My kids had been happy all afternoon playing in water and I finally had some beds that had more plants than weeds. I had new homes for plants that had just been in the wrong place before and I had noticed so much new spring growth in the garden.

I might find March frustrating at times due to the weather but when we got some unexpected snow a few weeks ago it was undoubtedly beautiful and gave everyone the chance to have some fun.

Once the snow had melted a week later I was delighted to walk around our garden and see some of my favourite flowering perennials showing their first signs of new growth. The photo below shows some of these including my peonies, geum and astrantia.

The bulbs are definitely coming along nicely now too, although I think we are maybe a week or two behind last year. I am looking forward to all the tulips blooming for bouquets and the  muscari, fritillary and hyacinths for my jam jar posies.

I do like to grow perennials from seed and there is nothing more exciting and rewarding than seeing a plant a couple of years on coming back up through the ground after the winter. This is especially because some perennials are just so difficult to grow from seed, like astrantia. The photo below shows some polemonium, feverfew and aquilegia I had previously grown from seed just putting on their new seasons growth now.

Seed sowing is a magical exciting time for me. After all that waiting and trying to be patient I can finally get going. This year I held off as long as I could, which I think was longer than last year! The dining room table is covered in every kind of seed you can imagine and so far I am managing to stick to my resolution of filling in my planting planner and labelling. Let’s see in April if I am still managing to keep that one up! Hardy annuals is all I am sowing just now. They are the plants that will survive a little frost. The more tender annuals I will start off later, closer to the time of planting out. From the last few years I have worked out that I don’t want to plant out anything tender before the 1st of June unless I have it in a tunnel.

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I have resisted putting up most of my low tunnels this year. Last year when I did storms in March ripped them apart, I was gutted and I don’t want the same devastation again. I may just lay fleece over my plants and put up the tunnels in late April when I think the worst of the winter weather is past. More than ever I have to watch the weather forecasts carefully at this time of year, watching for high winds and frosts. Being caught unaware from these I could lose all the flowers I have worked so hard to grow. The photo below shows my one concession to the tunnels so far but it is more of a rabbit deterrent than frost protection. The rabbits got in the fenced off area again and sheared off the tops of a bed of plants one night. You can just see some of the nibbled stalks in the bottom right hand corner! I think it was early enough in the year that they will recover and catch up by putting new growth on now as the weather warms. It is strange but our neighbours don’t have the same problem with rabbits that we do. They put it down to having a cat. That would be an easy solution if Robert wasn’t so allergic to them! Now when I remember I am trying to shut our front gates at night to help keep them out. It is at this time they all run down the hill from the high school playing fields to find their favourite garden! Even with the gates shut they still find a way in so all we can do is keep fencing them out my flowers. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing but it’s the best hope we have for my flowers.

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Also this month with the help of Robert we moved the stall. I have been meaning to do this for ages. Last year I had it on the gravel on the left as you come in the driveway. It was a good spot for it but it was in direct sunlight. I am really proud of my flowers being the freshest you can buy as I cut them straight from the garden where they are growing. But I need to keep them like this once they are arranged and that means keeping them out of the sun. Putting the stall facing the opposite way on the other side of the drive keeps the flowers away from the heat. Robert probably feels the stall is like our piano which has shifted rooms many times since we moved in! I am hoping that its new spot on the opposite side of the driveway will be its final home and no more heavy lifting will be required! It just needs a lick of paint when the weather warms up a bit and it will be good to go for the new season.

The photo below shows the stall in its new position on the right hand side as you go in the driveway . Today was the first day we had some real sun and I was really pleased to see my flowers on the stall nicely shaded whilst the old spot the stall was in had the sun coming right down on it. It was worth the heavy lifting to move it.

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Another important job to be done in March was to plant a bed of raspberries with the girls. We had enjoyed growing these in our old house and it was something the girls particularly missed. We have just planted 26 canes of Glen Ample and I had lots of help from my able assistants. We are looking forward to enjoying some family fruit in the coming years. The next stage here will be to build a fruit cage to protect our crop.

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For the rest of this month I will keep my seed sowing going. As soon as one tray germinates on the heated bed, off it comes and new seeds go on. Some seeds are amazing and germinate in 48 hours, others could take up to a month. Its like Christmas going in each morning to see which seedlings have popped up overnight! The photo below shows the heated sand bed I germinate many of my seeds on. It is usually covered in clear plastic lids or bubble wrap to keep it humid and moist. Some seeds are also in the airing cupboard in the dark, the fridge and the freezer. They all like different things and you have to cater to their needs if you are going to be successful!

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For the first time since I started growing flowers Mothers Day is quite late this year and I am hoping to have some baskets of flowering bulbs on the stall to bring a little bit of seasonal spring colour to our local hardworking mums. I will also have pressed flower cards, jam jar posies and bunches of daffodils available . These jam jar posies below were for this weeks stall. It was so nice to see a bit of colour coming into the garden and enough freshly cut homegrown flowers to work with again. The stall is hidden away in a quiet street so please do let your friends and family know where to find it so they can enjoy really fresh flowers and homegrown handmade products too.

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I have been excited to be working on my newsletter this week which I am hoping I will have ready in the next few days. It will be for anyone to subscribe to with their email and I will give you monthly updates on whats happening at Cloudberry Flowers, flowers that have come into bloom that will be for sale, news of any special offers or events and my top tips of the month for flowers and gardening.

By my next blog in April we will be back in the full swing of it, longer days, pretty flowers blooming and hopefully a little sunshine! These last few months of winter can feel long but life has a habit of moving along and before you know it the new season is off and its full speed ahead.