Mill Pond Flower Farm

Beautiful flowers grown in the Scottish Borders

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Ribbon business for sale!

Posted on 20 July, 2017 at 15:10 Comments comments (0)

Heirloom Silk: Artisan Ribbonmaking Business for Sale

I have been making and selling natural dyed silk ribbon for the past two and a half years. It began as a request for silk ribbon from a bride and demand has grown steadily from florists and the general public. The business operates from a simple online shop, with a range of ribbon colours and widths available – customers order online and I pack and send the ribbons out by post.

The business has now grown to a size that needs more attention and time than I have available. My main business is growing and selling cut flowers and over the past few years both businesses have grown significantly, to a size that means I can’t do both comfortably. I want to make a really good job of everything I do and so I’ve decided to sell the ribbon business as it is today. I have a solid customer base and I’m keen to pass the business on to someone who will care about providing a good service to them, maintain the quality of natural dyeing and ribbonmaking, and also develop new lines and products. There is huge potential for growth and many ways that the business can be improved and expanded.

I would like to sell the investment that I have made into getting this business set up and viable, its profile and goodwill, plus stock and equipment. I’m aware that much of its value lies in the expertise I’ve developed in natural dyeing, cutting and processing of ribbon and a key part of the sale will include training and support (if required) for the person who wants to take it on and make the most of the opportunities this presents.

If you're interested and would like more information please email me [email protected]

CLOSING DATE 15 August 2017


 


Spring flowers have arrived

Posted on 4 April, 2016 at 15:50 Comments comments (1)

In the past week the Spring flowers have begun to bloom. Bulb planting is my least favourite job so it's just lovely to see them come up and show themselves off so beautifully. There follows a pictorial celebration 

Striped narcissus



Wild Plum Blossom


Jewel and pastel anemones


Muscari with a background of poppy leaves


Yellow Parrot Tulips


Purissima Tulips


Foxtrot Tulips


Double Dazzle Tulips


Cairo Tulips


And finally, I give you Narcissus Ice King

Love a slug

Posted on 18 March, 2016 at 16:15 Comments comments (0)

We have a lot of slugs here at Mill Pond Flower Farm, lift any stone or move a piece of wood and there are slugs. Do a bit of digging and slug eggs will be uncovered, cream coloured and shiny, waiting for the right conditions to start to develop. They're everywhere, in nooks and crannies and sometimes just sat there on the grass.

And yet, we have very little slug damage with hosta leaves pristine, delphiniums shooting forth unbothered. When we have gardening visitors one of the most predictable questions is about slug problems, particularly as we mostly have heavy clay soil. So it's really made me think about slugs and whether they're really as bad as they're made out to be. 

A bit of light research uncovered a whole load of information about slugs. There are 30 different slug varieties in the gardens of the UK but the good news is that only 4 of those varieties are likely to damage garden plants. The bad news is that those 4 varieties are the most prolific! To identify which sort of slugs you have, see the handy identification page  at http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/bad-slugs

There are many more fascinating slug facts:

Slug blood is green

In favourable conditions a slug can live for up to 6 years

A slug smells with its body

Slugs routinely lose and regrow their teeth

For those who can't get enough of slug facts go to http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/facts

Knowing a bit more about slugs has made me approach them in a different way, I'm more willing to live alongside them and have developed a few strategies to reduce the negative impacts:

  • Leave plenty of rotting vegetation around the place. Although this is the opposite to the generally given advice, many of the slugs will only attack heathy plant material when there is less of their preferred rotten diet available. So I strip the leaves from the lower stems of flowers when cutting them and leave them where they lie. Not that tidy, but it does save work in collecting them together and composting and also gives the slugs a delicious meal.
  • Watch out for any even slight damage to seedlings and young plants. They are thoroughly cleaned before use,  and then I do regular checks of seed trays and remove any slugs immediately. They don't have to be big to decimate a tray of seedlings.
  • Plant out a few test seedlings to check the slug load of the ground. If they're immediatley nibbled a beer trap can often reduce the number of slugs until the plants are big enough to get going. Beer traps do attract slugs who throw themselves in and drown though the resultant brew is pretty disgusting.
  • Do a slug patrol in the early evening. Slugs tend to climb up the plastic of the polytunnel as it cools and can be easily picked off and ,moved away.
  • Maintain a balanced environment. We garden organically, have an extremely large pond with hundreds of frogs and toads, plus birds of many varieties. They MUST eat millions of slugs every year.
I may not actually love slugs but I'm generally happy to co-exist with then. Except the one I stood on with bare feet in the middle of the kitchen floor, that one had to go.


