To get our new website and blog off to a flying start, we thought we would interview one of our favourite bloggers, seed purveyors and flowers growers…Benjamin Ranyard of Higgledy Garden in Cornwall. He’ll be a hard act to follow but we like to aim high. So, what gems did he have for us?
So, Benjamin, what do you think is behind the boom in local flower growers?
The boom in local flowers was a natural progression following the boom in locally produced food. In the early 70s we, as a country, produced a great deal more of our flowers than we do now. At that time it seemed that price was the most important thing. British growers lost out to cheap imports from Kenya and Columbia. Now there are hundreds of small artisan growers popping up but I doubt if they collectively scratch the surface of the number of flowers that are ‘consumed’ in the UK yet. Also there has been a renaissance in arts and crafts. Growing and arranging flowers sits well with that vibe. Lastly I would say the internet has made a big difference. It’s much easier to promote small/micro business these days than 10 or 20 years ago.
Are you influenced by Cornwall’s flower-growing legacy or just its climate?
I’ve always loved Cornwall. Surfing and loafing on the beach are splendid pass-times. Of course we get a longer season down here for growing so it makes sense to be here. The 2017 season will see me growing alongside Mari Owen at This Rugged Coast flower farm. Mari is a wedding florist and general good egg. It’s going to be a scream. I’m on a road trip right now but expect to be sowing the first seeds in March. Can’t wait.
What would be your three top tips for someone wanting to grow their own flowers?
1: Don’t ignore biennials. Biennials may take longer in the first instance to produce flowers but they really kick start your season so much earlier than a season of only annuals would do. Sweet Williams rock out for the free world, I grow heaps of them. Hesperis, Foxgloves, Wallflowers, Honesty…grow them all….they won’t let you down. You can sow them in June or July and plant them in beds when your first annuals go over in September. This way you don’t waste bed space.
2: Grow plenty of hardy annuals. They are generally more productive than half hardy annuals and will keep producing flowers for yonks. Cornflowers, calendula, Larkspur, Ammi and Scabiosa are good places to start.
3: Don’t sow too early. Other than sweet peas I don’t bother sowing anything until late March…and if I wasn’t in Cornwall I would leave it later. Sowing into wet cold earth is futile. Every year I grow more and more of my plants in 3 inch square pots undercover and plant them out at the end of May. It sounds like more work, but in fact it’s less work. You will save hours weeding around small seedlings and your plants will have a good start in life. I know several commercial growers who don’t sow anything at all directly into the soil.
Do any flowers hold particular significance / nostalgia for you? And if so, why?
No…I’m not nostalgic. I like to try as many new plants in the cutting patch as I can…or different combinations. (I don’t grow single varieties in rows…I grow more chaotically) Growing plenty of annuals lets you have a totally different cutting patch every year if you wish. Maybe when I’m growing as a pensioner I may become nostalgic…meanwhile there are too many things untried. 😉
What flowers do you recommend people try in 2017?
Anything in my shop! Happily my customers seem to like a variety of flowers and I get a great deal of feedback on Facebook and Twitter. What they like and I like are often a long way apart. I would say most folk tend to enjoy cottage style flower patches with plenty of Nigella, Cornflowers, Verbena, Nicotiana, Cosmos and the like. I always sow something for the bees too. Borage, Phacelia and Viper’s Bugloss are the big guns in this regard. A flower patch with a good bee population is a joy to work in.
To follow Benjamin’s fantastic blog or to buy seeds, visit higgledygarden.com or follow him on twitter: @higgledygarden