Previous month:
January 2018
Next month:
June 2021

May 2021

Flowers from your local flower farm

Flower and Farm bouquet with sweet peas and Iceland poppies
It’s becoming a big thing. Grow local. Whether it’s Brexit causing problems for nurseries moving plants into and out of Britain or the madness of flying cut roses half way round the world, everyone with half a brain can see that buying plants and flowers and food locally instead of from hundreds or even thousands of miles away makes sense. And don’t talk to me about sending beef to and from Australia…

Flowers From The Farm is a membership association promoting artisan growers of seasonal, sustainable British cut flowers Established only in 2011, Flowers From The Farm now has over a thousand growers and florists exchanging ideas and advice. Their Find Flowers facility is the place to start looking for local flowers whether you’d like to give a locally grown bouquet, or buy for yourself, or you need local flowers for your business.
This spring I’ve been visiting some of the Flowers From The Farm members and a couple of days ago I called in at Flower and Farmer in gentle hills of west Northamptonshire. (For North American readers: this is pretty much in the middle of England.)

Started only in 2018 by aunt and niece team of Jo de Nobriga and Milly Naden-Robinson, Flower and Farmer have one and a half acres of flowers and foliage to supply wholesale to florists and floral designers, for weddings and events, and for sale at regular the farm gate openings. They're now on their way to doubling in size.

Growing flowers for cutting is very different from growing flowers in garden borders and although bursting with horticultural experience, Jo and Milly have had to learn new ways of growing, especially under cover – and learn fast. And they have. Jo, in particular, is ruthlessly self-critical but the result is a sharp attention to detail. Consider the refreshments.

They kindly offered us tea. Ordinary or Earl Grey? How strong, first pour? Cake? Lemon drizzle or chocolate fudge? Corner slice or side slice? Getting the tea and cake right for their visitors was important and it’s the same with the flowers.

They’re delighted with what they’ve achieved – but are always looking to improve, looking for new varieties and thinking about efficient sustainable ways of growing. The autumn-sown ‘Spring Sunshine’ sweet peas in the tunnel looked excellent – with 18in/45cm stems – but right at the front was one stem that had dropped its buds. What could they do about that? There were not enough Iceland poppy plants in pastel and peachy shades and too many primary colours. They’re looking into that too. Paying thoughtful attention to the flowers is the way to maintain high standards - and the way to improve.

I can’t wait to go back… Their next farm gate sales days are Saturday, 12 June and Saturday, 17 July (11am – 2pm). You can collect pre-ordered bouquets, and flowers are sold by the individual stem so you can choose exactly what you want. PLUS there are teas and homemade cakes whose quality I can enthusiastically endorse! Corner slice or side slice?

Find out more about Flower and Farmer at https://www.flowerandfarmer.com/
Follow Flower and Farmer on Facebook
Follow Flower and Farmer on Instagram

And if you’re too far away, check the Find Flowers facility on the Flowers From The Farm website to discover your local flower grower.

 


Discovering Dahlias

Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein
Having been despised as garish and – frankly - the flowers of the lower classes for decades, the rehabilitation of the dahlia began with the very definitely not-at-all working class Christopher Lloyd using them extensively in his garden at Great Dixter, in Sussex.

The dahlia has never looked back and the books have followed. There are three more recent and upcoming dahlia books that I’m going to discuss here over the coming weeks and the first is Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein.

I’m a big fan of Erin Benzakein. She runs Floret Farm in Washington State and has done more than most to popularise the idea of locally grown, non-industrial cut flowers. She’s gone from a one-woman enterprise to planting twenty acres in just a few years.

I really enjoyed her first book, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden, and reviewed it here in 2017, and now comes another.

This is an inspiring book, but not without its faults. The photography, by Erin’s husband Chris, is immediately striking not just for the awe inspiring views of the cutting fields but for the delightful detail revealed in the close-ups.

The catalogue of Erin’s recommended varieties is arranged by colour and there are, for example, five pages of dahlias in peachy shades – thirty varieties in all – and all shown in huge bunches held by Erin in front of her ubiquitous blue shirt and described in detail. It’s all so tempting that wants lists soon extend to a second page of back-of-the-envelope scribble. And this where things begin to become less convenient.

There’s no list of suppliers of dahlia tubers and/or cuttings in the book. Instead, we’re directed to the Floret Farm website where we must sign up to receive the “Discovering Dahlias Bonus Materials” by email. A great way to collect email addresses. This arrives promptly and includes descriptive details (not just a name and a link) of twenty three American dahlia specialists, seven in Canada, four in mainland Europe - but only two from the UK. Not good.

Three hundred and sixty varieties are included in the directory. I presume they’re all available from American suppliers – frankly, I just don’t have time to check. But I looked up all those peachy varieties in the latest edition of the RHS Plant Finder – which lists all the plants available from British and Irish nurseries, 81,000 of them. Eight of the peach varieties are listed with at least one supplier – twenty two are not listed at all. And if you want to check Erin’s thoughts on varieties you already have on your wants list – forget it: there’s no variety index.

