It just wouldn’t be a festival without a downpour of rain (typical after a week of glorious weather) but there's no need to get the wellies out. This weekend, independent flower farmers join forces for the Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend, a digital festival in support of Flowers from the Farm, a not-for-profit association with over 880 members.
Covering five central themes - the basics, from plot to vase, flower focus, top tips and plot stories - 23 growers will cover all aspects of growing and caring for cut and dried flowers on the website. Laptop gardeners can pick up expert tips and show support for British growers who have had, it’s fair to stay, a turbulent lockdown.
Thanks to a resurgence of interest in British-grown flowers over the past decade, registrations for the association have risen by 65 per cent since 2017, while during lockdown, when many households have found sanctuary in their gardens, membership increased by 10 per cent in a few short months.
Founded in 2011 on a shoe-string budget, Flowers from the Farm aims to educate the nation about the plethora of British flowers on offer, and to support the growers that supply them.
And it has never been more important to show support for local business. Due to the spread of Covid-19, thousands of independent florists, growers and suppliers have faced redundancies, blank diaries and mass wastage. While showing signs of increased market share, British-grown flowers still only account for only 14 per cent of cut flowers sold in the UK. The majority are hot-housed in Holland or flown in from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Colombia.
Gill Hodgson, honorary president and founder of the association, says:
“Our members have risen to the challenge of lockdown. Some may not have the same income, but they have discovered different income streams and widened their customer base. More people have been looking for local flowers than ever before. It’s a difficult time for everyone all over the country, and I am pleased that our members are making seasonal, locally-grown cut flowers accessible .
“My hope is that all the people that have discovered their excellent local businesses during lockdown - whether it’s food, drink or flowers - will continue to think and buy local, and that the demand will attract even more people to make a living in flower farming, taking the industry from strength to strength.”
The festival programme will be streamed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (14 - 16 August) on the Flowers from the Farm website. Here’s a taste of Friday’s line up to whet your appetite.
Afterwards, there will be a walled garden tour from Zara Gordon Lennox of Gordon Castle in Scotland; followed by the story of plot to vase from Beth and Simon Hillyard of Cornish Blooms; an insight into growing organically from Jo Wright and Wendy Paul of Organic Blooms; a home-to-farm transformation from Bella and Will Butler of West End Flower Farm in Hampshire; and Trevor and Bettina Davies of Gilly Florist on the Gower Peninsula talk about their epic search for the perfect plot.
To finish, a cutting tutorial with Kirsten Mackay of Henthorn Farm Flowers.
For more information on the line-up see flowersfromthefarm.co.uk.
JustDahlias was started as a passion project by Philippa Stewart in 2016. After spotting a gap in the market for dahlias (unfairly famed for their short vase life) through Instagram, she started delivering freshly cut and dried flowers to the local area. Now, her flower farm based in Cheshire grows more than 300 different species of dahlia, supplying to event florists and the public throughout the north east of England. She is also a proud member of Flowers from the Farm. Here are her top tips for growing, cutting and caring for dahlias year round.
For more tips on dahlia care see @justdahlias, where you can find weekly videos and photographs.
Plan your dahlia display
- It’s never too early to start planning your dahlias for the following year. At the moment you’d be hard-pressed to find any in the garden centre, but there are some fantastic British suppliers like Halls of Heddon, based in the north east. Their order book opens in mid-September, so if you’re starting to plan your garden then leaf through now. Every year on my website, I have a ‘flowering now’ section so you can place your orders for rooted cuttings or tubers from there. They will be delivered next spring.
- Dahlias need less watering than you think, even in this heat. My soil is heavy clay and incredibly permeable so dahlias in the bed need watering (the depth of a finger) around once a week (this can sometimes stretch to two weeks). However, if you have sandy soil, keep an eye on them. You may need to water twice a week. Containers are more likely to dry out quickly, so do the finger test and give a deep water around once a week.
- When you are cutting dahlias, it is best to cut them quite hard. Cut the stem as long as you can get, going down to where the next shoot is starting. Often, I’ll cut buds too - this is called disbudding - generally dahlias produce three sets of flower buds per stem, so if you take out the smaller buds on each side you’ll get a longer stem. If you are cutting fresh flowers, bring the water to the plant in a bucket and put them straight in. Leave the cut flowers outside for a few hours in water before bringing into the house.
- At this time of year, it’s a good idea to move away from high nitrogen fertiliser and onto one that promotes flowers instead of growth. This year my flowers started in mid-July, but the main display is from the middle of August. I do a good spray of liquid seaweed around once a week (readily available from many garden centres). Tomato feed works too.
Homemade comfrey fertiliser
We have plenty of comfrey growing in the local area and it's brilliant for making a liquid feed that promotes flowers. It will be growing in abundance during mid-May.
- Handful of comfrey flowers
- Clean water
- Roughly chop the comfrey leaves up with a knife in a plastic container. Jam in as many as you can.
- Cover the leaves in fresh, clean water and cover with a lid.
- Stand the container in the greenhouse (or somewhere very hot) for a few weeks until it has decayed.
- Once decayed, dilute in the watering can until it is the consistency and colour of weak tea.
- Use it as a root drench.