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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A Stormy Night

I tossed and turned a lot last night. I could hear the wind howling around the house. Surprisingly I had fallen asleep really quickly despite the storm outside and I was sure when I woke up it must be 4 or 5 in the morning. To my great disappointment it was only 2am. It was going to be a long night. Sleep was not for coming back to me hearing what was happening outside! There is nothing you can do in the middle of the night. It is pitch black and I had no way of knowing if the flower patch was flattened. I would just have to lie there and wait it out! I wonder if my fellow flower growers loose sleep on nights we have gales like I do? I manage to sleep fine even if it is raining or snowing, which can be just as damaging to flowers, but hearing the wind gets me every time!

My sensible head says to me it is mid October, the natural end to a flower season. We could have had a frost at the beginning of October and it would all have been over then. Does it matter if the wind comes in and flattens the flower patch tonight? My heart though (which does tend to rule!) says I just want a few more weeks of beautiful flowers, they looked so lovely this morning. Last year there were flowers in November, can it not be the same this year, or is that a bit greedy?! It seems cruel to have the whole flower patch flattened in one fell swoop. I think I would prefer a gradual cooling of temperatures and shorter days, with a few occasional frosts and a slower end to the flowers.

I love my job but by this time of year I am getting tired. Flower farming is physically and mentally tiring and by the end of the season with so many jobs still to do, planting bulbs, digging, mulching, pruning, dividing and clearing up for winter I could use the extra time without the flowers. And yet although it is inevitable and I know its coming I am not ready for the flowers to end. They are so extraordinary, beautiful and bring such pleasure to people. The end of the flowers also means the start of the winter!

I finally must have fallen asleep again. I hear the alarm and then Kirsten coming in to say daddy needs your help outside, I think its the stall! With a sinking heart I grab jacket and wellies and go to see what needs to be done. Walking through the garden I can see garden furniture scattered and the barbecue fallen over. And then yes there is the roof of the stall not where it is supposed to be! The whole thing had toppled in the wind. Fortunately it does look like it can be fixed fairly easily, but there will be no flowers on it today!

So what of the flower patch? I decided it was worth a quick look in my pyjamas. To begin with all you can see is the devastation after a storm. The broken stakes pulled out of the ground, the flattened flowers and the ripped tunnel sheeting. It does look like this might be it for this year. I hope my fellow growers and friends have come through the storm with polytunnels still where they are supposed to be and flowers still standing!

On closer inspection after dropping the girls at school it would appear all is not quite lost! Yes there is definitely a lost bed of rudbeckia and snapdragons and half my cosmos bed is ripped out. The dahlias have had a good bashing and I have lost quite a few. But the scabious and helichrysum are still hanging on in there with some asters, thistles and astrantia. There are roses still in bud. These Scottish flowers are resilient and I know I can be too!

 

 

Looking back and looking forward

My blog is a bit like a diary to me and not a very well kept up one at that! It is two months since I last wrote anything so I know this piece is in danger of being very long. I have a tendency to write everything I am thinking down as if I was catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a long time! Read on for a round up of Cloudberry Flowers past, present and future.

Here we are post Christmas. I have eaten far too many naughty but nice things, exercised far less than usual and spent more time indoors playing lots of new board games with the girls. I now have very itchy feet to be outside and getting going in the garden.

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December was amazing. I was so pleased people liked the Christmas homegrown items I had been making. Everyones favourites were jam jar posies with narcissus and foliage I had grown, wreaths made with garden moss and foliage, Christmas potpourri, hyacinth bulb baskets I had forced and the alliums I had grown, dried and sprayed. I have always loved Christmas and this year I was able to indulge myself in a whole month of being creative. I was so caught up in Cloudberry Flowers at Christmas it was the first time ever that I have not readjusted the decorations on the Christmas tree after the girls had gone to bed. I think I liked it better with several decorations to one branch anyway! By the end of the month I was happy but pretty tired!

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After a very hectic December I did want to have a proper rest over the Christmas holidays and it was time to put Cloudberry Flowers away for just a wee while. This I seem to find completely impossible to do. It is a part of me I can’t put down and quite often when I am least expecting it a new idea will pop into my head and I want to write it down before I forget. Or I see something in someone’s garden and I think I would like to grow that and have to go off and identify it! This year the schools went back much later than last year and once we were into January I definitely had given in completely to no more Cloudberry Flowers over the holidays. I was lured by the temptation of the seed catalogues and I even managed to persuade the girls it would be fun to be out in the flower patch with mum and collect seeds for a while. The novelty of wielding a pair of sharp garden scissors and seeing if you could collect a larger box of seeds than your sister held out for a wee while whilst I tackled a badly neglected patch overrun with weeds, with never ending roots. It felt so good to be outdoors digging!

I am very fortunate to live in a town full of inspirational woman and friends. These women manage to juggle family life with careers but also have a dedication to getting out in the great outdoors on their mountain bikes or running. I am in awe of this commitment to their sport no matter what the weather. It is fair to say that I do not have the same dedication to these popular sports in Peebles and instead I would best describe me as dabbling in them now and again!

