October 31st 2018

 

Dahlias – the good, the better and the best!

 

In truth, not all that long ago , I thought of dahlias as a rather garish flower, usually seen at flowers show in the biggest flower head class. Then I met Darren who was growing them in bulk and bought a few and discovered that my rather small brain was missing a trick. Dahlias are the most generous and ingeniuous flower I have ever come across and I feel compelled to spread the word and make sure that everyone has at least one of these extraordinary bloomers in their garden  although I defy anyone to be able to choose “just the one”

 

 

The dahlias in my flower patch started in mid June and as I write at the end of October they are still blooming although tainted by the hint of frost that has been teasing the early mornings. I have cut hundreds of stems for bouquets, parties,  and weddings and deadheaded even more. 

 

 

If you are keen to grow the best and most prolific dahlias then start with a good look at the soil. I grow on Kent clay which is full of nutrients but well draining it isn’t and so I add large quantities of manure, leaf mould and green waste compost in winter and let the worms do their stuff through the season. Dahlias like a good draining soil but also like plenty of moisture so it is all about balance.  When I plant my tubers after the first frosts in mid May, I throw in some bone meal and then will feed with a liquid low nitrogen feed every two weeks throughout the season. The better fed and hydrated your dahlias are the more resistant they will be to pests and disease.

 

I always start my new tubers or over-wintered stored ones, in pots in the polytunnel . The slug population loves nothing more than a delicious tender dahlia shoot which are like nectar to them so I leave it until they are well up and then plant with either some Strulch or sheep daggings around the base of the plant to discourage these slimy pests.

 

Once the shoots  are up to about 10” high pinch out the central shoot by about 4” to above a pair of leaves. This will encourage branching and give you many more blooms.

 

Big healthy dahlias need staking. I use a system with posts every 4 foot and then stock netting horizontally over them . I have it about 2’ from the ground and this is enough to keep even the tallest dahlias straight and prevent breaking except in the most extreme weather. However if you only have a few dahlias, I would place a post in the ground before you plant your tuber and then tie in your main stem to the post .

 

Cutting dahlias at the optimal time to maximise vase life is an art! Too early and the dahlia won’t continue to open. Too late and the flower will have become papery and shatter. A real goldilocks dilemma. Look at the back of the flower head and you are aiming to find lush petals as the perfect stage. Give them a drink in luke warm water to ensure best hydration or recut them under water.

If you are trying to keep them for a special occasion and need them to last as long as possible then cut the flowers directly into water, give them flower food and keep them as cool as possible.

 

Depending on whether you want dahlias to bring colour to your garden,for cut flowers or to win the biggest bloom at your local flower show will dictate which dahlias you should buy.

 

The ones I have found best for cutting are a mix of the ball, the pom pom, waterlily and semi-cactus Downham Royal, Peaches,Franz  Kafka,Gerrie Hoek, Arabian Night, Henriette ,My Love, David Howard, Rosella, Rip City,

There are many, many varieties and colours to choose from so spend the winter months browsing the catalogues of companies like Peter Nyssen. Sarah Raven, Parkers or Withypitts who are specialist growers in East Sussex.

 

 

Right now , the sword of damocles in the shape of a sharp frost is hanging over the dahlias and the ones in the big bed need to be lifted to make space for spring bulbs. Until now I’ve always stored the tubers in compost in crates then covered the crates with a blanket but since a visit to Pashley Manor gardens last summer and hearing the head gardener talk about how they store their dahlias I am going to give their way a try. He digs his tubers after the frost, cleans them off and once dry stands them in open meshed crates sitting on their stalks with their tubers in the air. These crates are stacked one on top of the other and kept in the back of a frost proof shed. This way he can check for rot easily as the tubers are not hidden . They have followed this way for many years and lost very few tubers. I’ll let you know in the Spring how they fared. Having said that, the majority of my tubers stay in the ground over winter, covered with a good foot of compost and straw as a frost defeating blanket and if I didn't need the room I would leave them all in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 1st 2018

