Autumn at Cloudberry Flowers

I was asked recently did I enjoy the time to sit back and watch daytime tv now the flowers were over for the season? This made me laugh as it couldn’t be further from the truth! Here’s a little insight into what I get up to when the flowers stop growing.

November this year was a month of very few flowers. Some years I am lucky and the season keeps going for longer. Early frosts in October this year brought the flowers to an abrupt end. Wouldn’t it be great to think the end of the flower season meant I could sit with my slippers on, feet up in front of the wood burning stove with a cup of tea browsing through seed catalogues and grand designs on in the background!

Back to reality  and it is jumpers, wellies, hat and waterproofs on and out into the garden for the muddy task of the day. Some days I find it really easy to go out and work if dressed in the right gear and other days its damp and cold and a bit of a boost is needed in the form of chocolate! It’s a physically demanding time of year and I am often working outside in cold muddy wet conditions. This week I was in the playground at pick up time to have streaks of mud on my face pointed out. I must start looking in a mirror more often! My birthday comes at just the right time and the girls get me stocked up with dairy milk for the digging and clearing to come. It might not sound much fun but I still get that buzz from clearing the perennials in the bed and finding the new growth for next year just peaking through the soil or the happy sense of peace that comes from digging in the garden with my friendly robin beside me.

 

I continue collecting seeds from the finished flower heads and press the last flowers that are still growing. The beds start to be cleared. All annuals need pulled up and perennials cut back. The annuals are then chopped into small pieces and wheelbarrowed down to the compost heap. Making good compost really helps mulch the beds next year. I never finish the job of clearing the beds before Christmas as I keep the plants in until the last flower has gone and I always start this job too late. It has also been hampered due to lack of access to the top flower patch while the building work in our back garden goes on. There will be plenty time in January as long as we are not under snow to finish the clearing and next year I will be more organised!

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The 215 dahlias I planted out in June need lifted, dried and wrapped for storage over the winter. This process takes me a few weeks as I only have enough space to lay them out to dry off in batches. I enjoyed the company of a curious robin who perched on my spade or the ground beside me singing whilst I dug. I have experimented with keeping a few dahlias in the ground over the winter but in our Scottish climate they rot. I have never lost any dahlias by lifting them and storing them.

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I have marked out my new beds in the front garden and they are ready for top soil. This involved me moving a lot of barrows of soil up and down the front garden hill. The chocolate is definitely needed here. I have got about 3/4 of the beds done now and hope to fence this new area and cover the paths with ground cover matting in January and February.

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This month I have spent some time giving talks to local groups. I spent a lovely afternoon with the Innerleithen Church Guild and then a morning with children at Priorsford primary school. I have done a few talks to adults about flower farming but it was my first time speaking with children. I was so keen to engage them with my love of flowers, nature, the outdoors and gardening. Without flowers growing I had to think of some new ideas to make my talk interesting. I took in some dahlia tubers, corms and seeds and showed the children that these very strange looking objects can grow into the most beautiful of flowers. I took with me lots of seed heads for the children to split open and find the seeds inside. They then collected these up to grow in the school poly tunnel in the spring. I love that the school has such an amazing facility to encourage a lifelong love of gardening and growing from an early age. I hope I can work more with children in the future.

Below is a picture of the dahlia tubers I brought in to show the children and a picture of what I showed them they turn into. I still find this an amazing process as they do look like a bunch of funny potatoes incapable of growing into anything.

 

Inside I have been successionally soaking and chitting my ranunculus and anemone corms. I then plant these up individually to grow on over the winter and provide early spring flowers. It is colder now so I don’t need to water as much but every week I must check and water my annual seedlings in the conservatory and also the bulbs I am forcing in the garage.

