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October 2016

Know your seedlings - The key to growing healthy, happy, hardy annuals

We had Dave come and join us to do some work experience last week. He's been a builder, not a gardener, but would like to try his hand at this Flower farming lark....

His biggest issue i think (well actually i can think of a few, but we'll keep it simple for this blog) is learning what's a plant and what's a weed.

Identifying your seedlings, - particularly those that are likely to sow themselves on your field is really important for a flower farmer, and actually any gardener who likes freebies.

Seedlings blog flower montage

(Flowers l-r, top-bottom - Cornflowers, Gypsophila, Larkspur, Iceland poppies, Ammi Major)

So I thought i'd show you a few that it would be good to know how to identify.


For me, the annual larkspur is a god-send because Delphiniums hate my field. To this point in time, despite sowing seed every year, and potting on and cosetting many delphinium plants over the last few 4 seasons, the stems i've sold is still only in double digits. Whereas Larkspur, although still somewhat difficult to get round the joint enemies of slugs and rabbits, do make it with reasonable regularity on my field. With many stems produced per plant, and amazing height of flowers, it's worth trying. Here at Hill top farm, Autumn sown seeds and self sown seeds are potted up, and sheltered in the polytunnel until early spring. Here's what you are looking for if you want to do the same.

Larkspur seedlings montage

Ammi Major

Now Ammi is an amazing filler flower. Strong stems, early season flowers, and lots and lots of stems per plants. It doesn't like root disturbance, so you need to know what it looks like when it's just a couple of leaves if you want to transplant it. Try and get it when it has just 2 real leaves, and transplant it into deep plug trays. These 54's are an excellent size to get a decent rootball to go straight out into field beds in late October. By February, the plants will look like the bottom picture.

Ammi seedlings montage


Obviously a British Cut Flower field or patch can't be without Cornflowers, and as they were the locally grown crop that was transported to London for gentleman's buttonholes, i wouldn't be without them. - It helps then to know what the seedlings look like. I try and transplant my cornflowers when they are just 2 true leaves (like the seedling sample on the right in the first photo, when it only has a small amount of root, and is easy to transplant) If you don't pick every single cornflower then you are likely to get self sown seedlings (like in the 2nd photo in amongst the Sweet Williams - and other weeds!) But if you get them transplanted quickly, then autumn sown seedlings will look like the bottom photo by February. Strong rosette seedlings that will produce 20 or 30 flower stems from each plant.

Cornflower seedlings


This one self sows itself better than if it is sown. - i've found it's easier to let it do the seedling stage itself, then pot it up to avoid it being slug bait, and plant it back out when it's bigger and stronger. - If you want to sow this one from packet seed, cover it with black plastic for 3 weeks to exclude light, taking the cover off as soon as it germinated. It looks very similar to Ammi seedlings when it's just 2 leaves, that's why there's the first 3 plants of bulplurum in this tray. (Note to self, don't plant in adjacent beds!)

Bulplurum seedlings


Although i love poppy seed heads, the poppies that drive my florists bonkers, are the Iceland poppies. Their early season colours and bendy stems mean that they are snapped out of my hands as quickly as i can pick them. This season, as well as the amazing colours i've grown in the past, i've also got the Colibri varieties. - here's what they look like as seedlings.

Poppy seedlings

My germination rates of the expensive Italian seeds were amazing, so i'm hoping i find room for and manage to grow every single one of them to full flowering (Dave's building skills may be used for some extra gro-tunnels at this rate)

And last but not least


i'm growing 3 varieties of Gypsophila this year. Covent Garden, which i've grown for the last 3 years, Kermesina, a pink variety that i saw at Green and Gorgeous this year, and Monarch White - an unknown quantity that i got a packet of seeds for and well......... what's a seed addict to do.

Here's what the seedlings look like.

Gypsophila seedling montage

So if you know what your seedlings look like, you know what to weed out, and what to cosset. - Happy seedling hunting.


Still Flowering on the field Mid October 2016

We haven't had a frost yet here in Surrey. 

The temperature has dropped, but so far the Dahlias are still safe, and there's actually quite a lot else still flowering as well.

Dahlias with verbena behind

Behind the Dahlias is a whole row of Verbena Bonariensis, which is still going strong. - Shorter stems now, but great purple tones.


I thought i'd made a big mistake not sowing a late batch of cosmos this year. But because we only had one batch, we've kept picking and picking it, - and it's responded with growing back with fresh buds each week. This variety is Picotee pink, but the Collarette white is still going too. (the double click varieties petered out long ago though)


This is the 3rd year running i've had a lovely late bed of Cynoglossum, The blue seems more reluctant to seed than the pink, but it's a great filler, and i'm hoping i've got at least another week of it.

Scabious blue

The Scabious has come back again with lovely long stems. The Blue and white got a major hair cut in August, so they are really long and strong, but even the neglected dark colours are providing some new stems.

And i've been cutting Sedum since it was green in July, but the dusky pink stems are still going, and haven't browned off


and we're now at the point where we can start cutting the autumn/ winter foliage. Beech, Privet, Senicio, Eucalyptus, Rosemary Pittosporum have all been picked today, along with Ageratum, Helichrysum, Statice, Seed heads, Daucus, Feverfew, Hesperanthera, Nerines, Zinnias and Antirrhinums (there's a video on my Instagram feed of all the lovelies we picked today  

But the Chrysanthemums are late this year, - they're budding up now, i'm just hoping the polytunnel can protect them long enough for the flowers to fully come out.

