Help. I need more space….

Cally's new patch

This cry is nothing new. My family will tell you that I frequently bemoan the lack of space there is in which to store books, propagate plants and stash the paraphenalia of life. However I have  reached the point of not having enough space in which to grow all those plants I started from seed and are ready to pop in the ground. For the first time ever. It’s a disaster! What’s a girl to do?

Get another plot of course!

Better still, get two!

The first is in the garden, where our dear late chickens used to live. We hadn’t got around to re-turfing it and so I suggested to the man I have shared my life with for the past quarter of a century that it would be much better used as a flower patch. In a weak moment he agreed!! I planted it up before he could change his mind and ordered some germander plants from Catherine at Pepperpot Herbs to make a bee- friendly hedge. Job done.

But I still have a lot of seedlings to plant out. I cleared the allotment beds which had been planted with spring bulbs for cutting not knowing where this year’s bulbs would go. On a whim I mentioned this to the staff at the Children’s Centre, where I used to run a ‘Get Growing’ project. The management of the centre has now changed, funding is in decline and their outside space is no longer used. An overgrown plot with three raised beds and potential for more is perfect, isn’t it?

As you see there’s plenty to do, but I’ve made a start by covering the beds with weed suppressant membrane. The next step is to strim the nettles, lay down some more mulch, set up a compost heap and rainwater harvesting and pop in some shrubs which can be used in arrangements.

I feel a weekend working party with coffee and cake and a pot luck lunch coming on.

By the Autumn it should be ready for a job lot of narcissi, tulips, alliums and ranunculus. It’s a gradual transformation. It’ll take time but at least I’ve taken the first few steps.

In the news today ….climate change, young horticulturists and Marks and Spencer

school flower patchYes. It is April 1st and the papers carry the odd joke story. Sadly a recent article in The Telegraph tweeted this morning, snortily comparing the new breed of ‘Young Horts’ who grow cucamelons on balconies in milk cartons, throw seedballs on waste ground and plant sunflowers at bus stops with ‘old school’ chemical squirting, double digging obsessed gardeners has all the hallmarks of a filler because the hack who was supposed to come up with the April Fool’s joke ran out of inspiration. The real story is that many young people are getting the growing bug in the way their parents haven’t. For the first time since the war I sense there is a feeling of growing with a real purpose amongst young and old alike. Community orchards are springing up, people are experimenting with exotic crops on many a kitchen windowsill and cut flower patches are de rigueur. In some cities municipal planting is edible. Vertical growing and roof gardens are not just for hardcore nerds. You don’t have to be young to be part of this growing evolution but the young in particular get the climate change message, the need to plant year round for pollinators and the positive effect that local, seasonal crops can bring. They can also harness the power of social media to work collaboratively and get ideas off the ground quickly. Growing To Young Horts is cutting edge, changing the world stuff. And so it should be. Clearly the Telegraph thought better of their snorting and have given the Young Horts better coverage today.

Climate change is still big news with a report published yesterday indicating that people are now beginning to feel the effects of climatic change  and the need to do something about it. Even Marks and Spencer are pushing their green credentials with a new way of water free, more compact distribution of flowers, thereby conserving water and requiring fewer lorries on the road. Now I wouldn’t want to diss good old M and S. They’ve provided generations of the female members of my family with robust underwear and stockings but fewer lorries and the need for less water is – pardon the pun – a drop in the ocean. We need to think bigger where crops are concerned. Listen to what Young Horts and their older supporters have to say.

Thanks to Our Flower Patch we have our own branch of Young Horts at school. They’ve started selling our home grown blooms on Friday afternoons – no miles, no chemicals, recycled packaging (in jam jars), beautiful, fragrant, seasonal and much appreciated by our customers. Our young horticulturists enjoy making people happy, making a noise about it on the school blog, Facebook and Twitter and making money. They’re doing what their grandparents did – using what they have to grow what they can. Maybe in a year or two some of them will be fully fledged members of the Young Horts. I do hope so.

And THIS is today’s real news.




Gardeners’ Question Time – can you beat the experts?


