THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Want to know more about flower growing? This is a guest post from the wonderful Carole Patilla of Tuckshop Flowers explaining what she does as a British flower grower during the off season (what off season?)
We are incredibly happy to be able to share this with you, so please do enjoy this insightful post about what a British flower grower does during winter!
What is it like to be a flower grower in winter?
The obvious answers to this question are wet, muddy and cold!
But now I’ve got these out of the way, I can ponder properly. Obviously in any seasonal work, there has to be something to keep you busy in the off season. At the moment, that something is called Christmas. This sees me weaving wreath bases from willow wands, foraging for foliage and forcing bulbs in my cellar so that I have offerings to tempt market visitors to part with their cash in the run up to Christmas eve. So far, I have 5 market stalls to populate, in addition to an open house session I’m running in co-operation with other local artisan crafty folk. Plus a couple of wreath making workshops during the first week in December.
So although we are technically in the off season, I still feel a long way from being switched off and put into hibernation. On the gardening front, I have September sowings of cornflowers and larkspur to pot on in the greenhouse, 200 tulip bulbs begging to be planted, and dahlia tubers dripping blackly at me, screaming to be lifted or mulched. So the soggy spade work is not yet over. But there is slightly less of it this year as I’m experimenting with Charles Dowding’s ‘no-dig’ system on some of my flowerbeds. I have therefore got to finish the process of covering these with mulches of various kinds to block out light over winter to stop weeds germinating. I’ve also got to ferry the lorry load of wood chippings, begged from tree surgeons working in a neighbouring garden, down to the allotment to re-cover the paths between beds to obliterate grass in the same fashion.
And once Christmas is out of the way, there will be apple trees and roses to prune, early sweet peas to consider and a general marshalling of seed packets and planting plans.
I have to admit that a part of me always exhales deeply at the end of my farmers’ market season in September and looks forward to a break from the cycle of picking, packing, setting up and clearing away, but by the time April comes around the following year, I’m going stir crazy with flower-deprivation and am raring to get going again. But I’ve not got to that stage yet as Christmas frenzy offers plenty of opportunities for seasonal busy-ness.
However, the slide which the garden gently takes into dormancy over winter does provide time to pull back from the day to day ‘doing’ of the business and gives me an opportunity to think a bit more strategically about things. In the past week, I’ve been on several free social media and business development workshops (these are available all over the country via Local Enterprise Partnerships and other funded training organisations – I found mine via searching the ‘business’ section of the EventBrite app) and I am booked into a further workshop in December on ‘The Business of Selling Flowers’ (found through my membership of Flowers from the Farm). For me, winter is very much a time for revitalising the mental side of the business and re-formulating plans about how to take it forward.
This is only my third winter in the flower growing business, and each one has proved to be different. Having left teaching to start a flower growing business in September (????!!!!), I spent my first winter sourcing packaging, setting up my website, applying for market stalls and generally working through ideas, with no thought for the opportunities which Christmas offered. During the second year, I was much more switched on to what I could do with winter foliage and dried flowers, saved from summer, and it also revealed to me the widespread appeal of crocus forced in unusual containers (which is why I have over 100 of them in my cellar at the moment!).
This winter has seen me much more focussed on developing the business aspects of Tuckshop Flowers and on forging networks and links with other local traders – I’ve just had a great meeting with a new firm of undertakers who offer every kind of funeral and have a passion for green burials, and I’m off to meet a wedding venue next week. That’s after I’ve consulted with a potential business mentor tomorrow….
Winter is also a great time for doing a bit of mental gardening – picturing in your mind’s eye what your borders and beds are going to look like next year, going over photographs of this year’s plantings and seeing what did and didn’t work. It’s when I formulate my great culling plans and decide which bits of the garden are really in for a massive overhaul! Business-wise, it involves looking at figures and working out which flower varieties were the most popular and profitable and planning what to grow next year.
Looking at how my own blog readership rises from October to February, I can only judge that everyone else is also imaginatively gardening whilst penned indoors by the shortened days and unpredictable weather. Just don’t try to talk to me in February when I am bursting for March and for sowing season to come around again….
If you think you might like to try growing your own cut flowers (and we recommend it!) take a look at 9 Ideas for A Cut Flower Business to find out what you can try…
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …