Hampshire women who weaved their passion for flowers into their daily lives
PUBLISHED: 10:32 29 June 2017
Natalie French speaks to three women who have weaved their passion for beautiful flowers into their daily lives, from the rise of the floral crown to scented roses and wild flower meadows
Nestled on a farm in the South Downs National Park is a rose garden boasting over 35,000 flowers. You’d imagine the conditions would be ideal for growing, but the reality is somewhat different.
”They’re rubbish!” says owner and founder, Rosebie Morton, “It’s solid lime, with a PH of 7.8 and roses like growing on neutral soil, so it’s really bad growing conditions. Which is one of the reasons for running my courses. There’s nothing better than inspiring people to grow when they see what you can achieve on rubbish soil.” So how does she work with such bad conditions? “You have to enrich the soil by putting as much organic muck into the ground as possible. We use a lot of green compost and that makes a heck of a difference,” she says.
As well as their Hinton Ampner site, The Real Flower Company has a Fairtrade sister farm, Tambuzi, at the base of Mount Kenya. Once the British growing season is over, produce is harvested here. Rosebie helped establish it with British couple, Tim & Maggie Hobbs, who supply roses all year round.
Having grown up in an army family, Rosebie moved around as a child, but her mother always had roses in her garden, which spurred a lifelong love of the flower: “Scent and memories are totally linked,” she says, “and they always smelt so beautiful. When I walked into a flower shop, nothing seemed to have a scent any more – possibly a lily – but that was it. So I decided it was my ambition to bring scented flowers back to the flower world.”
“I started growing stronger scented varieties, like the Margaret Merril. I trialled about six different roses initially, and planted ten of each in my mother-in-law’s garden and watched how they grew,” explains Rosebie.
“I took them up to Covent Garden and people absolutely loved them. From the 60 we grew the first year, we went to 300 the next year and then to 8000. Now we’ve got about 35,000 in Hampshire and the Kenyan site has getting on for half a million.”
Rosebie now grows 25 different varieties of rose at Hinton Ampner, all ranging in colours.
“But our number one criteria really is scent, because the first thing anyone does is put their nose in a flower and smell it – and if it hasn’t got a scent it’s very disappointing.”
She also grows around 150 different flowers and foliages: “My husband, the sensible one out of the pair of us, said just keep it simple – don’t get too diverse, stick to roses. He can’t believe how mad it is. I get carried away.”
Does she have a favourite flower? “I just have an absolute love of roses. If you saw my hands you’d wonder why, as I get stabbed all the time by the thorns. There’s something about an English rose that’s very special. I love poppies too. They are so ethereal and delicate and they are with you one day and gone the next, although they don’t have any scent.’
The company has a shop in the paddock selling all varieties. “In the summer months, as soon as the roses start opening, you can come on a Friday and buy fresh cut flowers,” says Rosebie. “I also run courses in rose cultivation, pruning and flower inspiration days. On one of the courses, people can go and pick their own flowers and we come back and hand tie them.”
‘Flower Power’ are a voluntary group made up from Friends of the Earth, New Forest Transition and many friends who have been busy sowing wild flowers in Lymington, Barton On Sea and in New Forest Schools, creating an abundance of wild flower meadows.
Volunteer Gill Hickman, explains her inspiration behind the project: “I love flowers and know how they inspire people, but I’m also a biologist and a teacher. I was keen to get young people involved with wildflowers, so initially I sowed a dozen mini-meadows in schools with children. We are all very aware of the plight of bees and the effects of pesticides and we made a successful application for a Grow Wild grant that enabled us to sow larger meadows.”
With meadows springing up across Lymington, Gill has had a fantastic reaction from the general public: “Feedback from people at our meadows has been universally positive. They have been a joy to all who visit. At Lymington Hospital they have helped those who are seriously ill and there, we have taken the ‘outside in’ by creating a small ‘apothecary’ garden inside the hospital, within the stroke unit.”
