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It's fair to say that life under lock-down had its ups and downs. I didn't have the time or the inclination to write anything new for my website but now that both of my children are back at school, it's time to brush off the to-do list and actually do some of the things on it. Updating the website is first on the list, so that means catching up on what we've been up to over the summer.

Dahlia 'Eveline'
Dahlia 'Eveline'

Homeschooling was definitely a challenge at times (usually when it came to anything maths-related). We felt lucky that our Science topic was, rather fittingly, 'Plants'. The highlight was creating a Japanese-style garden model which our 9 year old took to like a duck to water, following perhaps in her father's garden designer footsteps. Art projects included looking at and imitating Angie Lewin's horticultural prints and making our own picture from pressed flowers. It was almost like the work was being set especially for us!

Japanese Garden Model
Japanese Garden Model

I found that by the time that the summer holidays rolled around, we were already bored and it was a bit of a herculean task to keep both children occupied and happy. We met up with friends outside for socially-distanced activities, were able to resume going swimming at a private pool and had a week away in a secluded cottage in the middle of a Norfolk forest - bliss!

I really appreciated how lucky we are that my husband could continue his work designing and building gardens and I was able to sell my pressed flower art online. Face to face workshops that I would normally host at home have been postponed for the time-being and I've had to cancel some craft shows that I had signed up for. However, maybe it has given me the time to focus on just one aspect of flowers - growing, pressing and creating with them. As soon as things are more settled, I'll be welcoming people back for the flower workshops.

Our allotment as been a real boon, a place to escape for an hour or so in the evening and the garden is looking the best it ever has as we've had so much time at home. I grew some new varieties of Dahlia at home and at the allotment. For sheer elegance, I think my favourite one is Eveline which has a delicate lilac blush a the centre. Other highlights have been the Comos 'Fizzy Rose Picotee' and Zinnia  'Zinderella' Peach.

 

 

 

 

 

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Each January, as a way of mitigating the gloom, I like to look back over the previous year and celebrate the successes, reminding me of all the flowers and joy from the cutting garden to come. At the same time, I can review anything that didn't quite work as planned and make changes for the growing season ahead.

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Crocus in pots make lovely spring displays indoors

As always, some years are better than others as a lot depends on the weather throughout the year. The best way to be prepared for the vagaries of the weather is to grow a wide variety of plants and sow successionally throughout spring and early summer. If your spring-sown annuals are suddenly knocked back by an unexpected spell of cold after a spell of hot weather (as happened to me last spring)  you can sow another batch of seed which should quickly catch up and take over from any seedlings that don't recover.

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A large haul of dahlias from my allotment

2019 was a fabulous year for dahlias and sweetpeas for me. They thrived up at my new allotment plot where enjoyed the clay soil and full sun. At home in my cutting garden, I had great successs with biennial wild carrot which I will in future choose to grow in preference to annual Ammi majus. They both fulfill the same function as a beautiful lacy white umbellifer that acts a filler flower to set off other more showy blooms, providing a natural look. I find that Ammi needs to be sown regularly as individual plants don't produce for long periods where the wild carrot goes from spring into summer with little bother. I had less success with Cosmos which for some reason didn't want to germinate and then were very slow to get going.

Here are a selection of the flowers that I grew and picked last year, all from my relatively small family garden and a small bed on the allotment. I also include some pressed flower items that I make from the flowers that I grow. Speaking of which, I am contemplating running a craft workshop on pressing and drying flowers and ways to use them such as making pictures, cards and wreaths so if anyone is interested, please do get in touch!

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My obsession with growing my own flowers has extended to preserving some of them in order to enjoy them throughout the year - a thought that is especially welcome as yesterday we woke to a frosty garden. A hard frost signals the end of the tender dahlias, cosmos and zinnias that I've been cutting for months. They are so beautiful that it seems a shame to not enjoy them for longer.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower picture using Astrantia, Roses, Rose petals, Forget-me-nots and Cornflower petals.

My favourite method of preserving their fleeting beauty is to press them in a traditional flower press and display them in a modern glass frame. You could group your flowers to make a picture, such as my butterfly below, arrange them in a pretty pattern or just use one type of flower - the possibilities are endless. I've had so much fun making them that I've started selling my makes on Etsy.

Pressed flower butterfly
Butterfly made from real pressed flowers and petals

Pressing flowers

I press them for between 2-4 weeks in some large flower presses that I bought online. I started off with my six-year-old daughter's mini press but she was none too pleased and told me to get my own! Ensure that the cardboard used in your press is flat and not corrugated or you will leave an imprint in your flowers. Blotting paper is preferable to paper towels which again may leave an imprint.

Flowers from the press
Flowers fresh from the press

Bulky flowers such as roses and dahlias will not press well but I like to just use the petals. Strong, bold colours should retain their colour well after pressing but some, like blue cornflowers, do lose their colour as they age, often turning white in the press. Choose flowers with strong colours which you have observed keep their colour as they age in the vase. Good candidates are dark rose petals, larskpur which keep their colour beautifully, vibrant pelargonium petals, buttercups, marigolds and hydrangea petals which dry to give a lovely, antiquey hue.

I have had some success with retaining the colour of blue cornflowers and other flowers prone to fading, such as Iris reticulata, in a press that you use in the microwave - I got mine in the children's section of Toys R Us! I find this method good for flowers which don't retain their colour well with traditional presses but find that it can give the dried flowers a more wrinkled appearance over time and you have to be careful not to use a high setting and scorch the petals.

Once you start pressing flowers, you'll find lots of uses for them. I like making birthday and christmas cards with mine and have even filled some glass baubles with dried flower petals for hanging on this year's tree!

Christmas cards
Christmas cards using pressed flowers

Drying flowers

I've really grown fond of everlasting flowers such as Helichrysum bracteatum and Acroclinum. They look nice freshly picked and added to vases or you can dry them for using in wreath-making. These flowers keep their shape and colour really well and are easy to dry. Cut them before they are fully open as they will continue to open once cut. Tie them in small bunches with string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark cupboard for a week or so until they feel papery to the touch. They make nice floral wreaths for indoor decoration and look effective mixed with dried seed pods from poppies or love-in-a-mist. I use a hot glue gun to attach the flowers and seed heads to natural grapevine wreaths.

Autumnal wreath
Autumnal wreath with seed pods

 

 

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