This week we arranged garden flowers to decorate a beautiful big house for a magazine photoshoot. Ferney Hall has been deliciously decorated by its owner, Henri Fitzwilliam Lay, and it was a huge treat to find creative things to do with our flowers to set off the elegant, sometimes quirky interiors. We used masses of hydrangeas, dahlias, jars of sweets and tumbled bowls of red ripe pears.
All around us farmers have been busy harvesting, and the fields are striped and neat. Wasps, bees and flies swamp the blackberries on our east-facing wall. Seed heads become interesting; grasses mature, hydrangeas burnish and leaves turn. We pick lots of airy cosmos and mix it with gypsophila, snapdragons, zinnias and michaelmas daisies. We harvest yellow-stemmed alder from our paddock and scarlet-berried rowan from the hedgerows to arrange for the funeral of a nature-loving man. The dahlias flower proudly on.
This morning we woke up to find a thick, heavy blanket of fog muffling the valley, and halting the noise of the combine harvesters. Eerie stillness. The fog has lasted for the whole day, and it has felt as though all the world is staying indoors until it lifts. Autumn is definitely here now, and the dahlias blaze triumphantly through it, softened in our arrangements with sprays of dainty starry michaelmas daisy, glowing purple verbena bonariensis, and loose pretty cosmos. Last weekend we decorated the beautiful half-timbered village hall at Wistanstow for a Moroccan- themed wedding, using strong sharp colours in bad taste abundance. With the embroidered wedding tent and the extravagant lanterns, it looked fantastic.
For the last two weeks we’ve been working hard to ensure that our last two weddings of the summer went off with a bang. Firstly, to decorate an elegantly converted chicken barn – magically transformed with the addition of Georgian sash windows and liberal applications of white paint – our two super-florists, Jane and Jenny, created no less than 30 sumptuously pretty arrangements of sweet peas, ammi, frilly snapdragons and creamy hydrangeas, to decorate the characterful beams above the tables. This bank holiday weekend we’ve been filling jugs and jam jars with blooms in shades of purple, white and coral, the summer’s most popular shade. Now in the garden there’s an autumnal feel in the air. Apples ripen and fall plumply in our own garden at home, and at the Flower Garden the plums, pears and peaches are all nearly ready. The damp drizzle and faint smokiness in the air suggest the beginning of autumn, and we are thinking about our winter work, and new plantings for next year. However, there are still oodles of flowers, so the season can’t be quite over yet!
Our ingenuity was tested this week as we found away to balance globes of flowers on tripods of hazel – but the effect was great!
This week’s wedding at Delbury hall, Diddlebury, was decorated in shades of coral. We joyously picked all our most glorious dahlias, including luscious creamy ‘Cafe au Lait’ and spiky peachy ‘Preference’, along with magnificent red, coral and white snapdragons, grown huge and juicy on a thick heap of muck that had happened to come from Toffer on Delbury Farm. The bride wanted an element of the unusual in her flowers, so we incorporated bramble stems and kooky pear branches alongside the flowers and soft green foliage. As I drove back to the venue from Church Stretton, where I’d been delivering the bride’s bouquet two hours before the wedding began, the heavens opened and it was difficult to see the road… but within an hour of kick off, the clouds rolled away to reveal blue skies and glorious sunshine.
4 August Elegant pinks, cream, white and near-black flowers for a romantic, nostalgic wedding at Walcot Hall. 24 July A lovely rainy day today after a golden evening yesterday. The garden is at its height, and the flowers open themselves up to visiting insects. The fluffy bumble bees that buzzed around them in yesterday’s sunshine today cling for cover the to undersides of sea holly and dahlia flowers. 20 July This week we’ve been very honoured to be able to attend two of the events we’d arranged flowers for. But first, we had to tear ourselves away from the mesmerisingly romantic Walcot Hall, where the lovely couple were married in a woodland clearing dotted with quirky shepherds’ huts, with a gospel choir singing while guests looked on from the seats on bails of straw. We arranged silken ‘Cafe Au Lait’ dahlias, foamy ammi and quirky artichoke heads to decorate their storybook setting, and wired dozens of tiny blue and white cornflowers and love-in-a-mist flowers for the bride’s hair. On Sunday Stokesay Court was host to hundreds of happy visitors who brought their dogs to compete in the Ludlow Dog Day. We had fun, with our wonderful helpers, Jenny and Alexa, making quirky corsages for the judges to wear, and filling old zinc jugs to decorate the tea tent. Lovely Jane helped us to fill jam jars with innocent posies of toadflax, feverfew and larkspur to decorate tables for a christening at the Ludlow Brewery, at which we were guests. We made a tiny crown of flowers for the child, Birdie, with lavender and pink gypsophila and pink individual yarrow flowers, which sat perfectly on her little downy head. We absolutely loved doing the flowers this weekend for a glorious Corvedale wedding, rustic and joyous, with flowers to match. This was one of the rare occasions when we were also invited to the wedding as guests, so we were able to enjoy the table flowers as we’d hoped the other guests would enjoy them – like sparklers and party poppers brightly scattered along the tables at just below eye height, enhancing everyone’s enjoyment of the delicious food and merry chatter. 7 July Another very romantically-styled wedding this week, with fat roses and sweet peas and jasmine. We also had an evening of excitement after a DIY bride rang to tell us that her roses, which we had foolishly picked for her on the hottest July day since records began, had lost all their petals in the heat. Disaster! We strapped the baby in the car and drove around the Corvedale looking for just the right shade of pale pink, old-fashioned roses at just the right stage for picking, eventually finding exactly what we needed on the walls of an old farmhouse belonging to our friend Gavin. Thank you, Gavin! That’s one lesson very well learned. The roses in the picture above are all our own: Ginger Syllabub, lemony Charles Darwin, pale plum Princess Alexandra of Kent and the delicious striped Variegata di Bologna. Along with the wedding season, regular deliveries continue, and it’s an honour to be asked to provide bouquets of thank you flowers for teachers at the end of school term, colleagues who’ve worked especially hard, and theatrical producers at the end of a successful performance. 30 June Hot weather makes us wish we could spend more time dozing in the shade, but it’s all hands on deck as the wedding season rolls on. At the end of last week we picked billowing buckets of ammi majus, lady’s mantle, campanula medium, sweet peas, alliums and lush garden roses to decorate a charming wedding combined with a christening in a nearby Corvedale village. Roses and other perennials seem to be having a really glorious year, and there is masses of everything to pick. We’re in our fourth year now, and lots of our planting is starting to mature a little. As the garden fills out, it becomes more appealing as a place for wildlife to live, but this does have its downside, as this season we seem to be particularly attractive to wasps! A big established kiwi vine on the south-facing wall positively hums and throbs with wasps and bees, and they also love the marjoram flowers and lavender, which we’ve used to make low hedges around parts of the old vegetable garden – now slowly filling up with half-hardy annuals, sunflowers and zinnias. So many lovely things still to come! 25 June A lovely peaceful, still, overcast day today for picking flowers for a country wedding this weekend. Everything feels very still and calm. The calm before the storm? 22 June Scrumptious flowers, here they all come! Opening the heavy door to the garden and hearing the cow bell ring against it, the sweet smell of honeysuckle wafts welcomingly as our eyes are drawn up the garden, over the spires of foxgloves and clouds of ammi, up to the blooming rose garden at the top. Suddenly there are so many wonderful things to pick! Buckets of fat frilly peonies have been picked and delivered – peonies are my favourites, and I always feel a little sad to see them go – and now there are flourishing beds of purple and white campanula, jolly sweet Williams, dancing love-in-a-mist and clambering sweet peas. The roses are really luscious this year. David Austin’s ‘Queen of Sweden’ continues to be our top performer, with its long straight stems and perfectly poised sugary pink flowers. Best for sheer size and voluptuousness is ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’, from the same stable. But Barney’s favouite – for heady scent and brilliant kookiness – is the striped and ruffled Variegata di Bologna, a bourbon rose reminiscent of a big Victorian organza dress; when the wind blows it’s like a roomful of pretty ladies on the arms of lithe green gentlemen, spinning off together in a Viennese waltz… 15 June We made a bit of a travelling circus this weekend, with our flowers and our dog and our baby, promoting the Flower Garden at special events at Attingham Park on Saturday and Stockton Bury gardens on Sunday. The Attingham gardeners couldn’t have been more friendly and kind, nor more relaxed and cheerful about the rainy weather on their big flower day. We loved sitting with them by the blazing log burner