Garden Diary

Flower photography workshop at Hill top farm

After a couple of manically busy weeks, and a few days away leaving Paula in charge (during which time she managed flowers for 3 weddings, and 2 florists and lots of bouquet orders - Thanks) i've indulged myself this week, with a couple of day trips.

The first on Monday was with the Farm as the venue, but William and I took part in Emma Davies Flower photography workshop.

When Emma held her 1st workshop of the year, back at the beginning of June, - I was planting frantically, so couldn't join in, but I promised myself that this time, i'd have a go, and William my 10 year old was keen to join in too.

William taking photos (1 of 1)

we started the morning learning about light. - This involved looking at the shadows on wooden eggs, and then we moved on to light needed for taking photos of objects and flowers.

Everyone had different cameras, and was at different levels, but Emma took that in her stride, helped us all work out how to get the right settings for what we were trying to take pictures of, and before lunch we were all sent out to try her 7 "better photo techniques"

Gladiolus white-1

(photo credit William Brown)

This involved us moving round flowers to find their best side. Getting down low as well as taking pictures from standing height. - Looking for leading "paths", - using the rule of 3rds, & focusing on one key flower.

Polytunnel leading eye (1 of 1)

(Photo credit William Brown)

After a soup / sandwich lunch at Quaich in Horsley, we were ready to turn a bit more technical, and Emma encouraged us to "get off auto" - With the help of some lovely old props, we learnt about Apertures, and F- numbers. How to Blur backgrounds, how to work with wind, fast moving objects and low light levels, and then we were off to practice again.

Blurred background example-1

There was plenty of wildlife just waiting to be captured on "film" (I know we were all using digital, so not quite) and William loved this bee, while it was loving the Artichoke.

Billy bee on Cynara buzzing (1 of 1)

(Photo credit William Brown)

and I found a another who was finding the Hyssop tasty.

Bee on blue herb (1 of 1)

Then we finished up with some staged shoots in the polytunnel - brilliant for its diffused light.


Staged shoot in polytunnel (1 of 1)

By this stage, William had wandered off, but when we downloaded the photos in the evening, in addition to the flowers, - there were quite a few staged "lego" shots!

A fantastic day was had by all, It was lovely to Meet Clare, Janet and Suzanne, -thank you all for indulging and encouraging William. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of our first "homework" in the Facebook group for workshop "graduates".


Top 5 tips for creating a cutting patch in 2014

Greenhouse seedlings  (1 of 1)

English Cut Flowers are going to be big this year. - There's no-one that doesn't smile when presented with flowers, - so if you're planning to grow some of your own this year, - here are my top tips to get you started.

1) Follow the sun. - Like vegetables, Cut flowers really need sun to do their best. If they are in shade, they will grow lopsided, and not tall and straight, which is the holy grail for flower arrangers

2) Feed the soil. Flowers are hungry, - particularly if you want to keep cutting and cutting from the same plants, so put in some work now adding nutrients and organic material to your soil and making it ready to plant into

3) Warm the soil. - To get the best start for the roots of your plants, put some black plastic or matting (known in the trade as Mypex) over your prepared soil. - This will attract the sun's rays and heat your planting beds

4) Plan what you're growing - Don't plan just flowers, you'll need fillers like Ammi, Dill, Euphorbia, and scent, - brilliantly herbs will do that job, - especially Mint

5) Don't sow seeds too early. - It's tempting I know to get out there already, - but keep your hands in your pockets, - write the seed labels if you must, but start at the beginning of March, and your success rate (germination rate) will be so much better

If you'd love to have a go at growing, but need some help and hand holding, plus to see how it's done at a flower farm, - why not join me on the 5th March for my Creating a cutting patch from seeds and bulbs workshop -

Wisley Flower show - braving the crowds for the sake of some plants.

Yesterday morning, bright and early, straight after the start of the school term drop off, I met up with my garden designer friend Lisa Cox at Wisley.

By the time we'd got our coffees at ten to nine, we needed to join the back of an already expanding queue of keen flower show enthusiasts.