A couple of weeks ago BBC Gardeners’ Question Time was being recorded in Bradford on Avon. What a perfect opportunity to get together with a few mates (‘virtual’ and otherwise) and get expert answers to a few horticultural puzzles? Michelle Chapman, Sara Willman and I met for a coffee beforehand and busily composed our questions in the space provided on tickets which were modelled on those oversized cheques presented to charities by people  who’ve spent whole days sitting outside supermarkets in a bath of baked beans. Michelle’s concerned inspirational planting for that knotty problem of a shady narrow front border surrounded by tarmac, public footpaths and municipal planting. (We’ve all wrestled with that at some point.) I wanted to know how to deter the local badger population from running amok in the school garden and Sara, who has her finger on the pulse of #britishflowers asked about ideas for extending the British cut flower season especially in a school cutting patch. (No. She doesn’t have a polytunnel but best not to mention that, as it’s a bit of a sore point.)

The Wiltshire Music Centre was packed with local gardeners most of whom were twice as old as me. The fact that it was 5.30pm on a school night and most of my contemporaries were at home deciding what to feed their children for supper goes some way to explain this. I spotted a few younger gardeners I knew. Presumably they too had bribed their husbands with a home made cottage pie to come home early and take over. A dozen or so questions were chosen-among them both Michelle’s and Sara’s. (Clearly badgers in the garden was a problem too far.)

The panel of Christine Walkden, Matthew Wilson and Matt Biggs were entertaining, knowledgeable and generous in their advice on matters ranging from growing in small spaces on the top of canal boats, problem brussel sprouts, mistletoe and competition parsnips. You can lsten to the recording here.

Sara’s question (about 20 minutes in) about extending the British cut flower season especially in school gardens received a fuller answer than the one broadcast. Successional sowing and using seasonal foliage and grasses was also mentioned but there may be more to say. This is where you come in. What would you grow in a cut flower patch especially with children – so no foxgloves or other potentially harmful plants? We’re looking for ideas for flowers, foliage and grasses to keep our budding flower farmers busy all year round.

Post your answer in the comments section below or tweet me (@countrygate) and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a prize. I haven’t decided what it is yet but it’s likely to be something to grow and will be drawn out of my gardening hat by one of the apprentices in a couple of weeks.

Go on. All the kudos of beating the experts and a prize into the bargain? How can you resist?

Sweet inspiration

When the weather and my personal work Everest has allowed,  I’ve been out on the allotment tidying up for Winter. I fear the cutting patch has yielded the last of this year’s blooms and seeds – always a sad time. One of my most pressing  jobs is whacking down the frost -blackened dahlias and mulching. I know this is contrary to all the advice about lifting and storing your dahlia tubers. But, let’s face it, what ordinary grower has room for industrial quantities of tubers packed in buckets of sand or spent compost? In Wiltshire a few good inches of leafmould or compost will keep them warm over the Winter. No fuss gardening at its best.

Of course, there are always positives about the cold, wet, dark days of Winter for the grower. One of those is time to reflect, plan, take stock and look for inspiration for next year’s growing season. Having covered inspirational books recently, last week’s #britishflowers hour on Twitter highlighted inspirational flowery garden blogs. The list was extensive and will fill many a damp wintery afternoon with no problem at all and it will be Spring before we know it. Thanks to Sara Davison as always for the summary. You’ll find it in full on the Flowers from the Farm website.

I’ve picked my personal favourites – blogs which have a great story to tell, useful advice and are lovely to look at. In truth, I’m not big on blogs which exist merely to sell sell sell. I buy from real people telling real stories. Start with these and you won’t regret it.  Ben grows flowers on a field in Cornwall. His blog is a quirky mix of laid back organic gardening and easy to follow advice about growing flowers ‘to impress girls’.  Karen gardens at Trinity College in Cambridge and has spent the last season, in addition to her regular gardening work, growing cut flowers in an experimental way for the good folk who work there. Her blog is an honest account of of the less well known flowers to grow in your patch, what works in the ground and in the vase and what doesn’t. She knows oodles.  Lou knows all about allotment cut flower growing. So much so that she’s been commissioned to write a book which is out in March. Her blog is full of observational advice about growing all sorts of things and what to do with it.    Inspirational, aspirational and very pretty to look at. Maz and Becca’s blog tells the story of their flower field and their flower business in Cornwall.  Hardworking Karen at Peter Nyssen is a mine of information on bulbs, how to grow them and which varieties are best for your needs. She is also incredibly generous in her time and advice to all comers. Service efficient, quality superb.  This was the first blog I ever read. Tells the story of being a novice, acquiring an allotment and learning to grow right through to redesigning your home growing space, having a family and moving to another country as a skilled grower.