in their comfortable bothy, eating biscuits and drinking strong tea while Martin in his frock coat and breeches entertained us with stories of the old reprobates who used to own the house and grounds. The Country Gardener’s Day at Stockton Bury was blessed with beautiful sunshine and another merry gathering of garden enthusiasts: nurserymen, vine growers, garden potters and makers of natural cosmetics. We always enjoy visiting this garden, and each time we come we find something new to marvel at. This time it was the three large cast iron bells which hang decoratively in a picturesque old barn and chime merrily through the evening. For both events we filled old milk churns with artichokes and foxgloves, and used lady’s mantle, roses, and sweet peas to demonstrate the making of floral globes. This morning we hurried expectantly to the garden to see what new flowers the weekend sun had brought out: campanulas, soft feathery ammi and lots more roses and sweet sweet peas. 5 June Lovely June – sunshine and soft, warm air, and the appearance of our first summer flowers in the garden. This week we’ve been picking bucket upon bucket of sweet peppery smelling lupins, which we love for the way they can twist about in the vase, scenting the room with warm fragrance. There has also been a lot of sweet rocket and plenty of pretty bi-coloured McKana columbines. Purplish honeysuckle tendrils curl out away from the walls into the garden and grow small clusters of tight flower buds. Lady’s mantle gets taller and makes fuzzy lime green flowers that we can pick with almost anything. Dahlias in the ground have strong and waxy-looking crowns of leaves and shoots, and those under cover are heavy with glossy buds. We’re very pleased with our new white toadflax plants, which we grew from seed collected from the few white plants we had already, and which are flowering true. On Wednesday we went to look at the exquisite garden at Morville, where we ate warm scones under garlands of sweetly fragrant roses. Impatiently must we wait the few years needed for our own plants to begin rambling around like this. 8 May The spring flowers are nearly over now. As we pick the last of our tulips, we notice the fresh flower buds developing on our columbines, roses, alliums sweet peas and scabious. Everything grows lushly after the warm April and all the rain we’ve had in the last few days. At home, we scatter grain for the hens in places where we want them to scratch up the goosegrass and willowherb seedlings that are appearing overnight, competing with the violets and bluebells for space under the apple trees. 25 March We went to the garden one Sunday afternoon in late March to pick a posy of flowers to take to a friend’s for tea. There was an open garden day at Stokesay Court, and the grounds were busy with groups of happy people pottering about amidst the green and yellow clouds of wild daffodils. We opened the door to the walled garden and sneaked inside, locking it behind us. Everywhere were signs of life and loveliness to come – fat promising leaf buds on rose bushes and unfurling columbine leaves in the borders – but not many flowers yet for picking. We gathered a posy of speckly pink and white hellebores, starry cherry plum blossom, three stems of fragrant peachy stocks that had got ahead of themselves in the polytunnel, and a fistful of narcissi ‘Thalia’, still in bud. We’ve learned through experience that it is better not to mix narcissi with other flowers in the vase, as the leaky sap from the stems will kill the other flowers. However, blossom and hellebores have such a short vase life once cut that we thought it would make little difference; and Rosie would have the lovely scented, airy creamy white flowers of ‘Thalia’ to look forward to when the blossom was over. We wrapped the posy with torn sari silk and took it to tea. Rosie had made a magnificent Victoria sponge cake, and decorated it with primroses. 26th November Six weeks have passed and winter has claimed the garden: dahlias are blackened, artichoke flowers stand proud of the emptying vegetable garden, and frost works away at the exposed soil, putting paid to any late season aphids and slugs. Hardy annual seedlings are thriving under cover, hoping to be potted on so that they can make nice strong little plants for planting out in the spring. The spring! How far off that seems now! All Barney’s hard work snipping up and turning the compost heaps has paid off, and we now have lovely light, crumbly ‘brown gold’ for a late mulching of the annual flower beds. Looking at these dark rectangles now, like a giant bar of chocolate, it’s strange to imagine them brimming full with soft annuals next year. We love the seasonality of what we do; there is always something of excitement yet to come. 8th October Nearly a month has gone by since I last wrote about ‘this week’; all due to inevitable end of season lack of energy. With our last wedding of the year completed now, we have a new feeling of energy and vigour as we concentrate our activities on tidying the garden ready for winter. The brief for last weekend’s wedding was a very fitting way to end the season: lots of wheat, wild oats, berries, red, yellow and gold flowers, and tumbling autumn leaves. If we’d had a little more time we’d have found a way to work conkers into the designs as we pass so many just now on our way to and from the garden, sleekly shining in their prickly shells. Misty, foggy mornings and bright sunny afternoons herald the approaching chill, and we’ve begun to light a fire in the evenings. This was very useful at the end of last week for drying two long strings of hydrangea heads that we wanted to work into garlands for the wedding; the cottage looked like an illustration from a Jill Barklem book. 11th September Visitors to the garden this week have all commented on the welcoming sight of our Verbena bonariensis avenue, which lines the two sides of the path opposite to the garden gate. I, however, am mostly excited by the bravery of many of the plants which are making more late flowers out of season. I’ve picked foxgloves, pink toadflax and astrantia, and other little surprises are popping up around the garden. Perhaps the plants, like the You and Yours program on Radio 4 yesterday, are anticipating a long, mild autumn. The dahlias grow weekly more tall and floriferous. If we continue to feed them, perhaps by December we’ll be positively looking forward to frost. 2nd September Leaves are starting to turn yellow and red, and berries ripen in the hedgerows: black dogwood, red honeysuckle and mahogany haws. Dahlias splurge and sparkle on, and everywhere growth continues, especially in our young shrubs. Dainty white Hawkshead fuchsia seems to only just be getting going, and the Michaelmas daisies are arraying themselves in neat strong buds ready for a grand autumn display. 25th August Autumnal weather has been blowing in, but the flowers still blaze on triumphantly. This weekend we had fun taking flower arrangements to Plas Dinam, a friendly-feeling big old house which had been hired by a wedding party for a long weekend. As is often the case, we had difficulty tearing ourselves away in time before the festivities began; they were obviously going to have such a great time… 18th August Barney’s sheep netting support for the dahlias, chrysanthemums and cosmos is proving a big success, holding the heavy flower stems upright so that we have plenty good for cutting. Beetroot, tomatoes, salads and herbs are all delicious at the moment, and we enjoy longer-than-usual lunches of them, washed down with a little elderberry wine. 16th August At the end of last week we went to the Shrewsbury Flower Show, which excited us very much, especially as we were able to go and explore the flower exhibits early, before the main gates were opened. So many inspiring varieties of gladioli, chrysanthemum and dahlia, huge and well-grown, and we loved the old-fashioned, start-burst style of arranging them. Came away with our heads whirling with ideas. Back in our own garden, the dahlias, gladioli, cosmos, amaranthus and stripey tagetes are all putting on a good show and providing us with masses of flowers for cutting, along with gorgeous fragrant pelargonium leaves, smelling deliciously of mint, rose, and other intriguing musky smells. A forage about the garden always rewards us with something unexpected; yesterday I rediscovered a tall succulent-looking vibrant purple lobelia, perfect for picking. 5th August Rain, lovely lovely rain. 29th July It’s felt like a mini holiday at the Flower Garden this week, with only small flower orders to fulfill and more lovely visitors, culminating in a dancing party on Friday evening where we drank Pimms and cha-cha-chaed to the rich, gravelly sounds of the gramophone, until the sun dropped and the evening colours glowed. More lovely things are coming to their peak, including sea holly, yarrow ‘salmon beauty’, ‘psyche mix’ cosmos and wonderful rubbery-looking zinnias. The garden hums with bees, many more and much busier-seeming than last year. Walking past a big row of marjoram plants is a test of bravery, as the angry hum from the greedy bees rises and buzzes as we disturb their food-gathering. Tiny frogs bounce about underfoot, and red kites circle acrobatically overhead. 