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Star Performers, Omphalodes and Zinnia

There have been a few absolute stand out star performers at Black Shed this year. ( dozens actually but this article has to be around 600 words, not 6000 ) These are plants that have really exceeded their brief. It's a tough one too, they have to be easy to germinate and grow in the very considerable quantities that we need, not just one or two, or a casual dozen, we need hundreds.

Beyond this they have to work well as a cut flower, to be useful to a busy florist, to have a useful vase life and to blend and enhance other species in a bouquet or arrangement.

One such star is the demure and ethereal beauty, Omphalodes linifolia. I was first introduced to it many years ago by those extraordinary plantsfolk, Nori and Sandra Pope, during their magical years creating the wonderful garden at Hadspen. Dear Nori has recently passed away but he has left an extraordinary legacy of knowledge and plantsmanship, touching the hearts and gardens of all those who knew him. I was always struck by the subtle beauty of this flower and when we started the flower farm I wondered how it would work as a cut flower. Seedlings germinated, flowered and it was immediately apparent that this rare beauty was going to be very popular. It has the most beautiful sage green foliage and soon produces the most exquisite tiny white flowers, which have an amazing vase life and even when the flowers fall, the starry glaucous bracts are simply divine. Understandably, it is adored by our florists, a very classy addition to any bride's bouquet. It also has the welcome habit of self seeding in great quantities and even better, being a hardy annual, of surviving our recent winters.

At the other end of the spectrum is another spectacularly useful cut flower, the Zinnia. I have to admit that, until we started a cut flower farm, I hadn't given Zinnias a thought. I'd seen them of course but considered them too brash, an explosion of rather coarse colours and forms. Seeing how they figured high on other flower farmers must have lists, it was clearly time to abandon my prejudices and explore their charms. It didn't take long to see the error of my ways. Sure, there are some varieties that can stay in their seed packets. The large Benary Giant series have been bred to grow huge strongly coloured blooms, repeat flowering all summer but their colours are unsubtle, even glaring at times and are difficult to use in a mixed bouquet. Fine as a jug full of colour but not really for me. There are dozens of other mixes, from the bicolour Jazzy, to the self coloured Oklahomas but they leave me a little cold. When you get to the Zinderella varieties, things get more interesting, Zinderella Peach is really lovely. We had a lot of self sown seedlings this year, our Agapanthus patch is full of some real gems, tiny rainbow pops of colour.

The stars for me are the Queen Lime varieties. Queen Lime itself is gorgeous, a really unusual double form in a very rare pale green, making a beautiful focal flower in a bouquet. Then there are the Queen Red Lime and Queen Orange Lime shown here. They have to be one of my favourite flowers to harvest. The variety of forms and colours that these plants provide is quite unique, no two flowers are the same, even on the same plant. The blend of colours makes them useful in a lot of different ways. They blend with so many other colours and, with the current trend for subtle, almost sombre colours, have become a firm favourite with us and our florists alike. Luckily they're very easy to grow, don't sow them until early May and be very careful transplanting them, they don't like disturbance and perform very well if sown direct. You'll have flowers in weeks, they barely need any water and will flower until the first frosts. Perfect!

All images and text © Paul Stickland First published in the Sherborne Times October 2019


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