Plants and flowers

Easy Autumn propagation for fantastic flowers next season

The next couple of weeks will be a busy time for me.

On our Surrey Chalk, where the winters are comparatively mild, and the ground is very well drained, Autumn sowings of Hardy annuals are really important. But what about if propagation isn't something you are familiar with?

How can you get early fantastic flowers next season?

Overwintered cornflowers

I grow most of my plants from seeds, but seed sowing, and pricking on, and planting out needs some knowledge, and you need to get the timings right. One way of taking out one of those processes and so enabling you to have bigger and better plants without as much work , is to buy plug plants.

If you're anything like me, you'll have had several catalogues drop through your door this week trying to tempt you, but is it worth getting plugs of your Winter bedding, or perennials or hardy annuals for next year?

There are some amazing bargains to be had ordering plug plants online, in comparison to buying plants ready grown at the Garden Centre. But that's only if you can grow on all the plants to full size. If you get a 30% or 50 % attrition rate, then they become an expensive way of buying. Here are some hints and tips when ordering your mail order plugs.

1) Don't order them if you're going to be away on holiday, or give the mail order company your holiday dates so they don't arrive while you're away

2) As soon as you order them, make sure that you have appropriate trays or pots plus compost. If you ordered a pack of 144 plants, you will need 144 pots or trays with 144 spaces. (This may seem obvious, but you never have quite as many as you think)

3) The week they are likely to arrive, leave a note out for your postman so that they don't take them away if you aren't in. My lovely postlady knows to leave mine in the greenhouse if they don't fit through the post box. (some companies have developed clever trays that fit through the slot)

4) AS SOON as they arrive, open up the tray and check if they need water. The photo below shows how some of the plugs i've had arrived very dry and needed dunking in a bowl of water to re-wet them. Look at the difference in colour or the compost of the 2 plugs. Sometimes one end of the pack is fine, and the other dry. (These plugs are Sweet Williams. Order now for flowers next June)

Dry plug against wet one

5) pot them up ASAP. If you can get your plugs in bigger trays or pots the day they arrive then they'll have a fantastic chance of them all surviving. - If not the chances of them staying healthy diminish rapidly each day. (these are perennial Monarda plants, Hayloft plants gave me a fantastic deal on these, which I hope will be giving lots of flowers next July in soft pinks and whites)

Planting plugs into tray

6) I usually sieve my compost when i'm sowing seeds and potting on. This may seem like a lot of faff, but the compost has to make good contact with the root system of the plugs if it is to grow on quickly and give you the strongest and most floriferous plants. The 3 most important ways for it to do this are

  •  not to have any larger lumps in the compost so the contact surface is even
  • use finger tips to ensure the compost is pushed into contact with the plug root
  • water well

7) Keep your pots and trays well watered, and the plugs will grow on quickly and strongly. As soon as you can see roots at the bottom they can be planted out. This is often in as short a time as 2-4 weeks.

I've used

J parkers, Hayloft plants, Thompson and Morgan and Jersey plants for plugs in the past. - All have different systems, all have given me good results if I've managed to get them planted up straight away. The only difficulties come if the post system goes awry, or if I'm not organised enough to have compost ready.

If you want to do more propagation give some plug plants a try this Autumn, or if you're feeling even more adventurous, come and do a workshop with me to learn how to propagate cut flowers from seeds, cuttings and bulbs.


Plantpassion Flowers at Hampton Court Palace Flower show

I'm really excited about this coming week. My Flowers are taking part in a display in the Roses and Floral Pavilion at Hampton Court Flower show.

Fftfcircuscaravan (1 of 1)

I'm part of a Flowers from the farm team of Artisan growers who have put together a circus themed flower display using only seasonally grown British Flowers.

I was at Hampton Court Yesterday as the displays were finished off. I can look at the pictures and say - I grew that!

Fftfcircushorseandheaddress (1 of 1)

(in this photo, that's the Red Sweet William, the Dianthus Green Trick and the Achillea Ptarmica the Pearl!)

Our display was very different to the others going up in the pavilion, - There are lots of Chrysanthemums, Succulents, and tropical flowers being used, so ours is on a different track completely.

If you are coming to Hampton Court this week, - do pop by and say Hello. - We are stand RF3 - it looks like this.