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Last week I finished the tulip planting. I have planted many of these in trenches outside in the flower patch and also some in crates. I have not tried this before but with spring weddings this year I need to make sure I have flowers in bloom. If I plant in crates and the weather is like it was this year with lots of snow and freezing temperatures I can take the tulips inside and bring them on there. Tulips are always one of the biggest financial investments of the year. The bulbs are very expensive and take a lot of work to plant. You then never have any guarantee they will bloom when you need them too. For example I did not have tulips blooming in April at all this year, they all came in May whether or not they were early or late varieties. So its head vs heart. My head says you don’t need many tulips, enough for your weddings and a few to sell as bunches as I don’t sell enough to warrant buying thousands. However the lure of the glossy catalogues dropping through my door more often than not makes my heart win. I just love tulips! I love the varieties that are different to what you might find in the supermarket, for example the beautiful fringed tulips. I can justify buying them by offering my customers tulips that are beautiful and different to what you would find anywhere else.

 

Its now Christmas at Cloudberry Flowers! I just love this time of year and I am looking forward to getting stuck into Christmas wreath making this week. There is still time to order your wreath this year, just get in touch anytime. I have been working on all my Christmas homegrown and handmade decorations to give you some ideas for something a little bit different this year. What do you get your granny, mum or auntie who have everything? I came up with making up bulb baskets as I know that plants flowering inside in January, February and March is something nice to cheer relatives up on dark winter days. My gift boxes of cards were for designed with the idea they would be great for someone who always likes to have a nice card to hand in the house to send throughout the year. What do you get for that work secret Santa present or to fill a hamper? My seed jars and mini hanging frames with pressed flowers are something small and a little bit different to give as a gift.

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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas at Cloudberry Flowers without my sparkly alliums. I started growing this years ones this time last year when I planted the bulbs. They flowered in June and I cut them to dry in July and August. In October and November I spray them silver ready for Christmas. Great as a mixture in a vase or as a star at the top of your Christmas tree, they look fabulous.

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December will be a month of wreath making. I get the moss and all the foliage from the garden to make them.  This week I rake the moss out the ground and start mossing up the wreaths and next week I will start cutting the foliage and building the wreaths up into something beautiful.

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Last year I decorated my Christmas Day table with my wreaths with candles and it looked fantastic so I will be offering these for sale this year too. Wreath arrangements for your table dry out awfully easily in a heated house so make sure you keep them cool and give the foliage and moss a drink to prevent them drying out.

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In November I also bought a card machine so I can take card payments as well as cash. I know myself that I just do not use cash in the same way as I did years ago and if I was shopping I would prefer to use a card to pay. I hope this helps make visiting Cloudberry Flowers easier for my customers.

Looking ahead to next year I am excited by the weddings I have booked in and the growing has already started for these. It will be the start of Cloudberry Flowers 5th year and I am looking forward to having some lovely flowers back on the stall for my customers, where it all started in 2014. I have learnt so much and know the one thing missing from my job is sharing my love of growing with you. I would love to develop workshops for you here at Cloudberry Flowers. I had great intentions to start these this coming spring but building work at our house has revealed some major drainage issues that need to be fixed involving a lot of excavation of the back garden in the spring. Once I get my garden back I can focus on getting these off the ground and sharing my love of flowers and growing with you.

Have a fabulous festive season and I am looking forward to seeing you in the coming weeks if you pop into visit Cloudberry Flowers at its Christmas openings.

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Time to get back to gardening

Christmas and New Year were a lovely couple of weeks holiday full of family, friends, Christmas magic with the kids, a bit of over indulgence and a lot of rain!! Now the kids are back at school, the house is very bare with the decorations down and it is time to get back into the garden.

This time of year excites me. Running a flower business where you are growing largely annuals from seed and bulbs means that each year you start over again from scratch. I am full of optimism for the season ahead and excited about growing new flowers I haven’t tried before. I know there will be many challenges to come particularly with the weather! But just now is a time to dream of beautiful flowers and pour over the seed catalogues, getting very carried away as I put in my orders!

Back in the garden it is difficult to know where to start. Everywhere is just so saturated with water and it just keeps raining! For the time being until things dry up a little the flower patch will have to fend for itself.

