At Carol's Garden
, they grow flowers for people who love flowers. People who embrace individuality & character and who appreciate the care they put into every single stem. That love from Carol shows in their bouquets and arrangements. In this interview, Carol gives you some insights into gardening.
A Floral Interview With Carol
"I am just a bit obsessed with flowers. My compulsion extends to well over 500 varieties (we stopped counting years ago, it became a bit embarrassing) Mainly garden and wildflowers rather than the usual florist imports - I'll try anything, see how it grows here, how it combines with other flowers, how it copes in a vase or a bouquet, what it feels like. That absolute intimacy informs how we work with flowers, handling and arranging them. That intimacy that you can only get from sowing a seed, watching it grow, and flower, deciding when to pick it, how to treat it. Imported flowers are like strangers to me - somehow starched, characterless."
"Here, we embrace our locality - the soil, the wildlife, and the climate, and we grow plants that can thrive in these conditions. No hot-housing - they live in soil and have to live in harmony with what is already here. We use unheated plastic tunnels to protect the most delicate spring flowers from the worst of the wind and rain and to be sure we have flowers already in early spring."
Could you tell us a little bit about your experience of growing and designing with your own flowers?
"I’ve always grown things- whether veg, flowers or plants just for the garden. I come from a farming family and working with the soil, the environment and, of course, the weather, has always been part of my life. Selecting flowers for cutting and for designs came later. Through being asked to do wedding flowers - for family and friends first of all - but then for real paying customers.
I think for me, the process of designing and growing are totally interlinked. I choose flowers that I love to see in designs and grow them in a way that sits happily with my own ethos. We are all about flowers. Respect for flowers."
You have floral designers from the area buying your flowers for their work, what do you think they value the most about your flowers?
"You really ought to ask them that! But I think it’s the sheer variety and the quality of the flowers, and foliages too, of course. Every designer has different preferences, and I get to know what they like - and I learn from them, and what they do with my flowers. I then look for varieties or stages of plants (including drying) which I think they will want to try. I hope they find constant inspiration here in the fields or from the flowers I select for them."
Would you tell us how you started growing flowers and what would you recommend to people that want to start growing their own?
"I was already growing veg for ourselves and to sell. I started by growing flowers to sell at the markets I went to. I listened to what people thought of them, the emotions they invoked. I really think that standing on a market, talking to real people taught me so much about the importance and resonance of flowers. But I didn't make much money that way, so I had to step it up and start to grow on a bigger scale if I was going to make a living from my growing.
I would always recommend starting with what you love most, and work out from there. I started with tulips, dahlias, Icelandic poppies and sweet peas. I still grow all of those!"
Each place is different and has different growing conditions, what thrives here might be challenging for you, but there are some flowers easier than others to start trying, which ones would you recommend as a good way to start?
"I would maybe look around at gardens near you - what are other people growing well that you like too? What sort of plants grows wild? That might tell you about the local conditions and you can look for similar varieties. Nature is very helpful sometimes. Having said that, I think many hardy annuals will grow pretty well anywhere and are usually quite easy."
Sowing seeds… tell us a bit about it, your way of doing it, and recommendations for it…
"I mainly sow into module trays - I waste less seed (it can be expensive) and I can influence the conditions better, so germination is likely to be quicker and more even. I can use bottom heat if it’s cold, or move them into the shade if it’s too hot, keep them evenly watered, keep weeds out of the pots. I would, again, take my lead from nature - if you see seedlings germinating then it’s warm enough to sow; if seeds are ready on a plant, then it’s probably a good time of year to sow; if seedlings pop up on their own in the spring, then the seeds probably need a period of cold to get them started. In general, though, seeds want to germinate - you just have to make it possible for them. Good compost, even watering, temperatures around 15-20C is usually a good benchmark (cooler than people sometimes expect) and good light - but not scorching direct sun. Everything has to be ‘just right’ and in the right balance."
How do you think designers benefit from growing their own flowers, even if it's a small patch?
"If you buy flowers wrapped in cellophane from a market, they are all the same and it can become a process of designing-by-numbers. If you buy flowers from a grower - or better still, grow your own, - then the designing process is completely turned on its head. Instead of looking for flowers to fit a plan that you have in your mind, you can start with a great stem and work out from there.
There is nothing to beat the excitement of putting a color palette and design together from just 1 stem as a ‘jumping off point’, even if you sometimes (surprisingly often) end up not using that stem in the end. It is about allowing your creativity to lead you through the flowers and ending up at a place you hadn't imagined at the outset. This is quite a luxury, to have the creative space to allow yourself to do this - but it’s this process that then informs many more designs later. I love to do simple retail bouquets - no color brief, all my own flowers, and working with what’s left after all the big orders and weddings have gone out. I really love leftovers, making something from nothing, the challenge of working with a ‘difficult’ color, taking you to places you didn't know you could go. This is how I learn."
What is it that you enjoy the most about growing your own flowers?
"I love the changing character of the flowers - noticing them as they move from buds to bloom to seed - and all the stages in between. But also the surprising and accidental combinations which pop up in the garden - flowers seeded amongst others, chance combinations in a bucket, a view across the beds - all of these give me constant inspiration especially in putting colors together."
How does growing your own flowers affect your design?
"For me, it is all about the intimate relation I get with flowers that makes me want to keep doing it regardless of the difficulties, but also I truly believe that flowers in the garden teach me the most important lessons for floral design. The desingning process can be like a poem; it starts in one place, goes along an interesting path, but then ends up somewhere completely different."
Thank you, Carol
, for sharing your garden and knowledge with us.