The last few weeks have heard a collective sigh of relief from our fellow flower farmers the length and breadth of the land as our so-called spring and that horrendously long winter have given way to the early stages of summer. It’s been a tricky and frustrating time for all of us gardeners but running a flower farm really magnifies the problems. We garden lovers well know the irresistible urge to foster new life as Winter turns toward Spring. That it took so long this year has really been tricky for us, the need to sow and plant versus the reality outside has been really challenging! We don’t have big polytunnels and we don’t use heat, so we have to accept what our fickle climate throws at us. We watched Mother’s Day and Easter sail by with not one single bloom on the farm. The small tunnel space that we do have has been crammed to the brim with eager seedlings waiting for the soil to warm and dry ready for planting. The dahlias are champing at the bit in their pots and by the time you read this their fat tubers will hopefully be exploring their newly enriched beds.
There’s no real break in the flower farming year. As soon as the dahlias succumbed to the first frosts in November, we had to divide, wrap and store them. That took a month, we have rather a lot! Seed sowing started as the new year rolled in. Meantime we spent the winter months preparing all the new beds that we’re bringing into production this year, any half decent day and we’ve been out there and most of the less decent ones! We use a no-dig method, simply laying as much organic matter and compost on the surface of the beds and letting the worms and mycorrhiza get to work, echoing the way a woodland lays down it’s leaves to form a rich soil beneath on the even the most inhospitable of terrains. It’s such a simple and labour saving system but the results are amazing and the soil that we’re planting into this year has improved in structure, workability and drainage.
I find gardening and growing endlessly fascinating and challenging, with so many joys and delights. Is there any thrill greater than watching seedlings germinate? That moment when a recalcitrant cutting finally takes root? The day that patiently cosetted plant finally springs into long awaited bloom?
If you recognise those delights, then we share something really special. There’s a basic urge in almost all of us to garden, whether recognised or not. The old cliche about us being a nation of gardeners is quite true. Our weather systems may be challenging at times but we enjoy a temperate climate which allows us, with a little ingenuity, to grow a stunning range of plants from all over the world. Gardeners are intensely aware of these seasons and the soil upon which we all depend, that connection with the ‘real’ world is an extraordinary gift. It lends some perspective on the pitiable antics of our species and offers the possibility for a path forwards. It’s easy to lose hope observing the shenanigans of our politicians and so-called leaders. I’d personally like to see the establishment of a ‘Garden Party’, where we concentrate our efforts on regreening this planet, nurturing and sharing the wonderful bounty that nature has gifted us. To stop squabbling over the meaningless accumulation of wealth and territory and to leave a better, cleaner, greener world for our children and grandchildren. We only have a short time on this amazing small world but in that time we could achieve so much.
Gardening seems to bring out the best in people. Gardeners tend to be happy and even if not, the solace that they find in the activity and delights of the garden have such positive benefits. Perhaps it’s all that time outside in the elements, (possibly a little too much this winter and spring!) being close to nature, busy observing, taking a break from the worries of the world. Somehow it helps to put things in perspective for me. I love visiting my gardening and botanist friends, they’re invariably optimistic, enjoying the present and planning for the future. Generous to a fault, there’s something about growing and propagating new life that makes you want to share it with your friends and fellow enthusiasts. There’s always something new to learn, to see a loved plant in a new context, or to simply marvel at their gifts for effortless planting combinations and style. I love that constant state of learning. It feels like a passion that you will never come to the end of. I’m happy with that.
©Paul Stickland First published in The Sherborne Times May 2018