Friday, 21 November 2014

What's it like to be a flower grower in winter?

The Tuckshop Garden in winter
Brrrrr…….. Luckily this is not the scene just yet….


I was recently asked by Modern Mint, a Essex-based landscape gardening company and curators of garden writing, to contribute a guest post to their blog on this topic.

So for this week's blog entry, we need to wander over to their site…. (click here)


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Wreath making: Willow from the wigloo

Christmas is coming and the wigloo's getting hairy…..

All ready to donate supplies to the wreath making workshop

So it was off to join the Friends of Cotteridge Park on one of their weekly Sunday morning maintenance missions to tame the sproutings.  With loppers and secateurs in hand, Judith, of Pollen Floral Joy, and I squelched over the boggy grass to do some serious snippage in the late autumn sunshine.  Yes we are kind ladies, but not entirely altruistic ones.  We wanted willow, and we wanted lots….  Why?  To twist into wreath bases just in time for Christmas…. 

I've just signed up for another Christmas market, so its time to get twisty with those supple willow wands, and make circlets of the lovely green, flexible stems.  Some will have dried ingredients added, some might get mossed, and some might just get sprayed and glittered - a range of fates await them…

Working with willow is quite addictive as it is so versatile.  Bending and twisting the wands back into tidier tunnel and igloo shapes was incredibly satisfying.  After an hour of chopping and twisting, the wigloo looked a little tamer but it has filled my head with ideas of woven shelters for my own garden.  Maybe I'll stab a few willow whips into the ground and see if they take root of their own accord...


Lots of willow from the wiglooChopping for the willow stockpile in readiness for wreath makingHard to change gear with this lot in place



Heaven knows we came back with plenty of them!  Plenty to go round for my wreath workshops. I've already turned some into bases of various sizes ranging from the tiniest dolls house front door wreaths (napkin rings??) to monsters of about 80cm in diameter.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Apples? Make mincemeat of 'em.

It's been another good year for apples.  I still have Bramleys clinging onto the tree in the garden, which served as an all-you-can-eat buffet for the 7 magpies pecking away at them yesterday.  Crunchy russets are waiting to be transferred from the porch to the fruit bowl, and the early eaters from the allotment are, quite frankly, now fit only for the compost bin.

The very large unidentified apples from the allotment are great for cooking and store reasonably well, but I can only deal with a stockpile for so long… Therefore, to chip away at the apple mountain, one or two got turned into mincemeat today, to be offered up, encased in pastry, at my wreath making workshops in December (and guess what, you can even decorate wreaths with dried apple slices, just like the one on the website page….!).





To make mincemeat - mix the following:

  •  250g of dried fruit (prunes, currants, sultanas, raisins, mixed peel or whatever  you fancy in the mix)
  • 125g veggie suet
  • 125g whole almonds, chopped
  • 1 very large apple, peeled and grated.
  • 60g dark brown sugar
  • juice and rind of 2 lemons
  • juice and rind of an orange
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spices (I used lots of cinnamon and ginger, with a bit of nutmeg)
  • 60ml brandy 


spices, fruit and veggie suet waiting to be mixedbrandy, lemons and oranges

Ready for the wreath making workshop in December.

I put it all into jars which I'd sterilised with boiling water.  They are now safely stored in a cool dark place and will be ready for eating in a couple of weeks.  Easy peasy - and one less apple in the store….


Friday, 24 October 2014

A dark dahlia late summer wedding


Andrew and Kate's August Wedding with Tuckshop Flowers
Photo courtesy of MartinCartwright

A dark, almost mahogany Rip City dahlia drew excited squeaks of delight from a passer by at Stirchley Community Market, one sunny summer evening.  Chatting with the emitter of said squeaks, it transpired she was Kate, and bride-to-be of my market neighbour Andrew – a.k.a.  purveyor of fine culinary delights,  ‘Urban Herbs’. 

Kate had previously fallen so deeply, darkly in love with these velvety dahlias, that she had already chosen the dusty antique colour of her bridesmaid dresses specifically to tone with them – hence her squeaks on spotting my Rip Cities.

Talking serious flowers a few weeks later at the Tuckshop, she described the wild and natural bunches she had in mind to decorate her informal country wedding at the beautiful Wethele Manor, near Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire – a perfect fit for the homegrown, ‘just picked’ style of my flowers.  I love it when ‘wild’ is part of a bride’s vocabulary  because then I know I have found my perfect customer.  And Kate was indeed a pleasure to work with as, apart from her obsession with dark dahlias, she was exceedingly laid back and open to the many ideas we swapped via our shared Pinterest board. 

Pinterest is surely a tool designed for florists!  It’s a perfect way to create a scrapbook of ideas, to get feedback from the bride-to-be and is a bit like climbing into someone else’s imagination: a brilliant tool to find out what feel, which style and colours float the bridal boat.

With dahlias and budget decided upon,  we opted to double up the bridesmaid posies as reception table flowers and designed them to be the perfect size to pop into trimmed jam jars just before the meal. 
Double up bridesmaid posies as table flowers to stay within budget


Photos courtesy of Martin Cartwright

We also chose to keep the table flowers simple – floating dahlia heads in bright, almost Indian colours, with candles in glass bowls.

Floating dahlia heads with candles by Tuckshop Flowers, Birmingham
Photos courtesy of MartinCartwright


As a tribute to Andrew’s day job, I wanted to work herbs into the flowers, so we had the vibrant blue of borage in the table bowls, scented lemon balm foliage in the bride and bridesmaid posies, and Kate supplied me with a couple of deliciously scented blackcurrant sage plants from which to pluck the diminutive shocking pink flowers to complement the dark dahlia buttonhole for the groom.



