Step Away from the To Do List…..

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Sometimes I need to remind myself of what I’ve achieved rather than think about what is still on the To Do List. I think to some extent we all do. This blog has been an invaluable resource of how we’ve developed our little slice of Hawke’s Bay. I enjoy re-reading posts of projects that we’ve accomplished and how we’ve chipped away at our little bit of land to mould it and shape it to suit us. We’ve had a fair few projects since we moved here notably the Figs and the Cutting Garden. I sometimes wonder if people think we’re a bit mad to lavish such attention on a garden….but then I have a cup of tea and get my spade out and carry on digging! This post is a bit of a Then and Now post. Looking back and looking forwards.

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One of my most favourite Spring Sights is my Plum Tree. It always has a magnificent covering of blossom and this year it was completely drowning in the honey scented stuff. The bees have been going mad over it.  I stood underneath a little while back and took a good sniff and wished that I could bottle it for it’s scent is fleeting. Here’s my plum tree now after just a week.

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Other Spring Goodies include the bulbs in the Nuttery that I almost broke my back planting!

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The trees in the nuttery are in bud and looking a little taller than last year. I’ve been raking up all the leaves that the oaks, chestnuts and gladitzias have been dropping steadily over autumn and transporting them to the Nuttery to get a good “woodland feel” and add some leaf mould goodness too. I was so happy to see that the three Hawthorne trees that I thought were dead as doornails last Autumn….

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….are actually well and truly Alive! I love the shape of their leaves and I’m hoping to see some evidence of their berries this coming Autumn. In fact, out of all the 60 odd trees that we planted this time last year only one has turned up it’s roots and joined the great Woodland in the Sky  and that was the Eucalyptus. I thought these trees were indestructible but not this one. Just to recognise the progress from last year this is what the Nuttery looked like in September 2014

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And this is the Nuttery now.

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It’s difficult to capture everything that’s going on but there are little patches of foxgloves, bluebells, tulips, ornithagalum and narcissi all over the show. The shrubs have been transplanted from the Annoying Bed (it’s never worked in the 6 years years we’ve lived here so it’s going to be grassed over leaving the trees to stand alone in all their glory and to open up the view). The Nut trees are right at the back including a circle of Hazels and some almonds.

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This was the Cutting Garden in September 2014. The Herb Garden didn’t exist until a few months later…..nor did the Wildflower Meadow. The Wildflowers were sown in November 2014.

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This is the Cutting Garden in September 2015. Definitely more action around the edges, a few biennials that survived and everything nicely mulched ready for the seedlings…

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The Sweet Pea Walk is new. Mr Fig had a great time putting these posts in (ahem!). However, they look fabulous and they will work as a great support for the Sweetpeas as well as being a gorgeous place in which to linger with a cup of tea.

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The Herb Garden September 2015. Work in the Herb Garden tailed off as the heat of summer hit us hard in 2014. However, it was full of scented geraniums, mint, fennel and bee balm. You might be able to make out a small square bed in the the top right of the photo….there will be three more of these to create symmetry and provide beds for basil, chives and other culinary herbs. You might also be wondering about the circular mound of something in the middle? That will be a Chamomile Lawn (with a nod to Mary Wesley). Will need to start again as the weeds laughed in the face of my attempts to smother them with Chamomile…. Mwahahahaha they crowed (nasty weeds).

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The Lime bush/tree has had a Severe Pruning and a good mulch and the semi edible beds have been mulched to within an inch of their lives too (I’m so over weeding that this is my attempt to never have to weed again!).

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I’m using mushroom compost which is working well and feeding the soil too.

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The honeysuckle had a massive haircut so that we could actually enter the Vege Garden without being poked in the eye….

I really neglected the veggies last year. I got a few beans and courgettes and toms but the cucumbers were rubbish and the pickles didn’t make it to become pickles. The butternut squash yielded a desultory harvest and the strawberries were all eaten by the feathered folk. Grrrrr….