23rd July Hot sunshine, on and on. Dahlias and gladioli begin, and cosmos starts to take off. Two more lovely weddings. I especially enjoyed making a buttonhole with a lego man at its centre, for a four year old usher to wear. 16th July Another enjoyable wedding this weekend, for another lovely couple. The marriage ceremony was to take place in Hodnet church, and on our arrival there with our buckets of flowers we were very interested to be greeted by the rector with stories of the allegorical meanings that have been insinuated into the windows and carvings of the very old church. It made arranging flowers there a very atmospheric experience. The after-party was planned for a magical setting on the groom’s parents’ farm, in a really splendid and enormous safari-style tent which the wedding party had made fabulous with creativity. Working by the cool of the lake, and looking up from time to time at the wide and beautiful view of the Wrekin and surrounding countryside, we found it very difficult to tear ourselves away… Roses are having a rest and hardy annuals are goings over; dahlias and the half hardy annuals are coming on fast to take their places. Cosmos ‘double click cranberries’ and ‘rose bonbon’ are looking like new favourites for this year. Two new pets also joined us last week: a big turkey who lives on the estate, which kept peering hopefully in through the bothy window at us in a mild and friendly fashion, and a tiny shrew, who barely seemed to notice us on our lunch break, as it dashed about on the cool brick floor, busily doing whatever it was doing. 8th July This week we’ve been mostly busy preparing for a super fun wedding on home turf, at Stokesay Court. The lovely couple in question wanted bright, cheerful, Mexican-feeling flowers. We did our best with everything over-the-top and garish that we could find, and jumbled them joyously all together… 2nd July Some really bright, strong colours are beginning to appear in the Flower Garden now: orange alstroemeria, vivid blue delphinium ‘bellamosum’, and a kaleidoscope of shades in yarrow. We had fun at the weekend arranging these and other flowers with a selection of edible things from the garden (artichokes, raspberry canes and little alpine strawberries) for a party for Grow Cook Share, to celebrate its transition towards becoming Grow Cook Learn. We are all for people who want to raise awareness of growing good food and sharing it with their neighbours. This week has also seen the first week of our flowers being on sale at Stockton Bury, and very special garden near to Leominster. More excitement, as a short piece I’d written about good flowers for growing and cutting was printed this month in The English Garden Magazine; this month’s edition is a special cut flower one. 24th June The heavy druggy fragrance of sweet peas has returned to the flower garden, magnified by the warm weather and banking up drowsily inside the four cosy brick walls. We pick a big armful to arrange at home, and are overpowered by their heady fragrance every time we enter the sitting room; in fact I am sure I can smell them now upstairs, where I type. Roses tumble, and foxgloves stretch to their tips, dropping lower flowers plumply onto the ground. Weld makes sharp green skywards spires, and the sweet Williams are long bright cushions of nostalgia. There are a great many sculptural artichokes and exquisitely beautiful starlike galdioli ‘The Bride’. Scrunchy black silk poppies dot themselves about all over the garden, looking glamourous. 17th June The perfect early summer weather goes on and on, bringing on the flowers and giving us something to new to enjoy each week. This morning we picked a beautiful bucket of sparkling white gladioli ‘the Bride’, along with the sweet Williams, lady’s mantle, foxgloves, weld, nigella, campanula and other delights that are our standbys. Next week we hope to begin the first proper pickings of sweet peas; our first few posies of the blues and purples, with luscious long stems, have been perfuming our cottage quite intoxicatingly. On Sunday we had a really very happy day at Stockton Bury, a very special garden near to Leominster, where we were displaying our flowers as part of the Country Gardener’s Day. Typically, this was one of the many days on which we forgot to have our camera with us, but happily the garden photographer Julia Stanley was on hand with hers, immortalising the day with her light-flooded photography, and she has kindly allowed us to reproduce two of her evocative pictures here. 9th June Lovely sunshine brings the peonies and roses to life, just in time for a sugary pink-and-white wedding at the weekend. We pick far too many flowers, and festoon the reception venue lavishly with garlands, jugs on table and large vase arrangements. 3rd June It’s a dull damp start to June, with dramatic skies rolling great banks of dark grey clouds overhead. Foxgloves, peonies, roses, toadflax and sweet Williams all come on anyway – but we will them to be faster about it. 28th May Rain, sun, rain, sun, rain and more sun (we hope tomorrow) and the plants are rocketting most excitingly. Seahorse spires of weld have emerged all of a sudden; rose buds are growing fat and round (the bushes are still young, so flower a little later than for those lucky people with more mature plants); catmint is a hazy blue sea and lady’s mantle froths up greenly. We’ve picked the first bucket of sweet Williams and the last bucket of columbines. Alliums I try to practice restraint in picking, because I want them to seed all over the garden. The first of our dainty pink Gladioli byzantinus look exquisite picked alone or mingled in with other pink-and-white flowers, and a confident visitor to the market stall today in Ludlow promised me that these lovely bulbs will spread themselves by way of exuberant bulbs, even if I pick every flower. Wonderful! 20th May The amazing spring weather continues, and the flowers are erupting in splashes of pink, purple and lime green all about the garden. Today I picked armfuls of sweet, peppery-smelling lupins for our market stall tomorrow, in pink, pink-and-red, mauve and purple-coral. I’ll mix them with bright lime green euphorbia oblongata, round purple globes of alliums, and clouds of soft white sweet rocket. We are very proud of our newly decorated van (signwriting done very beautifully and speedily by Tracey of Pykefield Signs), with our new folk arty logo. It makes us take extra care to be courteous when driving, however, now that our name is all over the van! 13th May After our first wedding of the season, we are running to keep on top of all the many tasks to be done. Potting on has taken a bit of a back seat recently, and we remember just in time to re-pot tomatoes, and other fast-growing annuals that seem to suddenly have outgrown their pots overnight. Weeding, planting, staking, mowing, mulching… Our most exciting thing this week is our new tiny chicks. They live at our cottage, and nice though it would be to have chickens at the Flower Garden, we don’t think we will be trusting them and their scratching feet in our flower beds! 8th May The garden is green again now as the tulips have all come to an end; in their place are appearing the young buds of columbines, foxgloves, lupins and campanulas. In other people’s gardens we’ve noticed roses in full bloom already, but our own rose bushes are still young, and their fat healthy buds are yet to open. There is so much planting to be done: little annuals quickly filling their pots with white roots and gladioli bulbs still in their paper bags. The sweet pea trenches are nearly all dug though – three this year, because they were so popular last season – and those sweet peas already planted are twining their way up canes and string. Neat, folded-looking flower buds are appearing on the blade-like stems of dainty white gladioli ‘The Bride’, and the billowing beds of lime green Euphorbia oblongata are about to spill over with an eruption of glorious flowers… 28th April A sudden helter skelter rush to get good things into the ground (dahlias, sweet peas, newly-sown annuals) and bad things out of the ground (nettles, docks, buttercups); to mulch, stake, feed and sow and do a hundred other things now that the garden has really roared into life and got on with growing. The flowers are still mostly tulips, but all around are promisingly lush clumps of perennials, bulbs and annuals, getting ready for the big show… 22nd April Some much needed rain has been falling in the Flower Garden, softening the hard soil and making our plants grow. It is so exciting to watch them, looking forward to all the flowers they are going to give us this year. Tulips continue to bloom, narcissi keep them company, and columbines are just beginning to join in the fun. A kind neighbour donated a a trailerload of muck (which immediately vanished into the garden – where has it gone?) and lent us his trailer, which he now can’t have back as the Landrover has broken and left both things stranded outside the walled garden. We worked on Good Friday, but marked the occassion by eating delicious toasted hot cross buns, for which Barney improvised a special grill with a wire basket, over a fire, from which bits escaped and burnt holes into two of our plastic watering cans, but they still work, and now they look interesting. I filled our cottage with flowers for Easter weekend, and I cannot get enough of looking at them. 16th April There has been less romance this week, but even more tulips are sprouting through the warming soil. New plants arrive by post and accumulate in the cold frames, waiting for us to pot them on and find homes for them; meanwhile we are busy weeding, mowing, planting, mulching, spreading woodchip (kindly donated by Alan Jones, skillful tree surgeon) and picking the relentless tulips. It is heaven to stand behind our market stall, in front of us a haze of fabulous colour, and to see the happy faces of the people attracted by the springlike display. We found an empty blackbird’s nest (one knowledgeable market customer taught me to distinguish a blackbird’s nest from that of a thrush by the former’s lack of mud lining the nest) on the ground in the garden, and filled it with my favourite mini eggs for Easter, guarded on the stall by our Chinese Easter bunny. I have also been learning photography tips from the superlative floral photographer Sabina Ruber, whose intricate and enticing flower pictures appear in all the glossy magazines and grace the pages of the the Chilterns seed catalogue and her recent book, Painterly Plants. If I can retain even a tiny amount of the knowledge she shared with me, this website will soon be looking much prettier. 