27th JANUARY 2020
PLANNING THE PLOT
January is a slower month on the flower plot and so it’s a great time to be making plans for the coming season. I spend time looking through the seed and bulb catalogues to see if there’s anything new and exciting I want to trial growing although I now have a pretty good idea of the tried and tested varieties that grow well for us and sell well too.
When we first took on our new plot in 2017, I started the planning process by creating a scaled drawing of how I wanted the plot to be laid out and marked in all the paths and beds.
As the plot has evolved, I’ve also marked in all the permanent plantings where we’ve added roses and perennials.
Now I have a template that I photocopy each time I’m ready to fill in the details of the temporary annual plantings for the coming season. This happens twice a year – once in January when I plan out the crops that will flower through the summer into the autumn and again around mid-summer when I plan what we’ll be planting out in the autumn and overwintering to give us our spring season flowers.
The key to growing cut flowers is succession and this is one of the topics that can pose the biggest challenge to new growers. I think it helps to approach the problem from two angles. The first way to increase the flowering season in your cutting garden is to plant a variety of different flowers from the major plant groups e.g.. spring bulbs, biennials, hardy annuals etc.
The second is to stagger the sowing time of your crops. I aim for all the different flowers in one bed to come into flower around the same time as each other. Then I make sure that each bed is planned to flower at a different time. Although this is far from an exact science, being subject to the vagaries of the English weather, there are ways to approximate this and so develop a successional sowing plan. We go into this in more detail in our Grow, Blossom and Flourish workshop
We have a very small plot (only 1/10th acre) and so are always trying to work out how to get as many great quality flowers out of it as possible. Another successional planning method I’m trialing at the moment is to pair two sets of plants together to follow one after the other in a bed. A good example of this would be Tulips and Dahlias. The tulips are planted around November after the Dahlias have been lifted and flower in April and early May. Once they are lifted in May (we grow tulips as annuals) the bed can be amended and the Dahlias planted out again. There may be an issue with tulip fire building up in the soil with repeated replanting so I’m also working on a rotation plan to move the pairs of crops around the plot into different beds each year. I’m planning to spend the next couple of seasons refining this technique for other crop pairs, seeing whether I can adjust the sowing/planting times to dovetail together well enough for this to be a usable planning and growing method. Watch this space…
Once I’ve mapped out where I want each variety of flower to go, I create a mood board for each bed to check that I have a good mix of colours and flower forms in flower together at the same time. It wouldn’t be so good if I ended up with a load of round Dahlias, Zinnias, Cosmos and Asters all at the same time and no spikes or filler flowers to mix in with them in arrangements. I make mood boards either by cutting pictures from seed catalogues or printing them from the internet. Sometimes when you’re head is full of planning ideas, facts, figures and numbers, it can be really helpful to have images so you can visualise what all these details will translate into.
The final part of my planning process is to draw up a spreadsheet calculating the sowing dates for everything I want to grow. On this document I also record where each variety will be planted, how big an area it will take up, how many of that variety will be in that patch and when I’m aiming to plant them out. I find this really helpful because it becomes my blueprint for the rest of the season. It means I don’t have to be making decisions during the busy times – I just do what the plan says. It’s a working document so I regularly make notes on it and update it. It’s not set in stone – as with all gardening, you’re very dependent on the weather and so many other factors. The dates on the spreadsheet are guidelines only and I don’t always stick to them exactly. Still it helps me feel I’ve got a handle on the growing when there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
This level of planning isn’t for everyone. If spreadsheets terrify you, just ignore it. The key thing is to grow the flowers you love and enjoy doing so. This style of growing really appeals to me though and good organisation and planning is key to us getting as much out of our small plot as possible.
If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your own cut flower garden, we hope you’ll consider coming on our Grow, Blossom and Flourish workshop. We run it at our flower plot and there are four different dates to choose from this year:
Places can be booked through the webshop links above. We hope to see some of you then.
8th FEBRUARY 2019
SWEET PEAS – THE CORDON METHOD
This week I’ve been constructing the frame for my sweet peas to grow up in the polytunnel. I use the cordon method which involves pinching out all the side shoots and tendrils and training just one stem up a support.
The sweet peas are sown in root trainers, one per cell and allowed to grow on until their roots fill the compost. When they have developed three sets of leaves, I pinch the tips out.
Before planting, I dig out a trench and back-fill it with well rotted manure. Sweet peas are hungry and thirsty plants. I know some growers who line the trench with wet newspaper first to help retain water in the soil. I plant the seedlings 20cm apart through holes burned in landscape fabric.
After planting, a 10 foot bamboo cane is pushed into the holes next to the young plants, one per plant.
After the initial pinching, each plant usually throws up at least one, sometimes more new shoots from the base. In this picture, you can see the darker green shoot is the original seedling which had it’s tip pinched out and it has now sent up two sideshoots, one stronger than the other.