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This Year will be Different. What’s the difference? Well, I’ve added heaps of goodies to the soil….chicken poo…..compost……coffee grounds…..yum! I’ve also added netting to most of the beds to protect the veggies from prying beaks. I’ve also tweaked the layout a tiny bit (Mr Fig just groaned then….he’s changed the layout of the vege garden numerous times!).

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All I’ve done is extend the Squash bed because I want to grow these gorgeous little spaceship squash that are essentially courgettes but packaged in a fancier shape. I also want more pumpkins too especially one called Turks Turban that I saw growing at Kew Gardens three years ago and Pumpkin ‘Kent’ which will just remind me of where I used to live.

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Just need to add some compost and other goodies and it’ll be good to go. Must prune those feijoas too and let more light in…..

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I’ve also added a path behind the Shadowy Bed (good for lettuces and coriander that need shade in the heat of summer) for easier harvesting. I often have to wrestle with the honeysuckle to harvest this bed. The semi edible bed has been reduced because the back of the bed is just a Weed Party in the summer. Yep take your Glastonbury Weed Party somewhere else this year thank you very much.

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The old Florence Fennel bed has been weeded and a little path has been started by the green house. Hopefully this will stop weeds growing through the green house and means that I can walk all the way round to harvest this little bed underneath the Greengage tree. Quite shady so, again, a good lettuce/herb bed.

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I’d like to store my pots here in a more organised fashion…..work in progress…..I have faith….I can just see garden tools hung up on nails in an orderly fashion on the side of the compost bins (it’s good to have imagination!).

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I have some peas busily making themselves at home against these home made circular towers. I started the pea seeds in proper pea root trainer pots. Not sure if it’s made much difference but I love the look of the pearly white roots….

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I have also planted out kale and rocket. Inside the house tucked up warm and cosy are some baby tomato seedlings and some rather healthy and rather butch looking beans. The squash and pumpkins are also germinating very, very quietly shhhhh….

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And what about flowers? I’ve been sowing seeds. Quite a lot of them. I felt optimistic enough to sow Zinnia yesterday. They love the warmth so I bring them inside overnight. I planted out my March sown seeds into beds last week. Things like scabious, Clary sage and Nigella. I have a few biennials like Foxgloves, sweet william, larkspur, achillea and Clarkia/Godetia. I totally failed on the biennial front because I left the sowing Too Late. It just felt so hot last February I thought I could leave it till March – No You Can’t. Grrrrr…. However, there’s no point beating myself up about this. You live and learn and next year I will know.

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As well as seeing to the green part of my business I’ve also been busily working away at the admin side too. I have a very talented friend who is not only a Graphic Designer but who also paints the most beautiful portraits of children and animals. Have a look at her website (and in particular at her latest work of Mud the gorgeous Labrador) on her FB page Zoe Reid Portraits. Zoe has been creating my flower cart business cards and generally being a Very Useful and Wise Sounding Board for my little flower business. In return I have been helping her with her Social Media and hopefully also being a Good Sounding Board for her Portrait business! I am so thrilled with the business cards. We (read me) spent ages humming and ah-ing over which type of card to use and I just love the textured card that we plumped for. It has that vintage, timeless quality to it that I love.

Enjoy your garden this Spring/Autumn (wherever you are in the world). If you have a Plum Tree in bloom stand beneath and sniff deeply – it will feed your soul. Happy Gardening!

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Exciting Times

It’s Winter here in New Zealand; a time to hunker down, stoke up the fire and make plans. I’ve been doing a bit of all three but I have to say I’ve never had a busier winter. I’ve been mulching like crazy to keep those pesky weeds under control, and to feed the soil and protect the biennials that are bravely soldiering on in the cut flower garden. My mulch of choice? Mushroom compost at the  moment. Brilliant stuff!

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I’ve been planting up sweet peas, making supports, planting bulbs in the Nuttery and transplanting hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of self sown cerinthe major seedlings to other parts of the garden ready to bloom their magnificent purply bracts in Spring.

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I’ve also moved many narcissi bulbs, bluebells, snow drops and Belladonnas into the Nuttery because we are turning a very unsuccessful island bed back to grass. I can’t bear to waste a single bulb so I’ve been loading up the wheel barrow and moving each and every one to a new home.

