Growing a few garden flowers can lead to exciting things. In March last year I was asked not only to run my seed sowing course at Alitex, but - deep breath - also to lead a small team of volunteers to sow and grow a cutting garden for Alitex greenhouses as their show trade garden for Hampton Court Flower Festival. The dream job! Of course I said yes without thinking too hard - well, how could I refuse this - I quickly chose 10 key seeds for the team to grow, ordered and sent them out across the UK and in April we began sowing. Cerinthe, nigella, cornflowers, ammi majus, antirrhinums, cosmos, sweet peas, calendula, scabious and sunflowers. We introduced ourselves over a Facebook Group, six amateur growers of differing levels of experience, myself and Lily from Alitex and got sowing.
As ever no sowing year is alike and we were soon struck with an unusually cold (freezing) spring just as we were trying to germinate our seeds. It also dawned on me that we would have to grow our plants in pots all the way til July which is not what I would usually do, potting up from 9cm to 1 litre, 2 and then 3 litre pots. I begged, borrowed and emptied local sheds of plastic pots and soon I had a small nursery of plants on my hands, and a heatwave. One of our team in Scotland, Caroline, had torrential rain and cold. The rest of us had weeks of scorching heat and a few gales. Coping with the weather and adapting to it was one of the biggest learnings in growing cut flowers. You don't want too much sun, too much rain, too much heat or too much cold! We had difficulties with some of the seeds - the nigella that refused to germinate, cosmos that wouldn't grow and the niggling worry that the plants would not be in flower by July because it all looked very green! Lily and I spent the day making a huge hazel arch which we planned that sweet peas and cobaea would scramble through - how we would actually transport it to Hampton would be another day's problem to resolve!
But flower they did, and on the first weekend of July we all packed our plants into the backs of our cars and headed to Hampton - and so the garden began to emerge. I had planned for a main show bed for all the best plants, a cutting bed for the smaller plants showing how to plant, spacing and staking, and a third bed for later summer plants to plant alongside dahlias. None of us had any experience of sowing, growing or planting a show garden, yet here we all were actually DOING it!! Hi vizzed up, steel toe cap boots on, we took a deep breath and got started.
Everyone mucked in, found their role, whether it was grabbing a mallet to chip away at the tile grouting, getting creative with planting on the show border, planting up the cutting bed or the important job of watering in 30 degree heat to keep our plant babies alive! It was hot work, but seeing the girls work and give their all to this project was so motivating, and I knew we had the makings of a fabulous garden on our hands.
Not to forget the wonderful dreamy Tatton Alitex Greenhouse that we had to style up - reflecting a cutting garden gardener! With a few borrowed props from Lamb & Newt, Lily (from Alitex) and I brought all our favourite gardening items from home, if only I could have taken the greenhouse back at the end of the show.We planted, watered, swept, prinked and preened. After 5 days build we were show ready.
Monday, press day, was super exciting seeing photographers, journalists and visitors to the show fall in love with our garden. It felt, no it WAS, a REAL garden, old fashioned, Mr McGregor inspired, sown, grown and planted by us the growers - as it said on the walls of the beds in chalk. We took some seeds and grew a garden. The bees and butterflies arrived, the plants flourished and absolutely loved their new home. And by the way we received a 5 star award by the RHS for our efforts. Seeing the visitors to the show come to our garden and hear them say "now this is the kind of garden I love" and "now this is a REAL garden" was just the most rewarding thing. In fact I think I can speak for the group that it was simply the best thing we've ever done. Ever.
So did you see the garden? If you came to RHS Hampton Court and saw our garden I'd love to know what you thought, if it inspired you to grow some flowers in your own garden. Do let me know!
And if you do feel inspired to grow some flowers in your garden then have a look at our Create A Cutting Garden course starting in March.You'd be amazed what you can grow from a few seeds. And the thing I learned from the whole experience is that with a team of highly committed brilliant people anything is possible.