Thursday, 18 September 2014

Amused by being a muse!

I've just been given a lovely thank you from one of my customers who picked up a bunch from my farmers' market stall.  She'd forgotten her purse, but as she was someone I knew, I told her not to worry about it and we'd settle up some other time.  So off she went with a small jam jar posy to put on her kitchen table.

Not only did I get payment, I also got this:

A lovely interpretation of her bunch, made by her mother-in-law on an iPad.  I don't think I've ever seen a picture where I know each element so intimately and was delighted to see that my flowers inspired such creativity - proof that it's not just me that thinks they're beautiful!  I really love it and all that remains is for me to find it a suitable frame and location.  Now I'll  have to give her another bunch, to say thank you in return.  Do you think this cycle could just keep going?

Monday, 15 September 2014

September seeds

Wow!  Where have the past few months gone?

My lack of blog posts is a sure indication of clement gardening weather and a busy time on the flowery business front.

Now we're already in September and I'm mentally time travelling into next year's flowers.  A quick rummage in the fridge, where my seeds are kept, reveals the source material for a forest of cerinthe, cornflowers, corn cockles, larkspur and vivid orange calendulas.  And as it is raining this morning, I feel a greenhouse sowing session coming on.  All these hardy annuals can be sown now while there is still some warmth left in the season and this gives them the chance to build up a healthy root system as the weather cools and discourages them from putting on lots of top growth.  They won't be much to look at until spring next year when their rooty headstart will allow them to burst into life well ahead of any seeds sown in the early spring.

And even before the shops start playing Christmas carols, if you want indoor bulbs in flower for the festive season, between now and mid-October is the time to plant them.  Leave them somewhere dark and cool and just moist (not wet) until the growth is about 5cm tall, then bring them into cool and light conditions to put on a final flowery burst.  Hyacinths will need about 3 weeks in the light before they flower.  This year, I'm forcing prepared hyacinths, white and blue crocuses and pretty blue grape hyacinths (muscari).  Lots of limboing up and down from my three quarter height cellar with the tricky steps….

But later I'll have lots of these:
forcing hyacinths indoorsforcing crocus indoors 

And now I'll get out into to the greenhouse which I cleared at the weekend - it's now bare apart from 4 denuded stems of tomato plants with lots of green fruits, and the indoor chrysanths which I rescued from the garden centre sell off earlier in the season.  I've never grown chrysanthemums before, so am curious to see what they do (in spite of my neglect!).  I don't know what it is about things that grow under cover, but once they get beyond the stage where I would naturally plant them out, I lose interest in them and tend to leave them to their own devices.  My garden may flourish, but my houseplants all wither as a result.  I've just killed off my last houseplant, a very hardy parlour palm which has hung on for about 8 years.  It has now been replaced by dried flowers which I don't need to take any care of.  Bad mother.

Another month of flower markets to go, and then my brain has to really switch into Christmas mode, organising venues and supplies for wreath-making workshops, planning my range of plants and products for Christmas markets and drilling those china teacup planters for all that I'm worth!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Right weeds, right place.

Serendipitous weed growth is what I like.

Hidden under netting, my little crop of peas has been coming along nicely over the past few weeks.  But each time my eyes wandered over to them as, crook-backed, I picked the laden blackcurrant bushes, I shuddered at the sight of the yellow flowers and bindweed, twining their insidious way through the black fabric of the protective net.

My horror turned to jubilation when yesterday, with blackcurrants finally and safely gathered, I was able to turn my attention to other harvests.  Peas, fat and juicy in their pods, hung from stems which ignored the twiggy sticks I'd supplied as supports.  Instead, the woody stems of the weeds which had sprouted up amongst my careful sowings did the job admirably.   I wouldn't normally be grateful for a crop of weeds, but for every plant there is a time and place: and this time, happily, I found it.

If you know the name of this yellow-flowered pea supporter, let me know for future reference!

If you know the name of this yellow-flowered pea supporter, let me know for future reference!

Monday, 7 July 2014

And they wore flowers in their hair….

CoCoMad is our local festival - a free affair comprising of dad-bands, tasty local food, hand painting, face painting, henna painting and any other type of painting you care to mention.  Along with drum-bashing, wood-whittling, teddy-naming and many a hyphenated activity.

Decorated trollies arriving at the park announce the start of festivitiesA trolley dressed as an owl.

In my case, it was flower-crowning.

Tuckshop Flowers selling British Flowers at CoCoMad in BirminghamReady for action - crown making station.

 As I sat in front of the World Cup footy on Friday evening, threading cornflowers onto wire stems, I did wonder if I was a bit mental.  But no.  The flowery hunch paid off, and crowns were very much the festival thing in the Saturday sunshine.  And the great thing is that they made everyone really happy,  from the violet-shirted cub scout girls with cornflowers adorning their curls, to the women who hadn't worn flowers in their hair since their wedding days years ago.