And tomorrow's wedding is the last of the season (or is it, as an email has just landed in my inbox.......)


British Flowers and Clever Marketing to fool the public

The British Flowers industry is growing again - Whoopee.

the publicity that even i've got this year as a tiny grower - (The Telegraph in June, BBC Countryfile diaries in August and Surrey Life magazine in September plus 3 mentions in the local Surrey Advertiser don't you know....) has been fantastic and amazing, and and along with my loyal local customers who use me again and again, has meant my business is currently a whole 100% up on Turnover over last year. (and last year was a 120% up on the year before!)

When i looked at my marketing plan for this season ahead of our Advanced Growing Workshop this weekend, I realised that i'd only done 2 of the 10 items on the list. Just 2... and i still sold that many more flowers than last year.

Almost every week this summer i've received an email from a London florist or a company who wants to retail British Flowers, and needs a regular supplier of them. They already have customers absolutely keen as mustard to buy locally grown and British Provenance flowers. But i can't help them...... I'm not big enough, i've already sold all my flowers.

Imagine then if you have a large marketing budget...... You know that local, and seasonal will sell....... But you can't find enough suppliers growing in the UK who don't already have customers for all their flowers. What to do? Give up on the idea or, well fudge it, and cover it with clever marketing?

In my Facebook feed this morning was a photo, of some lovely flowers that the poster had given as a present.  Here's what she said about them.

"So these beautiful flowers all British grown delivered to your door all for £20, very impressed with quantity & quality. cant wait to order some next week for myself "
Love them Thank You  Freddie's Flowers"

They were a lovely selection, and for £20 delivered to your door - great value, but let's examine the rest. (I'd love to stick in the photo, but obviously it wasn't mine, so here's one of my most in demand Autumn Flowers at the moment)

Autumn dahlia karma choc

the Website for Freddies flowers actually lets everyone know what they're going to be getting 

Freddies flowers graphic

Reddy Purple are great autumn colours. Oak, Rose, Astrantia, Hypericum and Eucalyptus, well i grow all of them. So Far, i was just feeling a bit peeved that i hadn't spent more on my Facebook advertising to let people in Horsley and Clandon know about my Subscription flowers!.

My attention was then drawn to the Roses. Now there aren't many British Rose Growers of commercial cut Roses. I know as i've tried to source them. A google search of Red Freedom Roses Wholesale brings up a product profile from New Covent Garden Market about how these great Colombian / Eucadorean grown Roses are the best for Valentine's Bouquets. I couldn't find any source that was UK grown.  Then I noticed the variety of Hypericum, - mine are Magical series and i've got a similar colour to that which i used in displays and buttonholes this weekend

Autumn buttonholes

But the "Coco series" mentioned in the Bouquet Blurb are not available in this country. In fact they're only distributed as cuttings to Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, or grown on 6 farms in Africa (according to this website by the PBR holders) So they couldn't have been bought from a "local grower"  So that's 2 out of 6 ingredients at least that aren't going to be British, - Why did my Facebook poster think they were All British?

Well it's the clever marketing - 

Freddie is a florist's son after all who used to work for Abel and Cole and we all know they use Organic British Farms 


(Incidentally I thought they did, but i've gone all through the Abel and Cole website, and can't see British mentioned anywhere, please let me know if i've missed it) 

So now we know Freddies background, did we assume he bought British Flowers?

Freddies fresh from the growers

Well actually this lovely little graphic doesn't say British Specifically, but it does say they'll pick them fresh from the growers. I guess if you get on the phone to some of the largest flower farms in the world, and say "please can we have Roses, Hypericum, Astrantia and some seasonal foliage to go with them" you are picking from the growers, BUT, that isn't what the Great British Public thinks you mean.

It's not the first time i've heard of someone letting people think via Clever Marketing that the flowers they are getting are grown in this Country. There are other companies out there using "Local" and "Fresh" and stretching the majority of people's imagination on those points. Most reputable Florists and Flower mongers will use the words "Mostly British" or "British Flowers whenever possible" because the sad truth is, that we've got out of the habit of Buying flowers locally. So our Flower growers aren't big enough to cope with the biggest event companies, or mass mail order.

Our Flower industry has been in the Doldrums, and only certain types of flowers have continued to be grown in large numbers. Commercial growers in this country can't afford to grow new, untried varieties and can Only afford to grow those things that the supermarkets have "preordered".  They may sell millions of stems, but at such small margins that there hasn't been much money to reinvest. Plant trials in this country, which are not supported by any government money only concentrate on those supermarket varieties, and British Flower sales only account for between 10 and 15% of sales in this country.

It's ONLY the smaller growers, like me (and other members of Flowers from the Farm) that are able to sell Only British Flowers All year round. Because i'm small i can assess My 280 different varieties and add some new ones to trail every year to find different things for my local market of loyal buyers, whether they be florists, subscription customers, event organisers or brides. 

Obviously my marketing has to get cleverer to let everyone know that.