Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine

Deep purple Michaelmas Daisies attract late season Comma butterflies in large numbers

An excellent late season perennial for the cut flower garden in a wide range of pink, white, lilac and purple shades.  The butterflies love these flowers in the late autumn sunshine.

Hardy Perennial

Latin name: We mainly grow Aster novibelgii, Aster novaeangliae, Aster pringlei an Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’

Origin:  Mainly North America

Family:  Asteraceae

Height:  Wide variety from small clump forming varieties up to 4-5 feet.  Tall varieties definitely need staking in our windy conditions.

Position:  We grow these in a sunny open position as part of a mixed perennial and annual border.

A striking October combination of Aster Novae-angleae and Rose ‘L’Aimant’

Cut flower:  Yes.  We use these widely in our September and October bouquets and also use Aster ‘Monch’ which flowers earlier in the year but also continues right into autumn.  All stand well after conditioning if picked young before the bees get to them.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

This lilac clump forming Aster sits well with the strong colour of this Schizostylis

Suppliers: At this time of year one of the best places to see a wide range of Asters is the Picton Garden and Old Court Nurseries near Malvern.  They hold the NCCPG national collection of autumn flowering asters and it is a stunning show at the right time of year.

Their website www.autumnasters.co.uk provides a wide range of background information to help you choose and grow these lovely plants.

Aster pringlei
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Laying out the formal hedging in the new flower garden

Well the thinking and planning are over and it is now time to get down to the hard graft in the new garden.  We are starting with the planting of the new formal hedges as we want to get these into the ground and give the plants time to get their roots down before it gets too cold.

We could have used box or yew for this but have decided to go with Lonicera nitida.  With all the problems with box blight here in the UK we decided on the honeysuckle because it has worked very well for us elsewhere in the garden providing an excellent, dense dark green hedge which is easy to keep in shape and under control.  The hedging plants were sourced from Buckingham Nurseries (www.hedging.co.uk) and were delivered in 9cm pots ready for planting.

Having marked out the circle we dug down deeply and removed as many perennial weeds as we could.  We suffer from a lot of couch grass so try hard to remove as much as we can before planting anything new.  Many wheelbarrows of garden compost were added to improve the sandy thin soil before planting.

We would like to have added bone meal but the dogs just love it and we struggle to keep them off anything we plant.  We did add pelleted chicken manure and dug it all in well with our Mantis tiller (an excellent machine!).

Once prepared we covered the ground with weed suppressing membrane to reduce the future weeding around the plants.

To plant we cut slits in the membrane and planted the new plants about 1 foot apart (80 in all).  Having watered in well we mulched with wood chippings we had collected from tree pruning work last year (nothing goes to waste here!).

Last but not least is the final pruning of the new plants to help them get really bushy.  I hate this bit but it has to be done.  Each plant was cut back by half to make sure they will bush out well from the very bottom.

Voila!  Hopefully these will all settle in well and we will begin to see the formal structure of the garden develop in the spring next year.  A very satisfying job.

Autumn arrangements of British flowers from the cutting garden

DSCF8336

We may be moving swiftly into October but there are still so many beautiful flowers to pick from the cutting garden.  This bouquet was created this morning from freshly picked Cosmos ‘sensation mix’ (Cosmos bipinnatus), lilac and mauve michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – varieties ‘Colwall constellation’ and ‘Colwall galaxy’), chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides), zinnia , outdoor grown chrysanthemums (varieties ‘Incurve Purple Royal Mist’ and ‘Incurve Pink Allouise’) and peach, pink and white dahlias backed with eucalyptus and fresh lime-green feathery cosmos foliage.

Future plans for the cutting garden

Cutting garden plan small

The Honey Pot Flowers cutting garden has been a very productive space over the last six years providing us with a wide range of beautiful cut flowers for use in our wedding flowers, gifts and celebration bouquets.

However to grow efficiently and provide easy cutting the garden was created in long straight beds using large blocks of the same species or variety. It worked very well for us but we have decided that we want now to develop the garden to be more aesthetically pleasing, still a cutting garden but somewhere that you want to stop, sit and enjoy.

Visitors often think the cutting garden will be a wonderful sight, full of colour, but in reality there is often little to see as it has all been picked.  By its very nature an efficient, large commercial cutting garden will be constantly picking and there should only be a few flowers in bloom.

Our aim over the next few years is to move away from a production orientated flower garden to one that a wonderful place to be.  No longer large blocks of a single species but a garden that has wonderful colour combinations and fragrant flowers, changing naturally as the seasons develop.

During the last six years, working as wedding florists with seasonal British flowers, we have learnt a lot about bringing together stunning combinations and arrangements.  We recognise that these ‘bouquets’ cannot necessarily be created in a garden setting as many of the plants you use in a bouquet may need different growing conditions.   However, what we are seeking to create as you look across the garden each day of the year is a series of colour themed cameos along similar lines.