I select the strongest of these and remove everything else.
To build the frame, I attach galvanised wire between the crop bars in the tunnel and cable tie the tops of the canes to the wire. This is a simple but sturdy framework that works well because there isn’t much weight on each vine. I attach the stems of each plant to the canes using little loops of thin gauge wire. The wire goes round the cane and the stem, just above a leaf joint.
As the plants grows I move the rings further up the stem.
It’s really important to keep pinching out sideshoots and tendrils as they form. The vines will produce huge thick stems – think ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and are almost unrecognisable as sweet pea plants.
When the plants start flowering, I give them a weekly dose of tomato food. I also like to spray the foliage with Vitax 2-in-1 plant invigorator. This contains emulsions and seaweed that give the plants a boost of micronutrients and also coat the leaves making it harder for insect pests to get a purchase on them and lay their eggs.
When the plants reach the top of the canes, they are removed, laid along the floor and brought back up a cane 5 along from where they are planted. This allows the plant to keep growing taller and taller. It’s best to do this because the main leader stem produces the best quality blooms with the longest stems so you don’t want to pinch the tip out and allow sideshoots to develop in it’s place.
Cordon growing is labour intensive but I love it! Harvesting is so much easier because there is less foliage and no tendrils to get in the way. It’s also much easier to make sure you’ve cut all the flowers and stopped the plants setting seed, which puts an end to flowering. But for me, the main reason for doing this is the quality and size of the flowers produced. Because the plant is putting all its energy into growing one stem and no tendrils, the flower stems grow to enormous lengths as in this picture and the flower heads are really full.
Cordon growing isn’t anywhere near as productive as growing sweet peas as bushes in terms of quantity of flowers but the quality is in another league. These long, strong stems are idea for bouquets and arrangements that need longer stems. I’m hoping to improve my record keeping this year but to give you some idea of productivity, last year I grew 180 plants using this method. They started flowering in mid may and only started to flag in mid July when the heat wave regularly sent temperatures in the polytunnel over 40 degrees. We layered them once in that time. I would harvest every couple of days and usually get 1 or 2 stems off every other vine each time.
As with all sweet peas, the stems get shorted as the season progresses but because they start out so long, you always have lovely usable length stems, even once the plants are mature.
I do miss not having lovely tendril covered side shoots to use in arrangements with this method which is why I’ll be growing a separate patch of sweet peas that I’ll allow to bush up for this purpose.
At the moment, the plants are only just being tied into their supports but soon they’ll start racing away as the days lengthen and I can’t wait to smell than unmistakable fragrance again.
Two of my absoluute favourites are Juliet and Mollie Rillstone.
Cordon growing isn’t for everyone but it really suits me. I hope this has inspired you to give it a go, even just if it’s to see if the process works for you. It is actually pretty addictive. I learned from a exhibition showbench medal winner several years ago and have been hooked ever since.
7th FEBRUARY 2018
DEMYSTIFYING THE COST OF WEDDING FLOWERS
Wedding flowers are an important part of a wedding but can seem extortionately expensive: Beautiful florals are a time honoured part of a couple’s big day and choosing them should be a joyful and fun experience for everyone. Sadly, common misconceptions about the value of flowers and floral design can leave people feeling deflated and confused when they realise that their budget will not stretch to all the gorgeous arrangements they thought they’d be able to have. It is really important to me that my customers don’t feel like they’re being ripped of when they ask me to quote for their wedding flowers. I passionately believe in giving them a wonderful, personalised experience that will enhance their wedding preparations and add an extra touch of sparkle to the day itself. For that reason, I wanted to write this post to try and help demystify the pricing of wedding flowers and help people to understand why they cost what they do.
Supermarket Flowers are cheap: Until I became a florist and began studying pricing within the floral industry, I think I too would have baulked at the prices of many of the arrangements being offered. Supermarket flowers have much to do with the misconception that flowers are a cheap commodity. It is true that supermarkets do sell some incredibly cheap flowers. You can pick up a bunch of carnations or chrysanthemums for a few pounds pretty much anywhere. The problems is, these cheap bunches of flowers are not representative of the floral industry as a whole. The flowers are often medium grade with shorter stems (rather than the premium grade that is so important for wedding florals) and are grown by the millions! and bought by each supermaket chain in their thousands for distribution to all their stores. Buying them in such huge numbers qualifies them for the lowest possible wholesale prices so that they can then sell them to the public with a tiny price tag – they won’t make much on a single bunch but when you factor in how many thousands of bunches are sold each year, they do make some profit. When you move up a rung from these low budget single variety bunches to the bouquets of flowers for sale in the supermakets, you do see a significant price rise and likewise an increase in the cost per flower stem. These bouquets are where the supermarkets really make their money on flower sales. The problem is, those very cheap bunches (of a very limited variety of flowers) set a precedent – they create the false impression that all flowers are cheap when most aren’t.