  

The conservatory housing the seedlings and plants I am overwintering was a dryer place to start this week. Unfortunately quite a few seedlings were suffering from botrytis a fungus that attacks the plants. I don’t remember this being a problem last year and wonder if the milder conditions have been a cause. I removed all the affected seedlings. To help prevent further attacks I will make sure I ventilate the conservatory where possible, space plants out and water the seedlings from underneath rather than on top of the foliage. I will watch and see what happens over the next few weeks to see if there are any further attacks.

It was also time to pot on a few seedlings this week. When roots are starting to show at the base of the pot it’s time to get them into a larger one. Some stocks and nepta seedlings I had grown from seed particularly benefited from this as their roots were really showing.

I am as usual at this time of year getting itchy feet to sew some seeds and get the years planting underway. I know I will have to hold off a another month before I get really stuck into this but I thought I would start off with just a few sweet peas. Here they are soaking in water for 24 hours before sewing to aid germination.

Outside this week I have spotted the first signs of snowdrops and buds on the hellebores which I might expect to see at this time. However the garden is also somewhat confused by this unseasonably mild winter we have had so far. I am sure I can count the number of frosts we have had on one hand. As a result my bulbs I planted in the autumn are popping up everywhere. I am worried that bulbs that are already showing buds will not flower in the spring this year. I am hoping that the ones just showing leaves will be ok. Do you have any experience of bulbs coming up early in a mild winter and did yours flower in the spring?

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With the constant heavy rain that we have had and the very saturated ground outside I am also concerned about my tulips. Last year I did not plant many as it was my first year and I was unsure whether customers would like them. They were a success and people liked being able to buy more unusual varieties you would not see elsewhere. So in the autumn I planted a lot more in terms of both numbers and variety. Could all this rain I wonder affect their flowering in the spring? Especially in one particular area where the flower beds are getting waterlogged due to poorer drainage.

The thing with being a flower farmer is you cannot do anything about the weather and you have to work with it. Last year I spent a lot of time getting quite stressed about the cold not bringing on the plants, the strong winds knocking over my flowers despite staking, the rain damaging the more delicate blooms, late frosts and snow damaging seedlings I had planted out. This year I am going to try not to worry too much about these things. I will prepare as best as I can and if there are tulips and daffodils to sell in the spring brilliant and if not I will try again next year!

This week has felt good to get back to all my gardening jobs and get back on top of things. Gardening is a continual process and not one you can leave too long, as I have found out with the loss of some seedlings. What I have found invaluable just now is being able to look back at my blog from last year. It has been able to tell me what the weather conditions were like, and when I started sewing sweet peas and other hardy annuals. When I started the blog last year it was to share with other interested people what I was doing in my garden and now I am seeing there is a benefit to myself as well! Starting the blog last year I would write a little each week. As time went on and I got busier with the flowers, house and children I found I had less and less time. My blog by then had decreased to just once a month. Now seeing how valuable it can be to myself and others I am going to make a New Years resolution and try and get back in the habit of writing something every week!

After all this rain we have had I woke up today to a garden covered in frost and it looked beautiful! what a difference to see a clear sky, feel the cold on your face as you walk the girls to school and not need a full clothes change by the time you get back as you are soaked through-the new waterproof trousers are on order! I hope this lovely frosty weather lasts to let the rivers go back down to their normal levels and reduce the risk of flooding and to let the garden experience a proper winter at last! I hope you are not having so much rain where you are and are getting a chance to get back in the garden after the holidays.

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Weddings, weather and widening my horizons.

Life has taken me down a totally new path over the last few months and never more so than in September where I have achieved things I never could have dreamed of a few years ago.  Walking around the dialysis unit seeing my renal patients as a dietitian and then becoming a mum to my 3 beautiful girls I never would have thought I would be doing what I am doing now. September has challenged me, pushed me completely out of my comfort zone, taught me new skills and led me to achieve a dream, growing and arranging wedding flowers.

