Tulip Fever

I love all the flowers in my cutting garden but there are some that I have a real problem resisting.  My habit for buying new varieties of roses, sweet peas, dahlias and tulips has become a bit of a joke among my team.  It doesn’t matter how hard I try to resist, I always give in and buy something new for the garden (experimentation, changing fashion – all vital to the business, that’s my excuse).  My love affair with roses and sweet peas is more to do with form and scent, but with dahlias and tulips it is all about colour. These flowers are able to give you such intense saturated colour at times of the season when you really crave it, and in such variety.  From soft delicate ivory, apricots, pastel pinks, through to burnt orange, magenta and rich almost blacks.  Looking at the packets of tulips waiting to be planted I can see that this seasons ‘experimentation’ has been no exception – I didn’t think I had ordered that many, but oh well! 

Tulips should be planted later than other bulbs as they don’t start producing roots until late autumn.  The idea is to wait until we have had a couple of really hard frosts before planting and this can help to prevent disease such as tulip fire, a fungal disease which produces brown spots and twisted, withered leaves. Tulips like a fertile, well-drained soil in full sun – if you have heavy clay it is vital to add lots of grit when you plant them out.  We are conventionally advised to plant at least twice the bulb’s width apart and at a depth of two or three times the bulbs height, but I follow the advice of Sarah Raven, who suggests that tulips perform better when planted 10 inches or so deep.  This way of planting means that you don’t need to stake, and also that the tulips will flower more reliably year after year.  I have found that when planted this way varieties that are reported to be unreliable have come back for several seasons.  So, although planting this deep can be hard work, it is certainly worth it, and it means that I can happily plant half hardy annuals on top of my tulips without worrying about disturbing them.

You can treat tulips like annuals and re-plant every year, or you can lift them out of the ground to save until next year, but I leave mine in the ground and replace a few in the bed every year. Planting deeper, I think has enabled my tulip patches to keep going strong and choosing varieties that have the RHS Award of Garden Merit is a good way of ensuring good, disease resistant, repeat flowering varieties.  Although that is not to say that there is no room for indulgence when it comes to choosing tulips – I am not always guided by common sense and the RHS AGM!  I am always tempted by the parrot tulip ‘Green Wave’. It is absolutely stunning with stripes of pale pink, green and cream, but I know from previous experience that it will be magnificent in late April/May but then is unlikely to re-appear, or if it does it will be much reduced.

Tulip Green Wave

Tulip Green Wave

However, there are some tulips which combine romance and practicality and which flower brilliantly year after year and these include ‘Exotic Emperor’ a double fosteriana tulip of pure white with green markings, the parrot tulips ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Rococo’, the viridiflora tulips ‘Groenland’, ‘Artist’ and‘Spring Green’, the lily flowered tulips ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Mariette’. 

Ballerina and Mariette tulips in the cutting garden, with Mount Tacoma and Angelique in the foreground.

Ballerina and Mariette tulips in the cutting garden, with Mount Tacoma and Angelique in the foreground.

My favourites however are the double late tulips, sometimes referred to as peony flowered tulips, and the best of these are ‘Angelique’ a very pretty pink, ‘Mount Tacoma’ like a white peony and ‘Black Hero’. I have grown these every year for the past 12 years and they perform brilliantly.  I also love a double late tulip which has been everyone's darling for the past couple of years - tulip Belle Epoque - just gorgeous and the love affair with it is fully justified.

Belle Epoque tulip in the cutting garden

Belle Epoque tulip in the cutting garden

I have discovered tulip 'Danceline' this year - it looks just like a peony and is pink, white and a bit stripy. I am yet to try it so don’t know yet whether it is any good, but it looks so gorgeous it can do what it likes!

Tulip Danceline

Tulip Danceline

Flower Crown Workshop

I am often asked lots of questions about my courses - what is the format of the day? How many people are there? Is it friendly if you are coming by yourself? All sorts of questions. So, I thought I would ask a professional photographer (Annabel Smith) to come along to my flower crown course which I ran last month as part of Doddington Hall's cherry blossom festival. I wanted some photos which really showed what the courses are like and I think Annabel has done a great job. 

This was a half day course and to give you an idea of what we were up to, we were using blossom, hellebores, narcissi, bluebells and rosemary cut from the garden alongside Lincolnshire grown ranunculus, Cornish eucalyptus and soft ruscus.

I did a couple of demonstrations and talked through the techniques that you need to make a flower crown - either a simple circlet of flowers or a big, full-on floral extravaganza. Then fuelled by tea coffee and biscuits off everyone went!