10th April This week we’ve had enough flowers – mostly tulips – to pick to have our first market at Ludlow. It was great to be back in the Buttercross and to see some of our lovely regular customers again, on such a glorious sunny day. There has also been a spot of romance in the garden this week, as Victoria’s brother Nick proposed to his lovely girlfriend Poly, by the very romantic fashion of writing the words “marry me” in sticks stuck into the ground, and then decorating them with pretty spring flowers, in the manner of a mediaeval embroidery. She said yes. 3rd April The picking season has begun: suddenly the garden is bestowing on us lovely-smelling flowers in juicy fresh bright spring colours – pink and deep purple hyacinths, dainty creamy yellow narcissi, magical tulips in all colours, popping up out of the ground overnight like lollipops! So much fun. Less happily, all the weeds are growing, too, and it is taking all our energies to keep on top of these, spread gravel and woodchipping on our paths, pot on and plant out seedlings, and remember to keep sowing more seeds… 25th March Hyacinths galore and a tingling feeling of life in the garden, in spite of the drizzly rain. Hardy annuals are being planted out now, in a conveyor belt sort of a system of being jiggled round the polytunnel, hardened off on the sunny Victorian tiles outside, then waiting around on the gravel or in the coldframe until their turn comes to be planted in the garden. I admit that I am speeding up the hardening off process a little, because the little polytunnel is so crowded, and until we move the young plants out there is no room to sow more! Growth is rapid, suddenly, keeping us on our toes. 19 March First day of spring! It has brought exciting winds to Shropshire – we love these when we’re huddled cozily by the fire, but it is exhausting to work outside in them. Happily the Flower Garden is sheltered from the worst of the winds by its high walls, but the energy whooshes about overhead, scattering leaves and twigs and flustering the birds. Tiny things happening in the garden fill me with pleasure: this week, the first flower on a little auricula plant. The alpine Primula auriclua has a sturdy, hardy rosette of swirly fleshy leaves. One of our new young plants has flung up an elegant, dainty stem with three faint and fragile looking pink-painted flowers. It’s flowers are so insubstantial and willo-the-wispish that our camera struggles to see them. I capture them eventually. Cannot wait to see what other colours the plants produce. 8 March The sun shines and spring is here, welcomed by lots of birdsong and our first sightings of butterflies and bees. Everyday a new tray of something has germinated, and more bulbs have thrust their way through the soil. We don’t have much to pick yet, but I did manage to make a few table centres for a party at the weekend, with the help of some luscious hellebores from the party-giver’s garden, and lots of encouragement from her Jack Russel terrier. 3 March More of the same. 24 February This week we’ve been sowing seeds, potting on, pruning soft fruit, weeding paths and bricklaying. Very very excitingly the new tulips are coming up, and haven’t rotted, also alliums, mini gladioli, muscari and narcissi. Everywhere there are signs of life and lustiness, how exciting. 17 February Through the sodden ground thrust strong green shoots of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths; the tips of branches quietly swell and turn a little red; primulas make a few tentative flowers. Worms very busy. Lots of little perennial plants arrived in a huge cardboard box at the end of last week, gasping for air. They’re adjusting their thoughts in new pots in the polytunnel; soon they will have to move out to the coldframe, to make way for the new spring sowings. Today I hid from the rain in there too, potting on larkspur and hardy salvia. In my mind, as I pot, I am imagining the blue larkspur in big mixed arrangements at a wedding I’m planning to pick it for, in early June. Exciting to think of this, and I do hope it grows in good time! Cannot resist picking a few double snowdrops to decorate the Valentine tea table. 10 February More bricklaying, and much tidying of the outbuildings. The fabulous Michael Bell (find him through Rickards, Ludlow) came to us on a rescue mission on Wednesday, when we arrived at the garden to find ourselves locked out! Michael is a master locksmith and went into ecstasies about the old garden lock with its brass fittings. For a very modest fee he took the whole thing away and returned it, shiny and new, with three neat keys to fit, working away through a monstrous downpour of rain and a heavy flurry of snowflakes to get the job done. I traipse round the garden – mindful of the sodden mess that once was lawn – looking for signs of spring. Tulips, hyacinths and narcissi are all poking fresh green furls of leaves through the soggy, depleted-looking soil. Ranunculus and anemones make promising, ferny foliage, and at the base of every euphorbia plant in the garden is a tight nest of fat little buds. All we have to harvest, however, is brassicas. 3 February For the last week we’ve had our lovely friend, Sarah staying with us, keeping our morale up in this drippy weather. With her extra help we’ve made good progress on weeding paths, barrowing woodchip and tying in raspberry canes, and Barney has been doing some good work on shoring up the rather rickety old walls of the once-greenhouses. We have to be careful where we tread now, as many little thrusting green shoots appear where – it seems so recently – we planted bulbs in autumn trenches. January 28th It hardly ever stops raining. But this has been a very enjoyable few weeks nonetheless, with an exciting two day jaunt to Devon to meet with more than a hundred other grower-florists and gain inspiration for our business, and lots of sorting of seeds and planning of tasks. My article about small scale flower growers appears in the current issue (108) of HORTUS, and the young chickens have started laying pretty speckled eggs for our breakfasts. January 6th Back to the garden today after a lovely sleepy Christmas break, and we were so nervous at the thought of discovering limbs of trees and other debris strewn about the lawns and beds… Happily the worst the weather has given us is a bad bit of water-logging, and an excellent excuse to stay off the ground and work on pruning the soft fruit. Blackcurrants smell completely delicious as you cut into their soft creamy wood, but gooseberries are vicious and hard as nails, and try to prevent the hapless gardener from doing what is good for them. In the end we were driven home by the driving rain and the darkening January skies, along with the promise of a happy hour watching lovely Rachel de Thame promoting Britsh cut flowers on BBC 2, in the Great British Garden Revival. How exciting. Roll on, spring, I want your flowers now now now! December 17th A lovely bright cold frosty morning today. We planted eighteen more roses, snugging them in with a scoop of bonemeal and a blanket of garden compost. This compost is like black gold dust, we must learn to make hot heaps next year so that we can have a huge supply of it! It nourishes the plants, improves the soil structure, and makes the whole garden look comfortable and well-loved. December 9th There’s not much to report this week, except that the beautiful weather continues. I’m looking forward very much to an excitable coffee and cake session tomorrow with other British Flower Collective growers, at book haven Booth’s in Hay-on-Wye. Can’t wait. We always chatter over each other in our excitement and exhaust ourselves… Yummy meals from the garden at the moment incorporate Barney’s ‘red rubine’ brussels sprouts, leeks and a mixed bag of tasty potatoes. December 3rd All the tulips are in; half the roses; all the perennials… the garden looks pretty tidy, but every time I finish one job I see a dozen more things to be done! This splendid mild autumn has been a real godsend, and made the garden workable up until now. However, there’s not much colour to be seen at the moment, so I will have to pinch some pictures from the summer, to remind myself of what will be the result of all this hard work now. November 26th Gradually getting shipshape. November 18th This mild autumn is just what we’ve needed to get our late planting done, and now most things are putting down roots in their new homes. Lots of tulip bulbs to plant. Almost all the flowers in the garden are over now, and only a curious collection of indoor chrysanthemums remain, in the little polytunnel. Our table is decorated not with flowers – which quickly wilt with the heat from our log-burning stove – but with a bowl of ornamental gourds. November 14th Gradually the garden is beginning to look tidy, as we slowly clear out the old plants and nestle in the new. The great soup-making season has begun, with lots of yummy squashes to eat, and we are doing our inventive best with purple brussels sprouts. I notice the beautiful old bones of the garden especially much at this time of year, with the autumn sun illuminating the crevices of