The start of the month there was a big change in the weather. Previously I had been able to cut flowers early in the morning before the girls woke up for school. Now the mornings were chilly leaving dew on the flowers and no good for cutting. By the time I got back from the school run the weather was warming up and it was too late to cut! So flowers needed to be cut in the evening and this was also proving challenging as by the time I got bedtime stories and baths done it was dark outside! Time for a few nights out with a torch in the cutting garden. This had the added bonus that I finally found the attackers on my dahlias, 20 slugs in one night enjoying a good munch!

September saw the end to some of the flowers in the cutting patch and the start to others blooming such as scabious, rudbeckia, sunflowers and dahlias. I could see the buds coming out on the scabious and the July planting of phacelia and cornflowers but would they be ready in time for the wedding at the end of the month?

The weather was starting to make me nervous as we went through the month. It was dull, cold and at times wet and windy. Not conducive to bringing flowers into bloom. Some sleepless nights were going to be had wondering if I could do this and produce the flowers I needed for the wedding. Flower growing is certainly a nerve wracking job as you have no control over the weather. You can do everything you can to help things along. Covering the flowers to keep off the wind and rain, staking them well, continually deheading to ensure new blooms, but at the end of the day the weather is in charge and you just have to keep all your fingers and toes crossed!

September also brought with it a delivery of bulbs for planting in the autumn which will produce lots of lovely colour in the spring bouquets. Choosing is very hard when you love flowers as you want to buy everything! I finally narrowed it down to a good mixture of well known tulips, narcissus, hyacinths and alliums and some less well known bulbs such as ixia, camassi and triteleia . Yesterday was a beautiful day and as a family we all pitched in to help and got a good 600 in the ground. Just a 1000 to go now!

Lots of bulbs arrived! 

The girls helping me plant bulbs while daddy lifts the turf. 

  

Another first in September was running a Cloudberry Flowers stall at a charity fun day. I have ran the stall in my garden as a self service one since April but never done one in public before. I was unsure how well received the flowers would be, whether I would have the confidence to do it and enjoy it. However enjoy it I did and people seemed to love the flowers. It was a great day and gave me a good bit of encouragement to try new things with the business in the future. I won’t be so nervous next time!

The Cloudberry Flowers stall at Hartree charity fun day

When I started Cloudberry Flowers the garden gate stall in the garden seemed the perfect place to sell from. To me it meant customers could actually come directly to the place the flowers were grown and buy flowers that were newly cut, conditioned and arranged. The flowers would never have had to travel and people could come and choose the ones they liked at anytime of the day or evening. I even thought it might be a good way for men to be able to buy a woman flowers anonymously! However the stall is proving to have its pitfalls. We do live in a location with very little passing trade and unless you know it is there you will never see it. The high street can be really busy on a Saturday yet our street only 5 minutes away is very quiet. I have also found this month that there is a definite pattern emerging. Flowers seem to sell on Fridays and Saturdays but not Sundays so I will have to review this for next season and see if I need to change the days it is open. Some weekends the sales have been good and it is such a lovely feeling that people want to buy the flowers you have grown. Other weekends sales have been very poor and at times I have a high wastage of flowers on a Sunday night. This leaves you feeling a bit disheartened and questioning what you are doing wrong. Overall it is a bit of an emotional roller coaster and the stall has given me lots to think about and review over the winter as I start to look at next years season. Any suggestions and feedback about the stall will be gratefully received!

The Cloudberry Flowers Garden Gate Stall


I love to learn new things and since I stopped work as a dietitian before my eldest daughter was born I haven’t really stretched myself. I have dabbled in cake decorating and taught myself to do that through books and trial and error! I have had a lot of fun with making cakes for friends and family and still do. At one point I decided to teach myself how to make curtains and blinds for our old house. There was a major sense of achievement at the end of it but I can’t say I enjoyed it! As my mum knows all too well sewing was never a strong point of mine. As my family is growing up now I have found I really need to find me again, learn new things and find a career I love that fits in with being there for my children. September has given me a few opportunities, giving me a really good start in building up some floristry skills and finding my own style.