Pink pompom dahlias (1 of 1)The Wisley Flower show is now 5 days long, - so you've got until Sunday to go and see

  • The Fabulous Dahlia displays,
  • To plant shop to your heart's content,
  • and look at the Nafas floral displays in the glasshouse (more about them tomorrow)

I was there to see if I could find some unusual beauties to add to my flower farm (or garden, or both) and I have to confess to coming away with a full truck and an empty pocket.

Princess Kate Clematis (1 of 1)

Although I'll admit to being a tad dissapointed at finding Some very bought in plants on display yesterday, (I hastely put down a Hypericum I was interested in when I saw the dutch market lablel)- most of the Nursery stalls are run by growing enthusiasts, who can tell you loads about what they have, where they can grow, and which is the best for you.

Floyds Climbers and Clematis were are great example of that, - The Princess Kate Viticella Clematis (pictured above) was the centre of attention, but he talked me through new Passionflowers - (I bought one called Silly Cow), - and suitable climbers for cutting, and suggested further sources for information to research. - They've got an open day on the 14th & 15th of September if you're near Lackham College.

I also invested in some rather lovely Salvias, - Late season colour is always important, and i've got blue's so I thought this Peach Parfait would go rather well too.

Peach coloured Salvia (1 of 1)

and of course Being September, there were bulb companies showing off their wares. I'll be looking for some of these in the coming season.

Purple gladioli (1 of 1)

The weather is great for walking in the gardens too, so i'm sure that Wisley will be extremely busy this whole weekend. - If you want to be inspired by flowers, then do go along early, - otherwise, my advice is to avoid the whole area.


Wisteria Pruning

This week, - as well as creating a cut flower farm, i've had 2 projects, one to plant a Rose garden (which I will show you photos of in June) and one to tame a rather large Wisteria.

Wisteria is an amazing, and rather large plant, as can be seen from this giant specimen I snapped with my phone in France last Easter.

French wisteria-1
The wall is about 6 ft high and each of the flower racaemes are over 30cm long.

To be able to produce flower like this, it needs to be encouraged to grow by regular twice a year pruning.

The trouble is, that if you miss pruning for a year or 2, the growth becomes rampant, and it can twist itself around pipes, into guttering, and around itself. - Within a year this can become impossible to unentangle.

My project earlier in the week, was one of those Wisteria. A lovely old specimen, but one which probably hadn't had detailed attention for a few years shown by the twirly stems that needed to be removed.

(Did you know, you can tell the variety of Wisteria by the way the stem spirals. Japanese (floribunda) and American (frutescens) Wisteria - spiral clockwise, and Chinese (Sinensis) Wisteria goes anti clockwise)

Entwined wisteria-1
January is the key time of year for retraining your Wisteria, and like most pruning projects, you need to look for Dead and Dying wood to remove, then crossing branches that can rub and damage each other, then look to open out the structure, and last shortening flowering shoots.

This was the results of my pruning session earlier in the week, - Before and after shots

Don's be afraid to take away plenty of plant material. This plant will actually thank me for taking out a huge pile of wood, especially as a lot of it was starting to rot. The windows won't be covered with tendrils this year, and the gutters won't get clogged with leaves. Plus it makes it easier for me to prune next year.

Tomorrow's job is to help prune a standard Wisteria, - Can't wait until May to see the flowers.


Breaking the ground - full day as a flower farmer

So, - i've got my field, and this summer, I want to be bringing you photos of beds and bunches of flowers, but where to begin?

In my own garden, I'm organic, and I really want this flower farm to be Chemical free. - That means that I won't be Glyphostating all the grass and weeds off.  So this weekend, the physical task of taking off the turf and adding lots of organic matter has started.

Organic compost pile at HTF-1
First thing this morning, there were 2 delivery drivers at the gate, - one with this load of 15 cubic metres of organic compost, and the other with our friend the turf cutter.