The crowns proved popular at the festival

If you can't sprout a hair flower at a festival, when can you?  And so they flourished, keeping my wiring and fixing fingers busy well into the late afternoon.  The more people they adorned, the more interest they generated. Indeed the steward ushering cars off the field at the end of the day said they'd really be one of the abiding memories of the event.  The smiles they put on people's faces really made my day - whether on the faces of people looking on, or on those wearing them - my flowery adornments clearly gave a lot of pleasure.  I was very, very chuffed!  Especially when I got a few men to sport them too.

The word about Tuckshop Flowers has definitely spread a little further into the locality as they really got noticed.   All in all, a job well done.

A local policeman gets into the festival spirit with a flower crown.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

From seed to stall.

Gardening for one of my clients yesterday, we got chatting about jobs and the bits of them that we don't see.  Her husband is a retired gemologist and used to choose the raw stones to be cut and set by one of Birmingham's fine jewellery companies.  It's a long journey from a lump of rock to a finely cut sapphire and we were musing on how little we think about what goes into the various end products that we use or wear everyday - and its the same with a bunch of flowers.

When my stall is set up for markets, people constantly murmur and exclaim about how pretty it all looks (and smells, if I'm not set up next to a generator or sausage stall!!) and that, I guess, is combined result the loveliness of flowers, and the art of presenting them.  But behind that visual appeal, what makes them different from other flower stalls?

Firstly, they are all locally grown - cut the night before market and kept in the cool and dark to be fully hydrated before being arranged early the next day.  Secondly, they are different because I can offer varieties which aren't currently commercially grown on a huge scale because they're more delicate and don't travel brilliantly well - cornflowers have flown out of my buckets in the past few markets.  And thirdly, I love them!  I know their names, and in many cases I've watched them grow from seedlings, picked them, arranged them  and I'm sending them forth into the world to spread the word about British flowers.

I had a huge smile on my face at the last market when a gentleman, who'd bought a bunch of cornflowers and tansy daisies as  one of my first customers of the day, came rushing back half an hour later saying that they'd looked so gorgeous in his house that he come back for more flowers for his kitchen!    The two florists who've used them for wedding photo shoots recently have both said that my flowers had also stolen the show from their commercial counterparts, attracting universal oohs and aahs about their natural charms.

But it makes me smile, somewhat wryly, when people call them 'wild flowers' - having them on the stall (and in the garden) involves a bit more than a happy accident!  I know they mean that the flowers look natural, relaxed and just gorgeous in themselves, with that freshly picked feel (that's because they are).

So I thought I'd share the market day of some Tuckshop Flowers:

The evening before market, as the day fades and cools, the best blooms are picked and inspected, then left to fully hydrate in  water overnight.

Very early next morning- arranging and bunching begins - with a fortifying cup of tea.

 8.30am - the welcoming sights and smells of Tuckshop Flowers are ready for market opening time.

Come rain, come shine, the market bustles and there's lots of chat to be had about flowers with interested customers.

Any leftovers get labelled up with my details on lovely new cards (from Moo) and are sent out to work to do some marketing for me. They're delivered to hand-picked local cafes to spread the word about British flowers so when the last delivery of the day is done, finally it's time for sit down with a well-earned cup of tea!   And I wouldn't have things any other way…..

I've just ordered a copy of 'Gilding the Lily' - a book about the journey of imported cut flowers to market, and I think it is going to be a very different kind of read from the one above.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How does my garden grow?

A marmite jar of Tuckshop Flowers.

The most common comment I get on my market stall is:
 "Marmite jars!  What a good idea!"

The second most common is:
"Your garden must be lovely."

I think seeing a stall full of cottage garden flowers, people are intrigued as to where they have come from.  So for those of you who want a sneaky peek into the Tuckshop Garden, walk this way.

The Tuckshop garden before I took my spade to it.  Wall to wall lawn.
When we moved into this house, the garden was wall-to-wall lawn, with a few trees, tired shrubs and lots of ground elder and conifers.  First stop, tree surgeons.  In with the chainsaws and down with the conifers.  Light reached the soil and things started to grow - as did the ground elder (and still does - grrrr).  With every passing year, the amount of lawn is reduced and planting areas extended - much to the disgust of my eldest son who has a passion for petrol-powered lawn mowers.

The garden has changed over the years and continues to do so!
Some time after….
Even since this photo was taken, the planting areas have extended:  the expansive patio has now been reduced - a significant number of slabs have come out, and a largish border created in their place, further bringing the garden right up to the house.

Hard surfacing has given way to vegetation in my quest to extend the cutting garden.

