Cissy and I were in the studio a few weeks ago, preparing for the gardens to be hired as a shoot location (photos coming soon) when a change in the wind direction was palpable. We felt the warmth in the air that says ‘summer’. It is subtle, you could miss it, but we look out for it every year as a little bookmark of this seasonal milestone.
As I write under the shade of the trees, there is not a cloud in the sky but only a few weeks ago, we hadn't left winter!
Whilst the day temperatures weren't too bad earlier this month, more often than not, there would be ground frost around dawn which meant every night I was tucking fleece around the tender plants in the green house, propagating tunnel and cold frames. I was still in thermals and breaking ice on the chickens water bowl. I certainly haven't had to worry about this so late into Spring before. The last frost date for our area is around mid May. Last year after an unseasonably warm spring, many gardeners lost plants in a surprise late frost. All my lilies dropped their flower buds, just as they were about to burst. This year they are only just plumping up.
Significant growth will only begin when the temperatures stay consistently above 6 degrees, so with the thermostat dipping so low each night, there was little new growth from self seeded plants to be seen until May 10th this year - at least a fortnight later than usual.
The ranunculus have felt pretty underwhelming this year, which perhaps seems unfair from these pictures. But perhaps we loaded too much pressure on their flowering after a long year of hopeful spring optimism to look forward to, but they really haven’t been their best. I think it's a combination of small corms, a cooler planting location and not watering enough during March and April but either way, we only have three beds left of the best ones, and this week we lifted the other beds and planted out 150 of our best dahlias cuttings, split tubers and new plants in excitement. Cissy and Lizzy (The Modern Table) were meeting to discuss a future event but got roped in to helping.
It is crazy how much more you can do with company.
I'd love to revive our 'Garden Club' again and as I say, the garden is experiencing a renaissance and we are exploring how we can bring in the best of the 'days before' around our 'now'. I didn't manage to get all the planting out this week (probably down to my wildly over optimistic list making rather than lazy efforts) but the tender plants are out in the open and thriving. This is it! We still have crates of dahlias to go out but these will have to wait along with the chrysanthemums for some space to be freed up.
Flowers blooming right now are super gorgeous - as tulips, narcissus and wallflowers die back, the iris, aquilegias, perennial poppies and biennials take their place as staring roles. These flowers are hard to place in the flowering year - not quite spring, not quite summer in late May and early June.
They are the epitome of garden led floristry as so unusually found in wholesalers or typical florists' work. Our buckets of 'Ready to Arrange' flowers, carefully picked and curated are spectacular during the winter and spring with shrubs and bulbs but now in the abundance of summer, our planting choices, made sometimes years in advance really show superiority over industrial flower growing with the delicacy of these beauties.
And we really do plan combinations years in advance. Biennials are being sown for flowers in two years time, Iris' split this summer, will bloom best in 2023, cuttings we took of the poppy 'Royal Wedding' in November 2018, are now pumping out the stems for this Friday's buckets and commissions. As I read this week in an article about Flower Farming, london florist Kitten Grayson said 'it's like being the artist who makes his or her own paint'. I love that.
After April's toe dippage into the farms 'new normal', with our Grow Your Own members back onto the plots, this month we welcomed more visitors with a couple of our evening 'Flower Sessions' chatting everything from practicing gathered wedding bouquets to enjoying flowers throughout the house, in every season.
Being in the gardens at dawn or dusk is really special. The light twinkles through the cherry trees and plants create shadows across the grass and on the flint walls. During the day when the sun is above your head, plants seem more two dimensional and flat. The space feels more alive at either end of the day and I will always get my best shots at these times.
I've also been using the cool of the studio to design some plots and consult for planting and renovations which is really lovely. I only have capacity to take on a couple a month so it's a real treat to sketch, create plant lists and dabble in some plant ordering.
Next week, we welcome back our 'Grow Your Own' members for the 'Early Summer' class and for two of the three groups, it is the final class of their course. It will be a celebration after missing last June's class during lockdown. Our members have been growing their own paint; I know from emails and photos that their gardens are blooming now too. Of course, the food is already planned, the gardens are gorgeous and we are all so excited to be together again.
And in the studio, Cissy's weekly creative practice goes from strength to strength with good timing as the weddings have returned with the Essential elopement bouquets and 'Kit and Caboodles' are excitedly collected.
The buckets of 'Ready to Arrange' flowers are stonking and as one subscriber wrote last week 'my flowers are just out of this world! (But also very much of the earth.)' and another tells us that it's just like Christmas when they open the front door on a Friday morning. If on seeing out deliver, we can inspire that childhood feeling of seeing presents under the tree, then we are doing something really special. Sharing a little piece of the magic in our gardens.
Life happens around these celebrations and simply enjoying the everyday but their is something a bit extra in the atmosphere this summer. After the last year, I intend to ensure that spirit remains.