What I wish I'd known before I became a Flower Farmer
It's so hard to begin this post because there are so many things I wished I'd known before starting the journey of creating a Flower Farm. I'd read The Cutting Garden by Sarah Raven and was so smitten with the idea of having a garden filled with flowers purely for picking that I re created her design and filled it with rows of flowers. My first surprise was that I didn't get flowers for months and then when I did I had enormous quantities of blooms and nowhere to sell them.I wanted to add dahlias to my collection but had missed the correct time of year to order them. You get the picture. I was as green as Kermit the Frog when it came to growing flowers to sell. Bear in mind that I started growing in 2015 just before the wonderful information from Floret was readily available.Her early blog posts were a life saver for sure. Hopefully the next few paragraphs will be helpful to the Newbie Flower Farmers amongst you and will save you making the mistakes that plagued my early years. I'll just touch on a couple thoughts per post and try and create a little series for you.
Lesson number #1 : Sow in Autumn for early Spring flowers
The concept of sowing seeds in autumn was a light bulb moment for me. I didn't realise that I could sow in autumn, plant out in the field over winter and then enjoy early crops of flowers in spring. The first year I successfully completed this I was overjoyed. It meant I could have stock and cerinthe in my tulip posies and not only that I discovered that cornflowers and ammi majus were two to three times as tall and abundant as their spring sown cousins. Here is a list of Hardy annuals that I sow every Autumn to help you along.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but it's a start. Basically any seed labelled as a hardy annual will stand a good chance of surviving a winter in the field. Together with bulbs you will have a good start to your Spring plan. What bulbs would I recommend? Tulips are an easy one. Make sure you opt to grow the "fancy doubles" rather than the singles. These are sometimes called peony tulips. I think when growing speciality cut flowers it's important to choose flowers that are a bit different from what you may find in a supermarket. It'll be easier to sell something that a customer may not have seen before or that is not readily available in your location.
Incidentally the photo above depicts the first rows of flowers that I ever planted. My early plantings went into the Sarah Raven inspired Cutting Garden which turned out to be very difficult to maintain. I soon learned that growing in rows and into weed mat was a much more efficient way of growing a large crop. The very bushy crop in the middle was a crop of cornflowers with (I think) Ammi majus planted next to it. The netting was there not to protect the flowers but to protect a fig crop that we grew once upon a time. I since learned that my rows were WAY TOO LONG for me to deal with! I'm at the stage where I'm actually downsizing my farm a bit which includes making these rows shorter so they're much easier to tackle once a crop has finished flowering.
Lesson #2 :Learn how to successionally sow
Again this lesson was something I had to learn the hard way. That first Spring I sowed up a storm. I was so passionate about flowers that I wanted to grow everything! I think I must have sown about eight different types of sweet pea - all at the same time! Sweet peas are such a prolific flowerer and I ended up with so many stems I just couldn't keep up with them.I also didn't tie them in properly so had quite a few vines slump into a messy tangle. These mistakes in themselves weren't showstoppers but when I compared my efforts to Floret I did feel like a huge horticultural failure! I journaled regularly (and still do) about these failures and wow I beat myself up a lot! I didn't realise that learning by experience, while annoying and costly, is actually the best teacher of all. As well as sweet peas I grew a shed load of cornflowers in blues, pinks, purples and the fancy mixes. Cornflowers are one of the most fiddly flowers to harvest and I had a long row of them! I didn't even get close to harvesting even a quarter of the blooms so they quickly went to