It is a place of constant change - every season brings different flowers, and every year brings new areas coming under development, or old areas which had been left to their own devices getting a significant overhaul.  The one thing I've learned in my gardening life is that plants don't last forever.  And when they start to run out of steam, I'm afraid I'm quite ruthless.  Get them out, take cuttings or divide them where possible, and put something else in to fill the gaps.

Last week was spent culling all the aquilegia which put on such a lovely spring display.  But I know if I leave them in with their shapely seed heads rattling in the breeze, next year I'll have an forest of Granny's Bonnets nodding at me.  Pretty though that may be, I don't want the garden to be a mono-culture, so out with the secateurs and off with their heads.  And more often than not, out with their roots too to make way for some of my current crop of maturing seedlings  which are begging to be planted out.  It's the only way to keep things productive and to keep colour coming later in the season.

The tulips in my raised bed on the patio have been over planted with dahlias and sweet peas and these are now just starting to flower.  I'm so pleased I took the sledgehammer to this particular area of concrete as I now have something much nicer to look at out of my kitchen window.


I've got a tulip catalogue on my desk and a wish list in my head - so am already plotting and scheming about where I can make my tulip bed next spring, and what to use the raised bed for instead.  Tulips don't really flower brilliantly after they've been in for a couple of years, so the ones above are due for replenishment.  I always feel a bit guilty for abandoning flower stocks that have served me well, but getting them out gives me chance to put some goodness back into the soil with compost, leaf mould, manure and other such additions.  And as soon as the replacement plants start to flourish, I'm afraid I never look back!

So don't be afraid to overhaul scruffy patches, or be lenient with tired plants.  Prune them, split them or chuck them - but do these jobs in spring or autumn if you want them to regenerate elsewhere in the garden.

If you want to see more pictures of the garden, visit my Pinterest board.

This post has reminded me that I need to take some more photos of the garden as it is now - I've got lots of flower photos, but not so many of the garden as a whole.  Next project….

Monday, 16 June 2014

On being a flower ninja

I'm a flower ninja.

Today I planned and staged a stealth attack on Bully, the Bullring's favourite son, and snazzed him up with a rosy crown to celebrate British Flowers Week. Eat your heart out Lana Del Rey.

Birmingham Bullring Bull with rose flower crown

Along with my fellow ninja, Judith, I sneaked through the city centre, secreting posies around Brummie landmarks as part of the Lonely Bouquet initiative.  Like wartime evacuees , the flowers were sent forth with cardboard labels round their necks, asking to be rehomed. So far I know that one of them has ended up in Warwickshire, delighting the shopper who found it on her birthday; and another posy has come home to roost not more than a mile from me.  I await news of the other lost souls.

With my twitter fingers recovering from their overtime, and febrile Facebooking leaving me limp, I'm left happy and slightly knackered, reflecting on a brilliant day.  I can't think of a nicer way to conduct marketing or to bring a smile to people's faces.  And great fun to work with another flowerbod on the project too, so thanks again go to Mrs Pollen Floral Joy.

British Flowers are just gorgeous and it wasn't hard to spread a bit of Mrs Pollen and the Tuckshops' flowery delight.  I know we ninjas were infected by it too.
A bundle of flowery joy, waiting to be discovered.
Photo courtesy of Pollen Floral Joy

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Natural fizz - Elderflower Champagne

Elderflowers.  I get slightly obsessed with using them each year but sometimes their frothy white flowers are already going slightly brown and crispy before I get organised enough to do anything about it.  But not in 2014!  I already have a batch of lemony tangy elderflower cordial in the freezer, and now it is champagne time.

If you want to follow suit, scour the hedgerows now as (in the Midlands at least) the flowers are just starting - so you should have at least a couple of weeks to get yourself geared up to make it.

I can remember my aunty making this in the early '80s and being very impressed as a teenager that you could produce a fizzy drink without the aid of the ubiquitous Soda Stream - a mod con which never got over the threshold of our house. If a television couldn't make it through the front door, I suppose a Soda Stream didn't stand a chance!

In the process of making this, I've also discovered that being a regular flower picker has the advantage of always having that rare beast, a clean bucket, to hand.  You'll need one for this recipe.

Gather together:

A clean bucket
36 heads of elderflowers (with as few bugs attached as possible!)
4.5 litres of water
680 grammes of sugar
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 lemon - zest and juice needed (no pith).
Strong bottles (flip top ones good for this, or strong brewing bottles) - sterilised.

To make it: (WARNING: highly technical)

Chuck everything in the bucket and leave for  24 hours.  After this time, strain the liquid through muslin and bottle it.  The liquid will be a bit cloudy - this is normal.  Once bottled, it will start to generate fizz which you will need to release every now and then so that your bottles don't explode. Leave for about 2 weeks.

Serve chilled on a sunny day.

I think I'm going to try adding a squeeze of lime, chunks of ice and a slug of gin to make an Elderflower Tom Collins cocktail with some of mine.

Roll on summer.