All this activity has had a purpose. Not only to create a beautiful environment for my family and an enriching one for insects and birds but also to provide a firm foundation for my new, embryonic business. I’ve always known that growing things made sense. That assisting seeds to full their potential had meaning. That creating beauty meant creating a legacy. What I hadn’t realised was that, perhaps, I may be able to make a living from it…… So, I’m going to unveil my new business called myflowercart…da daaaaaaah!

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Back in the summer I talked to my friend’s hubbie (an amazing builder with a very good eye for up-cycling – something close to my heart). I told him about my idea of a flower cart. I described it as rustic, vintage, tongue and groove wooden sides, a tin roof and all made from up cycled materials. Wow did he deliver!

Firstly we started with an old trailer base that my friend’s brother used to drag her around the paddock in when they were kids! Then the base was built and a cladding applied (old boards from an old house).

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There are windows at the side to let light in and three shelves for optimal display. There was much discussion about the shelves and the windows and I’m so glad there was. I’m not very good at expressing the contents of my mind so it really helped to have practical advice from my friend and Mr Fig and Mr Builder.

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The lower shelf just begs to be full of seedlings and Sunflowers will go in huge buckets down here.

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I’ll fill these galvanised buckets full of blooms….

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…..and use these blackboard tags for clear pricing.

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I love the knot in the wood here.

My wooden cart won’t stop here either. Everyone who knows me will expect there to be bunting (and there will!).

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It will also have vintage blackboards

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I made them myself from an old mirror with a lovely frame

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and an old photo frame from the op shop.

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I’m also thinking rose hip heart decorations and willow wreaths. I’ll be operating an Honesty Box system so will have to trust people to be honest. I’ll also operate a Pay By The Bank App on your Mobile Phone system.

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By the way, Eldest Figlet was responsible for this pricing! Note that the flowers are worth thousands and her baby Figlet brother 10 cents!

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In full growing season there will be galvanised buckets full to bursting with Sweet peas, Larkspur, Foxgloves, anemone, ranunculus, icelandic poppies and mixed posies and bouquets…and that’s just early Spring! Summer will bring peonies, sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnia, clary sage, bells of Ireland, cosmos double click, kiss me over the garden gate, lemon balm, malope and nigella…. It will be a feast for the senses! I just love it and am eternally grateful to know someone who was able to make my dreams a reality (thanks Johnny aka Mr Builder and thanks Soph aka Mrs Builder for sowing the seed in my mind for actually selling my flowers).

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I’ve been busy drawing on my IT skills from a previous life and creating spreadsheets for planting timetables, successional sowing, forecasts, actuals and budgets with the help of Mr Fig and his Financial Mind. We’ve had a happy time trying to outdo each other in the Nerd Stakes!  I’ve been researching pricing, irrigation techniques, marketing and sales. It’s pretty thrilling and daunting but the underlying emotion is complete fulfilment and satisfaction. I’m pretty realistic; from my research it’s obvious that flower farming is best learnt from experience. I’m also not likely to be a millionaire next year (or the one after that).  I’m starting small; just a cart, roadside sales and a couple of florists who liked my flowers last year. But I have plans to expand into the local community and social media and with inspiration from Common Farm Flowers in the UK and Floret Flowers in the US I’m hoping to be a fully fledged Flower Farmer before very long (and a Fig Farmer of course – I’ve been busy propagating and pruning those little trees too).