 

Seeds, seeds and more seeds

Posted on 9 February, 2016 at 16:30 Comments comments (0)

It's the beginning of the flower growing season and I've been resisting planting since November, promising myself that the plants will thank me for it and do better if I wait. It's been a struggle but at last the first seed sowing day arrived, with early annuals and perennials now carefully tucked up in the propagator.

Since starting growing flowers for sale I've been slowly refining seed ordering, care and planting, trying to be more efficient, frugal and successful. All the advice says to keep seeds in the fridge but I can never manage that - too many seeds, the fridge is not big enough and I'd be taking them out all the time to look at them. I keep them in a plastic box sorted into perennials, biennials, hardy annuals and half hardy annuals, all nicely kept together with elastic bands, except when I'm sorting through checking that I have enough, reminding myself what the year is going to bring while a storm rages outside.

Fresh seed is best and I've found that the seed I save from my own plants generally germinates the best. However, one of the problems with selling cut flowers is that often there aren't any left to go to seed, or the weather is too wet for collecting it the end of the season. Saved seed is a small proportion of the whole, but those little brown envelopes are very much prized, and the ones sent by or swapped with other very generous growers even more so. However, there's still plenty of scope for buying lots of lovely new seed too and my ordering schedule is as follows:

November/December - Annuals and Perennials -  for Spring sowing

May - Biennials - for June/July sowing

August - Annuals and Perennials - for late August/September sowing 

Anytime - that lovely new seed I just can't resist!

Some seeds are sown every month except December and January, working through the year to make sure that there are flowers at all times except the depths of winter. 

Where to get seed?

There are lots of options and more coming along all the time. In some ways it would be great to get all the seed you need from a single company but then that would mean only one seed catalogue and much less fun. It's easy to get carried away, order too many or end up with duplicates but I'm trying hard to be disciplined! In no particular order, this year I'll be using seed from:

Higgledy Garden - the delightful and very informative Mr Higgs sells a good range of cutting garden seeds. They have very reliable germination for me and an entertaining growing guide is always available online. 

Seeds of Distinction - some unusual varieties, I'm trying Penstemon Chocolate Drop this season.

Kings Seeds - offer a service for allotment and gardening societies and are very competitively priced. Great range of sweet peas.

Owls Acre - sweet pea specialists who also sell winter varieites.

Suffolk Herbs - herb specialists, my Hop seeds have come from Suffolk Herbs.

Chitern Seeds - many different varieties, plus shrub and tree seeds. My germination challenges often come from Chiltern, when enthusiasm and optimism delivers seeds with a warning that they can take up to 2 years to germinate!

Moles Seeds - as well as a comprehensive catalogue, Moles are working with Flowers from the Farm to provide specialist cut flower varieties that we can't get elsewhere. Thank you!

Thompson and Morgan - a few additional special varieties  

Lidl - they were next to the checkout and only 25p a packet, what can I say...

Johnny's Selected Seeds - a gift from a lovely overseas flower-mad friend


I did cheat slightly in the seed sowing schedule by breaking into a packet a few weeks ago to prepare it for sowing. I'm giving Hops a go this year and they need to be chilled before sowing, so they were spread on wet kitchen paper, put in a plastic bag and tucked into the firdge for a month before being sown into seed compost today. There's a very clear guide to growing Hops written by Alys Fowler that I'm carefully following http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/17/hops-as-garden-plant-alys-fowler and it seems to be working. Two of the seeds had already started sprouting in the fridge (see picture above) and I remain convinced we'll be draped in hoppage by the end of the summer, all from teeny seeds - beer anyone??




Growing perennials for cut flowers

Posted on 20 January, 2016 at 16:30 Comments comments (0)

Picture: Geranuim Patricia gets underway, unbothered by ice


When I started growing flowers for sale I started small and inexpensively. My plan was to grow everything from seed initially and see how it went. So during the first Spring I planted lots of seeds for the plants I thought I needed. As well as annuals, I sowed perennial seeds, knowing that most wouldn't be cut that year but would flower the following year - delphinuims, sidalcea, scabious, armeria and lupins all sprouted away and showed willing in a very chilly spring. Once they were through in seed trays they were potted on and grown in the polytunnel before being hardened off.

