January 2023

New Year, new plans

Happy New Year to all!

If you’ve been following our journey for a while, you’ll know we currently grow on three acres at the Hay Lane site. Not many people have seen what we do first hand, aside from our florists and workshop attendees. The plot is at the back of the cottages, you can just see the polytunnel from the road, where it is away from the public eye. Very much how I wanted it at first. I made loads of mistakes, had crop failures, pest problems and weeds galore (still do!) To a grower their site is never perfect or worthy of public inspection. Like when you invite strangers into your house, and the first thing you do is apologise for the mess, even though you’ve tidied.

Having talked with people at markets and outside events, the things we are always asked is ‘Are you open to the public?’ ‘Can we come and pick our own flowers?’ Earlier this year I had a chance meeting with a lady called Maria. She had ordered a large quantity of cosmos flowers. Originally, I had assumed she was a florist as she was coming up from London to collect. However when she arrived, with her husband and small daughter, it turned out she was just a regular customer, who happened to love flowers. As they had driven all the way from London, and it was a nice day, I asked if they’d like a look around. I left them to wander and carried on cutting dahlias and they took photos of their little girl with the flowers and the farm dog Newton, who took a shine to them. Maria explained that she’d come to the UK after living in a more rural place and very much missed the countryside and being outside surrounded with flowers, so it was a treat to be allowed to wander round. Later that week I was chatting with the husband of one of my Flower Club members, who said his wife saw the sessions we held as monthly therapy (this is a common thing to hear from people who come here to learn or work).

So I tentatively asked Jack and Pete what they would think if we turned another acre on the side of our plot into a new flower field with a PYO plot, rose and shrub beds and a blossom orchard. All with the idea that it would be a site that is very much open to the public. So the new plot turns our three acres into four and a new way of working for us.

In other news I am now a published author, having managed to get the first Hay Lane Growers’ Manual finished and out on Amazon. We self-published in the end as it suited my control freaky nature and was also quick and easy. So far the book is selling well and getting good reviews, so I’ve forged on and started writing the next two in the series.

December 2022

We have been working hard as the Christmas season unfolds. With Britain firmly in the grip of recession we dare not turn work down if we can possibly fit it in. But one thing we wanted to be sure we had time to do was this huge wreath style installation, again at one of my favourite spots, the Reflections statue in Bedford town centre. The wreath was commissioned to promote Bedford and Small Business Saturday. Needless to say, when not working on this, the rest of the month so far has been intense with workshops and orders. We’ve not finished getting all of the tulips in, and there is a lot of tree planting to do. But the dahlias are all lifted, ready for packing. I’ve one more week of intense work on ‘front of house’ jobs – workshops, orders and wreathmaking and then I am free to get back to the planting. It is not too late to be doing these jobs, and as long as the ground is not frozen, the plants, which are dormant, won’t mind it one bit. In fact if it isn’t cold enough when you plant some things the risk of disease can become an issue. For example tulips are very susceptible to tulip fire – Botrytis tulipae, if conditions are mild and wet when planted. As a grower people expect me to hate the cold for the damage frost does to plants. But a good cold, dry winter is the best for healthy plant growth next year, as pests and diseases in the soil are killed or weakened by prolonged cold conditions.

In other news – yesterday we took a day out to visit Pete’s parents. His Dad has been quite poorly, but is on the mend now (although he must rest, which he does not find easy). We also grabbed the chance to stop off and visit our Auntie Jean and Uncle Francis in the Vale of Evesham. They are vegetable growers, now retired from market gardening, and talking with them about their work has always been inspirational to me as a grower and lover of rural life. Francis had brought me some apples and pears in a large plastic crate a little while back and saw how I liked the crate almost as much as the fruit. Sturdy plastic crates are one of the most useful things on a cut flower farm, but very expensive to buy new. Francis told me he had lots still in his barn if I wanted some. So Jack (who’s middle name is Francis for this favourite Uncle of ours) has had an early Christmas present of a stack of crates and pots, which will make his life much easier next Spring. They will be ideal for starting the dahlias off and transporting the thousands of baby plants down to the field at planting time. It will feel good to keep using them for producing plants and I will think about where they have come from every time we use them.

Auntie Jean also took me out to see their stunning crab apple orchard, with trees smothered in little red and golden apples and laden with mistletoe. It is how I imagine our little blossom orchard looking somewhere down the line. Such useful inspiration when the weather is turning cold and enthusiasm is lacking. Just what I needed to give me the energy to finish the planting. I wish I’d taken photos to show you how beautiful their land is, but had left my phone in the car. It was a much needed and overdue visit.

