Emerging from winter

This has been the longest, coldest winter in Victoria that I can recall. So when blooms finally start to emerge and stretch towards the light, I follow their cue. Here are a few shots from a recent foray in the garden and studio with my friend Erin from A Fox in the Flowers. We played with hellebores, spirea, tulips, forsythia, fritillary, narcissus and other spring branches. 

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How to find the best Bearded Iris for your cutting garden

Perhaps more than any other flower, Bearded Iris have changed the way I look at nature. For my entire life, I thought of Bearded Iris as these sort of gaudy flowers in bright purple tones planted in municipal areas and gas station. They made me want to look away. Little did I know how breathtakingly beautiful these flowers could be. 

Bearded Iris are also an incredible cut flower. They have great staying power in a vase, and if you pick a stem with multiple blooms, the tight buds will slowly open as the older blooms shrivel. They start out in bright vibrant colours, but then they start to fade into the loveliest muted shades. 

I've shifted my winter planning over the past couple of years so that most of my seeds and plants are ordered before Christmas, which leaves me free in the new year to study the Bearded Iris catalogues which usually come out between now and mid February. 

Many of the best varieties sell out early. So now's the time to oder. In the Northern Hemisphere, most Bearded Iris are shipped in the summer for early fall planting. 

Here are some of my favorites, some new ones that I'm adding to my garden this year, plus a few on my wishlist for future ordering. And below I've included a list of where to find the best varieties for your cutting garden. Some of the most beautiful (and most expensive - but hey, it's worth it) types come direct from those creating new hybrids each year. Keith Keppel, Barry Blyth and the Schreiner family have some incredible ones to choose from. 

Girl Gone Wild / Trails End Iris Garden, Canada

 

Earthborn / Schreiners, USA

 

Vintage Vibes / Suttons (USA)

 

French Lavender / Mid-American Gardens (USA)

 

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Tuscan Glow / Keith Keppel (USA)

 

Dragon's Nest / Trails End (CANADA)

Enter the Dragon / Mid-American (USA)

 

Painted Words / Keith Keppel (USA)

 

 

The best places to buy Bearded Iris online:

http://irisofsissinghurst.com (UK)

http://www.trailsendiris.com (Canada)

https://www.schreinersgardens.com (USA)

http://www.tempotwo.com.au (Australia) - get them fast as they're closing their doors in June of 2017!

http://www.beardedirisflowers.com (USA)

https://www.suttoniris.com (USA)

http://www.keithkeppeliris.com/index.html (USA)

 

Top 5 Deer Proof Cut Flowers

In the spring of 2014, I posted on my old blog that 2014 would be the first year my entire garden would be outside the fenced area of our farm. The previous fall I had handed over my last plot of fenced land to the other farmers and expanded the large perennial garden outside our house that I have been building over the past few years. 

So, growing cut flowers with no fence in an area overrun with deer. You might think I was a bit crazy. But I approached this project very tentatively. I spent a few years experimenting with finding just the right plants that the deer won't bother and that I can use as cuts in the studio. 

Based on that experience, here is my top 5 deer-proof plants for the cut-flower garden:

1. Peonies - no matter what's going on, the deer won't eat my peonies - either the flowers or the foliage. I planted a few in the middle of their path to be extra sure, and not a single nibble!

2. Dahlias - the deer will very occasionally nibble some of the darker pink and coral varieties but haven't done any damage to my cafe au laits or white dahlias.

3. Fritillaria - all varieties do well; I've seen the odd nibble on the growing tips of F. Meleagris but that's all. 

4. Hellebores - I have a number of varieties around the garden and again, not a single bite on the flowers or the foliage.

5. Foxglove - all varieties are deer proof. 

In my Garden to Vase digital course, I share more flowers and types of foliage to consider if fencing isn't an option where you are. 

Image by Kelly Brown

Join Me In The Garden...Spring 2017 Classes Announced

Spring classes are now available for registration. 

I'm happy to announce a few spring classes here at the farm. 

The first class will focus exclusively on cut flower growing. I've had so many requests for this class and am excited to really dig in and spend some time in the garden. 

