A Week in Spring … the life of a garden designer, florist and fledgling flower grower

One of the best things about my job is the variety. Even when I only worked as a Garden Designer, each day was different but now I have ventured into the growing and Floristry world too, the diversity of my projects is constantly stimulating.

The last week has been a particularly good example of how all aspects of my career collide and gel to make each day exciting, different and (hopefully) more successful!

 

Saturday and Sunday:

We’ve recently bought a piece of land at the back of our garden. It used to belong to one of the large estates in the village and has been grazed by sheep, cows and horses for hundreds of years. As such, it has lovely, undisturbed, rich friable soil. The area immediately behind the garden used to be a muck-heap which has been cleared in the last six years and as a result of the rich, fertile residue we have a lot of nettles in the soil that are just beginning to show their distinctive leaves. These will hopefully not prove too much of a problem as I will collect the nettles and create a nettle ‘soup’ – smelly in nature but rich in nitrates and therefore perfect for foliage growth and for establishing new, healthy plants.

Stinging Nettles in the Cutting Garden Caroline Davy StudioThere are also masses of Digitalis growing in the bank and I’ll do my best to encourage these. I suspect that after the soil disturbance we’ll find a lot more springing up so I can always move the babies to the cutting patch itself to make best use of the beautiful tall spires in floral arrangements.  Berried Ivy is also available in vast quantities and despite the request for this to be removed by my thorough landscaper husband … it stayed!

Berried Ivy in the Cutting Garden Caroline Davy StudioThe intention is to grow cut flowers and some shrubs in the space specifically for my floral work. I want to supplement my flower supplies with home grown species so that I can provide truly British, local ingredients from the field to the vase. For the first couple of years this will be a trial as I need to understand my soil, my conditions and my limitations! However, it will mean that this summer, my brides can have handpicked, local flowers within their arrangements.

 

My husband and one of his lovely employees fenced the space with traditional Cleft Chestnut. This method of fencing has been used for hundreds of years and it makes a beautifully natural, durable, nail-free and strong boundary. Sweet Chestnut is a hard wood harvested from well-managed woodlands. The coppiced wood is full of the natural preservative tannin and the method produces strong, straight poles ideal for fencing. The coppiced stools regrow in a vigorous manner taking up more carbon dioxide than a newly planted tree and the practice introduces open areas in woodland encouraging wild flowers and new growth … so everyone wins!

Cleft Chestnut Fencing Caroline Davy StudioThe beds were then marked out and dug with the help of a digger and then tilled with a small version of the traditional rotovator. This has broken up the soil and you can see from the colour that it is rich, yet friable and workable.

Cutting Garden bed preparation Caroline Davy StudioMy choice of flowers will be governed by their ability to grow in our conditions and work with the sorts of arrangements that I like to make. The annuals and perennials will be joined with some shrubby plants that provide brilliant foliage that is hard to find from elsewhere. Some of these shrubs will be specimens that I might not ever include in garden planting plans, as they are difficult to combine in terms of shape, colour or space, but that are perfect for cutting.

 

One such shrub is Brachyglottis (Dunedin Group) ‘Sunshine’ previously known as Senecio. This Mediterranean shrub has wonderful pale grey/silvery leaves and fairly bright yellow daisy flowers. If not pruned back each year after flowering, the shrub does tend to outgrow spaces in the garden and – like many plants from the Mediterranean region (Lavenders included) – often gets woody in the centre. The flowers are fairly loud and I’ve been known to suggest to clients in the past that they remove these and just appreciate the plant for its foliage! However, in the cutting garden and as a constituent in a bouquet – Senecio (as it is still called in the flower world) foliage is fabulous! So, for the first time ever, I will be planting one of these shrubs in my cutting garden!

 

Another shrub that I find fairly hard to position in garden plans is Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame’. The amazing foliage which is bronzed when new, yellow when semi-mature and then luminous green is lovely but the pink stems and flowers against the bright yellowy-green leaves can jar in some planting schemes. However, once again, it’ll be the foliage I am after as this can lift and bring light and delicate structure to flower arrangements.

 

The progress of the plot will be documented through my Journal – both successes and those things that do not work so well – so watch this space!

 

Monday:

Mondays are usually spent in the office doing Admin and either computer-based work or projects on the drawing board. This day was a mix of each.

 

I’m working on planting schemes for a large site in Hertfordshire at present. The overall garden scheme was actually put together by another designer but the Clients got back in touch with me years after I’d planted their previous garden, to develop the planting plans for the spaces.

 

This spring, we’re planting up a large area around the main lawns of the house having increased the size of the beds to work with the scale of the lawn and the lovely expansive views all around. The initial beds were very narrow and looked pinched and rather mean in the overall picture. Last autumn we planted large, pyramidal Yews in these beds to give the area structure and scale and now we’re planting hundreds of perennials to bring height, colour and movement to the space.

 

Taxus baccata Pyramids Caroline Davy StudioThe opposite borders will include the same ingredients but the actual arrangement will be slightly different. Balance is provided by mirrored Yew and Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (to vary the height texture and the larger form in the space) but the perennials themselves will provide a dialogue and informality in relationship but not perfect symmetry.

I always prepare the plan on paper and then produce a narrative for the client that outlines seasons of interest, key planting combinations and a photographic record for information.

Hertfordshire Planting Plan in progress Caroline Davy StudioThis week, I also worked on a proposal for a July Bride who is getting married in the village with the reception in her parent’s amazing garden. She wants the effect to be natural and garden-inspired and I’m so excited by the ideas we’re putting together. Mood boards and concept ideas were brought together along with the pricing and suggestions.