November 2022

Roses and honeysuckle over the gate from the garden into the paddock

There is an awful lot to do this month. We have secured an extra acre of land and are currently in the process of designing and planting a new flower field which is very much aimed at public engagement. The new plot will include a large PYO plot, a gorgeous plot of our best selling scented roses (with rose arches and arbours), a blossom orchard and a foliage maze. We will include large grass pathways, suitable for providing picnic and seating areas and hopefully a perennial flower meadow under the trees in the blossom orchard. I’m also very excited to be using the OH’s range of garden metalwork and floristry mechanics around the plot, which we will be able to use to showcase the best of sustainable floristry techniques.

When will the field and PYO plot be open to the public? We are aiming for June. We’ve hundreds of ideas of ways to use the new area, from bring your own picnics to outdoor plays to family treasure hunts. The past couple of years of covid and lockdown periods has meant that people are now really keen to get out and enjoy doing things outside in the fresh air with their families and the wider community. Our aim is to provide a varied range of activities throughout the year with a focus on family events and we will be trying to run lots of events that won’t be too expensive and even some events like picnics, which will be free. We are acutely aware that cost of living increases mean families have much less money to spend on days out so perhaps we will be able to give families a fun thing to do at the weekend, without needing to spend a fortune.

Of course, because there is a lot to do, Jack and I are starting the month with a flu bug, which has, for the first time we can remember meant we’ve had to take time off for health reasons. There has also been more rain than I’d like – but the rain is needed to top up groundwater levels after the Summer drought, so I won’t moan too much about that. Yet. On top of getting the new field ready, we are also working on the usual November tasks of lifting dahlias, dividing and moving perennials and planting bulbs.

October 2022

Apologies for the lack of a September blog post. If you are a Bedfordian, you’ll know why we were so busy! The 2022 Great Big Green Week was a huge success and we were lucky enough to be asked to represent the local cut flower growers and indie florists by creating a Flower Flash to kick the week off!

Local Florists and growers working on the Flower Flash on Silver Street in Bedford

I applied for partial funding and put forward our proposal way back in February. I dare not even mention it to the others in our little British cut flowers collective until it was all approved. Needless to say the team were over the moon to be working on such a worthwhile project. I was exhausted, but by the end of the day the younger members of the team were asking me ‘what’s next?’ Keen as mustard this lot! The best bit was seeing the faces of the people of Bedford when they came in to town and saw what we were doing. The worst bit was being interviewed by Look East, although reporter Andy Holmes was the loveliest person to work with, trying to put me at ease throughout. People say I came across well. I watched it once and never again!

Next steps – We’ve been asked by the council to create something similar as part of the town’s Christmas celebrations and then the GBGW returns in June next year – we are already planning bigger and better for that one! In between we will all be doing our usual day jobs making sure flowers get grown, harvested, arranged and delivered to customers across the county. Many of us are also attending shows and competitions (either collectively or representing our own businesses) to publicise the sustainability, quality and range of British grown cut flowers.

But for now, back to reality and back in my comfort zone, working on the land to get this seasons crops lifted or tucked up for winter and next years crops in the ground.

August 2022

August has carried on where July left off, with heat, strong sun and drought. We have given up on some of the cool loving annuals, such as the antirrhinum and cornflower as we just couldn’t keep them watered and shaded enough. Instead we have focused on keeping our late summer stars alive- dahlia, amaranthus, statice, zinnia and cosmos. Every year is challenging. This has not been our most challenging year – two years of winter floods (2019/20 and 2020/21) were pretty disastrous for us. However I would like it noted that after those floods, in the spring of 2021 we spent a huge amount of money having drainage channels put in under the flower field, and it has hardly rained since.

The UK is also in recession, which will only get worse as time goes on as the cost of living, in particular the cost of fuel and energy have just kept on rising. How does this affect our business? Well of course our own costs are significantly higher, everything is more expensive – seeds, bulbs, compost, packaging. And as our product is a luxury item, general retail sales have dropped. However we are providing flowers for a lot more weddings this year. Some weddings postponed from the last couple of years due to covid are only just now taking place. Next year I think the number of weddings and events will go back to how they were pre-covid. So what should we do? Quietly bide our time and see what the future brings? Cut back our expenses, batten down the hatches and wait out the recession? Or do we take a risk, carry on with expanding the business and grow even more blooms? Watch this space to find out what we have decided to do, although if you follow us on instagram I think you’ll already have seen a few hints about our plans.