There’s never a boring month at Black Shed but the imminent arrival of spring is a really special time of the year for us all. 2017 was pretty amazing and we have very exciting plans for 2018. We’re expanding our range of gorgeous cut flowers and bringing hundreds of square metres of new beds into production. People loved our Pick Your Own Sundays last year, so we’ve redesigned the site to cater for these popular family days. As a result, we’re completely surrounded by new life: cuttings are sprouting and bulbs are pushing eager noses above ground. Last year’s perennials are showing fresh and thrilling signs of growth. We’re planting seeds by the thousand, imagining drifts and spires of colour later in the season. The polytunnel and cloches are brim full of tray upon tray of seedlings growing on in the shelter, waiting for the weather to improve and for the soil to warm up so that they can be planted in the rich deep earth here at Blackmarsh Farm.
Very soon our foliage plants, trees and shrubs will be arriving. We’ve set aside a large area to grow this indispensable ingredient of any cut flower farm. It’s a big investment in time, space and money but one that we have to make as soon as possible, as it will take some years for these slower-growing shrubs to reach a size where we can harvest the amounts that we will need.
There’s a simple flower farmer’s rule: you should grow one third focal flowers, one third fillers and one third foliage.
Focal flowers include Dahlias, Foxgloves, Delphiniums, Larkspur, Cosmos, Rudbeckias, Echinacea, Zinnias and Scabious. We won’t be growing Roses, Peonies or Lilies. Roses can be quite fickle and take years to establish, by which time the chosen varieties may have fallen out of fashion. They are also really expensive to buy! Peonies are similarly costly and only flower for a couple of weeks. Lilies have been plagued by the handsome but deadly Lily Beetle in recent years. If we need these flowers, there are plenty of specialist British growers who can supply us via the Flowers From The Farm network.
Fillers are really important and you need a huge amount all season long! Luckily there’s plenty of choice: white, primrose, terracotta and pink Achillea, Amaranthus plumes and tassels in green, pink, tan and burgundy. Umbellifers are great, (hedge parsley is lovely), Ammi and Orlaya are staples, along with the carrot relative Daucus and florist’s Fennel. Perhaps more unusual is Didiscus in pale blue, pink and white. We love Linaria, Nicandra, Nigella, Salvia viridis in pink, white and violet, Cornflowers in all shades of blue and mauve, Corncockle in white and lilac, our pretty native Scabious, Knapweeds and fashionable Gypsophila and Verbena. Grasses are another essential part of the mix for us as they give such vibrancy and rhythm to arrangements and bouquets. Great blocks of Pennisetum, Eragrostis, Deschampsia and Molinia look as stunning in the field as they do in bouquets.
For foliage we’ve ordered native Hornbeam and Beech, Field Maple and Birch, which will form hedges to offer us and our plants some shelter from the wind as well as providing some fine foliage for us. Cornus and Willow for their flaming stems, Eucalyptus and Cardoon for their gorgeous structural greys and blues, Lavenders and Rosemary for scent and colour, Pittosporums with their delicious dark stems and shining leaves, Photinias for their glowing red young growth and Sarcococca for winter foliage and scent when you need it most. Also, my favourite rare evergreen Phillyrea for sheer elegant sophistication, and the florist and bride’s choice, Hydrangeas in palest green and white. Long tendrils and sprays are in fashion and a lot of florists have asked for climbing plants such as Jasmine, Clematis, Ivy, annual and perennial Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums and Hops. Box too: the ever suave Buxus sempervirens and unusual treats such as the shining, large-leaved rotundifolia to the rare and interesting harlandii and balearica. Then there’s the children of an elegantly branched variety spotted decades ago deep in the woods above Sherborne...
It’ll take years to achieve the range of flowers and foliage that we desire and we’re far from the garden we dream of but we can’t wait to see how the flower field is going to look in this our second and much anticipated season.
©Paul Stickland This article first appeared in The Sherborne Times, February 2018.
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