Tulips, books about compost and the start of Summer.

tulips

It’s May Day. How did that happen? I’ll tell you how. In between all those trips to the hospital with the member of the family with the smashed elbow and the frenzy of mothering, writing, teaching and allotmenteering which is my life, the blossom unfurled, tulips blossomed and slugs munched happily on new shoots. I admit to being a little out of kilter when it comes to seasonal preparations this year as a result. My seed sowing was late; the Simnel cake got its marzipan covering on Easter Monday five minutes before tea and a flurry of family birthdays were handled with military precision at the last minute rather than in my usual, relaxed way. And now it’s the start of Summer – at least if you’re a Celt.

Beltane, May Day, Calan Haf – whatever your take on this time of year, know that my ancestors and probably yours were bedecking themselves with flowers and ribbons, dancing round the Maypole and driving their cattle out to Summer pasture through the smoke of bonfires lit to bring health and fertility to their crops and livestock in the coming year. In this house we are celebrating with a working oven which should bring health to the cook in the household as the stress of living in an episode of Butterflies was all too much.

Talking of stress, I can’t recommend enough growing tulips as a crop in trenches as opposed to spending hours placing them in groups in your border, only to see them open, flop and look messy in the blink of an eye. It took me half an hour to plant loads on the allotment. They looked a picture and I have brought bucket loads home to place in vases round the house and to give to friends. We picked up a couple of bags for next to nothing at the Sarah Raven sale and popped them in a trench bed at school (as you see above) and have sold them to parents on our Friday afternoon flower stall. I’ll never plant a tulip any other way again.

My second stress buster has been turning the compost. I’m evangelical about compost as you know and was delighted to find out recently that another Wiltshire resident is equally committed to getting the compost message out to the next generation of gardeners. Ben Raskin is Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association. He’s written a great family friendly book about making great compost. Kids will love the format and parents will find the information useful. If it doesn’t have you getting out your hammer and knocking a bin up from old pallets, nothing will. Ben was kind enough to talk to me about the background to the book and his own experience of gardening as a child and as a father of two. You can read the interview in full here.

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.

 

 

 

Heatwaves, promotion and getting ready for seed sowing

Charlotte's Spring PotCapability Charlotte’s Spring Planter

My, how I’ve neglected you! Those of you who tune in to my Twitter feed or the Latest News on Our Flower Patch or the Fitz Gardeners blog will know that I haven’t been idle. It’s just that I haven’t been round here much for a week or two. Let’s catch up now while you gaze at the Spring planting handiwork of local gardener and Drama Queen ‘Capability Charlotte’

Despite the predicted two week heatwave being restricted to a balmy day spent at the Chippenham rugby festival, Spring has sprung on the allotment and I have a crop of anemones and daffodils ready to cut and a lot of tulips coming along nicely. I’ve not had much luck with tulips in my borders where they flop, get munched by slugs and look untidy when they get to the open blowsy stage. None of this is in evidence when you grow them as a crop on the allotment, packed in close together and cut them before they go over.

The school garden is looking mighty fine too and last Thursday the children got a chance to blow their own trumpets on local radio when they sowed a poppy meadow and plenty of seeds on air whilst Sara and I talked about Our Flower Patch. We’ll soon have plenty of blooms for sale to parents and members of the local community, making the school garden a great fundraiser as well as good fun and a fantastic outdoor learning opportunity.

The rest of the time has been spent sorting out my stash of seeds ready for sowing and promoting Our Flower Patch. Last week I went to the local Headteachers cluster meeting where the idea received the general thumbs up, even from the secondary school, which I wasn’t expecting and we’re beginning to get enquiries from all over the UK as word spreads. Do take a look. It’s a great way for primary schools to teach the National Curriculum in a creative way, make full use of a school garden and raise some money for the school. The children with whom we’ve piloted it have had a ball.

If this sounds like a good thing to you, please tell your local school about us.

St Piran, budding flower patches and Lenten abstinence

st piranIt’s St Piran’s Day, patron saint of Cornwall. What better way to celebrate than by supporting a Cornish seed supplier? It’s hardly surprising that one or two British flower growers have chosen to set up business in that corner of the British Isles including Higgledy Ben, who is the seed supplier for members of Our Flower Patch and has fed my seedaholic tendencies for a few years.

We’ve started our very own flower farm at school – albeit on a modest scale – with seed supplied from Cornwall. A few hardly annuals were planted by Year 5 back in the autumn and over the next few weeks Year 6 are driving the project forward, setting up a proper eco flower business. We hope to have a Friday flower market in operation at school from May and one or two blooms available before that, as we planted some bulbs and biennials back in the autumn too. I need to restock my own allotment flower patch too.

If you want to grow a few cut flowers yourself this year may I suggest Louise Curley’s new book as an excellent place to start. You can get oodles of advice too from Higgledy Garden’s website and I will put up a few top tips gleaned from #britishflowers hour on Twitter over the last few weeks.

I would have celebrated St Piran’s day with a scone and clotted cream but it’s the start of Lent and I rashly decided to give up brown food. Think about it. No bread, potatoes, cakes, scones, pastries, beer, chocolate. No meat…. not a problem for this vegetarian. No coffee.

Ummm. No coffee?

I may have to decide that coffee stays. It’s not a food after all. Some things one just can’t do without.

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