Jen Stuart-Smith – co-founder of Blooming Green – gets real about truly seasonal flowers
“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” people sometimes say, as an excuse to have a daytime tipple… The expression always pops into my mind when I see a bouquet of flowers labelled as ‘seasonal’ when it’s clearly anything but. The flowers may be flowering in Mexico, or Ecuador or Kenya – but they’re not seasonal British flowers if they’re not currently flowering here.
An appreciation of seasonal vegetables seems to have returned in recent years – and more people understand the importance of using what’s available, and growing or being harvested, right now. Veg boxes are probably the most obvious example of this. And any fancy restaurant or gastro pub worth its salt knows the value of promoting seasonal produce on their menus. It’s seen as a badge of honour.
So, perhaps this is why so many florists and ‘mailbox’ flower companies are keen to promote the seasonality of their bouquets? That’s great news if it’s true – but not so great if it’s not. So, next time you’re drawn to a box or bunch of ‘seasonal’ flowers, take a closer look – and consider your options. There really are amazing, and genuine, seasonal flowers and foliage available all year round, if you know where to look.
Starting with winter
At this time of year, turn your attention to lush, winter foliage combined with berries and hips. You have to get a bit creative but it’s amazing what you can create with a selection of foraged or garden ingredients, combined with flowers such as amaryllis or paperwhite narcissi. One of my favourite American florist-growers, Erin Benzakien – known as ‘Floret’ – creates large, dynamic white arrangements using amaryllis, cavolo nero leaves, snowberry, nerine, fir branches and Russian sage. Top with a little ‘Old Man’s Beard’ for some really wintery magic – or honesty seed pods for a natural shine.
Hellebores are also a wonderful winter cut flower, either placed in a vase or cut at the base of the flower and placed, en masse and face-up, in a dish of water. Or, if you just want to bring the outdoors in, use pot plants or dried flowers. The latter have seen a renaissance in recent years and are no longer the fusty, dusty thing we associate with the 70s and our granny’s downstairs loo!
Spring is when hope – and classic cut flowers – return
Spring flowers often punch above their weight – offering intense scent as well as delicate beauty. There are few more lovely – and affordable – flowery gifts than a mini bunch of muscari (grape hyacinth) wrapped in brown paper and tied with raffia or string. The same goes for Lily-of-the-Valley. For some reason spring flowers often work well as a single variety bunch – think rich, almost-clashing anemones in dark blue, scarlet and white, or an abundant bunch of tulips. Tulips were so prized in previous centuries that there is even such a thing as a ‘tulip vase’ which displays the blooms in a loose, spread-out array, so that no flower is hidden by the others. And how could we not mention ranunculus?! Mini peony-like flowers in ever more exotic colours and patterns – but especially lovely in pink and orange hues. If you want to pair your spring flowers with some foliage – make the most of the fresh lime greens that are typical of this time of year – euonymus, pittosporum and euphorbia (just watch out for the white sap – which can be an irritant).
Late spring and early summer bring endless variety
It’s difficult to know where to start once summer arrives… but there are a few flowers that people are willing to fight over. At Blooming Green our PYO season starts in late June, so we see for ourselves which flower beds our customers make a beeline for! First up, in late spring and early summer, are peonies – an eternal favourite and really popular with brides. We grow a few ourselves – saved mostly for wedding customers – but are always happy to recommend the specialist peony growers Little Buds Peony Farm near Thurnham on the North Downs. They have around 6,000 peony plants and sell the blooms in May and June each year. Another classic are delphiniums, which seem to bring out the sharp elbows in some of our pickers. Then there are roses, antirrhinum (snapdragons), astrantia, cornflower, cosmos and irises – to name but a few. We’re in the garden of England after all, so why have flowers from abroad when you’ve got this sort of choice?
The season of mellow fruitfulness – and even more flowers
Late summer and autumn are a personal favourite when it comes to seasonal flowers. Not only is there an abundance of flowers such as dahlias, sunflower, zinnias, cosmos and chrysanths… but there are seed heads, pods and grasses too. Colours tend to be warm and rich and for some reason the flowers have greater staying power in the vase too (except for dahlias, whose vase life is more short and sweet). Gradually we seem to be embracing the Americans’ love of autumn – and we don’t just mean Halloween – with an appreciation of hydrangeas and chrysanthemums, autumn wreaths, autumnal foliage and ornamental pumpkins and gourds. It’s Harvest Festival time too – so there’s a sense of celebration for all that nature has to offer.
So that brings us back round to the lead up to Christmas, and to short, dark days when we all need a little something to cheer up our homes. If you’d like some inspiration, the Garden Museum in Lambeth, South London is hosting its first ever Winter Flowers Week exhibition on 7-11 December, which aims to showcase the beauty of British seasonal foliage and flowers, available in the depths of winter. Blooming Green will be hosting a foliage talk and demo there on Friday December 8th. Exhibitors will be Sarah Diligent of Floribunda Rose as well as Shane Connolly & Co, Carly Rogers Flowers, Hazel Gardiner Design and Tattie Rose Studio. Or, to find a local, seasonal flower grower near to you, visit flowersfromthefarm.co.uk.
Jen and her cousin, Bek (pictured right), run Blooming Green. Find out more about their work at bloominggreenflowers.co.uk
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