This vision requires a major change to the layout and design of our flower garden.  It will continue to include a wide range of annuals, biennials and perennials but will increasingly involve more shrubs and roses.

I call this approach formal informality.  We have used this in other parts of the garden very effectively, combining formal well clipped hedging with cottage garden planting of foxgloves, hesperis and campanulas.  In my view the association works very well and creates a striking effect.

In addition to adding more formal hedging and having fun with our planting plans we are also looking to use height variations to add additional interest.

More details to follow …

Quinces

One of the beauties of growing your own fruit is that you can grow things that you don’t often come across in the supermarket.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is something that is well worth growing both for its large, delightful pink blossom in the spring and its large yellow fruits in the autumn.

Quince fruit

The tree in our orchard was planted in 1995 and did take some years to get going but now fruits reliably year after year.  The fruits do seem prone to scab but this only effects the fruits on the surface and does not impact the flesh at all.

Quince flowers dusted with pink

At first glance the fruits might seem daunting being hard and solid and difficult to cut through.  You will need to feel strong to prepare these!  However, peeled and cored and boiled for around an hour in a limited amount of water creates a wonderful, fragrant peach coloured puree that is quite unique.  Mash up (technical term!) with a hand blender and add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and you have the most wonderful puree for use in a wide range of desserts.

The following Quince Crumble Tart from BBC Good Food recipe is one we have done many times and always works well.   The quinces will fill your house with a beautiful quince perfume.

Quince Crumble Tart

Tip: We freeze cooked fruit in large muffin trays.  When frozen tip them out into a bag, label and pop back in the freezer.  You can then take out exactly the amount you need when you need it.  One frozen block fits nicely in a ramekin dish, then topped with crumble mix and placed in the oven gives a quick pud.

The Site

The garden
Aerial photograph of the Honey Pot Flowers garden at Waverley c.2014

Honey Pot Flowers is located in the small hamlet of Lower Norton between Warwick and Henley in Arden in the heart of the Warwickshire Countryside.

The garden is about 1 acre in size and is at around 350ft above sea level sloping gently down hill in a south-westerly direction.  This does mean that the garden in bathed in sun throughout the day but is subject to south westerly winds as they blow up the shallow valley and across the fields beyond.

The soil conditions vary throughout the garden with some areas very dry and others continually damp.  This allows us to grow a wide range of different plants as long as we are very careful in exploring what each individual plant prefers.  We have learnt a lot over the years about what works and what does not.

Prior to setting up the garden in 1994 the site was meadow grazing although there is evidence of previous ridge and furrow cultivation especially in the orchard area.

Waverley Garden 1994
A blank canvas – the Waverley garden in 1994

We have about 2 feet of soil sitting on top of heavy (triassic) clay.  In the winter this means that the water table is very high and many parts of the garden are sodden and there is often standing water in some of the beds.  The top soil is very sandy and dries out quickly in the summer but over the years we have improved this by adding lots of organic matter from our own garden compost heaps.  Both the wet and the dry offer interesting challenges.  For example some of our large orchard trees have struggled to gain a deep foot hold and have ended up leaning badly (but are still very productive as you will see).

The garden is sheltered on all sides now by a range of tree species.  Many were planted in the early 90’s as part of a Warwickshire District Council hedgerow scheme.  The boundary hedgerow and copse trees include hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), hazel (Corylus avellana), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), oak (Quercus robur), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), lime (Tilia x europaea), field maple (Acer campestre) and holly (Ilex aquifolium).  As many are now over 25 years old these mature trees provide a wonderful range of habitats for different wildlife species.

Join us on this journey- creating a beautiful English country garden.

We are starting a new era and setting out on an exciting journey – we would like you to share this with us.

We are Carol and Steve Lucey, a husband and wife team with a life long interest in growing beautiful plants, being creative and enjoying the countryside.  We are now in a position to spend more time developing our own garden, building on over 30 years working in agriculture and horticulture research, as a garden designer and professional gardener and more recently growing a wide range of wonderful British cut flowers.  For the last six years we have had great fun, developing a new business providing locally grown British cut flowers and events floristry for weddings, gifts and celebrations.

For a number of years our flower garden, though beautiful has been a rather utilitarian space.  The objective has been to grow as many flowers as possible.  Not a bad objective but we feel it is now time to develop the garden into a more creative and beautiful space, focusing on the enjoyment of wonderful plant combinations rather than purely seeking the biggest income.

Although it is a great pleasure in its own right a garden is for sharing and through this blog we would like to share our successes and the inevitable failures and ask you for your advice and comment.

As well as the development of the garden we are keen to exploit what it produces.  Much of the garden yields produce to eat and we will be sharing some of the exciting recipes and drinks that result.  We would love to receive your recipes as well.

Our life in wedding floristry also remains a passion and over the months we will bring together some of the wonderful flower combinations that you may wish to try out yourself.

Finally, we share the garden with the local wildlife and will share the rich biodiversity that we have around us.

We look forward to hearing from you over the coming years!