I’ve been growing my own flowers, on a small scale, ever since I started this job. Most folks know that the whole of the front lawn was taken up back in winter 2012, and replaced by four raised beds built by Mr. Simply and a large side area dug by me for tulips and then dahlias.
Growing a Cut Flower Garden
There’s another part to the garden for all the painterly perennials and grasses, and those important sculptural plants for the wildlife. This year, with Jill Shaddock on the team our planting has been even more adventurous, and the small allotment crafted by Mr. Snug has been a tiny paradise garden of peace, purple peas, roses, and sheep interludes.
Tulips and dahlias bookend the growing year, and I mark each one in my favorite tulip. Belle Époque was my favorite two years on the run until I discovered species tulips and then finally joined The Wakefield Tulip Society. This year's favorite was called Insulinde.
Memorable Planting Days
The days when we plant are always memorable. Tulips go in on one of those clear, cold days after a frost. The kind of day where you can’t really feel your fingers and the steaming mug of tea at the end is like nectar. Dahlias, on the other hand, need you to wait for warmth. This year we planted at dawn to avoid the afternoon heat and rewarded ourselves with a cold glass of wine at lunch. I know, I make it sound romantic but it’s bloody hard work, and you are bent double the next day.
The real reward though is the flowers. I used to be addicted to fashion and fancy bags and shoes, but now my seasons are marked not by the latest oxblood suede from Mulberry but a black and white rare historical tulip from Holland that the best painter in the world could not make as fine or as unique as Mother Nature or by a collection of rudbeckia in shades from weak tea to ginger biscuit and (funnily enough) oxblood.
The Real Question Though Is What Does All This Mean? Why Do I Grow My Own Flowers?
Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve never pretended to grow enough flowers to use in all our classes and events, and I don’t think there’ll be a time when I don’t need to buy flowers from all of the brilliant local growers that are hereabouts. But, I really do need to grow flowers. For me!
There is no greater luxury in the world than being able to step outside your door - to pick flowers - at any time of the year. I sometimes entertain myself with the thought that if on a Friday night, a modern-day Heathcliff and Cathy knocked on the door and asked if I could make a bouquet for their elopement wedding on Ponden Moor then I’d manage to do them proud.
Flowers Ground Me
Flowers ground me. They keep me humble because I know that, once they’re in the soil, I have no control. All I can do is wait patiently for each one to appear, obviously always keeping an eye on the weather in case extra watering or staking is required and when (if) they finally do appear I’ll be mesmerized by their beauty (unless they are those awful red and gold dahlias that we never ordered that keep returning every year like the worst couch grass). Each week, a new flower will catch my eye and I’ll watch it with the hope of using it at the weekend. As I go about the working week I’ll keep it in mind and build up an idea of whatever else is growing that it might get on well with’.
I was asked a few weeks ago if I could describe my creative process. Alice, who asked me was a little shocked to hear me say ‘I’m not sure I really have one. So, I went away and thought a bit more, and it’s very simple. I find that perfect flower in the garden, I know I need to use it, so, I decided if it’ll work best in a bouquet or a bowl or maybe something that’s a structure and then I’ll keep it in mind for Saturday afternoon. I’ll pick other flowers and sculptural foliage that I know will fit with my flower of the week (call it my inspirational flower if that sounds better).
And that’s the real reason I grow flowers. For the hour on Saturday afternoon (wedding season aside) that I spend, on my own, unbothered by the rest of the world, practicing my craft. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to always keep practicing. Having my own flowers allows me that unfettered right to forage in my own garden, and to experiment with new colors, shapes, ideas, vessels. Everything I make at the kitchen sink, whilst listening to a play or a podcast, is my way of spending more time appreciating the flowers that we have grown, looking carefully at each petal, working out which flowers are the most beautiful and therefore need to sit in the best light on the inevitable 5-minute photo shoot that follows, which flowers have the best movement, which is good for creating background shade or blending. In the days afterward, I’ll watch how the flowers behave. Do they wilt too quickly or do they, as often seems to happen, keep on growing.
And yes, if you’re wondering, of course, I talk to them too and tell them they are beautiful and move them to different places to see how they look in cool light or warm light or barn light. And, I take careful notes, putting in the memory bank those flowers we will grow every year, those that really weren’t worth the effort, and, most importantly of all, those that will go perfectly in the Friday night bouquet for Cathy or Emily, or Charlotte...
Like many beautiful living things, within days the flowers will fade. But... then there’s the photo and where that can take you is another story.
Get To Know More About Sarah
Image credits Emma Davies
Sarah Statham from Simply by Arrangement
is a floral designer and teacher. She is also a grower of flowers. Her work exists of weddings, workshops, mentorship, and writing. This blog was originally featured on the website of La Musa de las Flores