Yesterday, -we'd done a soil test, from 3 different parts of the field, - the pH is very neutral, an average of 7.1. This will be fantastic for most cut flowers, but won't let me grow ericaceous plants like Azaleas and Rhododendrons. We also orientated were we were going to have the first set of beds, - taking into account the slope of the land, - where the sun rises and sets, and the drainage and shadow.

The idea for the first of the beds (that are going to be for my over wintered hardy annuals) , is to take off the turf and then spread a good 10cm layer of the organic compost on top that i'll plant into.

First bed made at HTF-2

We'd dug the first metre of this bed by hand yesterday, to get an idea of the soil depth, structure and density. We were delighted with what we found.

Because we are really lucky to have a crumbly well drained soil, there is no clay pan, which would stop plant roots going down into the top soil, so i'm not even going to bother rotavating these beds.

By the end of the day, we'd managed 6, 10 metre by 1.2 metre beds, this picture was taken in the gloaming this afternoon. I'm hoping i'll have some cornflowers planted in these by the end of the weekend (suitably protected from Rabbits , pigeons, deer , slugs etc!)

Day 1 finished beds at HTF-3

now i'm off to put my feet up, - as we hope to do another 6 tomorrow.

My Plantpassion year in review

It's the last day of the year, - The rain is falling (again) and the boys are doing their own things (fishing and watching Horrible Histories!) so i've been tidying my desk and reviewing what i've been up to this year.

It hasn't seemed like a hugely busy year in 2012 (although the figure say i've been bucking the recessional trend)- I've managed to do plenty of Mum things as well as running a business, but looking back over the year, i've covered a lot of ground.

Bergenia in snow
I've talked to 14 groups in 2012, Wi's, Gardening Societies and the National Vegetable Society. My most requested talk, was Designing for colour in the garden all year round. Followed by - Herbs for the kitchen from your garden, and Gardening for wildlife.

I was warmly welcomed by all, and it was wonderful to see the interest in my topics, even if i've yet to find a group that have gardeners that know what their soil pH is!

Blue Iris-1
I did 7 consultations for clients this year. Walking them round their gardens, telling them about the plants health and positioning, plus giving them design advice and suggestions of plants and products that will save them time and money. - This is fewer than in previous years, but as I did 9 Planting projects, some of them with 2 or 3 borders, it balanced itself out.

You can see some of the projects that I did, like Mediterranean borders, or a Garden next to a main road, or a Raised bed border on the border planting catergory of the blog, - and i'll be going back to them next year to get more photos to update you. I also got a Christmas card saying that I should go and look at a landscaping projects that's been completed for a design that I did, - something for the new year when it's drier.

I also did lots of maintenance with the help of Helen and Paula, of projects that we've completed over the last few years. - Going back to them on a regular or even occasional basis is great to see how they are growing into their spaces. Keeping weeds under control and propagting plants to fully fill borders is something that is very rewarding, but pretty hard work, - so i'm grateful of the company while I weed.

As well as weeding for clients this year, i've had an allotment to keep under control. - I'm guessing that 2012 has been a pretty steep learning curve for lots of gardeners weather wise, - but after the comparitive ease of growing in raised beds in my back garden, we've had to contend with mice, slugs, rabbits, deer, slugs, blight, flood, parakeets and slugs (did I mention them?) at our plot, so we were pretty pleased to get any harvests. and I have to admit that it wasn't a solo effort, I got lots of help from my boys. (yes in all weathers, aren't they great!)

Allotment boys-1
So 2012 has been a really good year for me. I spent 2 weeks cheering and crying at the Olympics, I've eaten fresh food from my garden and allotment every week this year (it got a bit close in early June, - but herbs and salads covered the gap!). I've had great support for my business from my family, friends and clients, (thanks all) and i've built a network of fantastic local and social media business friends that help when I come up with interesting, mad and new ideas for next year, - and i'll tell you more about that in 2013.

Happy New Year to you.

Cutflowers cornflower (1 of 1)


RHS Shades of Autumn Show

Today I found myself, in the first week of halfterm, with an unexpected morning of childcare, and a few hours not assigned to a client garden.

