You might have gathered by now I’m passionate about flowers and particularly British grown cut flowers. The overwhelming majority of cut flowers available in the UK are imported. It’s a little odd then to think that we used to supply all of our cut flower needs up until the mid-twentieth century. The advent of motorways and air travel brought the flower industry in Britain almost to its knees. But, over the last few years, I have discovered that there is an inspiring group of small scale flower farmers out there who are trying and succeeding in turning the tide away from imported blooms. They are embracing social media to get the message across that British flowers are the best, whether it’s via forums, Facebook, Instagram or the hugely popular hour-long Twitter chat on Monday evenings from 8-9pm with the #Britishflowers. They are a delightful group eager to share and help and it’s how I came to meet Sara. She came to my rescue last spring when I put out a request on Twitter for some seedlings. We ended up meeting in the car park of a hotel and swapping plants from the boots of our cars and a friendship was forged.
Sara is addicted to flowers and her enthusiasm is contagious. So it was no surprise when I heard that she wanted to use her love of all things flowery to inspire a new generation of gardeners. With her friend, Cally (you might know Cally from her blog Countrygate) they have devised Our Flower Patch. Both Cally and Sara were teachers before life took them in different directions. Cally now designs and delivers outdoor education projects for bodies such as the National Trust and Sara grows and sells cut flowers from her field on the edge of Salisbury Plain. The idea behind Our Flower Patch is to combine their knowledge of education and their passion for flowers.
When you think about it, growing plants is a perfect way to teach children so many different skills, whether it’s using maths to measure out flower beds, using science to understand what a plant needs to grow, improving communication and team working skills as they garden together or learning about geography by finding out where plants originated. So Sara and Cally have put together an online resource for schools, community gardens or youth groups such as the Scouts. The hope is that they will develop their own cut flower patches using this as an opportunity to teach aspects of the National Curriculum and, at the same time, it will offer those who take part the chance to make some money by selling the cut flowers they produce.
Both Sara and Cally understand the importance of being introduced to growing at an early age. ‘Growing a few flowers is an easy introduction into gardening for children of all ages. It’s very visual which is important to children. Even the most random patch can look beautiful. You don’t need lots of space. Flowers can be grown in old buckets and I haven’t yet met a child who wasn’t overjoyed to pick a bunch of flowers they’d grown and take them home whereas they can be less than enthusiastic about salad or carrots, perhaps fearing that they might actually have to eat their handiwork’, says Cally. Sara’s young son has already been bitten by the bug. ‘He likes sniffing the flowers, and watching the many butterflies and bees that come and join us there. There are usually a few friendly birds that come and join us too. At his age it is enough to pick a single flower and present it to someone, you can see the joy it gives both him and the recipient.’
Cally has fond memories of the childhood garden she grew up in. ‘My mother never grew flowers in borders. They were a crop for the house and church. Dahlias, sweet peas and sweet Williams were favourites along with lots of bulbs in spring. My granny grew herbs in old Belfast sinks near the back door and had a large lavender hedge. She used to spread her linen on top to dry it.’
One of Sara’s earliest garden memories involves flowers too. ‘I used to pick lots of different flower petals and mash them all up to make “perfume” in its loosest sense of the word!! I’m sure it would have smelt absolutely disgusting and would probably have been more use as a plant food than a perfume. I used to have more success with drying petals to make potpourri, not the terrible artificially scented dyed stuff that is sold in some shops, but the lovely really delicate beautiful smell of garden rose petals, other petals and herb leaves dried & mixed together. I guess I started rather early with drying flowers & (many) years later even dried all my own flower petal confetti for my wedding day.’
For Our Flower Patch, Sara and Cally have joined forces with Higgledy Garden and specially selected a collection of flowers which will appeal to children and suit the needs of a school cut flower patch. For Sara, her must-have flower is Nigella ‘Persian Jewels’ for its excellent mix of colours and its fantastic seed pods. Calendula is Cally’s favourite. As she says, ‘It’s easy to grow, self seeds enthusiastically and is the perfect plant to get children to understand about collecting seed’. They have also devised a series of projects from learning about compost and the water cycle to creating art using nature and the importance of providing food for pollinating insects. Cally and Sara will provide members with regular blog updates, activities and advice. The site will also encourage adults and children alike to share their experiences with the hope that an online community of flower growers will blossom.
I know how passionate both Sara and Cally are, so I’m sure Our Flower Patch will be a huge success. If you are involved in education or youth work, are a parent or you know someone who might be interested in setting up a school flower patch then you can find more information about how to subscribe at http://www.ourflowerpatch.co.uk, Facebook Our Flower Patch and Twitter @ourflowerpatch. You can also contact Sara and Cally direct.