weathered walls and wooden frames, like a spotlight. Tiny dainty plants, such as the pretty ivy leaved toadflax, seem extra special for making their perfect little flowers and leaves right at the end of the season. November 4th Lovely sunshine has been prolonging the last of the late season flowers, especially some lovely dahlias and big shaggy chrysanthemums. There is so much to do. Roses are heeled in, waiting for their new bed; tulips bulbs nestle in boxes, waiting for their trenches; perennials wait anxiously to be planted into their new beds, knowing that it ought to have been done last month… If the weather continues to hold out for another week or two, all will be well. October 21st The rain! Our soil is heavy and sticky, and we can’t plant in it – that will just have to wait for now, while we go home early and light the fire… October 14th A lovely package of hardy annual seeds has arrived from Chilterns today. We’re hoping we’ve not left it too late to sow some of these outside direct into beds. Other varieties will spend the winter in the polytunnel; the Ammi visnaga, larkspur and snapdragons we treated this way last year romped once they got outside in the spring, and gave us bumper crops of wonderful flowers. I’m feeling annoyed with myself for not having been more ruthless with the chrysanthemums when they were at the ‘disbudding’ stage – I just can’t bring myself to do it! So now we have lots of sprays of chrysanthemums in warm autumn colours, but they are all quite stiff – not really our style – and there are no really blowsy shaggy beauties amongst them. Next year. Excitingly, tucked in behind the chrysanthemums, at the base of the high south-facing wall, are the first magenta pink flowers of Nerine ‘Isabel’ just beginning to open. Beautiful. Below: one tiny little chrysanthemum flower transofrmed into a work of art by Alison Morton, the clever Ludlow weaver. October 7th On Wednesday we’re going to have our last market stall of the season, in the Buttercross at Ludlow, and it will be a chrysanthemum bonanza. We’re starting to make an impression on the cutting back, weeding, moving, sowing and planting that has to be done over the next two months, and I am itching to start planting my tulip bulbs… just as soon as Barney has dug me some nice trenches… The dahlias become lovelier and lovelier, and smooth plump pointed buds are appearing for the first time on our sun-soaked nerines. Lots of butterflies flittering about still and warming themselves on the south-facing walls. September 30 This week I have discovered some new settings on my camera, and have become super keen on photographing everything. Hardy annual seeds have germinated in some of the beds, and I have to be ruthless to keep them where we want them, not to have the flowers all mingling and bed-hopping as they did this year. It is very satisfying to dig out old, less useful plants (verbascums; centranthus) all in readiness to replace them with new lovelies (astilbe; phlox; michaelmas daisies). September 24th Exhausted. Picking for market and orders has become a hunt-the-flower game around the garden, wheeling my flower trolley with me as I go… Lots of lovely things to eat, including big eccentric looking Turk’s Turban squash and sweet stripey Tigerella tomatoes. Alpine strawberries going deliciously from strength to strength! The roses are flowering again. Time to order and plant some more. September 17th Autumn has come, beading the wild roses with shiny red hips and ripening all the pears and plums. Flower production is beginning to slow down. I can’t resisting picking cosmos to go in almost every bunch, pink and red and white, especially ‘psyche white’, with a little ruff of mini petals twisting and fluttering around the yellow centre. So pretty. We are busy planning and preparing for next year, digging new borders, planting bulbs, ordering seeds. Blackberries still yummy. September 9th At long last some lovely rain has fallen on the garden, refreshing everything, but also making it look very much as though autumn has arrived. We’ve been harvesting beans, figs, plums, pears, blackberries and some late season strawberries, and doing lots of cutting back. We’re also clearing beds ready for the arrival of our new perennials; we’re excitedly looking forward to having more peonies and other lovelies to pick from. Our enormous bulb order has arrived, so it will soon be time to plant some of the spring flowering sweeties, such as fritillaries and grape hyacinths. September 1st This week I’ve been picking buckets and buckets and buckets of lovely billowing cosmos, so much all from one quite small patch! Mostly white, some pink and a little red. I especially love the varieties with little twists, quills, and extra petals. Bees love them too. Sweet peas still going strong. Barney has been harvesting plump juicy blackberries and big beautiful pears with a dusky pink sheen. We’ve eaten our first sumptuous figs of the year and a few small peaches. Zinnias and dahlias are having their glory moment, and a few half annuals sown in rows in the vegetable garden as a sort of after-thought are surprising us with their late summer loveliness. There are still lots of tiny baby toads about everywhere under our feet, and also big swooping buzzards now overhead. The young roses are giving us a late flush, and I’ve been testing their vase life in little posies around the house. New catalogues are arriving every week, and everywhere are scribbled plans and lists for next year’s planting. August 26th Stripey roses – ‘Crazy for You’ – competing with rampant blackberries and calendula, and stripey squashes hardening in the warm polytunnel, so that they will store well over the winter. The garden is putting on a brave late summer show, but my mind is already on next year’s garden, as I plan my seed order and buy young perennial plants to pick from in the spring. The companionable sounds of farmers bring in the harvest reach us as we work in the walled garden, harvesting berries, flowers, herbs and vegetables of our own. Every day I check the few figs and peaches for ripeness… not quite yet… August 19th Cold and stiff after sitting at table in cottage with all the doors and windows open as the day gradually cools, while I am engrossed in my autumn bulb order… All done now! How exciting. I’ve ordered some magical lilies to try out, as well as all my favourite, lavish tulips, masses and masses of them. I spent a lovely morning, while Barney worked hard weeding, picking flowers, and then making up some pretty bunches for Florabunda in Ludlow. August 13th This jug of flowers has been on the table in our cottage, in full sun, for over a week – if only all flowers would do this! Early summer flowers have come to an end now – no more nigella, weld or euphorbia – and the late summer (we’re not ready for ‘early autumn’ yet) flowers are taking their place. I’ve been spending happy hours picking bucketfuls of mint, ammi, yarrow, sea holly and now China asters too. These last flowers are a new discovery for me; I love their fresh green ruffs like spatula fingers, and the tightly furled pink quills (mine are pink) of petals all neatly packed inside, ready to open out into big fat pompoms. Yes please. If the breeders could only make them smell nice too. We’ve been picking the first of some new cut flower varieties sent to us this spring to trial, from a Dutch breeder. The plants arrived carefully packaged in a great big cardboard box, all neatly labelled, but I then had to stuff them all in the ground pretty quickly as some special friends had arrived from Canada for a flying visit, and we wanted to get to the pub… The little plants seemed to be various kinds of dianthus, and they are all now in flower. They don’t seem to have minded my rushed treatment, and have produced some very pretty flowers, including some white domed sweet william-like flowers which smell like jasmine, a scent which is sadly lost when the flowers are picked. There is also a very striking little carnation or pink, with flat little flowers in a strong, bright two-tone palate of hot pink and sunset coral. But I do wish the breeders would give more priority to finding flowers with a lovely scent. This picture reminds me how much I love to be outside in the world of the garden for most of the day (I almost look forward to the flowers coming to an end in the autumn, so that I can spend all my time gardening), eating lovely fresh things that I find growing, and adding them to my leftover lunches – here chicken risotto with purple basil, marigold flowers, flat leaf parsley and bronze fennel. We haven’t had many tomatoes yet this year as we were slow to sow and plant them out, but it’s good to have another delicious eat to look forward to. August 7th Everyone is flagging a bit. We’ve begun the first big cutting back in the garden, of spurge (please nobody get this in your eye), lady’s mantle, weld, catmint and sweet williams. It’s sad to see them go, but eager to take their place are tobacco plants, michaelmas daisies, salvias and, before too long now, chrysanthemums. I am willing more thunderstorms to happen to take away the humidity in the air. Barney’s vegetables love it, however: tomatoes, squashes, beans all are romping about productively. My favourite flowers this week are the first little deep blue spires of Delphinium bellamosum, short in their first year to flower, which look bright and beautiful with splashy bright zinnias. July 31st Rain rain wind rain rain. Things which are most enjoying this weather: dahlias, tomatoes, ammi visnaga, scented leaved pelargoniums. These last I am willing to grow a little taller so that I can pick them to use in bouquets. They’ll smell delicious. July 27th