Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Who will buy my Canterbury Bells, two blooms for a penny?
And so it’s flower season again. This year we have a new flower stand and a new location, at the end of our access road, by the Smiddy where the flowers are visible to motorists on the main road. The Canterbury Bells are there, a mixed bunch of perennials and wild flowers, and our dry flowers. I confess that I find them all stunning, and not because I happen to have raised them. Dry flowers keep their sunny looks for at least a year. The Bells last for two weeks as long as you change the water and trim the ends every few days. Each morning they seem larger; catch more sunlight. The atmosphere in a room with Bells is transformed as if each bell were playing a tune.
Am I the only one who is so impressed? Over the past week we sold only one bunch. I don’t think that the price is too high --- £2 for small bunches and £3 for Bells. Tesco prices for their flower bunches are higher. What gives?
One issue is that this is summertime --- even though it may not feel like it. Last night’s morning temperature was 4 degrees Celsius. Be that as it may, many of our neighbours already have flowers ready to pick in their gardens. Selling flowers in the Scottish countryside may be like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo.
There’s also tradition and familiarity. Culture. Canterbury Bells, while stunning, are “not in”. They were popular in Victorian days but today no one knows what they are. I get puzzled looks from people to whom I gift the flowers. Forty years ago when my father had his nursery, Bells were common in flower shops. But since that time public tastes have changed, possibly due to the flowers imported from Holland and displayed at each supermarket checkout. The popular flowers are roses, carnations, Gerbera Daisies, gladiolas, alstromeria, freesia, spray chrysanthemums and various Asiatic lilies. These days they are grown in polytunnels, in warmer climates than Scotland.
At Cottarton, we specialize in local flowers, ones that do well in our climate. Also flowers with a strong natural scent. I’m a strong believer in growing things locally, sustainably and out in the open. Our spirit-infused land supports an abundance of many beautiful flowers. Why should we settle for Dutch or Spanish flowers, trucked here over a thousand miles? Or flowers grown in the stale air of polytunnels, prone to polytunnel pests and inevitably sprayed with various poisons? Of course, economics, globalization and advertising have changed public tastes, but Scotland does host an abundance of its own flowers. Flowers that fit into its unique landscape.
This year we have a bumper crop of acroclinium --- paper flower that dries easily. Also heliochrysum, a flower we add to our dried bunches. Canterbury Bells, planted in the summer always survive our cruel winters and shoot up when the snow disappears. Among other early flowers are various wallflowers --- heavily scented, and sweet williams. Up and coming are our sweet peas, dahlias, asters and single blossom chrysanthemums. We grow most from seeds or cuttings. Next year we’ll expand into michaelmas daisies and other perennials.
The main challenge in raising cut flowers here is to protect them against our legendary winds. They’ll batter the blossoms and knock over any stem taller than a couple of feet. Traditional flower netting solves this. Interestingly I have to use “pea and bean” netting then trim off the excess. Flower netting is no longer available. There’s no demand for it. I put a plastic roof over Chrysanthemums to keep the rain off their delicate blossoms.
We need sun! A couple of sunny days a week will do, but we need at least those. Whenever the sun comes out, the acroclinium and sweet peas open up. The chrysanths too. Warmth is even more welcome. It brings out the scents. I'm reminded of days before intensive cross-breeding, when more flowers were scented.
On August 6th we’ll take our flower stand out to the Huntly Fair. It will be our opportunity to talk with customers. Maybe I’ll finally find out --- what is it about Bells and Scotland?