I first met Sara Willman in July when she came on one of my Macro Taster Workshops and brought her own flowers with her. I soon discovered she was an Artisan Flower Grower who ran My Flower Patch and specialised in growing cut flowers for florists, flower clubs and local businesses.
I’m currently in the middle of restructuring a very large amount of my garden and, after meeting Sara, I decided to include a cutting patch in my plans. So I arranged to visit My Flower Patch in September to find out a little more about growing cut flowers. And to see what sort of things I should include and any hints and tips I could glean. I had already discussed my plans with Sara and she was more than happy to cater to my requirements. As a photographer I’m looking for flowers I can photograph, can give me more variety in the flowers I use on my workshops and not the same old supermarket ones, and more importantly flowers that attract a wide range of insects.
My Flower Patch is about 1/4 acre of land located on the edge of the village of Upavon in the Pewsey Valley in Wiltshire. It’s here that Sara runs her cut flower business with her mother Ann Barton-Greenwood.
On this small plot of land they grow over 200 different types of flowers throughout the season. Using a mixture of bulbs, annuals, biennials, tubers, shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses, plus the odd fruit stem, they create weekly arrangements for local businesses, sell a large number of bouquets at the village store and the local garden centre as well as fulfil any individual requests they receive each week. It’s impossible to imagine that number of different flowers in one small space but the different flowering times makes it possible to have flowers from Spring through to late Autumn/early Winter.
All the flowers are grown in rows with plenty of well-rotted manure, the rows to allow easy access to the plants for cutting and maintenance.
The “in season” dahlias are also grown in rows but in the new raised beds installed earlier this year. Like all traditional farmers Sara practises crop rotation but is not frightened to experiment and try new things, like the raised beds. The dahlias love it.
At the moment Sara does not have the space for an on-site poly-tunnel at the flower patch so everything is grown in the greenhouse at home and then planted on. This year she’s also been comparing the differences with direct sowing and those grown in the greenhouse and had mixed results so will continue to raise the majority of her seeds in the greenhouse and the newly acquired mini-poly-tunnel at home.
Although I was slightly surprised not to find any poly tunnels I was even more surprised to see so many plants packed into some of the rows but was reminded that they are a crop and not designed to be planted in the traditional garden layout.
The other thing that really struck me was how many varieties were in flower. Although they are planted in rows they appear to have been deliberately planted so neighbouring colours compliment each other. Not sure if it’s on purpose or not but it looks great.
As well as flowers, a variety of grasses, seeds head and berries can also be found growing at My Flower Patch providing additional interest to both the planting and the bouquets. I’ve noted the names of a couple of them, caterpillar grass, bunny’s tail grass and one that explodes, and will be including them in my list of “must have” plants. Along with a Hypericum and a Nicandra or two.
Not only does Sara advise on growing cut flowers but she also goes into great detail on how to cut, look after and prepare flowers, known as conditioning, ready for use in bouquets and arrangements. I regularly attend flower arranging classes so knew a little about conditioning but learnt a few more tricks during my visit.
Sara runs a variety of courses for those wanting to learn more about flower farming and starting your own cutting patch and flower arranging workshops. Obviously my requirements were a little different but she was more than happy to accommodate. In the pipeline for this Winter is a Christmas themed workshops and a wreath making workshop so keep your eye open for details as I know places will go quickly.
I came away with a greater understanding of what I want to do in my own garden and what I need to do to achieve it. I was also armed with plant and seed catalogues and a number of little seed envelopes that Sara had kindly collected for me AND a gorgeous bunch of dahlias.
Would I like to become one of the expanding group of British Flower Growers? Maybe, if I was 10 years younger I would seriously contemplate it, especially as there doesn’t appear to be any growers in my neck of the woods, or if the magic numbers came up. But for now I am more than happy to potter around in my own little patch.
Right, that’s a selection of the Autumn flowers covered . . . now for Spring and Summer!
All images taken on 20th September 2015.