Our land had been derelict and was covered in weeds when we first moved in and we'd made tentative attempts at clearing small areas, making a few beds for vegetables by ploughing and digging. The docks, couch grass and nettles were pretty formidable however and not to be underestimated. Any gardening book would tell you to clear any sign of perennial weeds before planting and I certainly tried. However, the old saying of 'one year's seed, seven years weed' is definitely true, never mind the dock roots that stretched to the centre of the earth and refused to be dug up.

It was into this infested soil that my delicate little seedlings were transplanted and I stood back and watched them struggle. Some did well - the lupins (how I love a lupin!), armeria and sidlcea did reasonably well and even flowered in that first late summer. Surrounded by a forest of docks and couch grass flexing its muscles the delphiniums and scabious sighed pitifully. 

In the following years I've learned a lot about growing perennials for cut flowers from seed. This is what works for me:
  • Plant in the late summer/early autumn to allow seedlings to fill out over the winter ready for planting out
  • Pot on more than once - a bigger plant will be able to fight off competition more easily and will be quicker to establish. Again, late summer/autumn sowing allow plants to grow but mean they can be planted out before the heat of the summer (heat + summer = artistic licence).
  • Remove every single sign of perennial weeds from the soil. Painstaking work and can only be done by hand, but it makes a huge difference.
  • Don't plant weeds - this my seem obvious but is worth the reminder. That tiny weed seedling in the pot may look harmless but get it out or it'll grow too, and faster by far than anything you actually want to grow.
  • Feed your plants - regular liquid feed, compost or manure gives healthy plants, healthy plants fight off bugs and disease and give lots of flowers.
  • Avoid landscape fabric - I used this for 2 years thinking it would save weeding time. However, the docks pushed their way through the holes right next to the plants and were impossible to remove, it was hard to apply manure, harboured slugs and bugs and became a total mess. Bigger plants, closer together and a juducious use of the hoe is a less frustrating and more effective strategy. 
  • Keep plants in groups, in narrow beds for ease of cutting and management. 

I'm now in the final stages of the Great Perennial Re-organisation, digging up those early years perennials and freeing them from the choking weeds that are restricting their potential. All established perennials, and some new ones, are being moved in blocks into 20m x 1m beds, carefully rid of weeds and roots, mulched with manure and are already pushing forth new leaves. While the annuals are still dry in the packets, perennials have set off on their way to Summer, never mind the ice and floods, and I have a shiny new hoe to keep those weeds at bay!   

Reviewing the Year

Posted on 6 January, 2016 at 11:50 Comments comments (0)

Flower farmers are always looking forwards, even before the first frost blackens the dahlias we’re planting bulbs for the Spring and piling up seed catalogues ready for the next season. It would be easy to just keep on moving onwards but it’s important to find some time to reflect on how things have gone and look for learning points that can inform and improve growing in the next year.

I was asked recently how I approcahed reviews so I thought I'd share it here - this is what I do:

• Refer to my notes of growing, weather, sales, good and not so good events, what's flowering when. I keep a notebook every year with a double pge for each week and scribble notes most days. The notebook lives down the side of the sofa so that when I flop down at the end of a busy day i can just reach over and catch up without moving. The blank pages tend to be when things have really whizzed away and I haven't had time to complete it, so even the gaps tell a story.

• Get my accounts up to date and look at income from particular varieties, what sold well, what was an expensive outlay, income versus expenditure. I admit to being very poor at keeping accounts up to date and it's always the last thing on my To Do list. Once it's done I find it really interesting though so should relly be more diligent.

• Review my diary for the season, look for any busy/quiet times, pinch points, business gained or missed and the reasons for this

• Collate feedback from customers – or send out a feedback form - I use mostly use email to communicate with customers so it's quite straightforward to gather information. 

• Review social media posts to find what has been well received (favourites/likes), created comment, and recorded – social media can provide a very different record of the year in posts and pictures and it varies depending on the platform that's used. I find I post more of the day to day on Twitter so will more likely have info on disasters, challenges and irritations than on Facebook or Instagram.

• Get together with others and discuss shared challenges and successes and what made them - email and online chats are great, #britishflowers Twitter hour is fabulous, but there's nothng quite like a group of flower farmers in a room talking seeds!