The practicalities are very much based on experience in Washington State and British growers, and growers in other parts of North America, will need to adapt. She assumes you’ll root your cuttings under lights, for example.

So we end up being inspired and tempted and mad keen to add to our dahlia collection – or start one. American readers can, I assume, spark their enthusiasm into action. British and Irish enthusiasts will have quite a lot of work to do.

  • Beautiful and inspiring
  • A tempting choice of varieties revealed
  • Paper and print quality excellent
  • Extremely well priced
  • Few recommended varieties available in Britain
  • Skimpy pest and disease coverage
  • Sad absence of a variety index

“Beautiful to look at and genuinely inspiring, but it could do more to help turn inspiration into achievement.”

Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein is published by Chronicle Books.

Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in the UK

Order Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias in North America

 

Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein - the first peachy pages


They're all foxgloves, Digitalis - OK?

Digitalis x valinii (centre) and its parents-©GrahamRice-©T&M-©ScottZona

“The smartness and absurdity of plant names” is one of things I’m going to be discussing here on the re-launched Grahams Garden blog, as I did on its predecessor Transatlantic Gardener. We can start with an old favourite given heightened absurdity by the good people at the Royal Horticultural Society – Digiplexis.

“Oh, no!” I hear you cry… Yes, I’m sorry. And we’re going to do Mangave as well…

So. Here’s the story.

Our British native foxglove, a familiar tough biennial, is Digitalis purpurea (above left). The Canary Island foxglove is Digitalis canariensis (above right), a tender rather woody perennial. Charles Valin, then plant breeder at Thompson & Morgan, crossed the two species together and gave the resulting plant the name of Illumination Pink (above, centre). It won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant Of The Year award in 2012.

But, before the Canary Island foxglove was Digitalis canariensis, it had been Isoplexis canariensis – botanists had thought it was sufficiently different from other foxgloves to be in a genus all of its own. Closer examination proved that this was a mistake and the fact that it crossed easily with D. purpurea was one of the reasons that it was re-classified as a Digitalis. The RHS botanists gave the new hybrid the botanical name of D. x valinii, commemorating the breeder who first made the cross.

Other breeders then got in on the act and made their own crosses. And, somewhere along the way, over in the United States, someone decided that crossing two different genera together – Digitalis and Isoplexis – sounded much more impressive than crossing together two different Digitalis and the name Digiplexis® was born. This was much more a marketing exercise than it was a piece of thoughtful botanical nomenclature.

So, let’s be clear. Digiplexis® is an invalid, made up name with no standing whatsoever and which only serves to confuse gardeners. So it was especially maddening to see, just the other day, in the new plant centre at the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey, plants labelled Digiplexis® (below). And note the little symbol for a Registered Trade mark. This is a marketing exercise, not a plant name. Aren’t plant names confusing enough, without this sort of nonsense - and without one branch of the RHS muddling up the good sense of another?

But wait, there’s more. Pretty much the same thing has happened with Mangave®. Note that little ® again. This time we’re talking about rosette-forming succulents mainly from arid regions of the Americas – Agave and Manfreda. Nearly twenty years ago it was recognised that there was no justification for keeping these two genera separate so Manfreda was merged into Agave. All very sensible.

But then in the same way as with those foxgloves someone realised that, from a marketing point of view, crossing plants from two different genera was much more impressive than crossing two different species of the same genus. And Mangave® was born, recommended for patio planters.

But there’s payback for this sleight of hand. That first Digitalis hybrid turned out to be far less hardy than was originally announced and so the name Digiplexis® has become attached to plants that fail to make it through their first winter. Something similar will probably happen with Mangave®, which in the UK needs grittier compost and more winter protection than is often mentioned.

But haven’t we suffered enough? In recent years plant taxonomists have taken on board the idea that they exercise caution in their decisions about plant names and respect the needs of the wider plant community. The shoot-in-foot madness of trying to make us call chrysanthemums Dendranthema is long gone.

But then someone else comes along and confuses everyone all over again. And the very least that the RHS can do is make sure that it agrees with itself.

Digitalis x valinii on sale as Digitplexis at the RHS Plant Centre at Wisley


Transatlantic Gardener is now Graham’s Garden

Well, the hot news is that my award-winning blog has a new life - again. It started as Transatlantic Plantsman back in 2006; I then broadened it out into Transatlantic Gardener in 2011. It came to a dead stop when I unexpectedly found myself back from Pennsylvania and in England full time and now it’s evolved again into Graham’s Garden.

At Graham’s Garden I’ll be bringing you thoughts about garden plants, native plants, new plants, plant trials, invasive plants, cut flowers, wildflowers, books about plants, the oddities of plant names, and a little fishing, wildlife, music and more. All from Northamptonshire (zone 8) in England’s East Midlands but, of course, with a constant eye on the world across the water. Please check in and see what I’ve been up to – or click on “Get New Posts By Email”, above, to receive each post as an email as soon as it goes live. If you signed up to receive Transatlantic Gardener posts by email in the past, you should now receive Graham’s Garden unless your email address has changed.

It’s good to be back.