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The one thing I need no motivation for though is my flower patch. No matter whether it is snowing, blowing a gale or pouring with rain I am happy to be out there gardening and I feel lucky to have found something that I love in life. When a job advert came out for a dietitian last year it made me question should I return to this for the job security, regular income and the pension it would provide? My feelings were I would take the uncertainty of my world in Cloudberry Flowers any day, just to keep doing a job I love in the great outdoors surrounded by the flowers I love to grow.

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New Year is a time to make a fresh start, make some resolutions and plans for the coming year. Once I get the decorations packed away and family and friends have gone home it really does feel like a fresh start for me with the start of a new growing season. I feel full of anticipation and excitement and the garden is full of new possibilities.

Just now I am spending time looking back over the last year for Cloudberry Flowers and what worked and what didn’t. I have started sowing sweet pea seeds and next week I will start getting the beds in the flower patch ready for when I plant seedlings out in the spring. Although the stall is not open at this time of year and there are no flowers to buy it is a busy time behind the scenes as there is so much digging, weeding, mulching, pruning, cleaning and sowing seeds to be done.

What an amazing year I have just had though. I cannot believe how far my wee business has come and I am so proud of Cloudberry Flowers.  The photo below shows the field back in 2014 before the beginning of cloudberry Flowers and now you can see the cutting garden it has become, where all your flowers are grown. So what is next for this coming year?

The garden gate stall will be back in March with my jam jar posies and small bunches. The most popular days that people buy flowers were Fridays and Saturdays last year, so I am going to keep the opening times for this Fridays-Sundays, March-November.

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I would love to do more garden bouquets to order and offer delivery in the local area. I loved making these last year as everyone I made was different depending on what was in bloom and they were a really lovely gift for a special occasion. Made to order bouquets and jam jar posies will be available 7 days a week.

My petal confetti sold really well for weddings and events last year particularly in the larger bags. I would like to continue making as much confetti as I can, even if I do take over the house with it! If you would like some for your wedding please just get in touch.

I was most proud of the flowers I grew and arranged for weddings last year. Every wedding was different and it was such a privilege to provide the flowers for a couples special day. This year I have more weddings booked and again these vary from providing DIY buckets of flowers to growing and arranging all the wedding flowers. If you or someone you know is getting married and would be interested in natural homegrown flowers please just get in touch as there are still some dates free this year. Look out for my blog in February which will be about all the amazing weddings I provided flowers for last season.

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I was so pleased that other people have liked my pressed flower cards as much as I have enjoyed making them. I still need to work on how to sell these, as the stall isn’t always practical if the weather is bad. They are available all year round even when the stall is shut so ideally I need to look into somewhere to sell them from. My Etsy shop was my way of being able to sell my cards to people that follow Cloudberry flowers, but who do not live locally. To begin with I was disappointed and thought it just wasn’t go to work. There were no sales and not many views. I thought there was just too much competition and my products were not being seen. I was on the verge of closing that outlet for my cards and confetti when I got my first sale and since then I have had a few more. I am hoping it will start getting easier for my products to be seen and I felt so proud that my cards were being ordered and sent throughout the UK and the USA.

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I have had two full flower seasons now and I am beginning to get a good idea of the flowers that are consistently good for me that I grow, the ones that are more of a challenge and the ones that I just can’t grow at all!

This year I am going to grow more of what I am good at, cornflowers, phacelia, ammi, cosmos, corncockle, eryngium, snapdragons and nigella.

I am going to stop growing some flowers all together such as stocks, they just don’t work for me!  Some flowers such as sweet peas, larkspur and dahlias I love but they were somewhat of a challenge last year.

In my first season my sweet peas were amazing and last year they were a disaster. I couldn’t work out why as I wasn’t doing anything differently. I could only put it down to the poor weather we had over the summer. I am not going to let them beat me as I love them too much and have just planted the first batch of 120 seeds today. Fingers crossed!

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Larkspur is one of my favourite flowers for bouquets and making my confetti but I just cannot seem to grow it in any volume. It really frustrates me and is one of my main challenges for this coming season.

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I have fallen in love with dahlias but not with the slugs and earwigs that plagued them last year. I would say half my flowers were badly eaten which I was so disappointed by. Like the sweet peas in my first season of growing them this had not been a problem. I am going to try again this year and use every trick in the book I know to keep them at bay!

I love my homegrown flowers and I would love it if they were more accessible to people and less reliance was put on foreign imports. As I start to increase the volume of flowers I grow over the next few years I have wondered if local florists would be interested in buying my homegrown flowers when they are available, as well as those from their wholesalers. I have had some interest from one local florist who does some amazing creations so this could be an exciting new opportunity.

A date for your diary for next year is the 6th of August. I will be opening my garden for charity as part of Scotland Gardens. It will be for one afternoon and my garden along with three others in Peebles will be open. It is a chance to see where I grow my flowers and also an opportunity to see some other hidden gems in Peebles, all beautifully kept by their owners and offering something different to see. There will be tea, cake, flowers and plants for sale too and more information will be available nearer the time.

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It is going to be an exciting and life changing year for me. Cloudberry Flowers I am hoping will continue to grow and my youngest daughter Erin will be off to school in August. It will be the first time in 11 years that I will not have had any of the girls at home with me during the day. I think you will know where to fine me though!

All my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Catherine xx