First day of Spring and third day of heavy snow! Our poor Lavender Orpington was so appalled that she stayed in her tree and even laid an egg from 8' up. In the end I had to climb up and bring her down as I was worried she wasn't taking in enough food to keep her warm.  As you can imagine, every flower grower, gardener and farmer across the country is looking anxiously at their fields and gardens and wondering what this will mean. I know I am ever the optimist but apart from looking a little saggy in the morning, my sweet peas, orlaya, stocks, poppies, dianthus, larkspur, cornflowers and tiny antirrhinum seedlings are holding their own from under their layer of fleece despite the thermometer registering a worrying -8 in the greenhouse one morning. Hardy annuals- they are proving they deserve their name. I, on the other hand am a half- hardy or tender perennial. Actually, I'm rather hoping the latter as I would like to last longer than the next year! The question now is to sow or not to sow. Cobaea takes 20 weeks to flower which brings us to early July if I sow now. Hmmm. I don't need too many so maybe I'll sow 10 now and then still have more for later if they do nothing. I have decided to grow some  "new to me"  flowers this year to add a bit of extra oomph to bouquets so as well as the cobaea, I'm growing some herbaceous clematis diversifolia Blue Pirouette ( not entirely new as I've been using clematis for a while but these are a very good deep blue and with long stems), some Nicandra Physaloides for their green and black lanterns and again long stems. The can't do withouts are ammi majus and visnaga, antirrhinums particularly apple blossom, green trick, molucella, scabious, both perennial and annual, stocks, sweet peas, cornflowers , mint, oregano, lemon balm,and  grasses panicum,bunny tails  and fountain,. I haven't mentioned the roses ( thirty extra this year, all beautifully scented and now more under cover) and perennials but think this is enough for now! I've just llooked again at the snow and have an overwhelming desire to build a snowman so I'm off.

Janauary 30th 2018    Perennials versus Annuals

 

When I first started flower farming I grew loads of annuals- firstly they were very affordable- packets of seeds are relatively cheap, secondly I felt it gave me greater flexibility to grow flowers almost to order. Brides booking early enough could say they particularly loved cornflowers and I could start them off in the Autumn and hope they would be flowering by June {and so far they have been } , and thirdly  I love annuals, whether half- hardy or hardy. There is a huge variety, they flower the same year or you can sow hardy annuals in the autumn and it gives a wonderful feeling, like having a full larder before winter,  to see trays of Orlaya, Ami Majus, cornflowers, and larkspur sitting tight and perky . However it is very time consuming- especially if you aim, as I do to sow successionally to ensure a continuous run from April to the first frosts and that is before you factor in the biennials which need to be started off just as the final sowings of the annuals are up. They also take up a lot of room whilst waitng for the soil to warm up enough to give succour to this precious and hard earned cargo. So, last year, I made a few more beds and have planted them up with more perennials that I hope will give me lots of stunning flowers without quite so much effort. I've planted half a 20 metre row with Lysimachia Gooseneck Loosestrife and the other half with Veronica Longifolia as my spiky bed and another 20 metre bed with  delphiniums blues, whites and purples and Camelot White  and Suttons Apricot foxgloves ( although the latter are strictly biennial, I'm using them as  a short lived perennial) - finally I have planted Scabious Isaac House Hybrids blue and white in half the 20 metre herb bed. As a new addition I'm going to grow Achillea Summer Pastels from Chilterns seeds , a first year flowering perennial. Add to this the increased number of roses planted in the old polytunnel and a further rose bed and I am hoping to cut down a bit on the Spring rush. At least that was the plan.... the seed catalogues arrived with all the temptaion of a bar of Galaxy on a cold day, and I was off, ordering as many annuals as ever and Spring sowing has begun. Stil who wouldn't be tempted by Turkish Delight stocks from Plants of Distinction and I can't have a summer without Moles Appleblossom antirrhinums ( and rose and ivory) , as for molucella and Clary sage, not to meniton sweet peas of every colour and hue. I just noticed that Higgledy had Gomphrena ...

