I wanted to chat to you all today about growing flowers, from a wedding florist perspective! This has been the first year that I have grown my very own flowers to use within my wedding work, and I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this! From scouring seed magazines, only dreaming that I could potentially grow something as beautiful as the flowers featured, to cutting and arranging flowers that I have grown into a real life bridal bouquet...I have surprised myself at so many points along the way!
Clearly I love flowers, I am obsessed with flowers, they have been my life for years and I have been lucky enough to have been surrounded by them, in various means since I was a young girl. Growing flowers has always been something I had thought I would do one day, but the time constraints of running a busy business, having a small garden has always put me off. It wasn't until we moved to a house with a bigger garden that I finally thought the idea could be achievable. We live in hilly Ilfracombe and our garden is a complete mismatch of levels and needed a lot of work when we moved in, so it is definetely an ongoing project that will take a few years. But my typical, impatient self cannot wait, so in my head I had already started planning out the areas that I could utilise to grow. With the help of my Mum part of the lawn was ripped up to make place for a great sized flower bed and I was ready to go!
I follow lots of flower growers on Instagram for inspiration so I had been saving varieties of flowers I had wanted to grow for a while, I knew I wanted to grow the types of flowers that I would not only love, but be able to utilise within my wedding work. As a wedding florist my ambitions for my flower ability to grow was unrealistically ambitious, I had visions of big buckets of blooms that I would grow to use... the dream, maybe one day! However, as a first time flower grower I wanted to start with flowers that could be relatively low maintenance to grow, and achievable for me as a beginner. Flowers like phlox, cosmos, zinnias and dahlias appealed to me, and also my beloved sweet peas. Choosing seeds can be hugely exciting and also overwhelming! Looking through catalogues, there is endless choice and being a flower obsessive you can become a bit like a kid in a sweet shop! In my head I was instantly envisaging big beds full of the fully grown flowers, I could see in the catalogues... kind of forgetting that I did not have acres of space to fill!
My Mum is an expert gardener and has lots of experience in this so she has helped me lots, which has been invaluable alongside flower grower friends online Toria, Wildly Beautiful Flowers, Pat The Forgotten Garden and Sarah, Compton Garden Flowers who have been so generous and encouraging with their knowledge and friendly encouragement along the way! They all grow the most stunning variety of blooms and I love seeing all of their flowers develop throughout the seasons. Mum and I grew lots from seed and once they had split the seedlings between us, this is a great idea so you do not get a huge glut of one type of plant and can get a wider variety of plants to grow if you do not have acres of room like me. It can be time consuming growing from seeds, but it is so satisfying and exciting when you see those tiny green shoots emerge from the trays of compost. I definitely went a bit crazy on the seed packet purchases and have a few left over to plant for this year!
It is an impossible task to choose flower varieties and colours, and for someone who is usually a really decisive person I deliberated over colours as I just wanted to grow everything! Sweet peas were the trickiest for me as I just adore all of the colours, but I had to be strict and chose 8 colours. The sweet peas were a huge success and grew so well from June through until September when I pulled them up. I got my sweet pea seeds from Crocus and was very thrilled with them! I cannot tell you the joy it brings being able to go out, snip a huge bunch of beautiful homegrown sweetpeas and bring them into the house. They are such prolific flowerering plants and I had a constant stream of blooms. I completely surprised myself, the stem length was great, scent perfect and I mostly enjoyed my pick of colours. I had an existing raised bed which backs up against an old brick wall so I planted 8 varieties around 4 tripod canes (technical terms?!), which looked pretty beautiful when all in flower. I fed once a week (ish) and tied them into the twine to support them regularly (probably not as regularly as I would have liked, but you know... with wedding season and a baby it really is impossible to do it all... don't let them fool you and tell you that you can!) Our garden is the end of the terrace and so it can be hit with quite strong winds because we are coastal, but I was really impressed with how well the plants managed in this weather. They cope with the wind a lot better than I do!!
I guess with anything that you see a lot of, by the end of the summer I had become accustomed to the same colours and was yearning for some different varities and had gotten a bit tired of them. This has encouraged me to decide that I will really be really careful in my colour choice for next year. I wanted to chose flowers that I love, but once that I would use within wedding work, so I chose two varieties of white including Jilly, which I felt was a tad on the cream side, so not pure white, but it had brilliant long stem length. I will definitely be growing white next year because lots of weddings I work on use white flowers! I wanted a soft peach, blush so chose Bobbys Girl, but it was a bit brighter than I thought, ever so beautiful and great within more colourful weddings or for house flowers, but not the soft blush I was after... so if anyone has a recommendation!? I then grew two lilac varieties, because I really do love lilac sweet peas, they seem a more traditional sweet pea colour to me and I am having a real lilac moment this year! I then went a bit off piste and bought two variegated varieties, which I love the look of in photos and they work well in house flowers, but for wedding work they are a very specific colour and so I didn't use them really. I enjoyed growing them and the form of the flowers are just stunning, but I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't use them as much as I had thought. It is the ongoing debate between practicality and beauty!!
Due to space I had grown cosmos, asters and phlox in some old troughs that I had used for work, I think in hindsight they should have been deeper as the phlox grew very wonky with really twisted stems. I really adore the creme brûlée variety, the soft mocha tones go with almost every colour palette so I did use these where I could. My apricot cosmos are beautiful and also I grew lots of white cosmos, I have really enjoyed seeing these just bloom in clumps in the garden. they have grown really quite bushy (probably because I haven't cut them so much!) So just sway in the breeze, offering lots of flower cover within my garden border bed. These seeds I bought from Zoe Woodward who has an incredible amount to choose from.
