Category Archives: Garden

Growing chrysanthemums

The garden is beginning to flourish and colour is beginning to appear. I’ve recently been inspired by a lady called Beck Crowley who grows flowers for Chatsworth House, before Christmas she posted some stunning photos on instagram of ‘Avignon Pink‘ chrysanths that she was growing in the greenhouses there.

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My baby plants

I began to look for the avignon chrysanth but the closest option I got was ‘Allouise Pink’ as you’ll see above. I love when you order plants online and they arrive as teeny tiny green shoots like this. you’ll see the colour that they will be here, you can see they are a softer pink and less peach than the avignon pink but I think they are equally as stunning.

I’m determined to see if I can get single blooms from these plant’s as opposed to spray chrysanthemums, so I’ve decided to keep them at home and as I can pay a bit more attention to them.

I’m planting them out in our leek patch as I have a small garden and space is limited, the leeks are going to seed at the moment and I can’t resist leaving them in as they are going to flower (blame the florist in me). Before I plant out, I’ve nipped out the side shoots to encourage the plant to put all its energy into the top bloom.

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Next part of the process

Having planted them, I’ve realised I’ll have to put stakes in once they get bigger as I don’t want to get buffeted by wind. I’ll see how they get on in the meantime and look forward to fabulous blooms in the Summertime. I have to apologise as I need to be fairly liberal with slug pellets as they are vicious with new plants in my garden.

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All snug in the ground

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Expansion of the ‘Not So Secret Garden’

Well, much has been going on at Hartley Farm during February and March as we prepare for the new growing season for ‘Young Blooms’. The Poly tunnel is beginning to fill with seedlings and Spring is firmly on its way.

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Seedlings looking good

We very much wanted to encourage Becks to regularly contribute to the flowers we are growing this year but ended to consider some additional space for a raised bed areas that she could easily access for planting, weeding and picking flowers. The Hartley team have therefore extended the ‘Not-So-Secret Garden’ area by changing what was previously a grassy slope near the car park and turning it into a raised bed while creating easy wheelchair access.

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Our new raised bed

Now all we have to do is dig over the area and add lots of compost and well-rotted manure ready for some summer colour. We’ll also plant some herbs in this area which can readily be accused by Grace and her florists for adding to bouquets sold at ‘Young Blooms’.

In addition to the wheelchair raised bed area, we asked for a pathway to be made through the middle of what was an unmanageable, sloping flower bed which we used for perennials and shrubs. You can see a before and after shot, with the bed in question to the right of Becks and Grace.

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The before picture

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Our pathway down into the garden

We now have two pieces of garden on this area which will be much more workable, though there’s lots of digging and wedding and feeding of the soil before we plant in earnest on these patches.

Flowering sprouts

Polytunnel News..

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We have collected quite a few plant pots

We’ve spent the last few days tidying and cleaning the polytunnel in preparation for the new sowing season which begins from the end of January. We start with Sweet Peas, a hardy annual and have about five different varieties to sow, all in separate ‘long rooted planting tubes’.

We seem to have accumulated a vast range of plant pots and seed trays, but its surprising the quantities we use as the sowing and growing season progresses.

Its important to use clean plant pots and trays to ensure the growth of healthy young plants, so there;s a lot of washing up to be done in the coming weeks! We’ll also be using the pressure hose to give outside of the polytunnel a good clean which in turn will allow the maximum light in, to encourage plant growth, and then lighting an insect killer ‘block’ which releases smoke to kill off any unwanted parasites.

Wallflowers and Sweet Williams

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Our sweet-williams are looking promising…

Both the wallflowers and sweet-williams which we planted out last September/October (having first sown in seed trays last August) are looking well and have grown considerably since putting in the ground. We look forward to the scented flowers both plants will produce, with the wallflowers being picked around March, hopefully with some of the tulips we also planted as bulbs last November. They’ll make lovely Spring bouquets!





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Sweet-williams in the mix



The Sweet Williams should flower in May and make a perfect cut flower with a long ‘vase life’ in a variety of pink, red as well as white shades. They flower at a time when many summer garden flowers are yet to blooms, so are a good in between season flower to grow.




Flowering Sprouts!

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Our flowering sprouts have finally arrived


Yes you really can get ‘flowering sprouts’ – so much nicer than the edible variety! These were grown from seed around May last year and on initially planning our, were pecked by the local pigeon population! They consequently had to be dug up and given some TLC back in the polytunnel before planting out again and tying lots of CDs on string around the planting area to scare off the pigeons this time. We had hoped that the plants would produce little florets in time for Grace’s Christmas Wreath making workshops, held last December, but whilst the plants looked healthy enough sadly , only very tiny florets were appearing on the stems and of no use whatsoever in the Christmas Wreaths!

Still, we haven’t completely given up on them – maybe they will have grown sufficiently to use for one of Grace’s Easter floral projects instead!