November 26th 2017

What a year! A wonderful bounteous flower filled year with surprisingly few slugs, almost no rainy Saturdays ( at least during the summer months) and long days. The wedding season was bookended by two momentous events for us as our youngest son married Louisa on April 1st in Bristol and our daughter married Fin on October 21st in London. So Sam and Louisa had the vibrant flowers of Spring, muscari, daffodils, anenomes, ranunculus, tulips, euphorbia, cherry blossom,magnolia to start the season, whilst Lucy and Fin had a more subtle and London influenced vibe of maroon and blush- Cafe au lait and Chat Noir dahlias, Chandos Beauty roses , pale pink and white nerines, variegated pittosporum, Attar of Roses geranium leaf to end it. Sam and Lucy are not the first of our children to get married so I already knew from first hand experience how important the flowers are to help set the scene for the day but it was a helpful reminder .

So many lovely brides and grooms, many wanting colourful, one woodland wild, some traditionally pastel but all scented with plenty of variety and texture.

 

Photo credit : Little Photo Company  http://www.littlephotocompany.co.uk

http://www.michaeltopham.co.uk/blog/  Laura and Dave's fabulous September wedding  features on Michael Topham's blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 3-9th 2017

The Flowers From the Farm Stand at Hampton Court this year was all the more personal for me. Since it's inception I've provided flowers but this year, the theme was based on my Grandfather's poem- A Child's Vision. It was very heartwarming for my mother, a great and knowledgeable gardener to see the creation. And to see my adorable great niece WIllow standing just as the child in the poem stood, among the sweet peas.  Set   brilliantly designed by Jo Wise at jowisedesign.co.uk

February 21st 2017

 

After many days of cold and grey the last few days have felt positively Springy and so have I. The poly is now filling up with trays of Orlaya, Sweet peas, Stocks, Poppies, Cornflowers, Delphiniums, Larkspur, Foxgloves, Gaura and Ami and having run out of room, I have just bought my new favourite item- a multi storey trolley. Honestly, my younger self would not have thought that the joy I get from a rather battered and utilitarian piece of kit like this would be so great!

I can't continue without mentioning Mr H and the large hole. Last year, he thought that the vast goat willow in the field needed to come out so he began digging. His brother came to stay, helped for a couple of hours and has not been seen in Kent since. That was last year!  Nothing daunted the hole gets deeper and deeper, throught first top soil, then solid clay and now sandstone. " This will be a hole for  littl'uns" he has promised the grandchildren. "Or a heffalump?" asked my A A Milne savvy mother. 

 

 

February 9th 2017

So here we are in a new year with so many exciting things to look forward to. The Bianchi ranunculus corms are springing up like cress in the polytunnel- Hanoi Cloney pastel pink, pastello mix and white - bigger and more beautiful than their more everyday cousins. Not that I have anything against "everyday cousins" ( in case my much loved cousins are reading this who are not at all everyday) as they are the ruffled, bright harbingers of Spring and robustly flaunt their colours no matter what the weather throws at them. The other newcomers to the Blue Hen nursery are Colibri. In a stunning mix of colours from white to apricot to pale pink and with huge blooms. They make great cut flowers if their bottoms are seared I'm told so can't wait to try.

 

I have discovered a new game of "Battle the cat" whilst trying to plant out and tie up my sweet peas. If you want to try, I think it could be a new version of Pilates in the Poly. You have to balance a persistent cat on your knees whilst leaning forward to manipulate the twine with frozen fingers, and not fall into the trench. You gain a point for every time you manage to push the cat off your knees/back/neck and manage to tie up an SP before your feline friend is back on you. Good luck.

 

 

November 1st 2016

It has been such a summer of fabulous weddings- each bride so different and lovely and enthusiastic about the flowers. The only common denominator was a desire to have flowers with a wild theme- so absolutely right for Blue Hen Flowers- lots of scented foliage and blooms of every colour, shape, and texture. The wedding season started with a bang in May          ( starting earlier on April Fool's day next year!) - perfect for cow parsley, columbine, anenomes, ranunculus and late Pheasants Eye narcissi and has just finished as the frosts hit. As well as weddings, the early part of the year saw Blue Hen Flowers taking a starring role in some photo shoots including the incredibly lovely Fern and Field wedding venue where the flowers were styled by Seerosedesign and featured on  Rock My Wedding

 

May 25th 2016

 

So much seems to have happened since May but these flowers seemed to spring from nowhere after a very cold start to the year and the soothing colours reflected the calmness of the bride they were for.

