The Flower Farmer’s Year
How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit by Georgie Newbery.
Publisher: Green Books
‘Here at Common Farm in Somerset Fabrizio and I started our little flower farm in a corner of our vegetable patch in April 2010. Together we have become self-taught gardeners and rather than any flower school rules of three or five our floristry is inspired by the Dutch seventeenth century painters of lush still lives and by the Scottish Colourists’.
I was sent this gorgeous book which is great timing coinciding as it does with my new obsession for growing cut flowers. The encouraging opening paragraph is a reminder that to get started you don’t need more than a small patch of ground and you don’t need years of gardening experience and you will quickly learn to be truly creative with your choice of plants. We all love to buy flowers but people are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the cut-flower industry and the concern is not simply air travel. Newbery reminds us that many of the flowers we buy have been through fungicide baths and air-vacuumed cold storage and are then kept alive with frequent pulses of sugar and bleach at a huge cost to the environment.
She demonstrates it’s possible to grow cut flowers 12 months of the year whether you are growing to pick for your home, sell at the garden gate, take bucket loads to the farmer’s market or supply local florists. If you want to turn that pleasure into a full-scale business then the book will give you all you need to get started. It’s very clearly laid out and takes the reader through plot design and practicalities such as where to site and how to manage a greenhouse and polytunnel and where to install water and electricity supply. Advice on the optimum size of beds and how to manage them will save you time and money from the outset.
Chapter headings are divided into annuals, biennials, perennials, bulbs and corms, shrubs, roses, dahlias, sweet peas, herbs and wildflowers.
Annuals are the easiest and a list of basic flowers essential for cutting include Ammi majus (below), cerinthe, cornflowers, larkspur, phacelia and sweet peas. mouth-watering photographs further inspire but to encourage the imagination she says think about how they will look lined up in your bucket ready to sell or in a vase on the kitchen table.
There’s timely advise on biennials –these need to be sown in early June- putting out leaf in the first year and flower in the second. It’s recommended to order the seeds with all your seed purchases to have them ready for a June sowing. Favourites include California poppies, foxgloves, honesty, sweet rocket , sweet Williams.
The chapter on perennials stresses the fact that these plants take up permanent residence so need to be carefully thought about. They are useful both for foliage as well as for flowers and more significantly they can be left with little attention other than a cut back in situ twice a year. Her favourites list has made me think about re-designing a herbaceous border in my garden here to supplement the annual flowers on the allotment. Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ plants are good cut flowers but I have too many and I am inspired to lift most of them and plant more achilleas, astrantias, Alchemilla mollis (see below), Euphorbia oblongata and Tellima grandiflora.
Shrubs are essential for foliage and can provide windbreaks in open ground. If you are starting a garden from scratch and planning an abundance of cut flowers pay careful attention to this chapter since shrubs will form the understorey in many of your flower combinations. Newbery lists many favourites: choisya, hydrangeas, myrtle, philadephus and my new must- have Viburum opulus ‘Roseum’ below.
The bulb chapter stresses how impossible it is to compete with Dutch growers with their acres of tulips and daffodils. But small bulbs make lovely posies in every season and with that in mind Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas bulbs are discussed in detail and there’s a good reminder to think about scent. I plan to plant fifty or so Daffodil ‘Thalia’ – snow white and fragrant – at the base of my raspberry plants since the bulbs can be left to die back naturally after flowering.
The chapter on Roses encourages planting scented ones and includes many of my favourites R. Buff Beauty and R. Madame Alfred Carriere’. Her advice is if you are thinking of growing for the wedding flower market choose pale-flowered roses these will look lovely in all your bouquets.
Herbs Oregano, dill, bronze fennel, mints, verbena grown for use in the kitchen will add scent and a natural look when cut for vases. I spotted this oregano growing on a friend’s allotment in the summer and vowed to grow more to cut.
Sweet peas and dahlias have their own chapters and I will enjoy a serious note-taking session on these chapters before making my seed-order and dahlia list for next year.
Keeping the soil healthy and rich is essential for all plants but annuals in particular are greedy and need nutritional support to germinate, grow, flower and go to seed. There are recipes for compost tea, nettle tea (a high nitrogen feed) and comfrey tea. These teas will feed the soil and help young plants fight off slugs and pests early in the season and comfrey tea applied after mid-summer will encourage strong flower production.
Newbery says ”The human race has created a $40 billion a year industry for cut flowers. That’s plenty of money for a lot of small growers to share’. Her aim is to inspire you to look beyond the obvious in what to plant and pick and her book has done just that for me. The seed catalogues are on my desk and the week will be spent selecting next year’s cut flowers.