Millions of snapdragons, larkspur, bupleurum, dill, nigella and nicotiana, all looking lovely in the garden and in the vase. Our first market at Much Wenlock today was very enjoyable, in the really very special surroundings of the old Guildhall, medieval and atmospheric, with lovely gardens behind and the bustle of the pretty market town before us. We will be back. As I type, lovely sweet welcome rain falls on the garden of the cottage and, we hope, the walled Flower Garden too. Happy thoughts, imagining my dahlias putting on a growth spurt, and the sweet peas drinking in the lovely fresh water. I spent a happy afternoon on Thursday arranging flowers for a 40th wedding anniversary – well done the happy couple – in three vases, equipped with a description of the house’s decor and the instruction to “Enjoy yourself” – hooray, I did! July 23rd Woken in the night by a flash of lightning and an hour or so of proper rain, I wonder whether it will have filled our water butts a little, and hope it hasn’t raised the hopes of the plants too much. The sunshine has given us buckets and buckets and buckets of glorious life-loving flowers: inky violet larkspur, soft marshmallow pompoms of white scabious, luscious sweet-smelling spikes of pinky-orange snapdragons and great eccentric mounds of globular dill flower heads. Hooray! So many flowers. We loved doing a market at Bishop’s Castle on Saturday, although only the die-hard market regulars seemed to know where to find it in its temporary home at the Methodist Hall. Those who did find us seemed particularly keen on our delicious fruit – blackcurrants, gooseberries, and yummy raspberries; for our Wednesday market in Ludlow we’ll also have lots of jewel-like redcurrants, luscious. Made a pretty posy for Shorron and Ian’s wedding, with roses (for the English bride) and thistle-like seas holly (to carry for her Scottish groom). July 15th More lovely warm sunshine and it has brought out lots more flowers: pastel coloured-cosmos, more luscious ice-pop snapdragons, deep inky blue larkspur and evermore billowing waves of sweet peas, which fill the walled garden with their rich sweet scent in this warm sleepy weather. We had a great day at the Mortimer Fair on Saturday, where our flower stall (slightly droopy with the heat) was nestled in between lovely producers of yummy local food and clever crafts. This Saturday we’re looking forward to bringing our stall to Bishops Castle, a great excuse to visit one of our very favourite towns. July 8th We’ve had such a busy two weeks in the glorious English sunshine (!) that I’ve been neglecting this page. It is a delicious time in the garden, with everything growing at full pelt, nothing going over or looking sad (because I’ve picked it all), and the promise of lots more beauties still to come. Especially lovely at the moment are the sweet peas. I am inhaling lungfulls of their rich heady scent now as I type this, with three big decadent vases of frilly petalled, butterfly-like sweet peas surrounding my computer on the table. This year we planted two long rows of them, and for one row Barney dug a big deep trench which he lined with old grass cuttings and a shake of bonemeal, then we mulched the plants with a thick layer of farmyard manure; these plants are far stronger than those in the other row, and their flower stems are fantastically long and strong. Heaven. I am also very excited about the “Mme. Butterfly” snapdragons, which are just beginning to throw up their first exotic stems now, long and sturdy like the sweet peas. Our autumn-planted roses are also doing marvellous things – each time a plant opens its first flowers it’s like meeting a new friend. I am frugally retaining the long stems for now so that the plants can establish a hearty structure, but I delight in picking a few short stems of each and testing them at home for longevity in the vase. A few of the more luscious flowers (Evelyn and Queen of Sweden) I have been picking with unopened honeysuckle buds and selling as market posies. So pretty. The other news of the moment (non-sporting) is the strawberries (semi-sporting), which have been a delicious success, vindicating my weak-minded inability to weed out any little self-seeded strawberry plants from anywhere in the garden, and also my greed at planting lots of new varieties last year. We love the the little alpine varieties especially, but make sure we wait until the berries are a deep dark purple-red before we pick them, to get that sweet distinctive alpiney taste. Just working out how to use new camera. June 24th So many foxgloves! Today I have picked buckets full of the lovely soft spires to mix with softly scented sweet williams and sharp green spikes of weld. We’ve begun to pick the lovely long-stemmed sweet peas – my favourite job as it smells so delicious – and there are lots of strawberries now too. Very exciting. Last week we arranged flowers for a wedding in Gloucester and for a 21st birthday party in the Corvedale. It was lovely to arrange the four hanging globes of flowers in the cool shade of a yew arbour, at the party’s location, with the bustling noise of the preparations in the background and the family’s new little puppy gambolling at my feet. In other news, our van has temporarily broken down, so the good old Landrover (1961) has been called into service for delivering flowers. June 17th It’s foxgloves galore in the Flower Garden just now, flowering in lovely soft spikes of meringue pinks and whites. We use the little ones in mixed bunches for our market stall, and the big thrusting spires for larger arrangements. This week the foxgloves have appeared in displays for a christening, a wedding, and a church flower arranging competition. Just coming now are soft pink toadflax spikes and long lime yellow spears of weld, both of which look luscious with the foxgloves. I picked our first ‘Bengal Centifolia’ rose today, a delicious pink cup of fragrant petals, lovely! June 10th Each new day in the garden is a huge excitement, as we unlock the gate and rush in behind the dog to see what is coming into flower! Foxgloves, sweet rocket, lupins (which make an excellent, long-lasting cut flower), centranthus and pink toadflax are all ready or nearly-ready for picking. I love that each week brings something new and fresh. Butterflies are about (Barney is building a splendid frame to keep them off the brassicas – perhaps we’ve left this a little late!), toads are growing fat on slugs, and sparrows are nesting in gaps among the bricks in the walls; we hear the chicks calling to their parents as we go about our work. The splendid sunny weather has put a strain on our water butts, but thankfully the thick layer of mulch (well-rotted manure, chopped up comfrey, grass clippings, garden compost – anything we can get our hands on!) which we’ve managed to apply to many of the beds has helped to conserve moisture in the soil, and the plants are growing well. What will we be picking this week and, more importantly, how soon until we can start to eat the strawberries? May 31st It has been a wonderfully productive week in the Flower Garden, as we’ve had a lovely volunteer, Sabine, staying with us and working just as hard as she can at growing flowers. Between us we’ve sowed seed, planted out seedlings, mulched beds, fed things with comfrey tea (very smelly), picked flowers, cut grass, tied in sweet peas… and everything is looking very grateful for all her hard work. Pretty columbines wrapped up at Ludlow Market. I became very excited about the columbines when they began to flower this year, and have ordered seeds of lots of specal lovely varieties, including a fragrant blend called ‘scented garden’. How exciting, I can’t wait to sow those. Sweet rocket is growing in the bottom border in great pink-and-white clouds. Euphorbia oblongata is zingy and green everywhere in its nice rounded tussocks. Foxgloves are rushing skywards and their flowers seem to form almost as I watch them; the sweet Williams have made lovely spiky green and red pre-flowers above their neat ladder-like leaves. We’ve come across newts, frogs and snakes in the garden during the last week or so; a few gentle bees and a sprinkling of squidgy aphids, but so far not any butterflies. Last week as I planted out snapdragons in amongst the roses, I heard a cuckoo calling in the woods and I wondered, have we skipped spring this year to rush headlong into summer? May 13th We’ve just spent a fun evening with the ladies of Abdon Flower Club, who were very game about huddling in the dark bothy with our tools and rows of gardening gloves, to drink tea brewed on Barney’s storm kettle and eat my flapjacks and only slightly burnt cherry buns… They told us it was ‘rustic’, as the smoke blew in from the kettle! Everything is growing with great enthusiasm and I am longing to be able to pick the next batch of flowers, including columbines, geums, black cornflowers and sweet rocket. Big white flowers are appearing on the strawberries, which are all over the garden as we haven’t the heart to pull them out (free food!) and they seed everywhere. Leading the Abdon ladies round the garden today and having my first chance for a while to look properly at everything, I noticed that our first rose bud has formed, on a healthy-looking bush of ‘Margaret Merril’. How exciting! Who will be next? May 6th This week we’ve had our first two markets of the season, at Ludlow and at Craven Arms. I’ve spent two blissful afternoons in my flower den – an old dairy and apple store, perfect for storing and arranging flowers – making up bunches and listening to Radio 4… There are masses of tulips now, myriad heights and shapes and sizes and colours, including short red-and-yellow striped ‘monsella’; tall strong lily-flowered purple ‘lilac time’; strange twisty twirly red/orange/green ‘blumex favourite’, and parrot tulip; and elegant ruffled white ‘exotic emperor’ with fine green outer petals and a tutu confection of snowy inner petals. It is very exciting to see each day what new flowers have come to life! This weekend we will also be doing an additional stall on the Saturday market at Ludlow – we’re going to be busy! April 29th Just a little bit of sunshine has brought the tulips on and they are now tall and lovely and ready for picking. Sweet rocket is lush and green, and the strong green hellebores are longing to grace a kitchen table in company with some colourful lady flowers. The ranunculus looks as though it will flower in the polytunnel before we come to plant it out in the garden, and the big florist anemones are sending up flower stalks into the mild spring air. April 25th We have flowers! Only a few, and the tulips are sadly short this year, due we think to lack of sunlight. However, there is colour in the garden, sweet peas and chrysanthemums are going in the ground, and little treasured seedlings are popping up everywhere. Soft white blossom drips from the boughs of the pear trees; tiny clusters of green flower buds form on the currant bushes. We’ve been busily spreading manure over the ground between young plants to save ourselves some weeding and improve the soil for our flowers, fruit and veg. I tried to keep my distance when delivering flowers yesterday, but am sure I carried quite a pervasive odour… The old dairy is swept now and ready for its summer use as a florist’s den. As I swept it this morning I opened the windows and liberated a sleepy butterfly. April 18th Spring must be coming, because the peach is blossoming on the south-facing wall, and we have begin to pick delicious rhubarb. We’re very busy in the vegetable garden, preparing the ground and hardening off pea and bean seedlings, and onion sets are in. However, there are still no flowers ready for picking in this cold late spring. The early spring borders are looking fresh and green though, and a Euphorbia oblongata seedling has found a cosy corner in which to produce its limey green flowers. April 13th Every time I go outside with my camera it rains… Very exciting day today planting tulips bulbs and pink twiddly nerines, and potting up my dahlia tubers. Even in the rain it was nice. Also, very excitingly, the British Flower Collective has its new logo: April 12th First bee was spotted, buzzing about today! I promise more photos of the garden soon… It is beginning, just beginning, to feel like spring, with special vigour and eagerness to bloom evident in the foxgloves, columbines and – hooray – the new roses! April 2nd Sunshine! Glorious beautiful sunshine! Tulips are a-comin’… March 26th Too much snow! Just as we were hoping to get stuck into the spreading of compost and wood chippings! But the bad weather has given me more time to get into Twitter… @flowergardenjoy March 18th A chilly start to the week – roll on Spring! – but little signs of life all over the garden: bupleurum and Nigella seedlings germinating in the open ground, sweet peas pushing through the compost in the polytunnel and spiky swords of fresh green tulip leaves unfurling in beds and borders everywhere, in places where I had forgotten we’d planted tulips! I decorate the cottage with narcissi-in-a-teapot and boughs of cherry-plum blossom. Thank you to my kind and hardworking mother, who came to help in the garden last week, sowing seeds, improvising extra framing for them in the polytunnel (so crowded now with lovely flowers-to-be!), and painting white lines on the dark steps down to the snug boiler house so that we don’t trip… March 5th The frosty fog is burning off as the sun comes out while I write this, and I look forward to planting out the last of my overwintered hardy annuals this morning. Ammi visnaga, blue and white larkspur, and starry white nigella have all gone in to nicely prepared ground, and will hopefully give us lovely flowers by the end of May… It’s still cold, but on a sunny day we feel as though we can do anything! February 18th I’ve spent the last year studying for my RHS exams, and last week had two days in snowy North Yorkshire sitting all eight exams at once to get them out of the way. Hooray, finished! Now time to get on with the lovely task of waking up the garden… January 31st Oops, almost two cold, wintry months have gone by since I last updated this page. We’ve been enjoying a nice rest, with a dreamy week in southern Greece to recharge our batteries and do some planning over delicious Greek coffee. I have also been getting to know other flower growers – including local ladies Lucinda Henry (Blooms and Bees), Chloe Plester (Bare Blooms), and Tammy Hall (Marlow Farm). At a Flowers From the Farm meet up in Devon at the beginning of January, we met loads of growers from all over the country, and we all went away feeling buoyed up and excited about the year ahead. Most of the growers seemed to have recently started up in the last year or two – is this the beginning of the Next Big Thing? It feels very exciting to be a part of the adventure of bringing lovely locally grown flowers to every woman’s kitchen table. A posy of sweet peas for every bedroom! December 3rd Sitting by the fire after a happy day in the sunny polytunnel, potting up little plants and cuttings, and sowing sweet peas. I’ve been daydreaming about Malmaison and old-fashioned garden carnations. Also more roses, tulips, shady woodland flowers and all kinds of things from the ranunculus family… November 12th Brrr it’s cold and wet out there. I have an excellent excuse for staying at home today because our elderly Landrover is feeling its age, so I am catching up with computer jobs. Wind blows grey-white clouds rapidly across the sky outside, and I curl up underneath a blanket. The last weeks have been very exciting as our roses have started to arrive, and I have been planting them in their new beds. We bought plants from several suppliers and all so far seem to be in good condition, but the best and happiest ones I think have been from Dicksons, a Northern Irish breeder. I can’t wait to see their luscious ‘Alexander’s Issie’ in flower, a swirl of violet and orange-cerise, delicious. While the garden still feels full of life and vigour, the flowers have come to an end for this year, and our thoughts are focused on the new tulips which we’ve begun to put in the ground, to start flowering in late March. Inside the polytunnel, little seedlings are thriving in their pots, clamouring to be planted out and allowed to overwinter in the ground; larkspur, Calendula ‘neon’ (my favourite), cornflowers and other hardy annuals are all ready now, just waiting for us to prepare a bit of ground for them… I also planted lots of ranunculus in pots undercover, very much the wrong time of year but I am hoping to get lovely early orange flowers from them in May. They are thrusting up strong green leaves excitedly, and things look promising. October 18th Frost has been and blackened the dahlias, and I am putting more time into my RHS studies, now that there are fewer flowers to pick. Flowers on tobacco plants creep up to the tops of their stems and cling there; spiky Nigella hispanica seed heads brown and twist. The sweet peas come down in stages, the small jungle of bronze fennel is cut back and uprooted in places, to halt its confident spread across the garden, and we harvest rosehips, blackberries, indoor tomatoes, parsnips, herbs and squashes. Pheasants congregate en masse outside the garden walls, black, brown, golden, white and speckled. Every time one flies over the garden or lands on one of the high walls, Ned-the-Dog rushes at it in a frenzy of barking which reverberates around the emptying garden. October 2nd A whole month has gone by since I last updated this page, and the garden is beginning to feel autumnal now. Chrysanthemums, zinnias, cleomes and tobacco plants are putting on an excellent late season show, but all the other flowers are beginning to nod off now, subdued by the rain and the cooler days. We’ve been busy ordering seeds, bulbs and roses, and have begun to dig the new rose garden at the top of the garden. Craven Arms farmer’s Market might be our last market of the season next year, but we’ll try to be at Bishop’s Castle in two weeks’ time, too, because we like it so much. The sweet peas still keep coming, some with ever longer stems, and several perennials seem to be about to have a second go at flowering, so perhaps we’ll find ourselves with an abundance of mid-autumn flowers? September 3rd Lovely lovely sunshine has come to ripen our tomatoes and reward us for all that hard work in the driving rain. We’re very pleased to still have lots of flowers to offer for deliveries and markets, and even have some new ones becoming ready to steal the show in the autumn, in the form of lovely chrysanthemums in rich reds, oranges and purples, and zingy lime green. August 20th Sweet peas are overwhelming us with their strong sweet scent and lovely purplish colours. I’ve begun to pick them with bits of stem and curly tendrils attached, and I find it stops them from getting squashed and also makes them look more fairly tale lovely. August 15th More rain today has been watering the garden and making it feel like the autumn. Friday was our high summer though, with the garden at its peak and the butterflies thronging the air. They especially love the marjoram which lines the vegetable garden. August 6 We have eaten our first tomatoes, and first delicious ratte potatoes; thank you Chris at Mr Underhill’s for telling us about them! We’ve also been making lots