To learn more about this class, and other spring offerings, click here

p.s. classes regularly sell out so sign up early to avoid disappointment!

Image by Kelly Brown

Why You Need Molasses in Your Gardening Toolkit

I get a lot of questions about how to grow better flowers. One of the things I'm always recommending is foliar feeding. And one of the best things to incorporate into any foliar spray that you create is molasses. It's dirt cheap, easy to use and provides a rich source of carbohydrates for the microorganisms in your garden.

To learn more about how and why I use molasses, and a simple foliar spray recipe, sign up here.

I'd love to hear what you think. Have you used molasses in your garden? What other tools do you use? Leave a comment below. 

 

Bulb Planting Auger

Being married to a guy who is obsessed with tools is a good thing. Whereas I can spend hours online researching flower seeds, bulbs and plants and regularly blow my budget at the nursery, my husband Geoff (a contractor and carpenter) does the same with construction and wood working tools. 

I was talking about my plans to plant 1000+ bulbs in the garden this fall. Geoff mentioned that I should get a bulb planting auger. I hadn't heard of this before and it sounded interesting but I didn't really pay attention. I have a tendency to tune him out when he starts talking about tools... 

But finally I did some research and realized immediately that I needed this tool! Unfortunately by that point, they were sold out (Lee Valley). I called all the local farm supply centres and nurseries and home supply stores. No-one even knew what I was talking about, let alone had them in stock. 

Eventually I found them on Amazon and ordered 2. They come in different lengths and diameters, so I got one for smaller bulbs like tulips (2" diameter) and one for larger bulbs like fritillary persica (2.75" diameter). 

And wow, did this tool ever deliver. Take a look at how fast I was able to create my planting holes.  

A few things to point out:

  • You can see that I'm brand new to using this tool. I was a bit hesitant but I used it later on in the day to plant the rest of my bulbs, and once I had some practice, the whole process was much faster and smoother. 
  • I was using a corded drill. For drilling in smaller areas in soft soil, a cordless drill would work just fine. The more tough the dirt and the more holes you need to drill, the more power you'll need. 
  • It's a bit tricky to drill a lot of holes all at once without stepping on the beds (which is a no-no if you want to avoid soil compaction). I found that the best way to approach it was to stand in one spot, drill about 6-8 holes right in front of me, then step sideways along the length of my bed, drill another set of holes, and so on. If drilling holes on a lawn for example, where you would be walking anyway, it would be much faster.  
  • Drills have a reverse button which lets you reverse the rotation in case you end up drilling too deep and get stuck. You'll see in the video that I used this a couple of times. So awesome. 
  • What I love about the auger is that it lets you get quite deep in the soil. Over the past few years I've been experimenting with planting my bulbs deeper than typically suggested - this way I can create various layers in the soil - narcissus down deep below the roots of a perennial for example. This tool lets me do that really easily. And there are other augers out there that let you go much deeper than the one I'm using. 
  • I also love the precision it provides with each hole. With the auger, I can either plant each bulb in perfect rows with identical spacing, or wild and uneven, and either way, I'm saving time and not breaking my back. Perfect. 
  • So worth the cost. I bought this off Amazon for $40-ish CAD. Even if I had to buy a drill (est. $150 CAD minimum) it would still be worthwhile. If the cost of buying a drill puts you off, you could also rent one or borrow one from your neighbour in exchange for a some flowers come spring ;) 
  • Geoff recommends using a 1/2" drill. And he says that larger, more powerful drills are best for this sort of thing as they will spin a bit more slowly and therefore give you more control.
 

Free Training: how to create a thriving cut flower garden

 

Dahlias are among the easiest cut flowers to grow. That said, they are a magnet for destructive (and vile) earwigs. If you're growing flowers to design with, the last thing you want are earwigs crawling around in the finished designs! 

Starting October 4th I'm offering a free training on cultivating cut flowers where I show you how you can remove earwigs from the equation once and for all. No tricks or chemicals or shortcuts - just proven organic gardening techniques that can help you grow the most beautiful and healthy flowers possible.

