Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gardens: Now’s The Time To Think About Spring Bulbs

When I was 18 I experienced my first UK winter. Growing up in tropical Singapore I’d had the romantic notion of a short three months of snowy Dickensian rooftops and ice skating on village ponds before the sun and warmth returned with a bang on 1 March. Boy was I wrong. I missed being able to sow seeds, harvest fruit and potter around in shorts and flip-flops whenever I wanted.

But one day, wandering home from uni along a grey road on a bleak February afternoon, I noticed a splash of colour in an abandoned front garden. In between the beer cans and plastic bags a clump of perfect crocus blooms had erupted from beneath the earth: an everyday miracle, returning year after year for the price of a bag of bulbs.

I realised that if winter is the price we pay for the wonder of spring bulbs, it’s almost worth it – and right now is the time to start ordering them. Look beyond the gaudy, DayGlo colours of some of the mass-market commercial hybrids and a world of primeval beauty awaits.

Let’s start with the species tulips. One of the very oldest in cultivation is the horned tulip, Tulipa acuminata with its elongated, wispy petals giving the blooms the weird “spider-like” shape that was so prized by the Ottoman sultans, who introduced the plant to the Dutch. Flame red at the tips fading to butter yellow, it is a real showstopper. If you are into cooler colours, the dwarf T humilis ‘Alba Coerulea Oculata’ has ice-white petals that offset a steely-blue base on blooms just 10-15cm high. Both are perfect for a well-drained spot in full sun.

If you are after something even bolder why not try the Afghan foxtail lily Eremurus? These towering beauties look like something straight out of a hotel lobby centrepiece, but given a warm spot will fire out flower spikes up to 2.5m tall in early June, coated in hundreds of tiny blooms, like giant bottle brushes. ‘Helena’ and ‘Joanna’ are excellent choices with rosettes of deep green leaves to complement their floral display.

If you don’t have the luxury of a sunny plot, the dog’s tooth violet Erythronium dens-canis forms a fairytale carpet of glossy purple-spotted leaves with blooms in pale pink and lilac. It even has a coveted RHS Award of Garden Merit, to testify to the good grower that is is.

Similarly, if you have a small, shady garden (and not so small a budget) treat yourself to hardy orchids. Try Calanthes such as C sieboldii or C tricarinata, or slipper orchids like the super vigorous North American Cypripedium kentuckiense and its showier pink hybrid, ‘Kentucky Pink’. These look so exotic it is hard to believe they will shrug off sub-zero freezes to turn a dark, damp British border into a slice of Borneo each April amid the moss and ferns.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Better Value for British Flowers Following Brexit

The "silver lining" of Brexit means British flowers are becoming better value compared with overseas imports, which make up 97 per cent of the £2bn UK market - and a new app is aimed at helping UK growers show what they have available as efficiently as Dutch suppliers.

"This is a really good time to push UK product, given the current weakness in our currency," said Auction Fresh founder Nigel Lister. "Having worked for years in both retail and wholesale flowers, I know how difficult it is to source English flowers." His new app helps to answer questions on when, where, what price and in what quantity flowers are available, replicating Dutch systems supplying non-English product. "An interim idea is my AuctionFresh app," said Lister.

"I decided on the smartphone option because I wanted a grower to be able to take a photo of available product and load it onto a global platform (multiple language and currency screens are coming in further releases) instantly. Buyers can see what's available and the price, and make an offer through the app or just make contact with the grower in different ways, including an inbuilt Facebook Messenger facility.

"Ben Cross from Crosslands Nursery in Walberton, West Sussex - a third-generation alstroemeria grower - has worked with me in the process of development and he finds the functionality very easy.

"Within an industry that imports 97per cent of its cut flower consumption, I would like to see more English growers using the app so, working on a narrow budget, exposure of the idea to growers is important. If there is interest, I would like to extend the concept to plants."

Cross said the app works well, is a good idea and the potential is there. He added that imports have gone up in price by about 28 per cent and he is booked for talks on his work at flower societies, colleges and clubs until 2018, showing the amount of interest. But commercial growing in the UK, and particularly in West Sussex, is a shadow of its former self, he pointed out. Cross grows 40 Alstromeria varieties on three acres under glass but said 50 acres have gone from the area over the past 20 years.

