Bouquets of dancing flowers
Florist Georgie Newbery grows flowers to create bouquets that bring together the sights and scents of the summer countryside
Amaze of small fields surrounds a Somerset farmhouse, each filled with a rainbow of softly coloured flowers. This seven-acre plot is home to Common Farm Flowers. Here grower-florist Georgie Newbery tends to her flowers from seed to final, glorious bouquet. Blooms range from stately white alliums and silver-leafed stachys to clumps of mauve sweet William. Striking, inky blue irises flourish in rectangular beds. Wildflowers are encouraged to grow in any remaining spaces along the path edges and among the grass. One field is entirely given over to wildflowers. In early June, this is a sea of grasses dotted with white ox-eye daisies, buttercups, pink campion, yellow birdsfoot trefoil and wild orchids. When Georgie and her husband Fabrizio moved to Common Farm in 2004, she worked as a freelance writer. Six years later, however, she was finding the demands of her work and bringing up her two young children too difficult. Then a friend sent her a bouquet of flowers through the post. This generous act was a turning point. “I thought ‘I could do that’,” she says. “I was planting sweet peas even when life was crazy because I found growing and picking my own flowers so satisfying. I decided to turn this love into a business.”
Georgie was brought up surrounded by flowers and had always made bunches of flowers for friends. “I wasn’t a trained florist but I was handy with a pair of scissors and a garden,” she says. Her grandmother was an enthusiastic gardener and her mother was a professional florist. The latter had some sage advice for her daughter. “Never try and force a flower to bend in a direction it does not want to go. You’ve lost that battle before you’ve started it,” she says. In the first year of business Georgie did the flowers for five weddings and five postal bouquets. In 2014, she sent out over 1,500 bouquets and did approximately 50 weddings. She now employs two staff, hosts workshops, runs garden tours and has written two books, The Flower Farmer’s Year and Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers.
Feeding the soil
Common Farm’s position on the edge of the warm and wet West Country is excellent for growing flowers. On the eastern border of the Somerset levels, the farm nestles underneath the Stourhead escarpment. The flat countryside sits on Somerset clay, which means water retention is not a problem. Georgie treats the soil with her homemade compost tea, made from a mixture of cut nettles, manure and water every year. She uses municipal green waste, from Castle Cary recycling centre, eight miles away. Mixed in with horse manure from her neighbours, it tops up the nutrients in the soil. “We feed the soil a lot as we ask so much of it,” she says. Her main environmental challenge comes from the frost
and wind. The network of high hedges was deliberately planted to provide shelter from both. Frost is also combated using two unheated polytunnels to overwinter early plantings of flowers such as sweet peas. More than 250 varieties of flowers and foliage, all native British species, are grown. If one crop fails, there is always another to fall back on. At the heart of the planting are several seasonal staples including sweet peas, roses and dahlias. To ensure a summer-long supply of one of her favourite flowers, sweet peas, Georgie grows four different plantings. Two batches are grown under cover early on and the two later ones outside. She grows 20 varieties of rose but prefers the ones with big, highly scented flowerheads. In early summer these are supplemented with biennials such as sweet rocket, foxgloves and white forget-me-nots. The latter are a vital part of Georgie’s crop as they often flower before the annuals and perennials are ready. All are combined with annuals including one of her floristry favourites, the lacy Ammi majus, and perennials such as delphiniums or alliums. All these are grown from seeds. “We collect some seed and order some,” she says. “My seed bill through the year is about £400. We mostly direct sow as we grow a lot, but I would recommend smaller growers start in seed trays. This way they control the number of plants they’re growing.” Other plants grown in her polytunnels include delphiniums, and honesty. There is also the white lace flower Orlaya grandiflora, anemones, and pittosporum for foliage. Many are sown early in the year to get a long and earlier flowering period.
Umbels of soft, frothy Ammi majus, also known as lady’s lace, bring clouds of white to Georgie’s bouquets. Tall stems of allium ‘Purple Sensation’ help add structure and height to arrangements. Beds of Aquilegia vulgaris, silver foliage of Stachys byzantina and scented purple honesty, Lunaria annua. Taking the freshly picked flowers in for arranging.