Learning the art of flower farming – a guest post from our competition winner on the Catkin cut flower workshop
Last week I set off at a very early hour for the Lincolnshire countryside to a place called Doddington Hall where I would spend the day with a group of likeminded ladies learning about cut flowers from Rachel of Catkin Flowers. On the way I picked up the lovely Dasha Caffrey, wedding photographer and one of the lovely businesses you can find on The Natural Wedding Company directory, who took all these stunning photos.
If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember that I ran a competition to win a place on this cut flower workshop, and I was thrilled to be joined by the lovely Nik who won the competition and writes a blog called Little House In Town.
From left: Nik, Susan (growing flowers for her daughters wedding next year), Rachel from Catkin, Gill, and me with our bouquets
I think I can say on behalf of all the workshop attendees that we had a wonderful day, chatting all things flowery, wandering around the pretty walled garden where Rachel grows her flowers, and getting to play with buckets full of garden flowers.
That’s my bouquet below!
For a bit of a refreshing change, I invited our competition winner Nik to share her experience of the day with you all, so I hope you enjoy hearing all about what we got up to whilst soaking up Dasha’s beautiful photos. Over to Nik:
On Wednesday 5th July, a gaggle of excited ladies convened upon the magnificent Doddington Hall – a stately home and gardens, farm shop, restaurant and eco-venue all rolled into one fabulous package. A package that is made all the more fabulous by the presence of resident cut-flower grower, Rachel Petheram, who grows the beautiful English blooms used in her sustainable floristry business, Catkin Flowers, from the walled kitchen garden.
It was Rachel we were there to meet, for the very first TNWC Cut Flower Growing Course – a day of seasonal garden planning tips and tricks, advice on the best blooms for a novice cutting garden and to round off the day, learning how to make a hand-tied bouquet and buttonhole to take home.
I am, without shadow of a doubt, a novice flower gardener. I even managed to kill my peace lily, and they are supposed to be invincible. My flower garden currently consists of three begonias, a potted lavender plant and a wooden herb tray. So, understandably, there were fleeting moments of nervousness prior to the event – what if I’m expected to know certain things? What if I ask an utterly ridiculous question? What if my bouquet collapses in my hands or, heaven forbid, I try to place a weed into my arrangement through sheer ignorance?
The short answer to the above is: I needn’t have worried. The long answer is: Rachel has an incredible knack for making the complicated uncomplicated – I think she could probably train a monkey to grow flowers, and all without hint of a patronising tone or sly smirk. A marvellous hostess she was – her natural charm and enthusiasm for her work shone through the whole day long (and she provided biscuits and mint tea, fresh from the garden, which certainly earned her extra brownie points).
The inclement weather made for some opportunistic outdoor dashes during periods of brief sunshine, and as we toured the walled garden ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ at the beautiful shows of summer colour, I even learnt that incorporating weeds into your arrangements can be actively encouraged – especially dock!
We ate a delicious lunch in the on-site restaurant, with ingredients sourced from the estate itself (you can even have home-culled pigeon! Maybe next time…), during which our little group really got chatting away. It was a real pleasure to spend time with such a fascinating group of ladies, each with their own motivation for wanting to learn the art of cut flower growing. I can’t wait to keep track of how we all get on and it’s great to know there are others I can turn to for support and advice if I get a little daunted.
Learning to hand-tie a bouquet really was the highlight of the day for me. Fortunately, the flowers we were using had already been selected and ‘conditioned’ (posh word for stuck in a bucket in a cold place overnight) ready for us to use.
It was a little hard at first to get your head around the amount of foliage, and sometimes actual flower, that has to be stripped away to prepare the stem for tying. Charlie, in particular, was pretty distressed at the idea! But Rachel taught us ways in which we could put that discarded foliage to good use – in making nourishing tea for the other plants in the garden. A truly sustainable craft.
Every single person went home with a professional-looking, distinctive bouquet full of David Austin roses, Nigella, cat mint, sweet peas, buddleia mint and other lovely things whose names have escaped me… but hey, I remembered five whole things! That’s five more cut flowers than I knew at the start of the day.
I can’t wait to get going with my own cut flower garden, and the fantastic thing is: you can do it any time of year. There’s always something suitable to be planting. Come autumn it’ll be time to get those hardy annuals and bulbs going ready for over-wintering so now is the ideal time to start planning those beds!
A huge thanks to Nik for sharing her experiences with everyone – I am looking to set up a few more workshops with varying crafty themes if there is the interest, so do let me know by dropping me an email or leaving a message below if you fancy the idea of meeting up with likeminded people for a crafty session.
Nicola Ibberson is a freelance writer and proof reader, who is on the verge of moving to the seaside to lead a simpler life. Her personal blog, Little House In Town is a place for all things ethical, sustainable, handmade and seaside-y.
Images: Dasha Caffrey Photography