Stormy weather, Valentine’s hearts and an education.


It seems that stormy weather has been unconfined this week – outside my window and even on my PC. As a teacher I’m all too aware that children are whipped up to a frenzy by high winds and it would seem that the same is true for parts of the Twitter community, much of it centering on this ‘bouquet’ – for sale to you at £195 (including vase).

For those of you who don’t know, it is this year’s ‘ultimate’ Valentine’s Day bouquet from big business Interflora in collaboration with the RHS. Every flower was chosen because of its symbolism. A flowery expression of love. Yet it has whipped up members of the relatively small but passionate and vocal British flower growing industry because of its lack of seasonality and ‘Britishness’, something which they would like the RHS to take on board.

A little investigation reveals that, in fact, the RHS has taken seasonality and ‘Britishness’ on board by linking with Tregothnan, the ancient Cornish estate which takes its sustainable credentials seriously and supplies beautiful, seasonal cut flowers. It’s just that the RHS are not exclusively promoting British-grown, cut flowers.

Whatever your views on the aesthetic beauty (or lack of it) of the Interflora bouquet, its homage to the language of flowers, the tightrope that charities have to walk between awareness raising and fundraising (often by their links with big business) and the need for all businesses (multi national and artisan) to make money, it has certainly caused a bit of a stir. It has also confirmed my long-held feeling that the key to changing people’s attitudes about local, seasonal produce and getting them to see things from your point of view – even if they still don’t agree with it – is education.

The day before this hit the headlines I had been discussing the very topic of seasonality and flower symbolism with my Year 5 gardening class. (The ones who are growing a cutting patch.) We are mid preparation for a poppy meadow in school to commemorate the start of the Great War. We also plan to sell poppy seedballs and instructions to members of the school community to sow in their gardens at home.

Amidst the designing of seed packets, the writing of sowing instructions, the construction of signs to mark the area where the meadow will grow and posters to sell our poppy packets, we discussed the irony that a flower which means so much on November 11th is not in bloom in Britain on that day. After some debate about the problems of artificial poppies (all that paper and plastic weighed up against the need to sell for fundraising) and importing poppies from warmer climes (air miles and fuel versus work for those involved in their growth and the logistics of sending them here), the children decided that planting a modest meadow to bloom year after year was the very best kind of commemoration even if it looks ‘pretty uncool’ in November. “We could take photos”, someone suggested.

I had no need to take part in the debate!

At this point I’m reminded of that ancient Chinese saying that is wheeled out on every teacher training course in the land.

Tell me, I’ll forget.

Show me, I’ll remember.

Involve me, I’ll understand.

I think our flower growing project in schools is going some way towards ensuring that our young people understand the issues surrounding seasonal, home-grown flowers. Not only will they know how to grow them, but they can make informed choices about what to buy in the future and, as they are eco-aware children, you can be sure that their parents will be told all about it too.

And where Valentine’s bouquets are concerned…..well, I am a girl with simple but elegant taste; the kind of girl who would be delighted were my husband to arrive home clutching either of these next Friday.

Tregothnan hearta favourite splash of scalet from Tregothnan


daffs to melt a Welsh girl’s heart from Sara Willman

Mum’s on a ‘horse’

daylesford_organic bicycle

That suprised you, didn’t it?

Banish all thoughts of me galloping with abandon around Wiltshire, hair flowing in the wind. The ‘horse’ in question is a ‘valuable and inspirational learning experience’; an ‘opportunity to bond with like-minded others’ and ‘have a good lunch’. In other words – a course. It’s a family joke. Several years ago when my children were very little I disappeared for the day to run just such an event.  Upon my return, my middle child had drawn a beautiful picture of me riding side saddle over an enormous hedge and wearing a scarlet jacket.