Wholesale flowers cost how much?!: Becoming a florist gave me access to floristry wholesalers and really opened my eyes to the true cost of flowers, needless to say, even wholesale prices were more than I was expecting. I had assumed, wrongly, that they would be cheaper than the supermarkets. Not always so. Floristry is an auction based industry in which flowers are bought in from Holland. The price of a single stem of a flower can vary from day to day depending on what happens at the auctions. The same flower can fetch wildly different prices at different times of year depending on supply and demand. For example, a red rose will cost much more around Valentines Day than at any other time of year. At the time of writing, some varieties of red rose are selling for £1.45 per rose at the wholesalers! This variation in price is one of the contributing factors to why flowers cost the consumer what they do. Florists have to factor in the possible maximum cost of a flower in case there is low supply or high demand at the time when they need to buy them. It’s also worth remembering that not every variety of flower has the same value. Some flowers, such as Peonies, Delphiniums and Astilbe will fetch higher prices that those such as Alstroemeria, Tulips, Daffodils and mini Gerberas. Some flowers are even considered super-luxury. David Austin roses, for example, which are hugely popular and can be found all over Pintrest and in the bridal magazines can cost around £4 per rose stem and that’s just the wholesale price!
A bouquet with a high proportion of these super-luxury flowers will have a super-luxury price tag to match. This is really important to remember when you’re looking for inspiration on Pintrest and in magazines. Often the most popular, most commonly pinned images are from huge-budget weddings and styled photoshoots which are dripping with lush abundant florals. The budgets for these events are likely to be in the thousands and even tens of thousands of pounds. However, this doesn’t have to be a disaster for you if you’ve got your heart set on a particular look. It is often possible to substitute lower value varieties of the same flower type for those super-luxury varieties whilst still capturing the essence of the style. This is where your florist’s knowledge of flower varieties and their relative values really comes into it’s own. This knowledge is what you pay them for. Your florist will also help you to focus on which are the most important floral arrangements for you and ensure you prioritise your budget on these. It’s always worth investing in your bridal bouquet as this is the piece that is likely to be most looked at and most photographed.
Pricing Methods: Different florists use different pricing methods and there is no regulated standard across the industry. This is why it’s so hard to judge what a fair price is and I appreciate this can be very confusing for couples, especially in the midst of all the other wedding stresses. You could, for example, contact three different local florists for quotes and get three quite different prices. How can you possibly know if you’re paying a fair price? This bothers me. I don’t want any of my customers to feel in the dark about this and so I have put a lot of time and energy into researching pricing models and talking to a lot of other florists and people in other buisinesses in order to guage what a fair pricing system is. I know there will still be some who disagree with me but below is the pricing method I have now adopted as a result of my research:
(Wholesale cost of flowers x 3) + 30% design fee
The Formula Explained – The Mark-up: So what does this mean? In any retail industry, it is standard for a seller to mark-up the items they have bought at wholesale in order to make a profit. Whether it’s a supermarket, an independent local shop, a cafe or restaurant, a garden centre or a florist, they all do it. In the case of flowers, which are a perishable good with a fairly short vase life, the mark up is typically 3x. In the example of the red rose for Valentines Day above, if the wholesale price is £1.45 per rose, the retail price would be £4.35 for each rose. This might seem like a huge price increase but there are several reasons for it besides the fact that for a business to be sustainable, it needs to be making a profit. Consider the following: as we have already seen, wholesale flower prices can vary by a significant amount. A florist cannot know for sure how much the flowers for a wedding will cost on the day of the event when they are quoting months in advance. They mark up the flowers in order to accommodate these variations in price. Furthermore, as flowers can only be purchased from the wholesalers in minimum quantities, usually 10 in the case of roses but often 20, 25 or even 50 stems for some other varieties a florist must make a significant outlay to obtain a customer’s requested flowers. Added to that is the fact that florists must buy more flowers than are actually reqiured in order to compensate for the perishable nature of the product- not every flower in a bunch will be of a high enough quality to use, especially in wedding arrangements. Some may be damaged or bruised or blemished in a way that makes them unsellable. When you take all these factors into consideration, it make sense why a 3x mark up is applied to the wholesale price.
The Design Fee: How about the 30% design fee? Well, that covers the time and skill it takes for the florist to design and make the arrangement. That designing does not just include the thought process that takes place when the arrangement is being constructed. It also factors in meeting with a couple and investing time in really listening to what they want, making them feel valued and sharing floral expertise with them to help them focus their ideas so that they reach a concept for their wedding florals that they absolutely love. It involves putting together a detailed proposal and a mood board. It involves a pre-visit to the venue so that the florist knows exactly what will be needed to construct any arrangements in situ. A huge amount of behind the scenes work goes into creating wedding flowers and this is not often charged for separately. However it’s imporant that we all value our time and experties and receive a fair wage for whatever work we do. This is what the design fee covers.
