Things have been late this year – four to five weeks, I’d say. But the last couple of weeks of sunshine have brought things on and morale is high again. And, skipping over the fact that today looks like November again, the field is now looking a bit more like it should. Every day, something new starts to flower, quite often things you’d forgotten you had. Not a bad place to work!
I didn’t have my decent camera on me, so the photos are quick snaps on my mobile, but you have to see these colours! It’s a fine time of year…
Freesias are one of those things that I grow every year but am never happy with. I follow all the instructions and coo over them in the polytunnel but they are never as good or as bountiful as I would like and I’ve always assumed that they were a bit tricy. Then, last year, a grower friend said that she’d grown them outside and they were fantastic, so this year I’m trying again – outside and uncooed-over.
If you’d like to join my efforts, the lovely people at Spalding Plant & Bulb Co have given me a pack of 50 mixed freesia bulbs to give away. If you’d like them, email me on email@example.com. The first person to do so will receive a pack of 50 bulbs. Don’t forget to include your name and postal address!
The week before last we had a couple of sunny days… I was tempted to leave it there, on the assumption that such startling news would be enough to satisfy most of you. But for those of you made of sterner stuff, I thought I’d add a quick tutorial, showing you how I weave the willow hoops we decorate and hang from the roofs at big-barn weddings.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I will – in the best tradition of garden writers – be assuming that you have bags of room to work in and unlimited access to materials, in this case preferably a willow fedge that needs cutting back. If, weirdly, you don’t grow rows and rows of willow, you can buy bundles of withies from suppliers such as the excellent Musgrove Willows.
Step one is to cut some withies. This time of year is great, as the willow is still flexible but not yet covered in annoying leaves and side shoots. How thick the withies should be depends on the size of the hoop you’re aiming for – thinner is easier to manipulate, but too thin and you’ll be there till Christmas. I was weaving a 4ft hoop and used a bundle of pussy willow of varying widths:
Step two is to create a kind of mini stonehenge the size of your hoop. I used a piece of string and a central marker and banged in short wooden stakes to make a circle. Remember, you will be weaving round the outside of the wooden stakes so if you’re after an exact size, make the guide a bit smaller than the final size.
Next, take two or three long withies and place them round the outside of your woodhenge. Tie them together to form a circle, making sure that they fit the henge snugly – this is where your shape is established and any inadvertent bulging will be difficult to get rid of later.
Now you’re ready to get weaving! Take a nice long piece of willow and wind it round the circle you just made, tucking the thick end inside a wooden peg to brace it. Take your next withy and, starting at the next wooden stake along, weave it round in the same direction, wrapping the new withy round what you’ve already done. If the withies are a bit stiff, run your thumb down the inside to soften them up a bit. Start the next withy at the next stake and so on.
When you’ve been round all the stakes once, it should look something like this:
At this stage, I go round with wire or string to just hold everything in place. I think real weavers would be appalled by this but our hoops are going to be high up and covered, so it won’t show.
Basically, now you just keep going round and round until you have the thickness you require. As you go on, it gets quicker as the withies start to align themselves into neat grooves. As the hoop becomes more rigid, too, you can take it off the wooden guide without risking it losing its shape, which makes things much easier.
If you’re going to be hanging them, the hoops need to be quite thick or they’ll flop about. On the other hand, life is short and sticking in a couple of cross struts to make them look like cartwheels does the same job in half the time. When you’ve finished, go round again with the string or wire if you think it needs it and cut off any sticky-out bits on a sharp angle.
And – voila! – that’s it! This is what I ended up with:
And this is the finished result hanging in the Medieval Tithe Barn at Haselbury Mill. If you’re going to be hanging yours over the dining room table, you might want fewer storeys.
A couple of final tips:
- Although I did these on grass, doing it on bare earth or a well-mown lawn is preferable as long grass tends to get woven in along with the willow, which is deeply annoying.
- Fresh-cut willow is very boingy – watch your eyes (if that’s even possible).
- Try not to kneel on your secateurs.
Let me know how you get on!
In 1984 I went to China. Apparently these days the cities, at least, are pretty much as you’d expect in any developed country – lined with skyscrapers and littered with Starbucks – but in those days it was all bicycles, Mao suits and people walking into lampposts as they gawped at the funny white woman.
I say all Mao suits but that’s not strictly true. The adults were a sea of navy or khaki-green but the babies, treasured and displayed like trophies, were in bright, happy colours with these brilliant trousers, attached at the waist band, but open round the crotch. Not as revealing as it sounds – or the picture suggests – because they were also so thickly padded that when the babies weren’t crouched down (usually for a wee in the gutter), the trousers joined in the middle and the “crotchless” feature disappeared completely.
I was reminded of the Chinese baby trousers last week as I was getting mugged up against the cold. Lately my basic outfit has been woolly tights, one pair of normal socks, one pair of Welly-boot socks, vest, two long-sleeved T-shirts, one short-sleeved T-shirt, fleece and jeans. Over all that, when I get to the field, I put on overalls, waterproof coat, hat, scarf, fingerless mittens and gardening gloves.
And then I remember I should have gone to the loo.
Not so dim, these Chinese. This is me. Stylish, non?
For those of you who haven’t already been harangued, below is a link to my first proper newsletter. As with all these computer things, my brain almost exploded in the process of getting it right.
I’m sure there was a time when I used to be quite bright…
If you’d like to get the next one sent to you, please add your name and email here.
Those of you who used to follow this blog regularly (in those long-ago times when I wrote it regularly) may have gleaned a few insights into me and my life as a flower-grower. On the whole – and probably slightly annoyingly – I am delighted with my chosen career and I hope I have managed to convey a little of the barely-containable joy it gives me, particularly very early on a sunny morning, when the flowers are upright and full of moisture and so incredibly perfect that I wonder if they can possibly be the ones I grew.
Mind you, you’ve probably also realised that, like the best of flowers, I am prone occasionally to wilt. This job is incredibly hard work and I am, let’s face it, old and knackered. My field is a good ten minutes’ drive from where I live (apologies to those of you who endure an hour’s farty squash on the Tube every morning) and on a cold morning in January, it can be hard to wrench my self-employed backside from my toasty-warm bed and out into the cold. These are the days when I look at my Floret photos.
For those of you who don’t know, Floret Flower Farm in Washington is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (scientifically proven fact) flower farm in the world. Just look at that picture above. I mean, LOOK!!! Erin Benzakein’s flowers are gorgeous, her arrangements stunning, her husband and children seemingly perfect and, for a farmer, she always looks lovely and clean.* I should hate her. But, of course, I don’t. In fact, so impressed by her am I, that I frequently have to stop myself getting on a flight to Seattle with the sole aim of stalking her.
On top of that, looking at pictures of other growers’ apparently perfect plots and lifestyles (yes, Sarah Raven, I’m looking at you) normally depresses the hell out of me, whereas Erin’s pictures make me burn to get going. With that in mind, tonight I was re-reading some of her blog archives, hoping to find a new energy and maybe some recommendations for varieties that I haven’t yet grown, when I came across this (scroll down to March 11th). I remember Belinda from Wild Acre mentioning it to me a couple of years ago, but at the time I wasn’t familiar with Erin’s work so didn’t think too much about it, but stumbling upon it again last evening left me thrilled and I have woken up beaming again this morning.
If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at her recently updated website and in particular her Flickr feed. I recommend her blog, too – best read over cornflakes and coffee.
* And if I were to wear those slightly chintzy aprons, I’d look like Les Dawson in drag, but she just looks a bit boho. How do people do that?