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September 2015

Heritage open day, Florists in history and buttonholes

Earlier in the year, I had a request (via Flowers from the Farm) to be open for the Guildford and surrounds Heritage open days. It was very conveniently on a weekend i'd been planning to have an open day anyway, so i said yes please, and we set too finding all about the heritage of cut flower growing in this area.

Heritage open days board

My current field has only been pasture according to parish records and maps, almost certainly because we're on the North slope of the downs, and the water flows away. However down in the valley in Ripley and Send and the surrounding areas, we found information about crops that had been grown in the late 19th and 20th Century.

Cornflowers were a main crop grown to be shipped up to London for gentleman's buttonholes. Thanks to Clare Mccann at the Ripley History Society, she found us details of accounts from Local residents who remembered which fields the Cornflowers were grown on.

Overwintered cornflowers

We were also told that the flowers went up to town from Clandon Station, on a passenger train, so they had to be loaded very quickly.

We heard from several older residents that they thought that Dianthus and Carnations had been grown locally as well. Certainly there are Glasshouse remains around that could have been used for those purposes, but the nursery that we were told about in Bookham grew Auriculas.

It was while I was researching this that I found out about the historical meaning of the word "Florist"

1620s, formed on analogy of French fleuriste, from Latin floris, genitive of flos "flower"
a person who grows or deals in flowers
Originally, florists were plantsmen, specialising in five species only for the beauty of their flowers: carnations, tulips, anemones, ranunculus and auriculae; then, from 1750, hyacinths and polyanthus and, later, pinks. But from the early 19th century, the list of florists’ flowers expanded.
I feel a lot happier calling myself a florist now, as I grow all of them apart from the auriculae.
Anyway on Sunday afternoon, the Heritage guests started arriving while we were still eating lunch, and kept coming all afternoon. Lots of them were doing a tour of local buildings, churches and events, and included us in their visits.Very few of them had heard of us before. They were all interested and friendly, and i spent most of the afternoon doing tours of the field, and explaining how we intend to take flower farming in the area forward.
My backup team as usual did sterling work. Tea and cakes were polished off to the extent that we ran out of milk. Many thanks to the lady who rescued us by going off to get some. as our cars were blocked in the very full carpark.
I had planned to make buttonholes for everyone, but in the end it was Just team Plantpassion that got them, so i'll leave you with some i made earlier.
Plate of buttonholes
(image Emma Davies)

Do you really want Gypsophila? Lovely British Grown alternatives for all through the wedding season

I do wish that i'd got a pound for everyone that's asked me

"Do you grow Gypsophila?"

It's not a surprise as White is the traditional wedding colour, and Pinterest is full of pictures of Gypsophila bouquets, jam jars, head dresses and room decorations. After Roses and Peonies, it's probably the most known Bridal flower, and it's also not as expensive as either Roses or Peonies, so it's hardly a shock that it's asked for as much as it is. I have to admit to manipulating it a bit, - after all this was a photo Emma Davies took of me with Gypsophila Covent Garden, in my 2nd year of growing.

Claire with bunch of Gyp cropped

Gypsophila Paniculata, which is perennial Gyp, and the most used type for Bridal work, looks lovely in a garden setting. It is however, quickly ruined by rain or dry weather (when i've been told with authority by Wisley gardeners it goes crispy and brown very quickly and looks dreadful) It also doesn't have the nicest of scents, in fact a big bunch of it has a bit of a pong, so not really the scented bouquet you may have had in mind.

Gyp paniculata at Wisley cropped

Here it is at it's peak in mid July in the RHS Wisley perennial borders. So if you want natural season grown British Gypsophila for your Wedding, then The middle of July is a good time to aim for.

But what if you want something White fluffy, scented and you don't want to rely on no rain, or scorching weather in July to get your table centre jam jars?

Well here are my suggestions for April through to September to cover that peak wedding season, for White, pleasantly scented British Grown alternatives that you can grow in your garden, or source from your local grower.


Clockwise from top left (Narsissus Earlicheer, Honesty stems, Honesty, Hesperis, Anemones & Leucojum.)

April Gypsophila alternatives

The season starts off beautifully in April with The bulbs of Anemones, Leucojum and Narsissus (like Early Cheerfulness and Thalia).Then the white blooms of Honesty arrive. Most people know the papery seed pods of Lunaria Annua, but the white variety of honesty is one of the first of the biennial flowers, and is really pretty for bouquets and displays.

