Tag Archives: flowers

penny’s gardening blog: why it’s good to grow your own cut flowers & herbs


Growing your own is fun, gets you outside and is good exercise. Herbs and flowers encourage bees and butterflies into your garden. Our Riverford Box to Grow flower kit provides you with an instant cut flower garden and within weeks you’ll be picking flowers for several months to bring into your home and give to friends. Our herb kits will bring you handfuls of fresh aromatic culinary flavours to add to your meals and mix in with your cut flowers.

Lorna and Julien 028

So if you like a project, there are just a few days left to order our Riverford Flower Box to Grow & Herb Box to Grow. Shop bought flowers are expensive and often the choice is pretty dull. The majority of flowers sold in this country are air freighted from Africa and Columbia. Whilst you think you may be supporting the people in these poor third world countries,  the risk is that they are mostly women and children, poorly paid and the workers suffer from the chemicals used.  Plus you don’t have the pleasure of watching your seeds and plants growing steadily in pots, on window sills or in your garden.

Any of you that tried them last year may have had mixed results due to the bad weather we all experienced, however weather conditions this year are already more favourable. We have also got some new additions to what’s in the box this year – the seedlings are bigger and stronger and we have worked on the packaging so that when the plants are in transit they are more stable. We’ve got some new varieties so now you get some Dahlias and Ammi’s in the mix. All round a much better mix with plenty of bee- and butterfly-friendly varieties.

Environmental impact

I read an article by Pat Thomas, called Behind the Label, in the Ecologist back in 2009, which I feel sums up the problem with imported flowers. Although conditions have improved greatly since the article was written, I still feel that it illustrates why growing your own for a bit of fun is better than buying imported flowers from further afield – when the floriculture industry first moved in to Kenya, to Lake Naivasha (where the majority of Kenyan flowers are grown), the lake shrunk to half its original size and the water levels dropped three metres. Due to irrigation of the flowers grown on its shores, its native hippos were threatened by the pollution in the lake and fish catches are dwindling (putting local fishermen out of business).

Since the article was written there have been improvements to conditions in the area, however I still feel strongly that it is best to grow your own locally rather than fly them in from all over the world. To see more on improvements since 2009 click here.

Penny’s gardening blog….

Hello Everyone

Oops, it’s been over a month since I wrote my last blog so I apologize for this lapse and all I can say is that I have been far too busy working and also having a jolly good time too. So before I launch into gardening tips, photos etc, a little bit about ….

My jolly good time

I went to the most amazing festival, just inside Cornwall called The Port Eliot Festival or the Lit fest. It is held on the most beautiful estate and has a rare mix of literary guests, fashion designers, brilliant bands and DJ’s, fantastic food, drinks, a flower show and lots, lots more.  Take a look at the gallery of photos on their website : http://www.porteliotfestival.com/

The highlights for me were:

  • Coming across an acoustic band of young men called Maia the Band performing along the estuary skirting the estate, http://www.youtube.com/user/maiatheband
  • Watching another quite new band called Toy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcQ2nXDvWDY  who were amazing and am sure are going to be really big
  • Meeting a charming man with a v, v, gsoh from Ottery st Mary, called Sebastian, who took me on a midnight walk and showed me the maze on the estate. Unfortunately I lost him on the dance floor later on (or maybe he suddenly got the fear and did a runner, poor thing!!). Anyway, whatever hey! So thank you Sebastian from Ottery, your tour has made me think about mazes in a completely new light and maybe sometime I will write a blog dedicated to them alone. So much fun has been had. Now back to work….

Cut Flowers


Monarch mixed cut flowers (in our Riverford Boxes to Grow) 

As you know I am an organic flower grower (as well as a gardener, a gardening blogger and a Riverford  Farm Tour guide). The terrible weather we have had this season has made life very difficult for anyone attempting to grow anything. I can’t remember worse conditions for all the years I have been a grower.

Over the last couple of months my flowers have finally started producing beautiful blooms which need regular cutting, conditioning, bunching and delivering to Riverford’s Field Kitchen restaurant, Riverford Farm Shop and to various parties and weddings that have booked me. So, my life is quite hectic as you can imagine.