January seems to be THE month to book a course. My inbox is full of exhortations to try anything from beekeeping to directing Shakespeare and making perfect preserves. Twitter is alive with all sorts of tweeps running social media for business days, hedgelaying, getting your PR spot on, photography and flower farming for beginners. If you want to learn something new, someone is there to show you how to do it….. at a price. In fact, for every course there are dozens of people who purport to do it better than anyone else. Don’t be fooled by the one who shouts the loudest and who is ‘endorsed’ by business associates. Look for independant reviews. Ask to speak to individuals who’ve been on the course and find out how useful it was for them. If they were hoping to become a whizz at watercolour painting and they haven’t picked up a brush since, in my book, that wasn’t a good course, however good the cake or glass of wine over lunch.

How’s a girl to choose?

Some courses choose themselves – like the ones I’ve attended recently offered by Cambridge University’s Classics Department to encourage schools to bring back the teaching of Latin. They are free, conveniently located, provide ample opportunity to share ideas with teachers who are at various stages on the journey and delivered by someone who clearly knows their stuff and is experienced and well respected in their field.What’s more they remain at the end of the phone for advice at a later date and they don’t charge extra for it. I like enthusastic individuals who are generous with their time.

Some years ago when I was teaching ‘extreme’ gardening to 25 children during 20 minutes in the lunch hour I attended another course for bods running school gardening activities. It took place at the very swanky Daylesford Organics farmshop in the Cotswolds, where it’s not unusual to bump into Liz Hurley amongst the caramelised onion and goats’ cheese tartlets. This had all the ingredients of a successful course – inspirational venue, fabulous food, opportunities to share ideas with others, organised by a well respected expert in the field (in this case, Garden Organic), a mix of theory and practical demonstration and it was free, so one is prepared to make some allowances.

We all had a fabulous day.We exchanged ideas and moaned about the difficulties of gardening in our lunchtime. Garden Organic fulfilled their mission to encourage and equip teachers to lead gardening activities in their schools. Daylesford Organics acquired some skilled and willing volunteer labourers for the day to work in their kitchen garden. Job done……. except it wasn’t.

Once back at the chalkface in our own schools and facing the inevitable pressures of lack of time, resources and multiple demands on us, our good intentions fell by the wayside. What we needed was a regular ‘fix’ of inspiration, ideas and mentoring through the difficulties. 

Sara and I have thought long and hard whilst setting up Our Flower Patch about how to make growing in schools really work for teachers and pupils. We believe we’ve cracked it on our soon to be launched website.

We’ll look forward to hearing what you think when we launch in earnest. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to date with our progress and news about growing cut flowers in school.

Broken bones, Our Flower Patch and a trip to Devon

OFP_ Colour_on_white

It’s been quite a start to the year, what with trekking back and forth to the hospital to visit the man of the house, who was air lifted to hospital after a fall, shattered his elbow and broke a few bones in his arm, a road trip to Devon to meet up with dozens of British flower growers and working hard with my ‘partner in grime’ Sara Willman on our new venture Our Flower Patch.

Monday’s visit to Cullompton was an opportunity to meet and share ideas with flower growers around the country. Those of you who visit regulary will know that I’ve been banging on about the decline in the British cut flower industry for a long time. I’m not alone in wanting to see a resurgence in British grown cut flowers. All around the UK growers are doing their best to buck the trend and this has been helped by the popularity of THe Great British Garden Revival on BBC2 recently. There’s even a new flower grower setting up not a million miles from Bradford on Avon.

Britsh growers will never compete with supermarkets on price but there is no comparison between a bunch of unscented roses which have been flown from Columbia and kept for days in a refrigerated container, only to die soon after making it into your vase and a bouquet of highly scented seasonal paperwhite narcissus which were picked yesterday in Cornwall. And if you can’t afford to splash out on British blooms you can always grow a few of your own. That’s where Our Flower Patch comes in.

For some time now we have been scrutinising the National Curriculum, talking to schools about their school gardens, what works and what doesn’t, how they want to use their grounds and trialling  cut flower growing in schools. The result of all this work is a fledgling business supporting schools in setting up small-scale profit making flower growing enterprises and raising the profile of British flowers among the consumers of tomorrow.

We’ll be launching in earnest in time for the start of the growing season but would love to hear from schools and individuals who would like to know more about how to become part of our first year inspiring a new generation of growers.

You know where to find me. That’s right. In a school garden or the fracture clinic at the RUH.

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