After sowing all the seeds, it was then time to focus on the dahlia tuber haul I had bought, a huge box arrived from Farmer Gracy, with no garden space for them to eventually grow in! My lawn is slowly getting smaller, which is fine by me, because I am not really a lawn person... they offer nothing really for wildlife or biodiversity, and I have never really gotten the whole perfectly mown lawn vibe (one of our friends actually says tidy lawn... tidy mind so we always joke about this!)....and do not even go there on artificial grass! After we had our raised (because the garden is so un level) patio built, I decided the space infront was the perfect spot for my dahlia spot, so headed for the spade and we dug up another big section of the lawn. Our lounge is upstairs and so I can look down on the garden and in my head work out where I can dig the lawn up next to create more flower bed space!
My dahlias I grew from tuber, and again where do you start with colour choice! I wanted a colour palette that would reflect the season that they would be flowering in, but also my weddings and wedding flower trends. I chose a mix of deep burgundy, burnt oranges, coral and peach tones, however after growing and then planting, I have discovered some of the varieties are not what I ordered. I seem to have l lot of the deep plum, which is great as I do feel it goes with a lot of colours, however I have some bright Cadbury purple varieties (oh no! I most definitely would not have chosen those) and a couple of whacky two tone purple varieties!
My peachy, paler varieties have been a bit more yellow, so I am going to take this on board for next year and really google and research the colours I want to grow. I have found growing within a palette works well for me, I am naturally drawn to the more warmer colours on the spectrum rather than the blues or purples, I partially think these colours work better for dahlias. Next year I will probably try and grow a few paler varieties too, as lots of couples still do want paler more neutral tones for their wedding flowers. Cafe au Lait is the dream colour, yet not so much the dream flower to grow in a smaller space, so I will leave that to the professional growers.
Zinnias are one of my favourite flowers and I was really excited to try and grow these, my mum and I split the seedlings, however I am not sure this worked out as we had hoped as she ended up with all the queen varieties and the lilac Zinderella and I ended up with all the coral (which did work in my garden in the end!) Again I need to really google my varieties as the lilac zinderella did not look like the photos when fully grown, they were a more brighter pink and not one that was palatable to use to be honest, I was really hoping for a dusky, soft muted pink to use if anyone has any suggestions? I had also bought Giant Oklahoma Salmon, which looked incredible on the packet, however they grew in a really bright pillar box red colour. These were planted in Mum's garden so she clearly did a better job of growing them than I would as they were humongous, but just so disappointing that they were this bright colour that does not go with much else!
Being a florist and working with wedding flowers I feel you are particularly susceptible to the changing seasons. As we inevitably pass through summer and begin to head into the next season I am sad to see the sweet peas go, but equally the dahlias are thriving and coming into their own right now. That is the beauty of flowers, there will be always something new coming into season, something that that I can get excited about using within my wedding work that. I have loved the fact that by growing flowers myself and using them within my weddings, I am offering my couples that extra touch of handpicked magic, those stems have been completely and utterly loved and nurtured by myself, to end up in your wedding flowers! I find that so special and satisfying, not only do I get to enjoy the beautiful garden with all the blooms, but I can share these with others too. I had a wonderful day with my oldest friend Rhiannon who I met in reception. She has an allotment you can follow her allotment on instagram @DevonandEarth) and huge interest in growing flowers too. We spent the afternoon picking and then I taught her some extra tips on how to arrange the flowers (we did this last year too, so I feel it will be a yearly tradition now!) It makes me laugh so much how we now text each other about seed varieties, or troubleshooting gardening questions! Where did the time go from partying and chatting about clothes and boys...That is a sign of getting older I am sure, but it is so lovely to have developed a new shared interest alongside others at the same time.
I have honestly loved my first year of growing flowers, and am already looking and thinking about what to grow next year. I have bought a load of tulip bulbs, to go in my sweet pea bed, so by spring this will be full of narcissi, daffodils and then tulips! I will also have a good think about logistics and whether growing in pots has worked as well as it could. I maybe get some deeper bigger ones to utilise my current space, and of course try and free up more growing room in the garden where I can. I am also going to add more shrubs to my garden for foliage picking, this was the plan initially and I had planted a couple physocarpus , spirea, viburnum and some hydrangea Annabel. On my list is some snowberry, which I have always loved using in weddings after listening to Sarah Raven podcast on the top 12 plants for cut growing with Rachel from Green and Gorgeous... I need to make space for a lot more shrubs as I just loved the sound of all of them! This is a really great podcast for bitesize information about all things gardening, I love Sarah Raven's concept on colour and it really makes sense when you hear he describe the different colour ways she uses within gardens. Another great podcast is Roz FieldGate Flowers, which has been really valuable to me too.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog on growing flowers, from a florists perspective! For me I have obviously loved the fruits of my labour, seeing all the beautiful flowers grown from seed and slowly add colour and vibrancy to the garden, but it is also such a therapeutic way to spend time. I have very little time, with a toddler (who just adores being outside in the garden and trying to help!) and a business, but the little time I do get free I have tried to spend in the garden to make growing the flowers work. I would absolutely love more time to really think about growing flowers on a bigger scale, but until that is an option I will be concentrating my power hour garden snippets into growing as much beauty as I can to enjoy and also use, in the most time efficient and enjoyable way I can! You can follow along and see more behind the scenes over on my Instagram page and previous blogs!