He called for EU financing, funding to compete with Fair Trade imports, the NFU to include flowers in its Fruit & Veg Pledge, the Government to take the industry seriously and a Jamie Oliver-type spokesperson for the sector. Cross supplies artisan growers when they are short, at Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Easter peaks, when they cannot produce.

Mike Bourguignon, manager of Dutch international florist association Florint, said he believes the depreciation of the pound will cause a 20 per cent price increase and trade barriers will add another 15 per cent to that, which might reduce consumer demand.

In Spain, VAT on flowers and plants increased from eight to 21 per cent in 2013. Florists experienced a 26 per cent sales drop. The VAT rate returned to 10 per cent and sales went back up.

Gill Hodgson, founder of 300-member British cut flower grower co-operative Flowers from the Farm, said: "Brexit is a fabulous opportunity. Some florists are reporting 25 per cent more expensive orders than three weeks ago, for the same order." She suggested that this may mean more florists seek flowers from closer to home, particularly if trade barriers mean delays at ports for imports.

Hodgson called the higher prices and subsequent increase in demand for home-grown product "the silver lining of Brexit". The ongoing decline of florist shops, exacerbated by Brexit, should not concern British growers, she added. "Supermarkets are always going to come out okay and will always run flowers as a welcoming feature, even as a loss leader. Is it possible for the high street florist to struggle any more?

"Florists are now increasingly working from home or lock-ups and are becoming event florists, with social media taking the place of the shop window. Those looking for a different-looking product are sourcing British flowers, and not just sweet williams. They want varieties you can't get at the wholesaler from a grower that might only grow 200 plants and not five acres' worth to make themselves different from the supermarket."

She added: "To me, British flowers were always better value because they're fresher and have better variety and scent retention. Our growers don't want to equate with better value because they are competing at the better end of the market. British flowers are better so people have to be willing to pay more. We're not chrysanthemums, carnations, roses and lilies. We're larkspur, delphinium and sweet peas. Florists can't survive on British alone but can add more different British varieties to imported varieties."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Multipurpose Usage of Flowers

We value flowers for their beauty and looks, but they have much more to offer than just their attractive appearances. Flowers play a very important role in our ecosystem. They provide food and habitat for beneficial insects. They attract insects and birds, which serve as pollinators for the plant itself. The flower itself produces seeds, which are then pollinated by birds or insects. It is a form of symbiotic relationship. Without insects or birds to help pollinate flowers, plants would have no way of reproducing to create new flowers or growth. Insects and birds utilize the plants or flowers for their own growth and also help keep the surrounding ecosystem of flowers well maintained and healthy by keeping away predators. The bugs and birds that the flowers attract also help keep other harmful or "bad" bugs away, such as bugs which may eat or destroy other plants. All plants produce some type of flower at some point of their growth and flowers provide new plant life which help keep the ecosystem growing as well as help sustain local insects and birds. If flowers are cut down or destroyed before pollination, there is a high chance of their deaths. And in the absence of flowers and plants, local wildlife will also vanish in that area since they would have no food.

Some flowers are also good to eat and some of them can also be used medicinally. Flowers have been used in medicine as potent remedies for thousands of years. Nature is an incredible chemist, and for ages herbs and flowers have been used as medicines in many societies and cultures throughout the world. Flowers are still important in herbal medicine and complementary therapies today. In aromatherapy, flower essences dissolved in oil are applied externally, to calm or stimulate the mind and body. Five of the most common flowers with curative properties are:

1) Foxglove: They are a useful treatment for cardiovascular problems such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

2) Lily of the valley: The flower is used to treat heart conditions and dropsy. During the First World War, Lily of the valley was also used to help soldiers recover from the effects of gas poisoning.

3) Rose: They have anti-inflammatory properties and are useful for relieving joint pain. Rose syrup is also been given to patients to treat coughs and colds.