Once you’ve immersed yourself in these there are loads of others on the full list, recommended (or self-recommended) by the good #britishflower tweeps.

Happy reading.

pic courtesy of Sara Willman (@myflowerpatch), another inspirational and generous flowery friend. She seems to be reading a blog I recognise. 🙂

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

autumn colour flowers
Keats was pretty observant, wasn’t he? Autumn days round here invariable start in a grey mizzle but by the middle of the afternoon, the sun’s out and I’m harvesting a crop of something from the plot. It’s been a good year for Autumn Bliss raspberries; but not as good as last year. It’s been a good year for apples; much better than last year. And it’s been a fantastic year for cut flowers.
You may recall that after last year’s garlic rust and pitiful supply of runner beans, I threw a hissy fit and turned the allotment over to cut flowers. I haven’t regretted it for one moment. I’m still cutting enough for three massive vases every week and my fresh veg comes from the local box scheme. My salads have survived quite happily in containers at home as described here.

Now I’m positively evangelical about the benefits of growing cut flowers. Whereas local seasonal food is the flavour of the month (quite literally) local, seasonal cut flowers are still out in the cold (usually in a large refridgerated container making its way into this country from the other side of the world). Brides still want roses in December and florists can buy cheaper stems from Kenya at the wholesalers than from the flower farm down the road. You can’t find a fragrant bunch of sweet peas for love nor money at the supermarket in July. This is wrong.

I’m told that if you cultivate less than an acre of land – and, let’s face it, most of us do – cut flowers is the most profitable crop. Moreover you can grow them cottage style in your herbaceous borders, chop away at them and they keep on coming. Grow them alongside your veggies and your edible crops will be healthier and more abundant, due to the increase in pollinator activity and better biodiversity of your plot. That’s the science bit.

The romantic bit is that you’ll be able to fill vase after vase with gorgeous blooms well into the Autumn and have enough to share them with all your family,friends and neighbours. I guarantee they’ll give you the kind of welcome you never get when you attempt to dump your courgette glut on them.

But this isn’t the only kind of fruitfulness I’ve been the grateful recipient of this Autumn. Over the past few weeks I’ve been given plants on Freecycle, fruit from neighbours and swapped seeds and cuttings with friends. I’ve received a good few dollops of advice and a packet of red hollyhock seeds from gardening Twitter chums and we have foraged the lanes and woods for blackberries, elderberries, conkers and acorns. Our kitchen windowsill resembles the nature table at my primary school, back in the day.

The most exciting ‘fruiting’ at school has been that my half an hour of ‘extreme’ gardening with a small group of children at lunchtime has become an hour and a quarter of gardening every week with an entire class. I can’t stop smiling about the endless projects and possibilities this opens up. The garden has been resited due to building work and we’re starting from scratch with beds full of nettles and an empty poytunnel. We’ll be blogging about our progress here so if you run a gardening club or class at school and want to join us, you can see what we’re up to and get in touch. It’s a work in progress so bear with us for a week or two and I hope you’ll find it helpful. Sharing ideas and experiences week by week might bear fruit.

There’s still a few days left in September to sow some hardy annuals, start planting your daffodils and enjoy the fruits of the season. The youngest apprentice has been cultivating her photography skills and snapping a few shots. I’ve been posting them up on Twitter as #Septemberviews. We’ll make an album in due course.  Why not have a look at what we’ve spotted this month. Join in with your own if you like.

I’m rather partial to Autumn.

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