 It really was lovely - a great fun group of people, a gorgeous sunny day, some really pretty flowers and, after some hard work, some spectacular results!  It always amazes me that you can give a group of people exactly the same ingredients and instruction and each creation is totally unique.  

One of the best bits for me was that everyone then went and floated around the blossom festival in the gardens, wearing their floral crowns like true flower fairies.

Hopefully these pictures will give you a sense of what we are all about - My aim is to make the courses welcoming, inspiring, pretty and good fun.  If you think that you would love to try your hand at doing something creative then why not come along and join us for a day - we do everything from hand tied bouquets to willow chickens! It would be lovely to see you - hop onto the courses page here.

Charlie Burton from the Natural Wedding Company joined us for the day and will be writing about it on her blog, which you can read by clicking here. 

Blossom from the gardens

Blossom from the gardens

Blossom from the gardens

Blossom from the gardens

Lincolnshire grown ranunculus

Lincolnshire grown ranunculus

Eucalyptus, hellebores, cherry blossom, ranunculus, narcissi

Eucalyptus, hellebores, cherry blossom, ranunculus, narcissi

Essentials

Essentials

Trying on the demo flower crown

Trying on the demo flower crown

Rachel demonstrating how to wire a hellebore

Rachel demonstrating how to wire a hellebore

Wiring and taping

Wiring and taping

Flower crown ingredients ready to go

Flower crown ingredients ready to go

Choosing colours

Choosing colours

Selecting blossom

Selecting blossom

Choosing ingredients

Choosing ingredients

Constructing a crown

Constructing a crown

Hard at work

Hard at work

Rachel admiring progress

Rachel admiring progress

Designing a crown

Designing a crown

Giving advice

Giving advice

Spectacular finished flower crown

Spectacular finished flower crown

Beautiful colours

Beautiful colours

Fresh spring florals

Fresh spring florals

Blossom and spring flowers

Blossom and spring flowers

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

Not just to wear on your head!

Not just to wear on your head!

Beautiful combinations

Beautiful combinations

The eucalyptus works perfectly here

The eucalyptus works perfectly here

Tones beautifully with Mary Kate's gorgeous hair

Tones beautifully with Mary Kate's gorgeous hair

Luscious!

Luscious!

Pretty detail at the back

Pretty detail at the back

Charlie Burton under the blossoms

Charlie Burton under the blossoms

Charlie looking like a flower fairy

Charlie looking like a flower fairy

Charlie in the kitchen garden

Charlie in the kitchen garden

Rachel and Charlie outside Rachel's potting shed

Rachel and Charlie outside Rachel's potting shed

Spring Blossom Photoshoot

The beautiful spring blossom at Doddington Hall provided a stunning backdrop to this spring photoshoot. The gardens are so inspirational at this time of the year and I wanted to recreate the sense of lushness and exuberance.

I made a loose unstructured bouquet of eucalyptus, cherry blossom, ranunculus, tulips, hellebores and wallflowers.

To go with the bouquet a full flower crown of hellebores, ranunculus and cherry blossom.

To go with the swathes of bluebells in the garden I made a hand-tied bouquet of blossom, bluebells, eucalyptus and forget-me-nots and a flower crown to match of eucalyptus, blossom and rosemary.

Put them together with the gorgeous blossom and gardens and the result is magical. It’s made even more special because of the fleeting nature of the blossom. It has mainly floated to the ground now so we have to wait until next year to see it again, so very happy to have these lovely photos from Annabel Smith to see me through! 

Variety show

One thing that sometimes comes up when I am discussing flowers with clients is the worry that by using British grown, seasonal flowers the choice will be restricted. Of course by following the seasons it means that you use what comes naturally but there is always something gorgeous available. If you love peonies and are getting married in March, then ranunculus are a fabulous choice, or in the autumn use David Austin cabbagey roses instead.

Ranunculus in a spring wedding posy

Ranunculus in a spring wedding posy

English roses in a September bouquet

English roses in a September bouquet

By using a palette of seasonal flowers there are a huge range of styles and colours to choose from. The arrangements (in the pictures below) were done in one day (8th April) using flowers and foliage from the cutting garden supplemented by Cornish eucalyptus and Lincolnshire grown alstromeria and ranunculus (I do grow my own ranunculus but it is no-where near ready and I am impatient for it!). You could have jam jars, loose unstructured vases, elegant bowls, pretty hand-ties in all sorts of colours.

The lovely thing is that at this time of the year the garden is rocketing away and constantly changing so next week could be something completely different (I have spotted lots of blossom on its way and the tulips are very nearly ready to pop).