What you'll learn will apply to dahlias, but also all sorts of cut flowers - roses, peonies, hydrangea and more. 

Sign up now to reserve your spot! 

p.s. This free video training series will only be available for a limited time. The entire training will run from October 1st through 17th and then will disappear. 

UPDATE: The training is now closed for the season. 

Coming soon...

It's been just over a year since I first had the idea of creating a digital course on cultivating cut flowers. It's been an amazing year. All through the fall and winter I created the content and the course membership site, and launched for the first time this spring. 

The reason I started growing flowers, about 8 years ago, was because I had just moved here to this beautiful farm and wanted to support the local bees and other native pollinators. But the reason I kept growing flowers was because they became a major creative outlet for me, and helped me launch and define my floral design business. 

Right now, dozens of students from all over the world get the chance to login to the site anytime they need to and find the exact tools, strategies and info they need to help them grow the most beautiful cut flowers possible. There are floral designers like myself, dreaming of creating their own cutting garden. There are aspiring growers who want to provide the raw beauty for others to design with. There are women getting married next year who want to grow their own wedding flowers...it's an amazing community. 

Since I started my business, the floral design industry has changed dramatically. Whereas it used to be the rare bride looking for a garden-inspired aesthetic, it's now almost every person I encounter. Having my own cutting garden has allowed me to work with clients I never would have otherwise. It's been a game charger for me and I know it has for many other designers. Look at Saipua and Ariella Chezar - they've both started their own farms in response to the demand for the freshest, most unique flowers from their clientele (and they are both doing such a beautiful job!). 

In a few weeks, Garden to Vase opens again. I'm busy working behind-the-scenes to get everything ready, and also creating some exciting new content that will be added to the course this fall. 

Curious? Head on over to www.gardentovase.com to learn more. 

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Growing Flowers

I can't turn back time, but if I could, here’s what I would say to the me that was starting out creating my cutting garden years ago:

Plant more trees and shrubs

All I grew in the beginning was annuals. Then I started adding in perennials. What I wish I had done from day 1 was plant a few large trees (think magnolia, dogwood, katsura) and shrubs (think lilac, spirea, nine bark). Materials from these sorts of plants can really make your arrangements come alive. You can never have too much!

Feed the garden, not the plants

Yup, I said it. You don’t need to worry so much about feeding your individual plants; and you need to worry even less about the feeding requirements of individual species. If you instead switch your focus to feeding the soil and supporting the overall garden ecosystem, the plants will take care of themselves. 

Create raised beds

If you have clay, you should grow in raised beds. It will extend your season and make your gardening much easier. Doing this has let me overwinter my dahlia tubers in the ground, in addition to a bunch of other benefits. 

Incorporate a bit of design ethos

Let’s say you’re ordered 70 peony tubers. Instead of planting them all in one big bed by themselves, spread them throughout the garden, intermingle them with your other flowers. This way, you’ll create a more beautiful garden, and if your sun exposure varies through your garden, you will also have peonies blooming at different times ;)

Don’t buy too much all at once

It’s great if your supplier gives you a good deal, or you get seduced by that flat of scented geraniums, but trust me, if you didn’t set out to buy it, and aren’t sure if you have room for it, don’t do it! Wait till you know you have a good, ready - to - plant spot. 

Aim for diversity in plant selection

Instead of getting 12 Sarah Bernhardt peonies, get 3 Sarah Bernhardt’s, 3 Coral Charm’s and 3 Jan van Leeuwen's. And better yet, choose varieties that will bloom at different times; such as early, mid and late blooming bearded iris. 

Schedule in your “Martha Stewart” days

I hate to break it to you but you need a lot of time to do the boring stuff that will let you revel in glorious blooms down the road - checking your irrigation and cleaning filters, cleaning your tools and buckets, maintaining your pathways, building compost piles (actually this is quite fun), not to mention the gripping task of weeding. Designate an hour or two each week to what Farmer Shellie calls her “Martha Stewart” days, and I promise, you will be rewarded.