Welcome to our new Blog-writers

At the start of a new week, I thought it would be good to introduce Helen and Christine who are going to be taking over the blog once a month, I’ll allow them to tell you a bit about themselves….

Hi, we are the gardeners who work in the ‘Not So Secret Garden’. We sow the seeds, plant out, weed and ultimately hope to pick blooming lovely flowers for Grace’s florist business. Hopefully, we aim to give you an insight into the ‘ups and downs’ of flower farming at Hartley.

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Helen & Christine looking fabulous

We thought for your amusement, that we would share a photo of the chickens being confused by a pomegranate. Most Mondays when we come to work, feeding the chickens is the first job of the day (don’t tell Grace) Being in the garden and surrounded by nature makes Mondays a lot easier.

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Breakfast time

We are keeping it short and simple this week as it’s been our first attempt at blog writing, think we will have to have a rest in a darkened room….

Helen & Christine. xx

Crazy mixed up seasons

Remember when seasons used to be very distinct? Winter cold snaps kept the slug population under control; April showers came right on cue to water in your newly planted seedlings and the midsummer heat wave was there to help your crops put on a spurt.

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Our seedlings starting up

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Both 2015 and 2016 have been bonkers with warm dry springs and wet, cooler summers. The perennials have done well in these circumstances and our spring-sown sweet peas have romped away; but it’s true to say that the late sown half-hardy annuals have struggled a little to get going because of the lack of heat.

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Our early sweet-peas

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We’ve mitigated some of the effects by using the greenhouse and polytunnel and waited to plant out until the temperatures are better. Big temperature differences put plants under stress and there are certainly more pests and diseases after a mild winter. There’s never a dull moment in flower farming. You have to keep vigilant and flexible to weather conditions and its effects on your plants. We’re learning every day.

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Sunflowers we started in the polytunnel

We’d be interested to know how your flower gardens are growing season by season.

Celebrating British Flowers

We couldn’t be more pleased with the development of the garden. This week we’ve been cutting our first proper harvest of the ‘summer’ and bunches of cornflowers have been on sale at Hartley Farm shop. It’s great to be able to offer home-grown blooms with no air miles to customers – whether they are locals looking for a fragrant posy for a bedside table or a bride wanting a truly home-grown wedding day.

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All grown in our garden

June 11th saw the start of what is now an annual event British Flowers Week, organised by Covent Garden Flower Market to promote the British flower industry.  “British cut flowers are back in fashion, fuelled by the rise of artisan flower growers and the trend for vintage, seasonality, fragrance and more naturalistic design. Nonetheless, British-grown flowers are still thought to represent less than 15% of the £2bn worth of flowers sold in the UK every year.”

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Sumptuous flowers from the garde


We celebrated too by holding a British flowers workshop on June 11th which included  a tour of the garden and talk from us, picking some blooms to create a hand-tie, learning some tips and tricks and enjoying a scrumptious cream tea.

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Five lovely ladies who joined us for our workshop.



A change in the Season

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This might seem to be a strange photo to start this blog off with but it was a celebration we had a couple of weeks ago after Becks had come up to the garden on the bus by herself. She’s now been home for just over a month, so you can see we’ve certainly moved into a new season in the garden!

Next weekend it will mark two years since Becks suffered an aneurysm and just over two years since we started the Not So Secret Garden. It seems to have flown by and I can’t believe how far Becks has come.

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I think there are times where I grieve greatly for what has happened and how it’s affected Becks and Craig and the garden in a strange way but when I apply a glass half attitude I’m immensely thankful that Becks is now home and still in one piece to put it simply. It’s hard to put it into words without sounding twee or wishy washy, but I’m sure you know what I mean….

I’m also immensely proud of where the garden has come too and thankful for the team that we have, Helen and Christine are both fabulous and hard-working, Becks is beginning slowly to come back into work and we also have Jonathan who’s joined our gang over the last couple of months.

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As we all adjust to having Becks back I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and what will unfold in the Not So Secret Garden.

Normal service will resume on the blog next weekend and we look forward to sharing all our sweet-pea tips and tricks.

Grace xx

Settle down and order some seeds

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Beginning to buy seeds for this year

Once Christmas is over, as sure as Easter eggs will appear on the supermarket shelves and holiday ads will populate the commercial breaks the seed catalogues will drop through your letter box, reassuring you that the weather will soon get warmer and the time will be right for sowing and growing again.

What better way to spend a few hours in the depths of winter than in front of the fire dreaming and planning what you will grow this season? This year we got ahead of the game and formulated our planting plan a few weeks ago and so our seed orders have already started to arrive. There’s oodles of time to get going. Not much can be sown, even under cover until next month at the earliest. And if you subscribe to our mailing list we’ll send you a monthly email with helpful hints and tips to get you on the way to growing your own cut flowers along with us. January’s is about to be sent out.