March 30th

 

Spring  has arrived! Rough winds did shake the darling sweet pea canes blowing them out of their trench like pick-up-sticks ( a game I have not played for a while but have not lost my skill- no movement on the stick below!) and now intermittent warm sun and cloud and the birds singing better than a celestial choir. I wonder if they have a conductor? Who wrote the tunes? Did George (House) Martin produce them? Enough of that- I can't quite think why I'm sitting here writing this blog but the greenhouse and poly are so full of seed trays that I can't add any more for the moment and it's too early to plant out much so I'm having to be a bit patient. I'm considering a cold frame as a half-way house and having seen the sturdy ones at Great Dixter last weekend, I'm thinking how hard can it be to make my own. I think I may have said that once or twice before with dire results .  This is really by way of an introduction to my Flower Shed of which I am so proud. Thanks to Robert and Louise Greenwood ( a magical father and daughter duo) who have made me a place that really works. A deep cupboard for buckets, a long counter for flowers and a lift up shelf to make a "table deep "area for making up bunches. I have a drying rack for flowers up in the eaves, a deep butler sink to clean buckets and fill vases, double bi-fold doors so that on any day that isn't freezing I can double the work space by opening up onto an outdoor terrace. More pictures to follow. 

March 2nd

 

Quite apart from having a chance to catch up with essential maintenance of the plot ( also read- house, friendships and family) the winter months are  a great time to learn some more useful skills. I don't grow a lot of roses but am thinking of increasing my numbers and having heard the inspirational Rosebie Morton of the Real Flower Company, when she spoke at Hampton Court Flower Show I thought I would go on one of her rose pruning courses. She has an amazing set up with roses and shrubs laid out over 12 (?)acres which we walked round, just managing to avoid the hail and torrential rain. I came away with roses  Big Purple and Chandos Beauty and  a newly acquired confidence in pruning roses to develop long stems for cutting. Amongst the many things I learnt that morning was that instead of digging up my pelargoniums and repotting them uncomfortably in the poly I could cut them back and deep cover them with straw ( see photo) and that the roses that Rosebie flies in from her  farm in Kenya do , contrary to what I had always thought about imported roses, have a good scent.  It's now a toss up to see which will win the "last plot" space- roses or more peonies. 

 

February 25th

Lucy and I had a fun and inspiring day with Georgia at the Sussex Flower School making bridal bouquets, button holes and floral crowns. and all topped off with a delicious lunch. Highly recommended to anyone who loves playing with flowers. Not only were the flowers gorgeous, the food was yummy and look at that Muji style apron, Lucy's wearing. Fab.

January 10th

January 10th 2016

 

It's sleeting down outside and the promised colder snap is evident so I'm going to sit by the fire and browse seed catalogues and plan the flowering year ahead..... Of course a great deal of planning is hijacked by the whims of nature but I can dream and dream I will. I'm hoping for  white and peach coloured foxgloves, apple blossom snapdragons, large drifts of larkspur, the long seasoned clary sage in deep blue, pink and white, a big block of bells of Ireland, scented Nicotiana in pale pink, lime green and deep purple, zingy orange dahlia New Baby alongside that maroon Arabian Night. The hoped for bank of Ami (think summer cow parsley) is looking perky from it's autumn sowing and the nigella is so abundant it will need serious thinning. ( rather like me after a Christmas break out) Enough dreaming- no more until I sleep- perchance to... 

October 5th

A slight sense of panic is setting in as the transition from growing to preparing dried flower garlands and then onto Christmas floral decorations begins. This doesn't take account of clearing the beds, planting next years bulbs, sowing late seeds ( OK - maybe  a bit too late but I'm hoping my secret weapon of big polystyrene crates will prove enough insulation to make the seeds think it's late August)  However this is nothing compared with the panic of losing the smallest tortoise who has "dug down" and is nowhere to be found. I must find him before the cold  sets in as he is too small to last a winter of hibernation and will need a Christmas feed in December. Forget digging the flower beds (  or rather no-digging a la Charles Dowding) I'm going to be burrowing away better than the badgers. Still, what propels me , as we head to the dark days,are the discussions with brides about weddings next year and planning on colour schemes, smells and varieties.

