Lessons From My First Year As A Flower Farmer

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The summer of 2018 broke quite a few records here in Denmark. Both May and July were the sunniest ever measured. May was the hottest May ever measured. And the whole summer overall was the driest summer ever measured!

Here are some of the many many valuable lessons from my first year as a flower farmer, in no particular order:

- I can't do without a heating mat. It is like having a magical wand. Almost all of my seeds sprouted instead of rotting, and most of them in just a matter of 1-3 days instead of the usual 7-30 days.

- Even though I plant tulips very close together, I shouldn't plant different varieties close together but leave a slight gap inbetween, as some grow earlier than others thus shading/supressing the weaker/slower variety slightly.

- I can't get around harvesting my Tulips with bulb and all. Both the individual flower's lifespan and the season as a whole is way too short if I just cut them. My very favourite tulip varieties now include Angelique (all time favourite for years and years), Black Hero, Fancy Frills, Ballerina, Mount Tacoma, Sensual Touch, and Menton.

- I must get better at planning so I can grow at least two successions of all of my annuals, thus spreading out their flowering time.

- I must plant more shrubs like Hydrangea Limelight, Annabelle, Grandiflora and Invincibelle, and unique varieties of Lilacs.

- In the past I have grown one or two Dahlias in amongst the other flowers in my borders in the cottage garden, but this was the first year I grew a large number of them in the cutting garden. There is so much to do in a place like this already so I like flowers that require minimum of attention but provide a maximum of flowers. And Dahlias are just alot of work in that department + our garden is in a very windy position which is not ideal for Dahlias. But I have depended on them so much this year and for the first time found some real favourites that I didn’t know before, so I will definitely be storing them and putting them back in the ground for next year. My absolute favourites are: Penhill Watermelon, Apricot Desire, Babylon Bronze, Big Brother, Breakout, the Cosmos-like Bishop of Dover and the very dark Arabian Night, which all have rather big heads, and then a few of the small-headed ball Dahlias in both orange, white and almost black which are excellent for grooms’ boutonnieres. Even though they produced a few beautiful blooms, I was rather disappointed with the volume, so it was a real comfort for me when my English gardening hero, Monty Don, called 2018 for the worst Dahlia year EVER :-)

- What I will NOT be growing again (or at least not in the near future)

  • Lillies (they don't like my coastal wind, red beetles turned them into mush, the bulbs are super expensive, and in all honesty, I just don’t like the look of them! :-D

  • Ranunculus and French Anemonies (insanely expensive if you want the really beautiful pastel coloured varieties and too complicated for my taste compared to the harvest.

  • Others I don’t ever see myself growing because they require too much work/aren’t hardy enough, or because I just don’t like them are Carnations, Gladiola, Snapdragons,

- What I will be growing MORE of next year:

  • Sunflowers especially Velvet Queen, Helios Flame, and Autumn Time (they’re super easy to sprout, grow fast, flower at my favourite time of year)

  • Sweet Peas ( I have fallen head over heels for this scented beauty and they last SO long in a vase) My favourites based on stem length and thus better use for bouquets are Bix, Anniversary, Earl Grey, Jilly, Nimbus, White Supreme, Charlies Angel.

  • Zinnias Cupcake Pink, Zindarella Peach and Oklahoma Pink (lots more!)

  • Love-in-the-mist African Bride.

- The most perfect cut flower and my new favourite is Cosmos. They really are as amazing as people say and just keep shooting and shooting as long as there is a bit of warmth in the air. It was by far the most prolific bloom in my garden this year, and they are so beautiful. I will stick to the simple Purity, and the slightly fluffier but still soft colours of the Cupcake White and Cupcake Blush. I have found that they go excellently with bouquets of both the romantic soft colours of early summer as well as the punchy colours of late summer and autumn. Can’t recommend Cosmos enough!

- Iceland Poppies. I am still on the fence about these magnificent and much coveted beauties. I didn’t manage to grow them succesfully this year. And just seem difficult to manage. But I may be wrong, and I might give them a go again this winter/spring.

- My Raspberries growing wildly in the woodland garden make superb green fillers for bouquets and arrangements. They last long and look beautiful both as just foliage as well as with small unripe berries on them.

- Next spring I might make an Iris bed. I thought I could do without them, but Iris Germanica have a shape that you just don’t find in any other flowers. Some of the varieties I dream of include Fluffy Pillows, Paint It Black, Qualified and Heure Bleue.

- I must have patience with myself and with my garden. This year I bought and planted alot of perennials and shrubs like Echinacea White Swan and Magnus; Lupins; Anemone hupehensis; Aster; Peonies Cheddar Elite, Sarah Bernhard, Sea Shell, Coral Supreme, and Duchesse De Nemours; Sedum Iceberg; Cotinus; my five favourite Roses Eglantyne, Crown Princess Margareta, William Shakespeare 2000, A Shropshire Lad and James Galway; and grasses like Pennisetum and Briza media and they're gonna need time to grow. It's going to be at least 2 more years until most of them will yield a serious crop.

- It took my customers a little while to get used to the fact that I also include wild growing (thus free) grasses, cow parsley and other hedgerow plants in my bouquets and delivery buckets which they could in theory pick themselves and in the beginning of summer it caused a mild “conflict” but in the end they saw that what they pay for is not just a flower but also my time and more importantly my ability to choose, grow, forage and combine varieties of all kinds that go beautifully together for each delivery and that in fact they would never find the time to go forage for wild flowers and grasses anyway. If I am to do this profesionally in any degree I need to stand fast on what type of “product” I want to deliver. And my whole aesthetic has always been about natural beauty and not about huge bunches of wax perfect roses, lillies or peonies.

- But perhaps the most important lesson of all: I need to move ALOT of flowers to make a salary that even slightly corresponds with the hours I'm putting into it. So my plan is to keep growing flowers to sell to my local wedding planner/florist friends at Danish Island Weddings and whatever I have left over I will put in our roadside stall. But I am not going to make flower growing my main priority. Being geographically restricted here on the island my potential customer list is fairly limited, and I find it extremely stressful to put all my eggs in a basket that depends so heavily on the weather, the one element I have no control over. Moving forward it will be a side thing, something I do just as much for pleasure as for business, and I feel very comfortable with that decision for now. Who knows what the future will bring :-)

If you’d like to share, please list your favourite cut flower(s) in the comments below. I would love to test out at least one or two new kinds for the 2019 season.

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