If you want to grow cut flowers then you need a mixture of seeds to give you blooms right through the season and into the autumn until the first frosts. Look at flowering times, colours and textures that will go together and foliage fillers like grasses and ammi majus.You could even compile a PInterest board to gather all your ideas together and give you an idea of what your flowers will look like when growing together.

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Lovely to see flowers you have grown in full flower.


Seed catalogues like Sarah Raven’s are great for suggesting fabulous combinations but you could source the seeds themselves elsewhere if you can find good deals. You can also buy seeds from garden centres or some stores like Wilkinsons but, in general the quality of the seed may be better by ordering from an online specialist. We have used a combination of outlets but are particularly fond of Suttons and Owl Acre Sweet Peas. Higgledy Garden seeds are very reliable and Ben’s quirky online catalogue and blog is so helpful for sowing and growing advice.

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Sweet-peas with thanks to Owl-acres fabulous seeds


Settle down with a seed catalogue and plan for a fragrant flowerfest in your garden this year.

#5 things for January

looking out over the garden at the start of 2016

looking out over the garden at the start of 2016

Happy New Year, flower lovers. We’re not into new year’s resolutions – certainly not of the giving up gin and cake variety. We get plenty of exercise in the Not so Secret Garden all year round to make this unnecessary. However, we have decided to introduce a new feature for 2016 on the blog.

From time to time you’ll see #5things appearing in the header as a way of signposting you to our top tips on all sorts of things. We’re beginning the new year with our top 5 things to do in the cutting garden in January. We’d love to hear about anybody who has been inspired to start their own cutting patch this year and is growing along with us. Tweet us or comment on our Facebook page. Of course, if you love cut flowers but have no time or space to grow many, we’ll happily provide you with beautiful, fragrant, home-grown blooms throughout most of the year.

January may seem like the closed season in the garden but, believe me, there’s plenty to be achieved even in the depths of winter.

  1. Give in to the natural urge to have a sort-out after Christmas. january is the perfect month to get rid of superfluous or broken garden bits and pieces, clean and tidy your greenhouse, wash pots and seed trays, maintain tools and organise yourself before seed sowing starts in earnest next month.
  2. Put in a seed order. Take a long hard look at your growing space, make a wishlist of some of your favourite flowers and settle down to make a planting plan to ensure that you have some cut flowers growing all through the season. (More of this later!) Then spend an hour in front of the fire with the seed catalogues before putting in an order to arrive in plenty of time for sowing tie in February.
  3. Plant a shrub. Increase your stock of foliage  for posies and bouquets by growing a shrub or two. Now is the time to get planting as it’s the dormant season but the ground is still soft  enough to work. Get your new plants off to the best start by adding some myccorhizal fungi to the planting hole.
  4. Prune your existing roses. Roses can be pruned when they are dormant. Cut to just above a bud and remove any straggly or crossing stems to give your rose a good shape.
  5. Plant out under cover (in a polytunnel) for early blooms. If you sowed a few sweet peas back in the autumn then you can pop them into your polytunnel now to ensure early pickings. If you don’t have a polytunnel, then keep pinching out the tips of your seedlings to avoid them getting weak and leggy. You can plant them out once the weather warms u in the spring. We’re experimenting with ranunculus by planting them out early with protection as they have outgrown their pots in the polytunnel. Ranunculus planted out of doors in a sheltered spot will be fine without protection – but our cossetted plants would have a bit of a shock.

If you are serious about growing along with us, then why not subscribe to our newsletterYou’ll receive a monthly email with a planting plan for your cutting patch along with a monthly to do list, hints and tips from Grace and the team.

Looking back at the year


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Our summer workshop in the garden.

I started writing this blog post in the slightly strange period they call twixmus (the time between Christmas and New Year)  and thought a brief look back at the year to celebrate what we have achieved was a good plan before moving onto the new year. As I scan through the photos I’ve taken on my phone through the year, I can see weddings where Young Blooms have created stunning arrangements with flowers supplied by the Not so Secret Garden; there have been workshops in the summer-time; bouquets sold at Hartley Farm-shop and some fabulous floral moments of pure loveliness!


I’m excited for the year to come as it feels like the garden is ready for a good year. We have tulips, daffs, aliums, some cornflowers and sweet William already in and waiting to bloom. We have great plans to supply more seasonal and fragrant wedding flowers. The weather might be going bonkers at the moment but I feel the Spring is going to be a good one.

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A bucket of pure loveliness

We have ordered more of these gorgeous dark plum coloured sweet-peas as they worked so well in 2015, I think we were still picking a few at the beginning of November. I’m also going to order some of these stunning sunflowers (they are called ruby eclipse) and are a wonderful peachy colour.

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Some stunning sunflowers

As we move into a new year, there’s plenty of activity going on under the soil so that spring will be blooming marvellous. Happy New Year to you and yours from the Not so Secret Garden team.