 

September 7th  2015

 

My sister told me that if I was going to write a blog I should make sure I kept it up to date and put something of interest in at least monthly. Hmmm. Somehow it just hasn't happened and I am in awe of people who manage to tweet/ Facebook/Whatsapp/Instagram and blog during the summer months of madness. Anyway I have been meaning to write for a while because I need to give an update on the wool. I left it in place around my larkspur, delphiniums and dahlias thinking ( rather smugly) that it would act as a brilliant mulch. So it did but it also provided a duvet for the slugs who laid their eggs under it's nice warm and damp cover and then the young were treated to a ready meal of newly appearing flowers!  They particularly liked the white cactus dahlias and having been reading up about edible flowers, slugs are not alone in finding dahlias a tasty treat. We can all eat them too should we be short of a veg or two. Edilble flowers can be stunning and hide a multitude of sins. I used them on Flosset's christening cake and no-one noticed the rather odd and runny icing. 

 

 

 

photo by Henryk Hetflaisz

September 20th 2015


During the year I have had some lovely e-mails and messages, mainly from brides, ( and the brides have been completely lovely and all very different) but also from two people who particularly touched me.  Thanks to help from the lovely Ruth ( more about Ruth the florist later) I felt able to agree to provide floral tributes for the funeral of a much loved woman. A very privileged thing to do and this is the message I got afterwards ( reproduced with permission.)

 

"Your flowers made it so much more beautiful and apt. Thank you.  You made it so easy and fitting.  You can’t imagine the burial with the wicker basket and all the flowers and petals………. Just stunning.  A moment of real peace."

 

The second message came out of the blue with a request for some bunches and afterwards I received these photos. ( see below- reproduced with permission) A case of You shall go to the ball Cinderella . I am not saying my flowers are the poor relation ( in fact I'm very proud of them ) but they have never looked this Red Carpet glamorous.

 

 
photo by Henryk Hetflaisz

March 25th Cold but sunny. Yesteday I planted out over 100 sweet pea plants, tied them in and fed them. Every colour from mid blue, to vibrant pink, cream and purple and all recommended for their fragrance. A sweet pea by any other name would smell.....etc. The wool is still doing it's stuff - what a discovery. The delphiniums are now about 6 " high without a trace of nibbling. Tulips are slow, slow, slow but that means that late May brides might be in luck and get some of the amazing Angelique and Green Star in their mix.

April 11th The first of the Hen Party Bouquets and Buttonholes with the lovely Gemma, three mums, three grandmothers, three sisters and two sisters in law as well as her best friend and a baby. Lots of biscuits and bubbly didn't interrupt the design team in fact I think it enhanced the creativity.

February 2nd 2015  I've now been flower farming for three years and have finally got around to creating this website. It's taken temperatures of below -5 to drive me inside and make me concentrate. I'm itching to pot on more scented sweet peas and cornflowers . I've gone for Roger Parsons seeds again - Solstice white, pink and rose and Just Julie ( pictured) White Frills, Aphrodite, Lord Nelson....and lots more.

February 8th 2015 Today for the first time in three weeks the bitter East wind dropped and the temprerature rose above zero. Such a relief. The sun came out, the coat came off and I planted up a rosemary bed with the plants raised from cuttings last year. To end a perfect day I had a bonfire- the birds sang and I sang. My poor neighbours-  bonfire smoke and off-key singing! I ower them a big bunch of flowers I think!

February 11th 2015 Hmmm I can never quite resist this - the weather turns milder, the fifth layer comes off and I think Spring is here. So yet again I've taken a punt and planted out fifteen of my larkspur plants, surrounded them with sheep daggings ( my latest anti-slug device - still unproven but so far so good). My theory is that they've survived -6 in the tunnel so how much worse can it be outside. Can I  hear the wise ones groaning at my optimism.

Print Print | Sitemap
© bluehenflowers