 Snapdragon, Antirrhinum ‘bizarre hybrid’ –

this variety has unusual speckled markings on the blooms

Tips on cropping your flowers from your cutting garden

Some of you have had our cutting garden ‘grow your own’ kit this year so here are some tips on cropping your flowers and how to care for them:-

Cutting your flowers:-

  • It is best to crop your flowers either first thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, or later in the evening when its cooling down. If you cut them in the midday sun they will wilt before you get a chance to put them in water.
  • Always cut your flowers at an angle, allowing a bigger surface area to take up water. The first flowers such as Cosmos, Rudbeckia or sundflowers for instance, may be fairly short. Cut the central flower to some lower side shoot. These will lengthen and so your next stems should be longer.
  • Put them in a bucket of water in the shade and give them a drink.
  • Some flowers will wilt unless you condition them.  Euphorbias are a classic example. The milky sap that is produced when you cut them blocks the stems and stops the water from being taken up. It is also highly allergic. The answer is to sear the stem ends in hot boiled water for twenty seconds, then refresh them in cold water again. This method is useful and worth a try with any wilting flowers.
  • All the leaves that are going to be below the water line of your vase must be stripped off. If you don’t do this the leaves start to rot in the water, the water becomes rather a smelly bacterial soup and will shorten the life of your flowers.
  • Refreshing the water every day or two will also help you get a longer life out of your flowers.
  • Regular picking is essential if you want your flowers to carry on producing. If you leave them to go to seed the plant will think that this is what you want and put all its energy into producing seeds rather than flowers.



A few gardening tips:-

  • Dead head flowering plants such as Dahlias and Cosmos to encourage more flower production.
  • Cut back any perennials and annuals that are over and looking messy, being mindful about leaving those seed heads that are strong enough to withstand the wet rain and wind. These can look fabulous in winter when Jack Frost visits and covers them in a layer of sparkly, diamonté like crystals.
  • Feed any container grown plants. I have a patio full of pots, tanks and old metal baths. I plant these up in May with pelargoniums, scented geraniums, morning glory, salvia and all sorts. Any thing grown in pots will need a good feed every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and looking good through out the season.

In the next few weeks I will be writing about –

Riverford Farm Tours – I will show you in photo form some of our hot house crops growing in our relatively new 3 acre polytunnel.  With the kind permission of his mum and dad, here is a picture of one of my recent Riverford Farm Tour customers, Benji:


Benji was clearly not that interested in the statistics I was giving them on the tomato crops and yields etc and was just champing at the bit to get back to the tractor, which is so obviously his passion at the mo. I love the fact that he really does look like a proper grumpy Devon farmer who is really hacked off with the awful weather we’ve been subjected to this season.

I’ll also be writing about the Herb Garden in front of the Riverford Field Kitchen which I designed and planted up over seven years ago. It’s worth a whole blog on it’s own too.


Riverford Field Kitchen herb garden

I also have more stunning photos of plants and planting combinations in my own garden and some gardens I tend and look after, to share with you and inspire you.  Here’s are a couple of pics below, keep following my blogs for more.

Late summer flowering plants:-


In the foreground we have Rudbeckia goldsturm, crocosmia in the

middle and cotinus in the background


Photo Verbena bonariensis with Stipa gigantea behind

In Penny’s gardening blog today – gardening tips for longer-lasting good looks

In today’s blog I will briefly touch on the weather, cheer you up with some garden photos, give you tips on prolonging your garden’s good looks and suggestions for plants to use for this.


Sedum, lavender, sisyrinchium and stipa gigantea flourishing

The Weather

I have nothing to say. It’s boring and relentless and I am sick to my dwindling top teeth of moaning about it… so, in a cup half full (or actually overflowing) sort of approach, the continual onslaught of rain has been jolly good for our shrubs, trees and perennials. They are loving it. After a pretty dry couple of years, I have observed these plants lapping it up. Everything has shot up to its full height and more. This season, I’ve seen Delphiniums as tall as me (just under six foot).  Last year they were more like four and a half feet tall. The rain can damage this growth, weighing it down and with a little wind can cause havoc, so staking is essential in these circumstances.