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So it’s a busy and exciting time here at The Fig Tree. I’ll soon have a new website and blog focussing on the flowers which I’ll blog about as soon as it’s up and running. For now, if you’re interested in the Life of a Flower Farmer then pop over to my new Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/myflowercart. Until then…follow your dreams if you can 🙂

A Sweet Idea and a Bird Seed Slice

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Although we are now plunged into the deep, dark depths of winter (probably being  a bit over dramatic here but you get my drift) there is still some new, fresh green growth going on in my garden. I have various little pots of cuttings and seeds that I just managed to germinate before the Cold Snap that had us all reaching for the thermals, but the ones I’m most excited about are the Sweet Peas. I’m growing the solstice variety at the moment because these guys are tough. They are the SAS of the Flower World. They laugh in the face of short, dark days and they not only accept the challenge to Flower In Winter, they relish it! Yes! A sweet pea in winter! This is the first time that I’ve tried this variety so I’ll report back. But whether Solstice variety or Spencer variety all sweet peas need good support. Over the years I have always suffered from saggy nets (eek!) dragged down by the tenacious, snaking stems of my sweet peas. This year it’s going to be very different because I had a Lightbulb Moment. Now, these don’t come around very often so I just had to share it. I was toying with the idea of using wire to thread along the top of the netting but I didn’t have any. Rats! As I started mumbling at the dog I noticed a pile of bamboo canes that we harvest frequently because the bamboo is a complete delinquent and threatens to take over not just our garden but the whole world. They looked very light but also very solid and long. Long enough to thread through the netting and balance on top of the posts!

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And lo! The first Bamboo Curtain Support for Sweet Peas was created (as far as I know anyway!!) All looking very neat and tidy and Well Supported!

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It’s just a case of threading the cane through the squares…..

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Mr Fig banged in a couple of nails to stop the bamboo from sliding off the posts and making me really cross. He’s thoughtful like that 🙂

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We also constructed a support outside in the vege garden for more sweet peas and planted spinach, silver beet and beetroot in front.

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From the greenhouse to the kitchen….. Not sure if anyone else is doing Junk Free June but I’ve been quite keen to Have A Go. I always feel really guilty buying up processed snacks for the Figlets. I always seem to succumb to the pressure though. I’m always really shocked at the cost of them too (especially as they’re gone in a flash as soon as the Figlets find them). I do quite a bit of baking anyway so I’ve decided to up the baking and try a few new snack ideas to keep the wolves from the door and the Figlets from lynching me 🙂 Now, I’m interpreting Junk Free as not buying processed foods so the baking ideas I’ll be using do contain sugar (we’re not saints you know). First up is this gorgeous recipe from a fabulous cookery book called Ripe named after the author’s Auckland cafe. Their philosophy is… “simple, fresh, quality, seasonal, healthy food that’s good value for money.” Couldn’t have said it better myself and here’s one of my favourite recipes.

Bird Seed Slice

150g raisins
120g unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
90g smooth peanut butter
150g rolled oats
150g pumpkin seeds
150g sunflower seeds
150g sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 170c. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm tin. In a small bowl cover the raisins with water and leave for 20 minutes to soak and plump up. This helps prevent them from burning.

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Place a small saucepan over a medium heat. Melt together the butter, golden syrup, brown sugar and peanut butter stirring constantly until thick. Remove from the heat. Drain the raisins.

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In a large bowl combine the raisins with the oats and seeds.

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Pour the melted butter mixture over and stir to combine.

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Press the mixture into the tin and cover with baking parchment or foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden. Cut while still warm and in the tin. Place in fridge and allow to set.

Other snack substitutes that I’m hoping will become the norm include:

Toast with honey
Yoghurts and Suckies
Home made hummus with veg sticks
Sunflower seed pate
Four Seed Crackers
Pizza Crackers
Pistachios, cashews, macadamia, brazil nut mix
Freshly popped popcorn
Fruit

Some of these we have as snacks anyway but I’m looking forward to trying the sunflower seed pate, the crackers and making my own hummus again. Always good to have a challenge. If you have any healthy snack ideas to share please do! I’ll post up the new snack recipes when I’ve tried them out. Happy gardening and baking!

 

Up and running again…..

My laptop blew up a few weeks ago and in true Fig Family style it took us ages to get round to replacing it. However, it’s been well worth the wait as we decided to plump for an Apple Mac. It’s all shiny and sleek and light as air. Rather flash in other words and I’m a little bit intimidated by it! However, turns out its full of fab features including iMovie. So, now I’m up and running again I thought I’d try my hand at compiling a little snippet of a movie featuring some of the jobs that I’ve been getting on with this Autumn. It’s not perfect and is quite possibly a bit cheesy and I’ve learnt a lot (video in landscape in particular). It was a lot of fun though and my eldest figlet really enjoyed laughing at me and telling me that I walk like a zombie and to put more energy into it!