So I jumped on a train up to London and took myself off to the Horticultural halls to the RHS's Shades of Autumn Show.

The hall was very colourful, with not only Autumnal shades of flowers and Foliage, but hangings decorating the hall.

I wrote about my visit to the February show with my son in tow, which I really enjoyed, but without him being there this morning, I could ask questions about the things that have been puzzling me this season.

I managed to talk to stall holders about Chrysanthemums (should have cut mine back in July, that's why they are long and leggy). Chillis, - apparently my fave Cherry Bomb isn't available any more as its been bought by monsato, - and I should leave the rest of them on the plant to ripen as they won't do as my tomatoes have done and go red on the window sill.

I also introduced myself to the Plantagogo Heuchera gang, who I know through Twitter, and discussed Vine weevil and how to get them to reroot if the little blighters have eaten the root ball off. Plus I had a lovely chat about Dahlias, which I think are my new favourite plant, and I think will definately be, if the advice I've been given gets my plants through the winter and flowering again next year.

A very successful morning and worth the hours spent playing Monopoly yesterday to get a while to myself.

The show is still on tomorrow (Wednesday) so if you're near Victoria or can spare a couple of hours to get there, it is well worth a visit

Allotment progress 8 months on, - and special visitors

Last September, - you might remember that my family were allocated a rather special allotment. I havn't written about it much, - but that doesn't mean that we havn't been (regularly) working it, and harvesting our crops, - particularly to go with our Sunday Roasts.


It's been a real family affair. - I've been down there on my own only a handful of time, - mostly it's all 3 of us.


This is our plot in all it's glory yesterday, - when we were visited by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and lots of other important local people including our Mayoress. We were asked lots of questions and William proudly showed them round, - including pointing out the eaten pea plants (rabbits or deer we're not sure what's evading the perimeter fence)


The rest of the volunteers at the Grace and Flavour garden (over the wall in the photo) also got to show off their acheivements and then in the best of british traditions, there was lots of tea and cake.

Well done to Su and Bob for organising the day, and all the G & F community gardeners and allotmenteers for being there to show off what we've acheived in the last couple of years.

What do you do? - A week in the life of Plantpassion

I'm going to admit to shamelessly pinching the idea for this post from Rona at Flowerona, who posts an update of her (always very exciting) week each Saturday.

As i've been asked several times just this week, - what is it that you do?, - I thought i'd give you the behind the scenes look at the glamourous ! life of an expert gardener.


During the winter, I get weekends with my family, - but as soon as spring appears, Saturdays are for seeing new customers and doing consultations in their gardens.

The morning started with my 6 weekly Chiropractor appointment, with Alain at Guildford Chiropractic Centre

Then I went off to see Mrs W, who i'd done a consultation and planting plan for last year, but life got in the way of completing the plant move.

This is the border last year, - the aim is to add more height and interest later in the year, in a traditional cottage border style (without quite as much work) in pinks and purples.

We reviewed the border in it's 2012 state, - we also talked through redesigning the herb bed on the other side of the garden.

I then went to do a new Consultation for a couple very locally to me (I walked, that's the 2nd customer in the last 3 months that are soo close) They've recently had a deck built so that they can sit outside and enjoy entertaining friends. However at the moment the rest of the garden isn't much to look at, so we talked through the plants they have, what we can improve and move around, and i'm doing a planting plan for them to give the colour and effect they want at the edge of the decking.


The key project for today was to take down our old greenhouse, to make way for our new one. As I wasn't quite tall enough to help without getting directed (shouted at) We called in help from our friends Dana Leigh and David, So while the guys did the greenhouse, we went and pruned some apple trees at Grace and Flavour - (yes in the rain, and I did moan incessantly, but we didn't stop until we'd finished) We then had a lovely lunch in front of the fire to defrost and dry out.


Monday morning is almost always admin for me. I hate paperwork, so try to get it out of the way early in the week. Invoices, emails, phonecalls updating my website and blog are all monday morning jobs. Then I also found time to visit a couple of local nurseries for bits and pieces needed for clients this week, before pick up and my Son's swimming lesson.