 Sweet rocket, iris, feverfew and euphorbia at the gardens in Riverford

Gardening tips for longer-lasting good looks

For the last couple of weeks I have been stripping out and cutting back various plants that are over, to make space for plants that will flower over the next few months. In the garden pictured below we let campions, forget me nots, feverfews, valerian officinalis, comfreys, euphorbias and sweet rockets seed freely. In the following year they will give a great early summer show and when inter-planted with other perennials, roses, shrubs etc they give a really natural look.

When they are over I cut back and pull some out, leaving a few to go to seed, and use these new spaces to fill with some later flowering plants, suggestions below:

Plant  Suggestions

Some of my favorite annuals are:

Nicotiana Sensation: A lovely scented mix of pinks, purples and whites. Nicotiana lime green are fabulous and look great next to bright pinks, reds and orange plants.  Nicotiana affinnis  are white and the most heavily scented.

Having sowed these a little later than usual I am now inter-planting them in gaps I have created. They look fabulous and scent the whole garden especially in the evening.  Nicotiana mutabilis grows to a statuesque 3-4 foot and have a strange but pleasant sort of bubble gum fragrance.

Cosmos: Another annual fave of mine and if picked regularly, will carry on flowering til the first autumn frosts. I love the various bright pinks and whites of nicotiana ‘sensation mixed’ but also think ‘candy stripe’ a beautiful variety,  pale pinks with a white stripe.

Dahlias: I have been rather worried about myself the last few years as I have taken to liking dahlias, after being really rather snobby about them for the last 25 years!! What is going on?  Maybe it’s an age thing and the next step will be carnations. God forbid! The thing is, they really are a fantastic late flowerer and more often than not will perform for many years if the tubers don’t rot over winter. They come in all sorts of colours and shapes and sizes. My favourites are the deep pinks, maroons and reds and planted up with some lime green nicotianas in front, well all I can say is, its heaven.

Verbena bonariensis: Another late flowering perennial I love. Its little purple flowers sit on top of long see-through stems and I plant lots of this in any gaps available.

Strobilanthes atropurpurea: An excellent perennial that grows to just over a metre, this plant freely bears curved and hooded indigo blue or purple flowers above a mound of leafy stems in late summer. It’s not that commonly grown, but I found it at our local plant nursery, Hill House Nursery in Landscove (www.hillhousenursery.co.uk ).  This nursery run by Ray, and his son Matthew, is an amazing place to visit with a great café and lovely gardens.  It has a classy selection of trees, shrubs, roses, perennials, annuals, herbs, geraniums and well…. I could go on and on. The great thing about Hill House Nursery is the staff have excellent plant knowledge and are very helpful, and they stock many plants you will rarely see in most garden centres.  I believe they have an online shop too. Its worth a visit if you are in the area.

Some other perennials to consider for a later performance are Rudbeckia, Helenium, Michaelmas daisies, Japanese anemones and Sedum.

Here are some garden photos from June to cheer you up:


 Sambucus nigra, box, roses


Yew, roses, euphorbia and phlomis


Acanthus and cotinus blooming in the garden

Penny’s Gardening Blog- flower box to grow

In my Gardening Blog today I will be wittering on about the weather as usual as well as warning those of you who have ordered a flower box to grow to get ready, showing off about my tractor driving skills and treating you to some more photos of beautiful garden shots.

The Weather

We have all been enjoying some proper hot sunny days the last couple of weeks and oh boy was it was needed. All around me I can see the effect on growth in my field, the herb bed at the field kitchen, the toms and cucs in our polytunnels and well just everywhere around. It fills me with joy I have to say.

The Herb Garden at Riverfords restaurant , The Field Kitchen.

However…..I feel the odd heavy shower at night would improve life even more. Like the one we in Buckfastleigh had last Saturday night at 4 or 5 in the morning (officially Sunday). It was a proper deluge, a downpour and was so loud that it woke me up. I was delighted as I had just planted my first seedlings in my flower field that very morning. What luck! Obviously I had watered them in already but this extra dousing was just the ticket. In previous years I have planted up my field in the first couple of weeks of April. This spring has been unusually cold and then rained for ages and no one could get on the land to cultivate-hence a late start.

