By Thomas Rutter, Horticultural Trainee
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit Wolves Lane Flower Company at their urban flower farm in North London. Marianne and Camila, the duo behind Wolves Lane Flower Company, have been friends of the Museum for many years: first as winners of the inaugural British Flowers Week, then going on to collaborate on our cut flower garden and providing advice on all things flower farming, as leaders of the sustainable cut flowers revival. As temperatures rose and we began to sow seed in the greenhouse at the Museum, it felt like a good time to get some top tips from the experts.
Since their launch in 2016, Wolves Lane Flower Company have been providing fresh cut flowers to Londoners, growing seasonal and scented blooms. Sustainability is at the heart of all that Marianne and Camilla do, with locally grown and organic cut flowers delivered across North London.
Growing takes place at their urban flower farm, located in Wood Green, with a mixture of outdoor beds and a rather wonderful unheated 40m glasshouse, amounting to about a third of an acre of growing space. The site is home is several other organisations who grow produce, plants and flowers, managed by the Wolves Lane Consortium, preserving the extensive rare urban glasshouses as a community asset.
It was a good time to visit Wolves Lane, as springtime was on the way, with green shoots emerging seemingly everywhere. Many a tulip was rising in the outdoor beds, which I am sure would be a rather wonderful sight at the present time, if they haven’t already been snipped for arranging! This year alone they planted over 3000 tulip bulbs, with many different varieties for bouquets. We have been enjoying the fruits of our labour here at the Garden Museum too, with Tulipa ‘Apricot Beauty’ looking particularly delightful as I write, with pale apricot blooms dotted across the grounds.
Hardy-annual seed sowing was taking place in the Wolves Lane glasshouses when I arrived in early March. Half-hardy (tender) seed sowing takes place when warmer temperatures – required for germination – have arrived. The sowing of seed requires patience of the gardener. As the days get lighter and the thermometer bubbles up to a sweltering 10 degrees, it is hard to not sow every seed in every container within reach, particularly when social media informs us of the impressive efforts of others. Staggered sowing, however, and patiently waiting for the right time depending on your circumstance is a far more effective approach, that will reap far better results.
Whilst at Wolves Lane, I was fortunate to spend lots of time in the propagation house, doing my small part for what is a significant amount of sowing and growing every year. I was also grateful to be under glass when the rains came… although a loathing of getting wet is not something a gardener should confess. Delphiniums, poppies and nigella were all sown in large trays, with the labelling part of the process being of the utmost importance, particularly when you sow so many different seeds. Thankfully, Marianne later informed me, all of the above germinated successfully, now potted on and to be later planted into the beds once more established in the coming weeks.
We also spent some time planting out some Bupleurum, common name hare’s ear, that had been sown last year, planting into the beds within the glasshouse. This native wildflower makes for good material for cut flower arrangements and was unfamiliar to me before I visited Wolves Lane. Another seed to add to an ever-growing list of ‘seeds to sow in the future’. Careful spacing in regimented rows will allow the Bupleurum plants space to grow in the coming months. Across the other side of the glasshouse, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ was already showing off some pretty orange blooms… a taste of things to come.
It was so great to experience flower farming on a micro scale and to appreciate how much can be grown in what might appear to some to be a small space, especially when compared with the scale of most commercial flower farming. What is not to love about flowers that are chemical-free, seasonal and locally grown? There is something so pleasing about the age-old process of growing something, but it is even more special when you know what has been grown was nurtured on a patch of land down the road.