Fftf display (1 of 1)

I'll be there on Tuesday, Thursday and then on Saturday i've got a speaking gig.

Speakingat Hampton Court-1

I'm going to be doing a talk and floral demonstration entitled - Your Garden in a vase. - Look, - it's really happening, that's my photo on the board outside the marquee, along with "Celebs" like Simon Lycett and Toby Buckland. My allotment neighbours have already told me they're going to come along and heckle!, - so if you are going to be at Hampton Court at 2.00pm on Saturday, please come and join them, so I have a couple of people watching me.

Scent in the garden and the vase

Scented red rose (1 of 1)

When you see a picture of a red rose, - do you imagine it with scent?

The first reaction of about 95% of those receiveing bouquets from me is to stick their nose in it. - Scent is a very powerful sense, and our noses can identify about 50000 different smells.

Catching the scent of an object or flower can trigger memories. The smell of Jasmine for me brings back memories of a long ago Turkish holiday where we had breakfast in a shaded garden by a pool with a fountain.

Particularly in the summer garden, when we spend time outside, it's lovely to have perfume from plants as well as colour, and evening is a great time to make the most of it, - so here are my top performers to add to your garden, and your vase.

Scented Trachelospermum (1 of 1)

Trachelospermum Jasminoides - (Common Name, Star Jasmine)

I walked into Squires Garden Centre the other day, and they had a wonderful plant of this at the entrance,- a great way to greet customers, and put me in a great buying mood for my visit.

Trachelospermum has made it's way into a lot of the planting plans that I do. - It's evergreen, - not too rampant, but will grow enough to cover an arch, and it has wonderful scented flowers in July and August.

I particularly like the variety "Wilsonii" which also has autumn foliage colours.

Scented Mint (1 of 1)

Mint, - Corsican mint and Apple mint.

We use loads of mint in our bouquets, and it gives a fresh scent, that everyone can identify. If you use it in a garden, plant it by a path, so you can brush past it and let it release its aroma into the air. to keep it at it's scented best, - cut it back hard to the ground if it starts going rusty or getting eaten.

Sweet peas (1 of 1)

I'm just about to take the first batch of Sweet peas out of the polytunnel, - they've flowered for 6 weeks solidly, and now i'm on to plants that are outside and were Spring sown. The ones on my patio on a Huge tub are yet to flower, but hopefully they'll be giving me evening scent to accompany my evening glass of wine during the Summer holidays.

This has got to be one of the most scented flowers that I grow, and when I sell it at farmers markets, I often get asked for them "as Grandma used to grow them"

Even in these days of flower freighting, - they can't get Sweet peas to us from abroad with their perfume intact, so grow these Hardy Annuals in your own garden and you'll be rewarded with week after week of jam jars full of scent.

Sweet williams (1 of 1)

My favourite scent from this season so far though, has to come from my Sweet Williams. - They are Biennials, so if you'd like them in your garden next year, - now is the time to sow seeds, - or buy plug plants this Autumn. In a range of colours from white, through the pinks to the reds and purples, - they make a great garden plant, and are wonderful in a vase.

Others that I suggest for trying round your patio are Stocks, Nicotiana, Lemon balm (like mint, best in a pot) Jasmine, and Dianthus. - And for larger spaces in your garden, - Choisya Ternata, Philadelphus Belle Etoile, Jasmine Officinale and  of course Roses. - The picture at the top is Munstead Wood.

Any i've summer ones i've missed? - What scent reminds you of memories from long ago?



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.....








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.


How to make your Flower Bouquet last longer

It's a week since Valentine's day. - If you were lucky enough to get British Flowers for your bouquet, then the flowers will be just over a week old since they were cut. They are likely to be still be alive, but after being in fresh, outside conditions for most of their lives coming inside to your living room or Kitchen will be something of a shock. - Here's how to make your flowers last that bit longer.

Week old valentine bouquet

This is my bouquet, - i've been away for a couple of days, and it's been in the kitchen. - it's run out of water, and I didn't get round to cutting the hand tie.

The tulips have carried on growing, so what was originally nestled in the bouquet, is now flopping. There are some Narssisus that have had too long without water, and some of the foliage is looking a bit yellow.

