A Year in Flowers Part 2 – Summer

January 29, 2023

The summer of 2022 will be remembered for a long time in the UK; the one with all the heatwaves, and the droughts. Unsurprisingly the hot topic was that of climate change. 

Here in Yorkshire we are well used to extreme weather, usually in the form of floods, so weeks without rain seemed surreal. Most folk who grow flowers will say it makes you a resilient soul. You are ready for the failure of certain crops, and adept at dealing with predators. You always know that what nature takes with one hand she gives with the other. And so it was that when the sheep marauded all over our allotment eating every single rose, back in the garden the poppies went wild in the heat. 

With the exception of a very quick nip up to Scotland in June, the summer was spent here at home in Yorkshire, welcoming workshop guests and doing a couple of truly magical weddings. The idea of sending flowers by courier from Sussex and Scotland was obviously pointless in the escalating temperatures. So, for the summer part of this experiment, I’m afraid I was paddling my own canoe, in a small pond of ever decreasing water. If that means that this coming summer (2023) I have to do the experiment again, well, I always like to travel hopefully and I’ve never deluded myself that I’ve yet arrived. 

The black peony poppy was summer’s equivalent of spring’s pink patterned hellebore. To be honest, these are way better than any peony – not as troublesome to coax to open, with a long sculptural stem and an equally impressive long vase life. I couldn’t pick them fast enough. And, then I discovered that all the ones that went unpicked formed valuable seed heads on their long and wiggly stems. Come the autumn they’d be in every urn and on Christmas Day they’d be down the table throwing their shadows amongst the honesty and the Wax Atelier candles.

Mixing fruit and vegetables into arrangements is nothing new. They reckon Constance Spry did it and so do I; all the time for bowls of flowers in the house – sometimes broccoli leaves and tomato vines last for many months. I particularly loved finding limey-green broccoli leaves and bolted purple sprouting broccoli flowers (now turned acid yellow) to sit alongside the jazzy black poppies in a bowl I made whilst the rest of the nation was out having street parties for the (now late) Queen’s platinum jubilee. By chance, the lime green of the leaves matched her choice of coat and dress that I think might have been inspired by Kermit the frog.

The last week of June meant an early summer holiday to the place the dog loves, so I called in at Keeping The Plot. Judging by how smartly everyone was dressed I must have missed The Hairy Bikers and the TV cameras by a whisker. The flower field up there was a couple of weeks behind Yorkshire (where roses had appeared everywhere, except on the allotment). I picked a bucket of light and airy meadowy flowers in lilac, white and peach with some blue borage as an added extra. 

There are a few things that Sarah Hunter grows that I love and choose every year. Linarea Peachy, the delicately pointed ‘toadflax’ flower in muted shades of peach and soft lemon is one. Lasts for ages. And Achillea. Sarah grows a huge row of the stuff, in the most perfect shades. This time I went for a pale terracotta. Achillea is one of my all time favourite flowers providing little pockets of shadow in bouquets and bowls. I once told a guest to treat it like lily pads in her centrepiece and to let other flowers bounce out on top of it. It’s an analogy that she’s never let me forget, but I hope you can see from the photo what I mean. Lily pads with borage and poppies and a few foraged gooseberries, in a favourite pale grey urn by Charlotte McLeish. The book Nature’s Palette is an interesting one for anyone who loves colour (thank you Rachael from Hedgerow for that suggestion). 

July back in Yorkshire produced plenty of flowers in spite of the heat. Even when you think you’ve chosen a tasteful coffee-coloured palette, it seems to always be the case that purple and pink are predominant. Mind you, anyone who has experienced the dopamine hit that accompanies picking a handful of Wiltshire Ripple sweet peas will forgive the colour purple. If you’ve never grown your own sweet peas and enjoyed a summer of picking them for all the rooms in your house then I think you should have a go this year. All you Arthur Parkinson fans will know you don’t even need a garden, just a big container and a home made wigwam, and who wouldn’t want to make one of those? I think the photo of the sweet peas in my favourite celadon vase from Frances Palmer might be my favourite flower photo from 2022. 

It was the summer of the sunflower. They did all come in the tasteful colours we had wanted. Expertly grown from seed by the magician Jill Shaddock, who can even get phlox Creme Brûlée to germinate within days. Yes, I did have a chat with them every day, made sure they had enough to drink, tied them up so they’d grow taller and, most importantly, made sure I kept cutting them so that more would come from the side shoots. That’s the ultimate reward for growing annuals from seed – the more you cut, the more you get. I brought the first perfect one inside for a photoshoot against two backgrounds. 

The challenge during the two heatwave weeks (apart from flowering up two weddings) was having any flowers inside the house. Even though they all needed to be cut it seemed wrong to bring them inside to die too quickly. Fortunately our kitchen is a cool room and so the trials for wedding flowers were done there, in the tiniest bowls. It’s no secret that I’ve an addiction to pottery and can’t resist a good bowl, especially when it’s from a potter whose work I’ve never seen before. Sake bowls are sometimes all I can afford to buy from some potters and the two from Takashi Suzuki (@kobo-daidai) were perfect. 

Into each arrangement went a tiny pin frog and the pink and peach colours we were trialling for a wedding, together with an ice cube every morning, every lunchtime and every evening. Yes, they lasted a week indoors despite the heat under my new summer floral-care regime. I’ll not bore you with the rigmarole that was involved for cooling all the wedding flowers or the early morning starts to avoid the heat but here’s a tip that’s from my old job – the one where whatever the temperature you still had to wear fancy dress in a windowless court room – an ice cube placed directly on your wrist or neck will instantly cool you down, for ages. 

I’ll not say that the dahlias of 2022 were brilliant. They didn’t like all that time without rain and were slow to start. But, oh my word, there was one variety that stole everyone’s heart. It was like a magnet for workshop guests. Night Silence. 

The temperatures became more bearable towards the end of August, revealing a bumper harvest of plums. If in doubt put them in a bowl and get Éva Németh to take a photo. Then make sure you’ve a couple of urn classes. We daren’t put them in any of the wedding urns for fear of wasps. Who knew the level of health and safety thinking required to be a florist? 

Talk turned to tomatoes as summer began to fade into autumn. Yes, they went into every bowl; sometimes they appeared in ten bowls because they really do last. The last two bowls of August show our very best dahlias and, the eagle-eyed will notice, the same two sunflowers. The pale pink bowl is by Christine-Ann Richards and the pistachio green one is by Frances Palmer. 

We also used the tiny cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse to test the dogs eyesight, rolling her a few each day. It seems to be coming back……

Still to come…..autumn. Arguably the best season of them all.

Useful links: 
Charlotte McLeish: https://www.charlottemcleish.com/
Éva Nemeth : https://www.evanemeth.com/
Christine-Ann Richards: https://www.christineannrichards.co.uk/
Frances Palmer: https://www.francespalmerpottery.com
Keeping the Plot: https://keepingtheplot.co.uk/