It’s a challenge to find any flowers to pick on the flower farm at the moment. One of the very few is pretty little Scabiosa ochroleuca, which hasn’t been without a cloud of flowers since early spring. A close relative of our equally beautiful native wild Scabious, it’s also one of the very first plants that I ever bought and I’ve had it with me in every garden since then. Very easy from seed, modest in size and requirements but beloved by bees and butterflies, it has graced countless bouquets and arrangements all season long.
Some species have a much shorter season of flower. Such as the tulips, which are all tucked up in their winter beds now. They have to be planted once the weather has cooled down, to minimise the risk of tulip fire, which can decimate a crop. They were planted in November in long trenches, very close, virtually shoulder to shoulder. This seems a little counterintuitive but all the energy that they need to grow and flower is already stored inside each bulb. This close proximity means that we can grow a huge number of tulips in a remarkably small space. We had the most wonderful success with them last year and we hope to build on that this year.
There’s little point in growing the common varieties that you see in the supermarkets, we simply can’t beat the factory farmed prices of the the dutch growers. What we like to grow are the specialist varieties. The exquisite Parrots, with their weird combinations of colours and eccentric forms, white, violet and black, others, such as tulip Estella Rijnveld, marbled and flecked with spectacular red and white. Our favourite last year was White Lizard, an incredible blend of white, ivory, with a flame of the most delicate lilac. They simply flew out of the field to grace those early spring wedding tables and bouquets.
Then there are the highly sought after doubles, such as La Belle Epoque, a very subtle blend of blush and beiges, ideal for brides or just as a ravishing and very long lasting table display. We don’t avoid the singles entirely, there are so many amazing shades available, the ever popular Apricot Beauty, subtle Menton, or the smouldering Brown Sugar.
Meantime we’ve been pre-sprouting, planting and nurturing our gorgeous Anemones and Ranunculus. Pre-sprouting involves soaking the dried and wizened corms and claws in water for 24 hours to plump them up. Our Anemones have been carefully bred to produce long, strong stems, in the most gorgeous colours, whites with a blue eye, pale pastels in shades of lilac, pink and grey, along with the darker blues, reds and violets. The Ranunculus, the rarified and exotic cousin of our humble buttercup, now come in a delectable range of pastels and picotee forms. These varieties are simply not available to the amateur gardener, they have to be imported in bulk from Israel and France by the thousand. With a little luck we’ll see the first of these beauties in very early spring. If we had a greenhouse or a bigger polytunnel we would probably have both in flower for Christmas. Perhaps next year?
For this Christmas we’re selling some very special Nordman christmas trees. We’ve turned our grain silo HQ into a magical and very colourful fairyland full of the dried flowers and grasses grown on our field in the heat of the summer. It was an amazing year for the drieds and having a silo is the ideal place to dry and display them. The resurgence of interest in dried flowers has taken us slightly by surprise and it’s something we’ll be growing a lot more of in 2019. Along with everything else!
©Paul Stickland First published in the Sherborne Times, December 2018