“We have had artists sketching and painting; photographers enjoying the challenges of wildflower and insect photography, and we have even run a Saturday morning ‘bioblitz’ for children,” says Gill. “There are meadow sites at Woodside Gardens in Lymington; at Lymington Meadows - a new site for a charity next to Lymington library, and at Pennington Community Allotment. Eight schools will also be sowing mini meadows, generously funded by Meadow in My Garden. We also made a lovely mini meadow in a huge raised bed for Gracewell of Sway Care Home last year and will be repeating this year.”
When asked what flowers the group grows, Gill replies: “We have sown native English wildflowers such as: scabious, birds foot trefoil, yarrow, and Devil’s bit scabious in sensitive areas of Lymington Woodside. A grassy meadow mix comprising English natives mixed with fine grasses in the orchard area of our community allotment.”
“With permission from English Nature, we gathered most seed ourselves from Pennington Common. This is an SSSI and we wanted to ensure this seed was of known local provenance. We have also planted bluebells in Lymington’s Woodside Gardens at the woodland edge. These are perennials and we knew they wouldn’t flower in their first year, but two years later, they are wonderful!” The group also grow ‘pollinator’ meadows, says Gill: “These are mixtures of species deliberately created to give a long flowering season. They may start with species such as linaria, phacelia, ox eye daisy and poppy. Cornfield annuals such as corn marigold, corncockle and cornflower may follow, and finally in midsummer we include cosmos and sunflower.”
“All species are loved by bees and other pollinators and we know we are ‘doing our bit’ for bees. There’s scientific evidence that native wildflowers attract more pollinators in early summer but the balance swings towards the semi-cultivated varieties in late summer. We use similar species in Seedballs and these are wonderful for filling in gaps, and great fun for children to use.”
“Each mix is slightly different. We may use colourful low growing flowers in schools, a ‘bee’ or ‘butterfly’ mix on the allotment and flowers that provide a kaleidoscope of colour in public areas. Meadow in My Garden and Pictorial Meadows both produce wonderful mixes.”
Gill is keen for other local communities to take on such an inspiring project too: “I would also encourage local authorities to consider the use of verges and roundabouts. Low growing, colourful species are wonderful here. Wildflowers are at the mercy of the weather so local authorities need to be able to provide water in the event of drought!”
“I think all schools should be growing wildflowers; a tiny plot, a tub or even a window box. Children will learn about seed dispersal and can collect, dry and package seed for the following year.”
And if you fancy growing wildflowers yourself, Gill says: “Try cornfield annuals for a simple, cheap blaze of colour, and then experiment. A major piece of advice is don’t sow into grass. Grasses are strong competitors and flowers won’t stand a chance. Clear the grass first, make sure every seed is in contact with soil, then sit back and watch the flowers grow.”
Multi award-winning wedding floral designer Jay Archer has had a love of flowers for as long as she can remember. Her naturally flowing, whimsical design has earned the title of ‘English Romantic’ by British BRIDES magazine, but she is also embracing the growing trend for beautiful floral headdresses.
“Increasingly, brides want to do something ‘different’,” says Jay, “People are more creative these days, more daring and more determined to make their mark on the world and this translates to weddings too.”
“With the aid of Pinterest and Instagram brides are realising it’s their wedding and they really can do what they want - anything goes! Bouquets are ever popular, but there is a whimsy and romance about flowers in your hair, and a circlet can be a real statement piece. Boho vibes have been very popular for a few years now, and circlets and hair flowers are a way of bringing this in to a wedding, even if the rest of it is still fairly elegant.”
So which flowers should we be choosing? “Anything soft stemmed won’t last well, so avoid cornflower and sweet peas,” explains Jay. “Roses, as delicate as they look, last super well, as does foliage, twigs, waxflower and helichrysms - sunflower, succulents, tulips and berries. Consider adding faux flowers and ribbons too.”
If you’re not convinced you can pull off a full floral crown, Jay has a suggestion: “Hair combs, worn over the veil to tuck it in, are becoming popular again too, as well as wired singular blooms, tucked in a chignon or behind the ear.”
Either way, Bohemian bridal queen is having a moment.