Growing my own flowers is great but you also need to know what to do with them. At the start of September I went to visit a new friend in the borders who had been a florist for many years and now grows her own flowers too. She was kind enough to share techniques for bouquets and buttonholes with me and it gave me a great start to go off and practice myself. In the middle of september I had a fantastic day at the British flowers Workshop Scotland in Edinburgh. It was a course dedicated to floristry skills using British grown flowers. I met up with fellow flower growers I had met before and made some new friends too. It was such an inspiring day working with beautiful flowers and gaining confidence in arranging them. Learning from different people I have found really beneficial. It has allowed me to practice varying ideas and skills to develop my own style that works for me and I now have the confidence to go with that.

The bouquet I made at British Flowers Workshop Scotland

My first flower crown made at British Flowers Workshop Scotland

It then got to a week before the wedding. I had the new found confidence in my own floristry skills but the weather was really playing havoc outside in the cutting patch. I have never watched the weather forecast so closely in my life! What it was saying was a lot of wet weather was coming our way and the wind was picking up too! Not good for the nerves this close to the wedding. A friend had an inspired idea of putting up a gazebo over a section of the cutting patch to protect some of it from the rain. So on the Sunday afternoon after being a bit dubious at the idea and having visions of gazebos taking of in the wind over the road my husband and dad helped out and put it up with a lot of reinforced roping! It worked a treat. The rain hammered down and it stood its ground. At least a section of the wedding flowers were protected! My phacelia that I had planted especially for the wedding were starting to bloom. Unfortunately my white and lilac cornflowers were not. I decided to cut them in bud and bring them into the warm to force them into blooming but it was a lost cause. If a cornflower is not ready to flower it will not!

Phacelia in bloom the week before the wedding.

The white cornflowers in bud but not ready to bloom for the wedding

 

Wednesday came and it was the start of the major cutting, conditioning and arranging for house flowers right up to Saturday and the brides bouquet, buttonholes and table centres. It was a week of hard work especially with the girls still to be looked after too. The appearance of grandparents on Friday was a godsend so that I could then just concentrate on the flowers. Once the flowers were cut, I knew I had grown enough and they were sitting conditioning in their buckets, the sense of relief was huge. I could now concentrate on using the skills I had been practising for the last few months to arrange all the beautiful flowers. I loved working with them, putting theory into practice and being creative. Now I had some lovely flowers and I just needed to get them there in one piece the next day! Going to bed that night I suddenly had a panic, what if someone decides tonights the night they are going to burgle the sheds and garages? My husband thought I was being completely daft and said of course they are not going to steal flowers, if they are going to steal anything it would be the tools or bikes! Needless to say they were all still there in the morning!

Travelling with flowers you have arranged in a variety of jars and vases is a bit tricky. Especially on small country roads where you really do feel every pothole as you go over them! Bubble wrap and strapping the boxes of flowers in with seatbelts worked really well and driving very slowly! I think the back window maybe needs a sign saying sorry driving slowly important wedding flowers on board! The flowers got to the bride and the wedding in one piece and driving home I felt so proud and happy of what I had achieved and judging by the number of yawns I managed that day more than a little tired! Hopefully my wedding couple will always look at phacelia, cornflowers and scabious blooming in September and be reminded of their wedding. That is the joy of using seasonal flowers.

My first bridal bouquet wrapped in twine and full of beautiful scabious, mint, cosmos, cornflowers, borage, phacelia, ammi majus, ammi visnaga, nepta cat mint, marjoram, eucalyptus, salvia, sweet peas, perovskia or russian sage, physostegia and didiscus.

Buttonholes wrapped in twine and made with rosemary, white heather, echinops, cornflowers, nigella seed pods, achillea, rose and weigela leaves.

Table centres in jam jars wrapped in twine and full of cosmos, mint, echinops, cornflowers, salvia, phacelia, ammi, borage, nigella seed pods, briza grass and sweet peas.

So now sitting on monday morning after the wedding writing this blog would I grow the flowers for a wedding again? Definitely! To grow and arrange the flowers for a couples wedding is an amazing privilege and for a while you are part of their dream which is a special place to be.