 

The practice of putting together garden planting schemes to ensure monthly interest and variation is of great help when planning seasonal weddings. My knowledge of flowering perennials really helps when suggesting varieties of flowers for parties and – particularly weddings – at a particular moment in the year. I like to incorporate garden ingredients into my bouquets and my gardening knowledge really helps in preparing the stars for the day!

 

 

Tuesday:

Tuesday was spent on site in Hertfordshire at the large site. The clients are installing a swimming pool and it’s my role to integrate this concrete monster into the space and attempt to make a somewhat alien, straight-edged expanse of water (and liner) look good in the context of the garden! Copious photographs were taken, levels read and this information goes back to the drawing board to be integrated into the original site survey. It  has had to be created proud of the existing levels so as not to interfere with the foundations of the walls behind.  I need to ‘settle’ it into the space it sits and work out steps, levels and coping details.  From here, I’ll produce drawings for approval – including elevation sketches to illustrate to the client how the pool will appear within the new space. Planting plans for the area will then follow.

Hertfordshire swimming pool Caroline Davy Studio

Then it was around the M25 and down the M40 to Henley to one of my favourite nurseries – Orchard Dene. Chris Marchant is described in Gardens Illustrated in her new monthly column as a ‘highly accomplished plantswoman’. This goes without saying as her knowledge is encyclopaedic and all based on 25 years of experience in plant hunting, collecting seed, growing and planting the most amazing spaces. Her article in the March edition of Gardens Illustrated is all about Ground Cover planting and is well worth a read (with notebook and pen in hand!).

 

Wednesday:

Wednesday saw a visit to my flower wholesale company to buy flowers for a contract job later in the week. All the material was then brought back to the Studio for conditioning and a long drink of water – ready for arranging early Friday morning.

 

Thursday:

Thursday was a day out of the office with my Mum and a visit to the Country Living Fair in London. We’d not been for years and thought it might make for a good girl’s day out! Here I met Georgie Newbery from Common Farm Flowers who was busy educating visitors about growing and arranging British flowers. Her energy is amazing as she did at least three talks on the day we went, had done similar the previous day and the evening before had done a talk and demonstration at the Garden Museum in Lambeth. She’s a great advocate for growing and arranging British flowers from farm to market and her recent book (The Flower Farmer’s Year) is helping to educate and inspire many people to grow their own cutting patches. She is also a great campaigner for Flowers from the Farm – an organisation with over 200 members of farmers, smallholders and gardeners who are growing a vast range of flowers as an alternative to those available in supermarkets and wholesale markets.

 

In addition to waxing lyrical with Georgie about the spring flowers and blogging, I also found a lovely company from Scotland who produce soap from natural ingredients. The Caurnie Soaperie in Kirkintilloch first opened in 1922 with the aim of producing natural skin care products from organic herbs and essential oils. www.caurnie.com. Like many people who work outside, I suffer from dry skin but their Nettle Soap is truly amazing in its power to soften and moisturise. I am already an advocate and will be ordering more!

 

Friday:

Friday morning was spent arranging two table arrangements for the Open Days at Gaze Burvill furniture. These talented designers are based in my village and ever since they moved into their new home at Lodge Farm, I’ve been working with them to prepare fresh flowers for events and a garden for their courtyard. I’m collaborating with Marina Christopher of Phoenix Perennial Plants (also based just up the road!) on the planting plan and we’re co-ordinating the ingredients at the moment. The garden is about to be built and I’ll post pictures and stories about this as it progresses.

Gaze Burvill Flowers Caroline Davy Studio

Gaze Burvill Flowers Rusty Theme Caroline Davy Studio

On Friday, our local paper is published and the Spring Supplement that outlines events of interest over the spring and Easter season came out with this issue.  Caroline Davy Studio’s first advertising campaign broke within this supplement and before the day was out … the phone was ringing and my first deliveries of local bouquets and gift flowers had been booked into the diary!  We deliver all around the surrounding area and with a bit of notice (as I don’t have a shop and therefore cannot keep a large stock of flowers available), I’d be really happy to create and deliver your personalised flowers.

Caroline Davy Studio Advertising

Back to another weekend! This last weekend was spent sowing and sowing and sowing more seeds ready for planting in the cutting beds. My sweet peas that were sown last Autumn are itching to go in the beds and the early sowing of Cornflower “Black Ball’ were potted on so that they too can enjoy open ground as soon as the soil is slightly warmer. Two further sowings of Sweet Peas have already been started with little shoots appearing in the first tray. I will continue to sow these and all the flowers on a successional basis to prevent too much of a glut at any one time and to take advantage of a staged, yet continuous harvest.

Cutting Garden Seeds Caroline Davy Studio

Sweet Pea seedlings and plants Caroline Davy Studio

Seedlings Caroline Davy Studio

Potting on Cornflower Caroline Davy Studio

I had to finish with some photographs of the main garden and its March treasures!  How amazing are these Hellebores, the Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ (another excellent foliage for flower arranging) and the buds of the Clematis armandii … so near to flowering!

Helleborus orientalis Caroline Davy Studio

The flower above illustrates the perfect condition for a garden show and the flower beneath shows that it is time to pick and bring into the house.  Apparently, once the pollen has gone, the flowers last so much longer as cut flowers.

Helleborus orientalis Caroline Davy Studio

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' Caroline Davy Studio

Clematis armandii in bud Caroline Davy Studio