I started gardening in my early 20s after this incredibly cute drummer came to my house with a bag of veggies from his garden. Aside from falling head over heels for him, I got bitten by the gardening bug and couldn't believe how such a simple thing could conjure such a feeling of satisfaction and purpose in my every day.
I was so inspired to grow my own food, and Alex, my now husband, had grown up as a gardener, and we started gardening together. I resisted the urge to plant flowers for a long time. I wanted to be practical, self-sufficient and down to earth. This was a really grounding time for me, and I felt my usual airy, spontaneous self settle into a new love for slowness, earthiness and soaking up the beauty of the land.
As life evolved, as it always does, I began to ease out of my earth-bound cocoon and integrate my former, more whimsical self again. The layers of my years living in the bush, raising children, and a slower pace had grounded me. Still, I started feeling like something was missing, and I wanted to connect with the wilder parts of myself. Then I discovered growing flowers!
For me, growing flowers felt and still feels like having an epic love affair with the wildness of nature. There is an ethereal nature to them. They are half earth and half spirit. The true and real fairies of this realm.
They were probably the first things humans revered that had no utilitarian purpose. It's so easy to see why so many cultures used flowers in forms of worship and celebration. They truly look, smell and feel like a gift from the gods.
I started in a small space of just a few raised beds and planted flowers alongside herbs and some salad greens. Each year, I have grown a little more, and for the past 3 or 4 years have been running a ¼ acre micro flower farm in my garden.
This is tiny for a productive farm but huge for a gardener, but the same methods apply to both! You really don't need a huge amount of space to produce an abundance of flowers to fill your home. Just a basic grasp of some skills that help you get the most out of what you have… even if it's just a few pots on a balcony.
The answer is… succession planting!
In a nutshell, this means planting small amounts at a time in successive batches. Hence, you get a steady supply, rather than bunging all your seeds or seedlings in at once and ending up in the cycle of feast or famine. Anyone done this with zucchini or cucumbers? Trust me, we all have. Unlike veggies that you can often preserve if you have a glut, flowers aren't as easy. You can dry many, of course, but they do lose a little something. Flowers are a wonderful reminder to seize the moment. Enjoy them when you can, then let them go like living prayer flags.
The best place to start is with planning. Ideally, before you have bought any seed.
Planning your garden may not seem very sexy straight up, but sitting down with a hot cup of tea and a large piece of paper to map out a planting year can be such an exciting and pleasurable thing!
Here I'll share my process for running a larger garden, but the same can apply on a smaller scale. Just adapt it to suit you.
1. Firstly, start by dividing your paper into 4 sections and then each into four.
2. Label each section with a season (remember that your climate determines which months you 'classify' as 'Spring' or 'Summer'. Not calendar dates).
I like to break each season up into three categories.
Bride, Bridesmaid and Filler.
This breakdown is great for planning mixed bouquets. Each bunch can combine all three, or you can do mono bunches of each. These look great too.
3. Brainstorm 1-3 varieties from each section you want to grow. If you have a large space, that's great, but it's easy to get carried away! I say less variety and do it well.
4. I then create two more columns next to the varieties. TO PLANT and IN BLOOM.
This section can get much more in-depth, but I will keep it simple for today's blog. Write the months from which you can plant the seed for these blooms. You can look on the back of the seed packet (you can do it online before you buy) or ask local gardeners in your area for the frost dates etc. Facebook groups are awesome for this. This takes time to learn but just start by giving it a good guess. E.g. Snapdragons at my place, I can plant late FEB – AUG. Seeing on the packet that they take about 10-12 weeks, I can guess I will have blooms from MAY – OCT. I write this in these columns to make sure I have every month covered or can plan to have time off having flowers here too.
5. Now the fun bit. Choose your colour palettes. This is the part that I love the most and is what makes your home-grown blooms sooooo much better than anything you can buy in a store. Regular Veggie seed catalogues rarely have lovely colours and never by the mixes if you want really great colours. I love earthy tones, so I take the time to look at all the colours I can and order seeds that I love the look of. Do what pleases you. If you love brights, go with a bright theme! Think about where and how you want to enjoy your flowers and pick colours to suit. I find similar tones of the same colours look great, so I like to choose a similar tone for the brides, bridesmaids and fillers. Then you can mix and match as you wish.
6. You now have a blueprint for the year! As we are talking about annuals here, some flowers will be cut and come again (think snapdragons, cosmos, zinnias etc.). Some will be one-hit wonders (stock, sunflowers etc.).
I would recommend for a steady supply plant your one-hit wonders every month during the window that you can in your area and your cut and come again's every two months. In a small commercial plot like mine, you would double these successions to every two weeks & once a month, but for a home, I think less often is all you need. Think about how many you need for your space. It's usually less than you think, but just in case, plant double the number of seedlings you need! E.g. If you want 12 zinnia plants flowering every month, plant a tray of 24. Some may not germinate, some may be eaten in the garden, and then you have some backup.
7. Now, you can go ahead and buy your seed (if you haven't already… the seed addiction is real!).
So, I got a bit carried away! A simple, "Plant a few seeds every few weeks for a steady supply", turned out much more detailed. I could go on all day, and I love to share the bits I have learned so far.
So, if there is anything you want me to go over in more detail, please let me know in the comments, and I will do another blog on those specific areas.