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April 2014

Open Day on the Farm, this Sunday 27th April

Line of Tulips (1 of 1)

It's amazing how the weeks march on at this time of year. - All of a sudden, we're almost at the end of April, and this year, instead of the Tulips only just starting flowering by then, they'll almost be over.

We spent lots of the Easter weekend potting up Dahlias, and covering the Half hardy annual beds with matting, so the soil will have warmed up (and hopefully have killed off the weeds) by the time we want to plant in them at the end of May.

We've got Cornflowers starting to flower already, - The Sweet Rocket is just about to pop, I picked the first Alstroemeria in the Polytunnel this morning, and the Larkspur and Delphiniums are colouring too.

All just in time for me to show them off this Sunday.

If you are a Florist, or flower professional, and have expressed an interest in my flowers before, then hopefully by now you've received an invite to my open mornings on Sunday and Monday (if not please email me and i'll correct that immediately)

If you're a flower lover, or you are just a bit nosey as to what i've been doing at Hill top farm over the last 16 months, then you are very welcome to turn up at any time between 1.00pm and 5.00pm this Sunday 27th April 2014. - If you let me know you're coming, there's Tea and Cake for you too.


Field at end of april (1 of 1)

Full directions to Hill top farm

The open day is taking place at Hill top farm in East Clandon.
HILLTOP BARN          
HILLTOP FARM          
STAPLE LANE           
GU4 7FP  

However - after spending a long time getting ourselves a postcode, - unfortunately it’s not yet showing up on Google! - so the directions are
The farm is on Staple Lane which is opposite the entrance to East Clandon Village on the A246 (signposted Shere 3)
The farm gate is 250 m up the lane, on the left (metal double gates) on the bend.
Please drive up to the top of the track and park on the hardstanding near the barn and polytunnel

Please note, - this is a working flower farm, - you will need suitable footwear (welly boots or sturdy shoes that can get a bit wet) plenty of layers of clothing (it will be cold on the field, and warm in the polytunnel) and there is only basic toilet facilities (a portaloo).

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday

Direct sowing seeds. The Advantages and Disadvantages.

When it comes to sowing seeds, there seem to be a huge amount of instructions on the packs.

Some need modules, some need seed trays, some want to be sown in a propagator at x degrees, and some in the ground.

Direct sowing, is where you put the seed straight into prepared soil, and just wait for the results. Both for vegetables and flowers it's the easiest route for getting large amounts of a crop. But only if the conditions are right

Direct sown

My method of sowing is to rake and bash the surface of the ground until it is fine and even, - then to use the corner of a hoe to create a V shape furrow in a straight line (it's easier to spot the seedlings and weeds if you plant in straight lines). Put the seeds from the pack into one hand (without gloves!) and use your finger and thumb from the other hand to sprinkle the seeds, or if they are big enough, place them one at a time (see reason 3 on the disadvatages below).

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of sowing direct?


Great for varieties that don't like root disturbance e.g Zinnias or have deep root systems like Dill

Quick to sow lots of seeds.

Can be used to get succession crops, - i.e 1st sowing is done in a greenhouse before the soil temperature is right, then a direct sowing is done later

Can be done without any specialist equipment or a greenhouse, so a lot cheaper


Needs prepared soil at the correct temperature (warm enough to put bare skin on)

Tiny seedlings are often bait for snails, mice, and other munching creatures.

Small seeds often get sowed too thickly and need to be thinned.

Autumn sowings can be damaged by overwinter wet and cold.


I actually love my seed sowing time in the greenhouse, - but I need to sow so many plants this year,  that some will have to be sown straight into the ground, So which have worked well for me before, and which will I be Sowing direct this year?

Vegetables - Carrots, Beetroot, Radish, Spinach, all work best for me sown direct, but there's a large slug problem at the allotment so the cucurbits will be mollycoddled in the greenhouse, - same with the beans and peas which I sow in guttering and then plant out.

Flowers - Hardy annuals, - Direct sown last Autumn were Bulplurum, and Nigella - I've not had much success with bulplurum before, - usually a tray of sowing produces a couple of plants, - but when I saw how readily they self seeded themselves on my allotment when I ignored one plant, I decided Autumn direct sowing was worth trying, and I now have a decent crop of them (of course I wish i'd grown more now). The Nigella, - has self sown itself for years in my garden sometimes getting in 2 flowerings so I followed its example and used fresh seed from last years crop and direct sowing it. - I've now got a very healthy row of Nigella which should be flowering in 2-3 weeks. - Of course I should have sown the next lot 2 weeks ago, but the bed isn't ready (see disadvantage no.1)

Then of course my fantastic bed of Cerinthe which has been in my bouquets for weeks, and which florists have loved.