Lovely relaxed wedding shots by Martin CartwrightRelaxed wedding photography by Martin Cartwright.
 Photos courtesy of Martin Cartwright


And she wore flowers in her hair...
Photo courtesy of Kate and Andrew

Kate had been to see me when I was at the height of flower crown frenzy, just before my stall at CocoMad, a local music festival.  She was infected by my enthusiasm and was easily persuaded that a floral tiara was exactly what she needed! Like me on my own wedding day, she wanted something light and small.  But whilst I ended up with a mid-size shrubbery, pruned to size with kitchen scissors before the ceremony, Kate got a simple gypsophila circlet with a narrow satin ribbon tie.  With her unfussy, elegant dress, it completed her look to perfection.


Photo courtesy of Martin Cartwright
When I arrived at the Wethele Manor to dress the tables, I loved the famous couples theme which Kate and Andrew had chosen to identify the tables for their guests. I think Gomez and Morticia would approve of the gothic blackberries and ivy which garlanded the top table for the bridal party, and those dark dahlias, of course!
photo by Tuckshop Flowers
                     
 The day was captured beautifully by friends of the bride and groom and  by photographer, Martin Cartwright  -  I’m delighted to share some of their lovely shots, so thanks go to them, and to Kate and Andy for being a joy to work with throughout the whole proceedings.  May you flourish and prosper together, along with your Urban Herbs!

The couple walk through the gardens of Wethele Manor
Photo courtesy of Martin Cartwright





Saturday, 11 October 2014

Rip it up and start again

….in the words of eighties band, Orange Juice.

Following my own advice, today saw me tearing out snapdragons which were covered in brown pustules of rust, making their leaves about as appetising as that description suggests.  They were still flowering, so I was sorry to deal them an untimely end.  Into the bag and off to the great compost heap in the sky… but not onto my own.

I've got to wait for the frosts to come and get the dahlias, and then I can clear the whole patch - could it be my tulip bed next spring I wonder?  Have recently ordered yet another load of bulbs - this time for a brightly coloured wedding in late May, so am looking forward to some zingy pings in the border.

I'm not using the raised bed for tulips again this year, not because it was unsuccessful, but because it has hosted them for the last two years.  It is therefore time to introduce incoming stock to pastures new (and to hoick out the old stock as flowering decreases after a couple of years).

I will probably use the raised bed to plant out the ranunculus which I've started off in the greenhouse - it could be the good spot for them as long as I can keep them watered as they like damp conditions. The bed may be a bit free-draining, left to its own devices.  The reason I've earmarked it is that in the absence of a large undercover growing space, the raised bed is probably the easiest patch in the garden to construct a mini-tunnel for - and the flowers will need protection from the rain if I'm to get a good crop to use at market.  I'm obviously turning into my dad as I squirrelled away the heavy-duty plastic which my new sofa came wrapped in, specifically for this purpose.  I may or may not show you my gimcrack construction, depending how hideous it is!!

After today's clearing and chopping session, my central border looks considerably bigger - not only is it enjoying temporary respite from ground elder, but it's also enjoying a bit more light as I've cut back the spirea shrub whose arching branches were gradually shading out an ever larger area.  I've reduced it by about two thirds by cutting out old branches from the base - this has left the remaining ones still with a graceful shape, but the shrub now has much reduced bulk.  Also took out some of the low hanging branches of the acer negundo which looms above it, so it feels almost airy and open - at least when compared with the leafy cavelike structure it resembled earlier in the day.

Planted the remaining narcissus and daffodil bulbs from my 25kg delivery in this rather shady patch - they should be up and out before the tree comes into full leaf next year, so should enjoy the benefits of being early season plants.  I'll probably dig half of them up by accident later, but as they're not too precious to me, it's a risk I'm prepared to take.

My September sown cornflowers are thriving in the greenhouse and the first of the temperamental larkspur seedlings were spotted on a watering inspection this afternoon.  I will, I will, I will grow larkspur more effectively in 2015. Repeat 100 times.  Just have to clear a few more areas in order to have somewhere to put them all.

Will leave you with a nice bunch of autumnal dahlias, picked this morning. All the more precious because they aren't going to be around for a whole lot longer as the nights get colder and frost creeps ever closer.  The 'f' word has been mentioned on quite a few recent weather forecasts, but has not yet put its tentacles into my urban garden.  Hooray for city living!

Cafe au lait dahlias in a relaxed bunch of British flowers



Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Sliding into autumn

Outside the first grey skies of October are dumping, at last, significant rain onto the garden after a very dry September.  This morning my radiators even came on, reminding me that we really are heading deeper into autumn.  The dahlias are starting to look like girls returning home from a heavy night out - a bit bedraggled with deceased hairdos  and looking generally the worse for wear.  Foliage is coming into its own and the ivies are flowering like mad things, which is always great for the bees.

And, I'll let you into a secret.  I've got chrysanths in my greenhouse.  Oh yes I have.  Never thought I'd see the day when the scourge of the garage forecourt became part of my growing plans. They have resulted from a combination of several things - a desire for some late autumn flowers, a big buzz about them on the Britishflowers twitter hour last autumn, but mainly the fact that they were selling these particular plants off cheap at the garden centre earlier in the year.

orange chyrsanthemum in a glass globe

And you know what…. I actually quite like them. Not that I'll be able to find them again, as they were surely mislabelled.  I bought them thinking I was buying a tray of reflexed globular Japanese style 'mums in a deep shade of russet orange, but instead, I have a combination of flatter, slightly spiky burnt orange blooms and some off pink lovelies which are just starting to open.  I adore the colour tints on these pink ones and can't wait to get some stems snipped for some arrangements just for me…

pale pink chrysanthemum

At least now I know what to put on my list when my plans for floral world domination extend to incorporate a polytunnel….