Everything You Need To Grow Amazing Cut Flowers

When I started growing and designing flowers, I quickly got the attention of venues, clients, other vendors. I was able to provide something for my clients that was fresh, unique and utterly romantic. This really set me apart in the market. And the clients that chose to work with me valued my work so much more because I was able to offer them something they could really get behind. 

And it was all because of my garden. 

I was growing my own flowers, vines, and foliages. I was growing flowers that weren’t available commercially or that didn’t ship well. And I was growing varieties of flowers that I wasn’t able to find elsewhere else. 

The thing is - in the beginning I wasn't gardening very well. 

I ran into lots of problems and made lots of mistakes. While I had access to some amazing resources and teachers when it came to design, there was very little for me in terms of learning how to grow cut flowers. 

But it was clear to me that if I wanted to grow amazing flowers, I had to become a better gardener. 

So I set out to learn everything I could about growing flowers. Fast forward to today - I have an amazing cut flower garden and now I'm ready to share what I've learned with you. 

Garden to Vase, my new digital course in cultivating cut flowers is available now, but for a very limited time. 

I can say with 100% certainty that if I had access to something like Garden to Vase when I was starting out, I would have had so much more success with growing flowers, not to mention saving a lot of money and time.

To celebrate the launch of the course I'm offering a special tuition of $397 CDN. Enrolment closes Monday, March 14th at midnight pacific.

A Year in Review

Reflecting back on an amazing year cultivating and arranging flowers with some of the most wonderful clients, friends and creatives. Thank you so much to those of you who came to one of my classes, hired me for your wedding, or lent a hand to make this whole beautiful adventure possible. 

2016 is gearing up to be one of the best yet, with a brand new studio, more classes, and the launch of garden to vase, my new digital course in cultivating cut flowers. Sign up below to be the first to hear about all upcoming events!

3 Mistakes Flower Gardeners Make & How to Avoid Them

As the year draws to a close and our fourth anniversary approaches I've been reflecting a lot on the gift of the community of designers and aspiring flower gardeners that has grown through my classes and wedding work.

One of the things I've been hearing a lot from friends and former students is how to become a better flower gardener. There's nothing like nearing the end of the growing season and reflecting back on a successful year in the garden. But as anyone who has dabbled in gardening knows, it's not without it's challenging. And sometimes the things we think are helping, are actually hurting...

Below I've shared the 3 mistakes flower gardeners make and how to avoid them. 

mistake #1: watering by hand

Some of the most common garden problems arise as a result of ineffective watering. Its easy to over-water, under-water, or water at the wrong time; all of which can lead to stressed out plants, which can then lead to a host of problems including disease, pest infestation or complete plant failure. No fun. 

Most of the time, people who hand by water (either with a hose or watering can) underestimate the amount of water needed by their plants. I get it. You stand there for 10 minutes, the ground looks wet, you think everything is o.k. and you move on. But what’s most likely happened is that you’ve just barely soaked top inch of soil. And the roots are usually many inches, sometimes several feet deep, so the plants aren’t getting the moisture they need to thrive. If you do this consistently, you end up training the roots of your plants to stay at the top of the ground and spread laterally. This means a. you end up having to water way more often; b. you are putting your plants at greater risk of stress in times of drought; and c. if your flowers are planted close together, they will have to compete for their share of water.

What you want to do when watering is encourage the roots of your plants to go downwards, deeper into the soil where they can find reserves of moisture. Once established, the plants will be far more tolerant of stress and drought. Not only that, but by training the roots downward, they will be stronger and more likely able to access minerals and other nutrients that are buried deep in the ground.

To water effectively, you need to get the water all the way down to the roots of your plants.

Hand watering can be o.k. if you have a very small garden or patio, or are watering newly started annuals, but otherwise, your really need to invest in a more permanent irrigation system. Don’t be intimidated! All you need is some way of getting the water from your outlet to the plants on a consistent basis. If you have the $, spring for a good drip irrigation system. If funds are limited, opt for soaker hoses and you can always upgrade down the road. Also consider investing in a timer. Combined, this will ensure that your flowers are watered regularly and more deeply. 

 

mistake #2: neglecting your soil

It’s easy to make the mistake fussing over your plants and neglecting the soil they grow in. But in order for any plant to truly thrive, the #1 most important thing it needs is health soil. When you ignore our soil, you are almost assured of limited success. 