Flower Box To Grow

These cut flower kits are being delivered from next week. The plants have arrived and are looking great. A couple of varieties haven’t germinated very well so we have a bit of substitution here and there but all in all, it’s looking good. Having originally worried that this kit was going out too late in the season it turns out that what with the weather we’ve had, it’s really an ideal time after all. So if you have a box arriving, spend some time this bank holiday weekend preparing your site for your cutting garden kit.

If you haven’t already dug in some manure, do so now or chicken pellets will also do fine.  Flowers don’t need as much nutrients as veg so they say. You can end up with too much leaf and not so many blooms but I am not totally convinced. The years I have had muck spread before cultivation everything grew lovely and tall and produced buckets and buckets of flowers. Don’t over do it but a couple of sacks of well rotted manure chucked about ‘never did no one no harm’ as we say down here.


This week I have given my first farm tours at Riverford. I have been training over the last few months and to start with was very wary about driving a massive tractor, pulling an extremely long trailer behind it. But I have to say, not wanting to big myself up or anything; I am a dab hand at it now. I can back it up too, round quite awkward corners where pallets have been strategically placed in the way, to really put me through my paces!! Some of the male staff were pretty skeptical to begin with but I am pleased to say they were wrong. I am pretty good at it. But more about the tours next week where I will introduce you to Julius, a Ugandan pineapple farmer who I have had the pleasure of working with this week, teaching children about growing and showing them the farm.

Gardens in May

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy.



Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Formal garden with loose informal planting.

Formal garden with loose informal planting

I am off to London for the jubilee celebrations and to see my offspring. Happy growing and don’t forget to water in this hot dry weather.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Flower box to grow

I will be talking about the weather in true English style, be sympathetic and give some support to all you growers out there battling with your veg/herb/flower gardens, encourage you to try a Riverford Flower Box To Grow and inspire you with some photos of gardens I work in.

the weather

Heavens Above! What is going on? In recent times we have had the driest autumn on record, the driest winter, the coldest April and now the wettest too. How about the hottest summer next please. It really makes life rather difficult for anyone trying to grow anything at all. I read some garden articles in early spring listing plants suitable for drought as this is what we were all expecting then, hose pipe bans spreading across the country like wild fire and then it starts and we are all relieved to have at last a shower and then another….. and another …..But this onslaught and absolute deluge of rain that we have been subjected to over the last few weeks is just all too much. Maybe an article on damp gardens is called for now.

It is pretty miserable working out in this kind of weather and sometimes if it’s persistent enough one just has to give up. I have pretty good waterproofs in the form of fishermans salopettes,  wellies,  a coat and an assortment of hats, (shorts and a sun hat in the car too, just in case, yeah right!!!). It is not a pretty sight!


Even some of the field workers have had their hours cut as no planting can be done because it’s impossible to get the tractors and planters on to the ground. Things are not happy!

box to grow

Veg and heb  box to grow customers have had their plants for a month now and hopefully  have manages to plant them up. Nothing has grown much this last month because its been unusually cold and very wet. My courgettes have copped it…just couldn’t cope, simply drowned and my other seedlings are sat there not growing and looking rather sodden and sorry for themselves . All you can really do is keep checking for slugs and snails who come out in troops in this weather. If really keen you could cover the plants with cloches to try and keep some rain off them and also raise the temperature a bit. We could all do with some sunshine to make the plants grow.

flower box to grow

The Flower Box To Grow is my baby in some ways as growing cut flowers is my speciality so riverford have used me to select the plants and varieties that come in this grow your own kit. I have grown organic cut flowers in a field I rent from riverford over the last four years. The Kit will provide you with flowers to cut and enjoy in a vase through out the summer and well into the autumn.  The flowers are all traditional English country flowers such as cornflowers, bells of Ireland, love in a mist, sunflowers, snapdragons and so on….take a look and be tempted.  The kit comes with 54 seedlings and two packets of seeds and is extremely good value for money and obviously I highly recommend it.

in the garden

What with all the rain perennials have pretty much doubled in size over the last few weeks and have been really enjoy this long awaited drink. I am lucky enough to work in some really beautiful garden in the local area and to cheer you all up and possibly inspire you I will show you some photos of some of these.