Cerinthe flower (1 of 1)

I've been growing Cerinthe for years, and I love it, and have introduced lots of others to it. - It's main feature is that it needs to grow from fresh seeds. - That's quite hard if you're buying a pack from a garden centre that has been sitting on the shelf for months. So if you manage to get some to germinate, wait until it is grown and then harvest the seeds ( when they turn from white to black and are easy to pull out) Sow them straight away and you'll get great healthy plants and 2 crops a year

The cornflowers in the top picture were direct sown, but Actually although they gave me a late crop, they didn't do nearly as well as my carefully tended module grown ones, and they didn't produce as many flowers on each plant, because they were too closely spaced. So I would direct sow them if I wanted a pretty display, but not for picking.

I asked this Question about Direct sowing to Ben Ranyard of Higgledy Garden yesterday, and he's sowing everything direct this year, and suggested I tried Ammi. I said I hadn't tried them before - but actually thinking back, the neat row of transplanted, overwintered plants that are already a foot high, were self sown seedlings from last year's crop!

When it comes to Half hardy annuals,

The Dill that I direct sowed last year, did a lot better than that which was pot grown, - not quite as tall, but just as strong and scented, and it lasted longer. - This will be repeated.

I'll also try some zinnias direct this year. - They resent root disturbance, and the money I saved on not over sowing the seeds was used on peat free root modules and compost, so i've bought extra seeds this year and i'm trying a bed direct.

But Ben's suggestion of direct sowing cosmos will be ignored by me, - I still like my greenhouse time.....








Tulip time at Hill top Farm

It's the 14th April, and after a really late spring last year, this year the weather is full pelt to summer. The Tulips have fast forwarded out of hibernation, and those that were flowering mid May in 2013, are already out in all their glory.

This was how the field looked today

Tulips on the field

I picked lots and lots of them this evening, because unfortunately if I don't they might not be there by morning. - The Deer are on the war path again.

Tulips eaten by deer

The early season varieties of Apricot delight and Purissima, Usually my star turns in the first couple of weeks of April are already over, - instead we are now at the Mid season colour show, and racing towards the May flowerers by the end of the week.


from top to bottom (Left to right)

Orange Parrot, Mount Tacoma, Ballerina, White Triumphator, Shirley, Recreado.


Our First Wedding Fair at Devere Venues Horsley Towers, East Horsley

Last Weekend, on the 6th April- my control freak self had to give way to Paula, as I handed over my Spring flowers, and control of how they were used to her, to create the displays for our first ever Wedding fair table decorations.

Last Autumn, Paula and I had met with Yasmin, the organiser of the weddings at Horsley Towers, our local premier wedding venue in Horsley. - As a large and prestigious Setting, just over 2 miles from our Flower farm, we were really glad when they agreed that we could have a trial as a supplier.

I've hosted Business network events in the rooms at the Towers, and I knew that the very English Style, high ceilinged buildings would work wonderfully with our best of the field flowers. -Last weekend, it was our job, to dress the Great Hall, as we could for a wedding breakfast. Well I say our job,- really it was i'll pick the flowers Paula, and then over to you to be creative, - and she was, - in Spades.

Fireplace wedding fair

The Pastels theme that we'd been given wasn't the easiest with All early April English flowers, - but Paula managed great with a terracotta and apricot themed top table framed by the impressive fireplace.

Wedding fair mixture

Each of the 3 tables were themed differently, with a white/cream theme, a pink theme and a slightly off pastels, but lovely bright yellows and orange theme, - using glassware, Pastel themed tins, decorated with Hessian and hearts, - plus framed by the lovely tea cups from VinTeage

We used, Tulips, Anemones, Narsissus, Willow, Blossom, Hellebores, Choisya, Ranunculus, Honesty, Wallflowers, Cerinthe and lots of other foliage, from our hill, and Ranunculus, Alstroemerias, and Freesias from Cornwall, courtesy of Clowance

Not wanting to be completly outdone by Paula's lovely designs, I put a display of all the best flowers from the field on our table - all colours from whites through to darks

Bottles of flowers

We had a lovely day in the Historic setting of Horsley Towers, we met some other fantastic wedding suppliers, (Chair bow tieing is a real artform!) and we met some lovely Brides to be, and their partners and mums and dads and friends. - We've still got a huge amount of work to do, to encourage people to get married at the time of year that their favourite flower is likely to be available -

Bride, - "I want red roses for my wedding, can you supply them?"

Me, - "when are you getting married, - June, July, September?"

Bride - "End of November"

Me - "Ah, No, Sorry"

And we're yet to get a booking from a bride who will want to use our lovely September/ Early October Blooming Dahlias, but i'm hoping that the lovely displays that Paula made to promote our first entry into the Wedding fair market will have started us on the way.