4) Lavender: The flower has been used to aid sleep for centuries. It also helps digestion, relieves flatulence and acts as an antiseptic.

5) Chamomile: They are used to calm anxiety and treat headaches. They act as an anti-spasmodic for such problems as stomach cramps and indigestion.

Flowers are very important for humans with their multipurpose usage. They also play an integral role in many celebrations and festivals such as weddings, anniversaries, Easter and Valentine's Day. Flowers are also popular as gifts and they are always in huge demand. Many florists have extended their services online in order to reach out to a maximum number of customers and nowadays people can send flowers to Mumbai or any other city in quick time. With these internet florists and gifts delivery services, it has now become relatively easy to arrange an online flower delivery in Mumbai for any special occasion.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tasty tulips

The colder, crisper weather heralds the start of the tulip planting season. Verdant green leaves and luscious blooms provide a visual feast early in the year. But tulips are also food for the stomach and their petals make a cool, crisp and colourful addition to the salad bowl. (But note: some people suffer allergic reactions to tulips, so proceed with caution).

Tasting broadly of sweet lettuce but with a peppery kickback, tulip petals range in flavour from grassy - think Romaine - via earthy and and creamy - think butterhead - to bold, hot rocket. Tossed with early salad leaves, also sown now, they are a glamorous, blowsy and dazzling colour bonanza, and all with the crunch of an upright cos.
The best tulips for eating fall into three groups. They are scented; fragrance contributes heavily to flavour, they have bite and texture, breaking and crunching noisily when eaten, and they are beautiful.

Single, early tulips tend to be the most scented. They taste like peas with the perfume adding a floral note. 'Couleur Cardinal' is an intense crimson-red single with a plummy sheen and a sweet, fruity fragrance.
Wonderful together in a pot are hot orange 'Veronique Samson', 'Ballerina' and 'Orange Favourite'.

Orange tulips tend to have the most fragrance. 'Veronique Samson' is a flaming orange single with a rose scent. Lily flowered 'Ballerina' smells heady and sweet like sherbet and 'Orange Favourite', which is later and double, smells of freesias. 'City of Vancouver', a late single, has large, creamy petals that taste of violets. With all these tulips the taste is predominantly sweet.

Larger petals have a stiffer texture and more crunch. 'Menton' is a single early with crisp petals and flowers the size of a goose egg that provide an exhilarating snap. The shell pink colour belies a strong spicy kick similar to mizuna or rocket. It has a pleasing brittleness similar to iceberg lettuce.

Double peony and parrot types are more chewy and so can be used coarsely chopped or torn. Intensely velvety 'Rococo' is scarlet-flamed, puckered with bright red and deeply fringed. It has a subtle, fruity fragrance. Use it to make a sultry salad with lamb's lettuce, red cabbage and chicory or roast peppers, squash and pecorino. 'Creme Upstar' is a pale and creamy double peony type. It looks and tastes fantastic with the mixed bright green leaves of oakleaf lettuce, newly emergent sorrel, mint and feta.

Cool and ethereal or deep and dramatic, colour adds intrigue and excitement and turns a bowl of simple leaves into a showstopping lunch. Try dusky 'Bruine Wimpel' with fresh spinach, pancetta and hazelnuts, or 'Spring Green' with rocket and pea tips.

There is also something to be said for picking and scattering what you are already growing. Fresh, organic and direct from the garden, red tulips are the sweetest. I grow 'Tambour Maitre', a rich red with smoky crimson hue has the sweetness and bite of a little gem lettuce. White are the most spicy, try 'Pax' or 'Purissima' for heat. Yellows such as the elegant 'Sapporo' are sulphurous like broccoli with the unobtrusive bitterness of Reine de Glace lettuce or chicory. The darker purple and near blacks, 'Havran' and 'Jan Reus' share the clear, sweet brightness and the pleasing brittleness of an iceberg lettuce with an initial tang and a sweeter aftertaste.
Salad leaves for winter sowing and picking

The flavour of the leaf varies according to the age of the leaf and the time of year. Cold weather has a sweetening effect, while maturity makes flavour more pronounced.