While I'm reviewing it’s easy to think ‘oh that was good’ or ‘hmmm, not sure that worked’ but the most important element to look at it is WHY it was that way, was there anything that might have made it different, would another approach have made things better or worse? When trying to repeat a success or improve on a challenge if I can figure out the WHY, I'm well on my way!

 

 

On sustainable packaging and introducing...Petal Paper

Posted on 27 July, 2015 at 5:00 Comments comments (0)

When I started to sell natural dyed silk ribbon I wanted to make the packaging as natural and sustainable as possible, but also make it add to the lovely feel and stye of the ribbon. I managed to source boxes and tissue made from recycled paper, created wooden pegs for the ribbon to be wound on from UK produced timber, and then looked online for hand made paper for the labels and wrapping. The most suitable paper was imported from Asia and I really couldn't find anything more local. Although I'm not averse to learning new skills, with flowers, campsite and ribbon-making I really didn't have time to become a papermaker, so I set about finding someone more local to make some paper. Eventually I found Alison who makes paper in Glasgow and she agreed to do a test batch, and also suggested adding petals to the paper - marvellous!

The test paper was great and helped clarify exactly what I needed for the first batch. I couldn't be happier with the result, the paper is just gorgeous and I have to be seriously disciplined not to use it for everything! It takes printing beautifully and makes a fairly simple piece of text look very classy indeed. I used the paper to make a portfolio of flower images for markets and fairs and it created a fabulous look that is just right for Mill Pond Flower Farm.

So I now have a good supply of locally made paper to use as labels and wrapping for Heirloom Silk ribbon, plus a bit extra to sell in the online shop. Very satisfying indeed.  

Bee Trouble (again)

Posted on 28 June, 2015 at 17:20 Comments comments (0)

Ray keeps bees on our smallholding. He loves his bees and spends lots of time making sure they're fit, healthy and buzzing. I'm not a beekeeper, but I give a hand when needed and play my part by growing the flowers they love and eating the honey they produce. 

At this time of year bees are happily collecting nectar and pollen making honey and new bees. As part of their natural cycle they reproduce and swarm to divide the hive and create a new colony. When this happens it's ideal if the swarm can be caught and then it can be put into a hive rather than going off into the wild. 

Ray was away with work this week and, yes you've guessed it, the bees swarmed. I was in the flower field and thought I could hear a lot of buzzing, dismissed it, then thought I should check. This is what I saw

Thankfully this time the swarm was in a place that was easily accessible so off I went to get suited up. I put on the white beekeeping outfit, checked carefully that there were no holes or gaps, lit the smoker and collected the skep that Ray had been saving for just this occasion. He bought a locally made straw skep in a bee auction a few months ago and was very proud of it! I put the skep on the tree above the swarm and spoke nicely to the bees. They didn't take much notice so I started to gently smoke the bottom of the swarm to encourage them to move up into the skep.

 

Either the smoking or taking to the bees began to work and they started to move upwards into the skep. I strapped the skep to the tree just in case of stronger winds (or Larry the sheep who was very interested in the whole business). When they're swarming bees are generally fairly calm and concentrate on their own business rather that worrying about people so I pottered on for a while longer then left them at this stage

 

An hour later and they'd all moved up into the skep ready for Ray to pop them into a hive when he came home. 

Job done!! And very pleasing too :D

British Flowers Week 2015

Posted on 14 June, 2015 at 18:55 Comments comments (0)

It's the third British Flowers Week, with lots of activities taking place across the UK to celebrate and promote our wonderful home grown flowers. It feels like there is real momentum behind the campaign to get people filling their vases with UK grown flowers and it's great to be part of a positive movement, working with so many enthusiastic people.

This week I'll be transforming the Scottish Enterprise building in Selkirk with flowers, talking to visiting florists and selling flowers and floral crowns at the Midsummer Market at Heart of Duns on Friday 5-8pm.  I'll be leaving a few Lonely Bouquets around the borders for lucky people to claim and make their own. And there will be flowers for sale on the stall at the flower farm. 

Here's to a fabulously floral week! 



 

The wonder of Lupins

Posted on 14 June, 2015 at 18:50 Comments comments (0)


It's been a long cold and windy Spring and we've had a long wait for flowers in good quantities. But as the weather warms along come the lupins.

Lupins are great cut flowers, amazing colours, fabulous shape, and they CURVE.

So to celebrate the lupin season I made a bouquet specially to shoe them off - lupintastc! 





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