Improving soil health is a pretty big topic. As you work overtime to develop soil health through composting, amendments, nurturing the soil food web.  Instead of tending your plants, tend your soil (and the plants will take care of themselves). 

One of the best ways to tend to your soil is through composting. High quality compost acts as both a fertilizer and an amendment, meaning if done right, you shouldn’t have to add anything else to your garden. Successful gardeners consider compost the life-force of the garden. But there are also some incredible new discoveries taking place at the forefront of horticulture that can help you to create a beautiful, healthy and productive flower garden; one of the most exciting being mycorrhizal fungi, another being fermented microorganisms. These two things may sound complicated and intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. They are simple ways to restore the health of your garden ecosystem.  

 

mistake #3: being impatient  

We’ve all been there. Standing at the nursery, completely blown away by the beauty of a plant that we didn’t plan to buy. On a whim, we purchase it, take it home and plant it wherever there’s room in our garden. It looks great for a couple of weeks but then it starts to struggle. It might become infested with pests, look diseased…and then…it dies. This is the worst! There’s a number of things that lead plants to failing to thrive in our gardens - soil imbalances, transplant stress, insufficient drainage or water, etc. Whatever the reason, the plant is stressed. 

You know how you’re more susceptible to a cold when you’re feeling run-down and over-taxed? Well, its sort of the same with plants. Their ability to withstand drought and pests will suffer if they are placed in stressful conditions. When you see these types of problems with our plants, The common reaction here is to freak out and try to immediately fix things. But the best thing you can do is to stay calm, and do nothing but watch and wait. Taking guidance from Vita Sackvillle-West, “When a plant doesn't seem to be happy, reject your instinct to move it.”

The thing to understand is that most problems in your garden will take care of themselves over time, particularly if you are slowly working in other ways to improve the overall health of the garden (see mistakes 1 & 2). Be patient, give it time. Watch, wait…and you will likely be rewarded for your patience.

When a plant doesn't seem to be happy, reject your instinct to move it.

Now, if you have ongoing problems - plants dying or major pest infestations, it’s a sign that there is likely sort of imbalance in the garden. It’s an indication that the health of your garden is at risk and you need to take action to restore balance. The first thing to do is apply some high quality compost and again, wait. 

Being a great gardener requires a humble, attentive relationship with your garden ecology. As you tend to your garden, you will naturally become attuned to its needs and to the needs of the extraordinary web of beneficial organisms at work in the garden. 

What do you think? Can you related to these mistakes? Leave a comment below and let me know, and tell me what are you wondering about or struggling with in your garden. And for more insight and inspiration on organic flower gardening and design, join my mailing list. 

Image by Kelly Brown

The Secret To Growing Amazing Cut Flowers

One of the most common questions I get is how to feed and nurture flowers to provide the best, most abundant blooms possible. 

My answer, which is counterintuitive and goes against conventional gardening wisdom, is to not focus on the flowers

Sounds crazy I know. But when we focus on the flowers in isolation, we tend to overdo it. We overwater, overfeed, and overreact when things go wrong. But more importantly, we tend to block out the rest of the garden and forget how everything is linked. And this sort of thinking can set us up for all sorts of problems down the road.

Imagine if you just relied on coffee (standard fertilizers) instead of eating a rich diet of healthy foods and vitamins (amendments, bio-stimulants and inoculants). The former gives you short term results that you end up becoming dependent on while the latter builds long term health and resiliency.

In my own garden, I no longer use any type of standard NPK fertilizer. Instead, I work with inoculants, biostimulants and amendments - compost, leaf mulch, various kinds of foliar teas, etc. - and have great results. It's more of a whole foods approach to gardening.

This way, I'm supporting the health of the garden ecosystem as a whole, and enhancing the existing functions of the garden that will allow my flowers to thrive. 

And they do! I grow flowers that are naturally healthy, abundant and profuse. 

It’s really so simple. 

If you really want to grow amazing flowers, shifting your thinking about how you tend your garden is the ideal first step.