The evening was a meeting for the organic team of Grace and Flavour. - Really for me, this is a chat in the pub about plant varieties. I unwisely took my ipad with me to look up details, and by the time I got home i'd ordered several books -  for research obviously



A regular gardening session today, - one of the 5 gardens I go to every month. This town garden has a very sunny side and a very shady side, and this was the first time since November the shady border had been defrosted, so I had a great session cutting back, weeding and pruning everything into shape. This was the garden I keep the ivy trimmed to its junvenile form.

After finishing there, I had to dash across Guildford to take photos of a project that I gave advice for last year, where the hardscaping has now been completed. I took lots of pics so that I can plan the plants and trees for the borders, and the transformation that has taken place is amazing.


Another regular client, and one where i've now developed 4 borders over the last 6 years. There are now plans to move the garden on even further, so a garden designer has been called in to give a big picture of how to change things. I was introduced to her today, and she seemed very nervous to meet me, saying she didn't want to take over, but i'm far too close to this garden, having been in it monthly for the last 6 years to come up with something completly different in a concept design.  I'll get the pleasure of moving the current plants around into the new borders that will be created.

Most of the session was made up of weeding, but I pruned roses, moved around some seedlings, and dug up some Asters that were creeping too close to the lawn. These will be potted up and sold at the plant fairs i'm taking part in May.

I also planted up a container with some spring colour, using the fantastic homemade compost that's been brewing at the bottom of the garden.


Luckily there was football on TV this evening, so there were no complaints when I spent the evening doing planting lists


The start of today was totally non garden related, - A coffee morning for School mums, - although it was held at Squires, and gardening did come up in conversation. (so actually can't get away from the garden stuff can I)

I then headed off to my local nursery to pick up an order - and off to my client for planting 2 woodland edge borders with Hellebores and Sarcococcas. Plus 2 trees to add to a border I planted there last spring. The 2nd tree took longer to plant than I thought (serves me right for getting a good deal on a multistemmed birch and upping the spec) but luckily Hubby was working from home, so did the school run.

I got home just in time to gather up all my bits together for this evening's talk.  - To the Southern Branch of the National Vegetable Society, about Herbs. It was just down the road in East Horsley Village Hall, so not far to go, and they were a very appreciative audience who also totally destroyed my preconceptions of Vegetable Society members being older gents with caps who grow Vegetables far too big to be edible.


Friday is my gardening club day. I try and get in some exercise after school drop off, - but as i'm walking or swimming, i'm planning at least 3 activities of 10-15 minutes for each of the 3 age groups of children that I take. The first group at lunchtime is the reception children, - who are all very enthusiastic, but not terribly skilled at their hoeing, hole digging and seed sowing. The next group are the year 3's - 7 & 8 yr olds, who are by now worldly wise and think after 2 years they know all about gardening. I then get a break for a sandwich, and have an hour to weed, replant and harvest crops ready to sell to parents before group 3 (yr 1 & 2) after school.

By 4.10pm when i'm finishing clearing up after 3 lots of activites i'm a lot more tired than when i've done a full day of gardening, - or is that just that it's the end of the week?

Goodbye old friend, Hello new gardening opportunities

This weekend, I said goodbye to an old friend. For the last 15 years, i've spent most Sundays, and quite a few evenings in their company, in the warm, enjoying my gardening.

But now it's time to say goodbye to make room for a bigger more grown up friendship.


For the last 15 years, my Alton Cedar Greenhouse has been my partner in gardening. It was presented to me with a big bow around it for Christmas the year we moved into our first house, we'd asked all our friends and family for money towards it, and still it bust our budget, but it was soooo worth it, and over the years it has produced plants worth many many times it's value.

So at a time of year when most people have greenhouses full to the rafters, - i've had to clear mine out.

My windowsills are full, - and i'm delaying sowing a lot of things as the new one should be arriving in 2 weeks.

In the meantime, - the team from Wimbledon Garden services will be making me a new base and building the dwarf wall for my grownup plant house.

i'll keep you updated with the progress.