So just a short post today but I’ve got lots to write about (especially collecting seeds) and quite possibly video too. So watch this space!

Flowers, flowers everywhere……

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Well just look at that….February already! No blog action during January at all I’m afraid. Spent many a day sniffing the salty air, cooling off in the sea and making sandcastles. Other lazy days were spent trying to keep cool during one of the hottest summers I’ve experienced to date in New Zealand. And, of course, I spent a lot of time wondering through the WildFlower Meadow observing all the new varieties blooming away and snipping happily in the Cut Flower Garden. I was lucky enough to be asked to sell some flower posies at our local Farmer’s Market to help out my Florist Friend. It was such an interesting and  fun morning. Interesting as a flower seller to see which flowers were the ones that sold first and fun because I met some really interesting and lovely people – many of whom just loved talking about flowers!

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Here’s my little stall complete with a huge bucket of Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’.

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I used a huge variety of my flowers and herbs and the scent was just delightful. In the posies above you can see Zinnia, alstromeria, echinecea buttons, apple mint, bergamont Bee balm, scabiosa, feverfew and ageratum. 

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In the posies above I used sedum, dahlia ‘Embrace’, mignonette, orange cosmos and amaranthus. the vase of dahlias are ‘Cafe au Lait’. These were really for show as they only have a few days vase life. It’s best to pick them slightly immature as the bud is half to two thirds open. They are probably one of the showiest flowers I know. A real Fleeting Beauty.

So aside from having fun at the market I have started to make a list of Things That I’ve Learnt from the last two seasons as a Cut Flower Grower.

Successional Sowing : as every good vege gardener knows, successional sowing is essential to avoid the ‘hungry gaps’. I made just two sowings (!) However, theis second sowing really came into it’s own for the flower stall. I had sown salvia tricolour and salvia Turkistan white, clary sage and antirrhinums. Perfect to pad out the posies. I was also glad to have my scented herbs to fall back on. The applemint, scented geraniums and Bergamont Bee Balm in particular.

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AWOL plants ; I had a few mysteriously disappearing plants namely asters, sweet williams, echinops ritro, aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’ and Geum Mrs Bradshaw. One minute they were there, the next….vanished. I think some may have been swamped by their stronger green leaved neighbours. Must leave more space inbetween plantings.

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Keep the same varieties of a flower separate : Why? Well, I planted 4 types of zinnia and apart from Giant Lime I wasn’t sure which was which. Same with the sunflowers apart from Vanilla Ice. On the plus side I had the best crop of zinnia and sunflowers ever.

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Remove finished varieties and replace with new : This follows on from the successional sowing point but I did tend to leave finished varieties to run amok willy nilly with the weeds which is not something I’d care to repeat!

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Slow burners : Some of the varieties I chose to sow took AGES to flower including buplerum and ammi majus and ammi visnaga. I will be planting these well away form the Cutting Garden because they take up valuable space.

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Stake and support : An obvious one but my sunflowers and dahlias should have been staked sooner…. I did toy with th eidea of using pea netting horizontally for the taller plants to grow through as many flower farmers do. I think this would have been over kill for my space though. Perhaps just larkspur and corncockle.

Grow More! : When I started my Cutting garden it was purely for me. However, now I’m selling the flowers I need a better more oganised strategy and most of all I need to Grow Heaps More. The varieties that were snipped up the fastest included sweetpeas and sunflowers. Paeonies are the other popular flower here in Hawke’s Bay. The other flowers essential for filling and adding interest include sage clary, nigella, poppy seed heads, scented herbs, hydrangeas (especially white) to name a few.

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Plant bienniels : I was too late last autumn but this year I’m prepared. I’ll be sowing sweet williams, stocks, larkspur…..

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Next time…an update on the Wildflower Meadow.

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