An illustration: It may help to see this pricing model in action. The following is the costing for an example bridal bouquet:
British flowers are cheap as well?: A final misconception that is particularly relevant to The Cotswold Posy Patch as it uses flowers it has grown itself or bought in from other UK growers is that seasonal British flowers are cheap becuase anyone can grow them in their own garden. It’s true that anyone can grow the varieties of flowers themselves but a huge amount of skilled knowledge and pracical experience is needed to grow flowers to a quality comparable to what could be purchaed from a floristry wholesaler and used in wedding work. There is a movement across the British Flowers industry to price fairly and I match my prices to those of other members of Flowers from the Farm, the UK network for British Flower Growers.
I am happy to admit that I am not the cheapest florist out there because I have done my research and believe that the way I price my flowers is fair and will enable me to run a sustainable business and offer the level of service that a bride and groom-to-be deserve. There will be florists who charge less but their overheads etc will be different from mine and they may not be paying themselves a fair wage or factoring in making a profit. I don’t believe this is a sustainable way of running a business.
Obviously I do appreciate that everyone has a budget and a couple does need to find a florist who can work within that. My intention in writing this post is simply to help people understand a bit more about how the floristry industry works, how florists buy flowers and how they price their work.
If you have any questions of would like to find out more about my wedding services please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3rd OCTOBER 2017
NEW TRENDS WORKSHOP WITH SABINE FLORAL
In the fabulous setting of The Forge workshop in Bristol, a group of enthusiastic florists met with top floral designer Sabine Darrall for a sneak preview of her predictions for the hottest floristry trends for 2018. From Pantone’s Ash Rose and Ox Blood colour palettes to wire armartures for bouquets to funky foam and glue mechanics for wearable flower inspiration the group explored a plethora of ideas for the coming season.
31st OCTOBER 2017
STYLED WEDDING SHOOT AT COWLEY MANOR
The shoot was inspired by the grand setting of the Victorian Cascade in the the grounds of Cowley Manor. The impoing backdrop lent itself to a chic, stylish look with a hint of vintage featuring green and white florals, terrariums, and gold tableware and antique lace.
Florals by The Cotswold Posy Patch
Photography and styling by Maya Bodzan Photography https://www.mayabodzanphotography.com/
Venue Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire http://www.cowleymanor.com/
18th OCTOBER 2017
THE COTSWOLD POSY PATCH MOVES INTO ITS NEW HOME AT PRIMROSE VALE FARM
We’re delighed to announce that we’ve moved into our new home at Primrose Vale, a pick your own fruit farm with it’s own farm shop, in Shurdington. We have invested in a large polytunnel in order to extend our flower season and enable us to produce blooms that are unblemished by the vagaries of the British weather.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been busy marking out beds, laying landscaping fabric and setting up an irrigation system.
Planting out of next Spring’s crops began with the biennials being the first plants to go into the ground. Next May we will be able to offer Sweet Williams, Wallflowers, Sweet Rocket, Honesty, Foxgloves and Stocks. One bed down, 5 to go!
Biennial planting finished, we turned our attention to bulb planting and with very wet ground at the edges of the tunnel, we quickly realised we were going to need gravel, and lots of it. One 18m trench and 4 bulk bags of gravel later, the ground is ready to receive next years daffodil crop. We’re growing lots of unusual and scented daffodils and narcissus and these will be available from February onwards.
All in all, it’s been an exhausting but very satisfying couple of week. We’ve discovered muscles we didn’t realise we even had and have consumed vast quantities of tea and chocolate biscuits. And none of it could have been accomplished without the help of an amazing group of friends and family. Thank you all for making it possible!
24th SEPTEMBER 2017
FLOWERS FROM THE FARM TEAM SCOOP SILVER MEDAL AT RHS MALVERN AUTUMN SHOW
On Friday 22nd September, a team of Flowers from the Farm members, headed up by Natalie Davis of The Artisan Flower Co. raced against the clock to festoon this old Massey Ferguson tractor, belonging to Natalie’s family, with the bounties of the Autumn flower garden before the RHS judges descended to give their verdict. Flowers from across the region were pooled to create the exhibit which was awarded a Silver Medal.
Natalie was filmed preparing for the show for the BBC’s Farmers Country Showdown (airing in Feb 2018) and the team spend the day working around the camera crew as they tried to capture footage of the build.
The members of the team took on different parts of the exhibit so that the final installation showcased the work of farmer florists from across the Three Counties region.