of bunches with our favourite, stalwart flowers, including bupleurem, yarrow and cornflowers, below. Lovely! July 29 More visitors, sunshine, and lovely flowers. Suddenly, after waiting so long for the sweet peas to get going, we are struggling to keep on top of picking them. What a lovely job that is, done this week by Victoria’s kind mother, Jan. Several visitors have taken advantage of the warm sun and restful atmosphere by having a bit a of a sleep… July 15 This week we have been extra busy with two new additions to the garden. One was our friend Sarah, who has been cheerfully weeding, harvesting, sowing and planting all week as part of a learning ‘holiday’ – she will certainly be needing a holiday now! The second is our new collie puppy, Ned, who has also been doing his best to help, digging holes for us to plant things in. Bad weather on Friday meant that our open day was a wash out, but we five (with neighbour Harold) had a happy time regardless, playing scattles (like skittles) in between the showers, and chatting cosily over tea and cakes in the bothy. Our strawberries are over now, and the raspberries have taken the baton, fruiting profusely and deliciously behind the bushes of swelling currants. If you can’t make it to one of our open days (next ones Friday 20th and Saturday 21st) you can buy the raspberries at The Fruit Basket in Ludlow, and sample the currants and red gooseberries in dainty puddings served at Mr Underhill’s restaurant, also in Ludlow. July 5 Finally we have sweet peas, and the sweet pea walk is beginning to look exciting. Purple-black, frizzy poppies are opening at the top of it, and elsewhere in the garden are yarrow ‘summer berries’, in rich shades of pink and orange; vivid blue Anchusa; splotched and speckled snapdragons; clouds of Nigella hispanica, a love-in-the-mist with strong simple flowers and striking black centres. We have been visiting the David Austin rose garden and planning our rose beds for next year. Happily it was a rainy day (we are coming to expect these) otherwise I think we would have been drunk on sniffing the wonderful heavy flowers. This morning I’ll be picking flowers for the table decorations for two weddings, a white-themed one and a sweet pea-centred one. It is almost my favourite part of the work, like rummaging about in a sweet shop for delicious colours and combinations… June 30 Our first two open days have been wonderful: the first because we were so grateful for the turnout of loyal friends on a horrid rainy day, who gamely sat and drank storm-kettle-brewed tea by lamplight in the atmospheric bothy while the weather raged outside – an experience that was much improved when we brought out friend Liz’s delicious chocolate cake. The second open day was much more what we had hoped: lovely warm bright sunny spells and lots of happy smiling visitors wondering about along the grass paths, stooping to inspect unusual plants and having a taste of the delicious, ruby-red strawberries. With all this excitement (and with lots more drizzly weather) we have been neglecting the garden and the weeds have suddenly noticed their opportunity and made the best of it… So next week will be one of heavy work in preparation for our next open day, on Friday 13th. We are hoping for more sun, so that we can bring out the croquet and scattles. June 16 I have become a water-butt-bore; all the rain means to me is a changing level in the water butts we are gradually adding to about the garden. This week’s plentiful rain means that they are nearly all full now, but will I be able to stand the strain if another dry spell empties them out again? And will anyone else find it interesting apart from me? Well we managed to get lots done in the lovely rain, and a few brave visitors came to get flowers in spite of the wetness. A family of friends from London, the lovely PJs, came to see us and were very helpful in the garden, building a magnificent scarecrow for us and generally helping to make the garden a home for people, rather than pheasants… Today we have been at the farmer’s market at Bishops Castle, eating delicious chocolates and pasties produced by the other stallholders, and telling people about our very exciting first open day of the summer, to be held on Friday morning this week, 22nd June, from 10 o’clock until 1 o’clock. We’re looking forward to picking strawberries with our visitors and to introducing our garden. June 8 This week we are extremely glad of the high walls which surround the garden, as strong winds rage and blow about us. We were very excited to do our first farmers’ market, at Craven Arms, at the weekend, and are pleased to report that it was a big success! We took buckets and buckets of lovely cottage garden-style early summer flowers, and were delighted at the happy response of both shoppers and fellow stallholders. We have also had a visit from some very nice National Trust gardeners, who bravely put up with heavy rain to have a good look at everything, passing on some of their very useful tips. The garden is not yet equipped with facilities for making large quantities of tea, but we now see this as a rather urgent priority! Tomorrow we’ll be harvesting our first early potatoes, also lettuce, radishes and spinach ‘reddy’. Look out for us next Saturday at Bishop’s Castle farmers’ market, when we might even – with a bit of sunshine – have the first of our strawberry harvest on offer. May 22 Wonderful longed-for sunshine has arrived at last, and growth is rapid now in the garden. We excitedly watch the fruit swell on the trees and bushes, and busily bring things in and out of the polytunnel to harden them off ready for planting. May 17 Funny weather we’ve been having – but finally the garden is starting to grow. The polytunnel is bursting with young plants ready to go out into the garden, but we still hold back a little longer, reluctant to risk putting them out until the soil is warm and the air begins to feel like summer. The herbs at least are bounding along and making small pink flowers and lots of fresh new growth, and the vegetable plots are beginning to soften with rows of little seedlings. Strawberries are smothered in flowers and currants are dripping with little green fruits – now we have to find a way to keep the birds from eating them as they ripen! At the weekend we visited Llanerchaeron, an old (National Trust) house with a lovely big walled garden, near Aberaeron on the Welsh coast. The garden is much more established than the one at Stokesay Court, and we particularly noticed that the abundance of low box hedges, step-over apple trees, and other leafy barriers made the whole garden more protected and less of a free-for-all for the pheasants. There are wonderful knobbled and twisty old apple trees, and wonderful compost-makers – pigs – to keep the garden fertile. Back at the Flower Garden, Victoria got busy sowing lots more seeds undercover and potting things on (inspired to maximise space in the polytunnel by the wonderful jumble and balancing act we saw at Llanerchaeron, where they had trays of plants suspended on bits of rope overhead). All the seedling plants get a stroke or a brush every few days, to strengthen their little roots and ready them for the outside. April 26 It rains and rains and rains! Hooray all the water is spluttering out from our overflowing water butts. Hooray it is also a good excuse not to do any weeding in the garden, as the hoe just makes a sticky mess as I push it through the mud. The plants love the rain, and are growing lushly. The rhubarb patch has suddenly exploded in a riot of green leaves and thrusting pink-tinged flower buds. They look so lovely that we’ve been picking them to bring indoors, and one customer bought lots to use as wedding flowers; we’re looking forward to seeing those pictures! April 16 Lots of wonderful growing weather means that everywhere things are germinating and getting leafy. Most of the vegetable garden is sown now, and straw is strewn across the narrow paths so that the wet spring soil doesn’t stick to our boots – it also suppresses the weeds. We have tried all kinds of experiments to stop the mice from eating up our pea seeds. We tried putting thick mulch of compost over the sown seed; sprinkling paprika over the soil surface, to make the mice sneeze; putting twigs of hazel around the bed… the mice still got in and gobbled lots of seed (although when we replanted we discovered that the mice were less interested). Then we pruned the two long thyme hedges, and needed something to do with all the trimmings. We made a thick mulch with them, pressed it all down over the newly sown seed of pea ‘Blauwschokker’, and waited… It worked! Lots of lovely purple-tipped pea shoots pushing their way up through the tangled herby stems. April 5 This week it’s been cold and snowy, but the tulips don’t seem to mind and are coming through as strongly as ever. Also, we are very pleased to see that our water butts are filling up a little. The wiggly willow is at its best, with fresh bright wiggles of leaves clinging lightly to its contorted stems like dainty green butterflies. Lots of herbs are ready to harvest, including sorrel (juicy and a bit lemony-tasting), chives, and some very strong rocket. We do our best to keep the weeds from getting a foothold, and sow lots and lots of seeds. The tulips are stunning – green, gold, vermilion, purple-black and firey orange; spikey, slender, fat and many-petalled, and have an air of the circus about them. We chance to see a bunch that is a few days old in the window of The Marches Pottery in Ludlow, and the many-coloured petals glow and twirl luminously against the elegant celadon bowls and vases in the window. Pretty blossom on the pear trees.