This garden is partly walled and formally planted with fastigiated yews and lots of shaped box and box hedging. It sits quite high on a hill and has lovely views across the valley. With in the formality it is planted quite loosely with loads of old fashioned roses, geraniums, day lilies and so on.

We let campion, forget me not, sweet rocket and valerian officianalis seed freely and then cull when necessary. This makes it look very natural and also fills gaps creating ground cover and hence suppresses growth of unwanted weeds.

forget me nots

symphytum ibericum  comfrey

This is a low growing comfrey and a useful ground cover plant too

This is a taller comfrey useful for making a liquid feed  and  great for composting as it encourages the rapid breakdown of other materials  you put in your heap and its also very pretty.

Symphytum x uplandicum   Russian comfrey

I love this combination of bright yellow Kerria japonica and a bright red Rhododendron behind. Very cheerful indeed.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 5

Gosh, its three weeks since I posted my last blog already. How time flies! Being a gardener and grower this time of year is pretty full on. I have lots of clients I work for on a weekly basis as well as preparing my field where I grow flowers and am also busy propagating plants to go in it. So life is hectic and I am slightly overwhelmed by the impending season. But it is also a very exciting time of year in the garden with the first signs of growth and plenty of plants in flower. In this blog I am going to give you all a reminder and do a final push on our boxes to grow. I will suggest some general gardening tasks and wax lyrical about spring flowering plants.

Boxes to grow

Veg, Herb and cut flower gardening kits

April is nearly here and deliveries of our vegetable and herb boxes to grow will be going out imminently, cut flower kits a bit later.  It’s not too late to order one as we have a few left. I don’t want to bang on too much about it but these kits are great value and a fabulous way to  kick start  your gardens in one fail swoop. No decisions on what to grow or where to get it all from. We have used our experts to select good tried and tested varieties to give you the best chance of success and comprehensive advice on how to plant and grow these are also included in the boxes. I will also be supporting you with my gardening blogs and here to answer your queries.

If you have already ordered one remember to do the recommended site preparation we have on our website.

gardening blogMarch in the garden

I have taken some photos of some plants I love that are flowering now. Its good practice to keep your eyes open  when out and about and observe good companion plantings around you and maybe think of incorporating these into your garden spaces to improve what you already have. In the foreground a red Camelia, clematis armandii climbing through a tree and in the background a magnolia tree.

gardening blog

A close up of Clematis armandii. You can grow this evergreen climber up a wall,trellis,fence or through a tree. It has lovely glossy foliage its quite happy planted in more shady positions.

Hellebores are an absolute favorite of mine.


Once big enough they can be split after flowering and replanted to increase your stock. I have done this in this little woodland area over the years and it really looks a picture at this time of year with the under planted periwinkle and primroses in flower too.

white double Hellebore

This white double Hellebore is particularly pretty and looks great with Euphorbia as a backdrop

Jobs in the garden


WEEDING This is the time of year to have a jolly good ‘spring clean’ in your gardens. Perennial plants are just beginning to grow again. Before things get too tall its an ideal time to really get in there and give your beds a jolly good weed. I have problems in a fair few gardens with perennial weed such as bind weed, couch grass and ground elder.  Gardening organically I would not use weed killers as they are detrimental to the wildlife in our gardens and leave nasty deposits in the soil too. Keeping these nasty weeds at bay is the answer. If you’re feeling thorough, this might mean digging up a perennial clump and teasing the roots of the said weed out and replanting the clump. Remember…DO NOT put these weeds in your compost heaps.

DIVIDING up over crowded perennial clumps can be done now. Dig out the clump and put a sharp spade blade through the centre of the clump to cut it in half or more if necessary.

COMPOST  I have a rather tired body, being rather ancient doesn’t help and nor does the kind of work I have been doing the last few weeks emptying a fair few compost heaps in various gardens in the area. It is quite satisfying though to see what you have produced from simply garden waste.

gardening blog

This is great stuff to spread on to your beds, around the plants and lightly fork in. It will improve the soil and act as a mulch helping the soil to retain moisture. As a lot of us are already being threatened with hose pipe bans this is pretty essential.

In My Next Gardening Blog

As my seedlings are not ready for transplanting yet I will leave this till next time possibly with a video clip…heres hoping!