So if you are drawn to using seasonal flowers but fear that there won't be something for you then I hope you are reassured. Hop onto the seasonal galleries too - even if you are not planning a party it helps to plan your garden!

Spring seeds in the cutting garden

The vernal equinox and the clocks changing marks the start of manic activity in the cutting garden. More light and less fluctuations between day-time and night-time temperatures mean that conditions are good for germination, so it is full on seed sowing. However, the polytunnel (which is only about 10m x 3m - ish - I'm hopeless at lengths!) is crammed full of autumn sown seedlings so these have to be planted out to make room for the spring seed trays.

seed trays in the polytunnel

seed trays in the polytunnel

So I take them out of the polytunnel in batches and harden them off on a table in a corner of the garden, sheltered by a lean-to against one of the walls.

Because my cutting garden consists of beds and patches dotted around the main kitchen garden at Doddington Hall, it is then like one of those sliding square puzzles where you have to sort out one bit before I can move onto the next. So the beds need to be weeded, fed, dug over ready for the autumn sown annuals to go in and then once they are in, another lot come out of the polytunnel ready to harden off, making space for some seed trays for spring sown annuals. Phew! I could direct sow, and I do occasionally but we have pigeons like pterodactyls and they often eat all my seedlings and I can't cope with the stress!

So currently sweet peas, ammi majus, ammi visnaga, daucus dara, scabious, larkspur, calendula, cornflowers, nigella, annual clary, grasses, godetia and annual gypsophila have been planted out. There are a few things lurking on the table hardening off - more larkspur and ammi mainly and a few dianthus chinensis.

hardy annuals in the cutting garden

Then in the polytunnel, I have just sown more godetia, annual gypsophila, calendula, grasses, cosmos, snapdragons (I'm a bit late with these but they'll be alright!) annual phlox, sweet peas, dill, amaranthus, atriplex, cornflowers and a few more bits and bobs. I still have zinnias, asters, more grasses, ammi and nigella to go. 

I love sowing seeds but I am always twitching with anxiety - will they germinate? Is the compost too wet, too dry? Is it too hot in the polytunnel, or too shady? I'm peering at them over-protectively - surely they should have germinated by now (2 days later!) but when they do pop up it is such a great feeling. Here is my garden, in this seed tray! Here are the wedding flowers for my summer weddings, this is what I will design with these. Just fabulous.

sweet peas and ammi majus in the cutting garden

sweet peas and ammi majus in the cutting garden

June bridal bouquet from the cutting garden

I need to do my dahlias next........!!

 

 

A week of teaching

This time of the year is when you really have to spring to action stations in the garden. We are approaching the vernal equinox when the day length and night length are equal so it means that conditions are good for seed germination. So borders need to be cleared, seeds need to be sown, autumn sown seedlings need to be planted out, roses need to be pruned, dahlias need to be potted up and don't even go there re the weeds! Because it is exactly the time to get going in the cutting garden it's a good time to run a cutting garden course and so on Weds I had the pleasure of the company of 12 lovely people who all love flowers and want to grow them either purely for the love of it, to have them at home or to grow them to sell.  It is always so nice to meet people who share the same love of flowers and gardens and so we can all  share our ideas and experiences.  I'm getting very impatient for the garden to get going so it was really lovely to think about the garden's potential to produce!  As you can see from the photos it is still looking very bare, although the autumn sown hardy annuals are looking very strong.

Also this week I went down to Oxfordshire to My Garden School HQ.  My Garden School offers online courses - I run a scented garden course with them -  and went down to film another course on herbs which should be available in the next few weeks. I'm used to teaching face to face so it's a bit weird teaching into a camera but it does make the course accessible to a wide range of people so watch this space! It's a good time to sow your annual herb seeds and also perennial herbs too, although these may need a bit of bottom heat to get going.  It's really worth growing some herbs if you can - as you can see from the photo they are not just for the herb garden - they look lovely mixed in a border. Not long now before the borders look like this!!

cutting garden late spring early summer.JPG

A flowery audio clip

Hello and welcome to the Catkin blog. I am celebrating 10 years in business this year and have finally embraced the idea of writing a blog - probably 10 years behind everyone else! I am constantly writing things but never in one place so the idea is to put all my flowery wafflings together.

I thought I would start off with wafflings of a more literal sort - an audio clip from a talk I gave recently. I was asked to talk about the British flower industry and why we should buy British flowers. Here I talk about 'artisan growers' - the category of flower grower that I fall into and the fabulous 'Flowers From the Farm' network.  It sums up what I and other growers do and how I feel about my place in the industry - it's about 15 minutes long. Enjoy!