10 days later, this is followed by the similar looking flowers of Hesperis. The Sweet Rocket (Hesperis Matronalis) also has the positive of being sweetly scented Hesperis Matronalis in May


Moving into May, and here in Surrey, the Hesperis is going strong, and scenting most of my orders. The Aqueligias start mid month, and their pretty bell flowers may not last a full week in a bouquet, but are perfect for event table centres and bridal bouquets. The overwintered Annual Gypsophila, -Variety Covent Garden kicks in to bloom in the polytunnel in the 3rd ish week of May, and outside a couple of weeks later, but like it's perennial counterpart, it is short lived, with probably 2 weeks only to enjoy it. Following on its tail is Orlaya Grandiflora, the Lace flower, which overwintered beautifully on my field last year, and gave hundreds of lacy stems for May and June wedding florists. Don't forget the heady perfume of Sweet peas as well, by May these are available from glasshouses and polytunnels all over the country.

clockwise from top left (Hesperis, Aqueligias, Sweet Peas, Orlaya Grandiflora, Sweet peas and Gypsophila covent garden.)

May Gypsophila alternatives


By June the hardy annuals are starting to flower, so we have Ammi major, Cornflowers and Orlaya in the mix, as well as the umbellifers of Cow parsley, Chervil and coriander in the herb bed.

My clove scented Sweet William Alba can be either star of the show or supporting cast, and it may be out of fashion, but the white dianthus (pinks) are also a wonderful scent by the middle of the month.

(Sweet William, Ammi Major, Cornflower)

June Gypsophila alternatives



July is high season for weddings, and the Ammi Major, is overlapping with the now flowering Ammi Visnaga. The carrot family Daucus Carota starts flowering, and we've also got Feverfew, and my personal favourite is Achillea ptarmica the pearl, which is a perennial that give strong long stems at the beginning of the month, and a 2nd shorter flush at the end of July.

clockwise (Daucus Carota, Achillea ptarmica the pearl, Dianthus, Single Feverfew and Ammi Major)

July Gypsophila alternatives


August is our busiest wedding month, and Ammi Visnaga is a wonderful addition to bouquets and arrangements with its large heads and strong stems. The single and the double feverfew are in full flush at the beginning of the month, and the spring sown scabious are providing lots of fluffy white flowers throughout the month. We also had our newly planted Gypsophila paniculata ( white and pink) flowering in August, so maybe planting some new plants each year can increase the spread of availability.

August Gypsophila alternatives


By September, I always wish that i'd planted another bed of Ammi Visnaga, as it's looking fabulous and i'm running out of it. - Luckily the cosmos and the dahlias are providing lovely white heads and the cream and lime green Nicotiana are providing filler flowers, and there's a 2nd flush of feverfew and Scabious coming through.

September gypsophila alternatives

So without having Gypsophila for more than 4 weeks in the season, I can provide an alternative which is white and wedding like. Have I forgotten any? please add it to the comments if I have.

Here's a lovely bouquet made up by a work experience student. Not a stem of Gypsophila in sight.

September white bouquet

When and How to pick and condition Scabious flowers, for long lasting blooms and showstopping displays

Scabious. A high summer flower, loved by birds, butterflies and florists in equal measures. An annual, that you can sometimes persuade to be perennial, which can provide you with buckets full of fluffy amazing coloured blooms. But when's the ideal time to pick it, and how do you get long sturdy stems?

Dark Scabious with bee

Scabious Black Cat was my first variety. I fell in love with it in Sarah Raven's Garden, and used it in my first ever bouquet.

Each year i've added to it, and now I have a collection of 6 varieties that are a high summer staple.

Dark Scabious with bee-2

My soil at Hill top farm is chalky and free draining, it doesn't hold nutrients, but scabious are a flower that loves those conditions. I plant a first batch in Autumn, and a second gets sown in early may, and by spacing them well apart it means that I get strong plants, long flower stems, but don't have to stake the plants.

White scabious full flower-1

This fluffy flower head is at an ideal stage for using in an event display, and will continue to look good for another 3 days, but when should you pick them if you want them to last over a week in a bouquet?

Dark Scabious with bee-1

Here are the different stages a flower will go through. Top left is the bud forming. Within a couple of days, it will look like bottom left, with a single row of florets, and then a day of sunshine later it will be at the main picture stage. This is the stage that I aim to pick the flowers at.

Because they have few leaves to remove before conditioning. I tend to pick in bunches of ten, and put them into water when I have a bunch. One plant in July can produce 5 to 10 flowers a week, and then if deadheaded, there will be a 2nd flush in September. They then get a rest in the barn to condition them.

If picked at this stage, you've got 7-8 days in the vase before the petals will drop, and the seedhead will form.

I'm looking forward to picking many more Scabious flowers for in this season, but next year's plants are already started.

For practical sessions to go through the ideal picking time for this and other British Flowers, please look here