So i've taken out anything that is dead or looking brown. - I've moved the tulips down in the bunch, so that they are once again snuggled in amongst the other flowers.

The next step is to cut the ends of the stems, so that they have a chance of taking up water again.

Cutting stems

Scissors are fine for most bulbs and flowers, but foliage may need secateurs. You can cut on a slant, - this is meant to aid water take up, - but i've not found any difference, so mine all just get cut to the same length so that they fit square in the vase.

Take off anywhere between 1 and 3 centimetres depending on the type of flower. - this may mean that your vase is now too tall, and you need to change container. - Or maybe put something in the bottom of the vase to raise the flower level.

Clean out the vase, - I use a splash of bleach and a bottle brush to make sure there is no slime that can make the water turn colour. - Then fill with clean cool water.

You've now got a bouquet that will hopefully last another few days at least.

Redone bouquet

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 -

Herbs for the new planting season

The temperature has suddenly dropped, the sides on my Polytunnel have had to be lowered for the first time in months, and the phone has rung with 3 planting enquiries in the last 2 days.

It must be time for autumn planting, and September and October are THE best time of the year to put in shrubs and perennials. They get their roots in while the soil is warm, and then can romp away fast as soon as the temperature rises next year.

Trolley of herbs from pepperpot (1 of 1)
This morning's main job was to go and collect this tray of beauties from my favourite herb nursery - Pepperpot Herbs

My truck smelt wonderful as I came back through the Surrey countryside, and the lemon balm, lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, germander, and chives will all be used a demonstrators at the next Herbs and Salads talks and workshops that i'm doing, before being planted at Hill top farm to give me fantastic flowers and foliage next year.


Hampton Court 2013 preview, Summer flowers everywhere

After a picking and watering session this morning, I had a lovely afternoon at the Hampton Court Flower show Press day.

Hot, Hot, Hot is going to be the theme for the week at the largest of the RHS annual shows, - and it was appropriate that I was mainly looking for high summer flowers.

Last year, I noticed that Orange was much in evidence, and that colour theme has contined this year, - with the oranges being mixed in with almost every other colour palatte.

HC 2013 Eremurus -1
The Rose of the year for 2014, is also a peachy orange, Called Lady Marmelade, but i'm not sure with those wicked thorny stems it will be used for a cut flower. Lady of Shalot was another peachy orange Rose that was featured in several places.

HC 2013 Lady Marmelade rose-3
My Mum had sent me photos from her garden of a similar Rudbeckia to the Cherokee Sunset below. It does start flowering now, if you can get it to overwinter.

HC 2013 cut flower displays-2
The Allium (Passion), Sweet peas and Alstroemerias will all be on my shopping list for this Autumn.

It may be because I'm working more with Cut flowers now than last year, but I spotted Annuals, and cutting Biennials and Perennials everywhere in the Show gardens.

HC 2013 summer gardens-4
Achillea and Eryngiums are often on show at Hampton Court, - but I havn't seen Cerinthe used before, - like in the sunken garden, landscaped by local firm Bushy Business.

The Low cost Category was back again this year, and the gardens were again great, - in fact almost indistinguishable from the other "Summer " gardens.

HC 2013 orange gardens-5
I'm back at the show tomorrow, but with friends and my son, so it will be very interesting to look at things from other people's viewpoints.



When less is more - no pruning, low maintenance, great results

This weekend, I returned to a garden which i've been helping develop borders in over the last year. - I'll be blogging about the borders over the coming weeks, as we're rather pleased with how they look at the moment, but today I wanted to show you that sometimes, doing nothing is better.

Osmanthus Burkwoodii no pruning-1
This Shrub / tree is Osmanthus, probably Burkwoodii, - I wish this blog had smellivision, as the scent from it was wonderful.

When I first visited this garden, it had regular work done on it, but unfortunately the gardeners were rather keen on pruning, and not so keen on removing ground elder and bindweed. This Osmanthus had been neatly clipped

Osmanthus burkwoodii before-2
As a result, there were hardly any flowers, - the flower buds had all been cut off. This year, - it hasn't been touched, at all, - and the results are rather spectacular. That's the kind of low maintenance gardening results I like.