It has ashamedly been a very long time since my last blog post and I do apologise for this. There was actually a good reason for my long silence. I was very busy photographing and writing notes about all the different tulip varieties I grew in the garden over winter and early spring as part of my collaboration with Bulbs Direct. I hope to turn my findings into some interesting blog posts and/or newsletter articles for people to read when they have some down time. I am very grateful to Kayne and his family for all the lovely tulip bulbs that they gave me to plant in the garden in autumn and hope what I share is useful to others who also want to grow tulips in their garden. I would also like to make up a photo book of all the tulips I grew this year so we can look back on an epic season in print. I may also make a few copies available in the shop on my website incase anyone is interested in purchasing it. I am currently in the process of going through all my photos (of which there are so many!) and putting the best ones in a folder with subfolders for each variety that I grew. This will take awhile but I try and chip away at it every day and really enjoy reflecting on our tulips as we had a very good season.
Here is a round up of recent developments around Anita’s Garden.
Shop on website
I have added a shopping facility to my website! Anita’s Garden merchandise is now available for sale for international shipping and free local pick up. So far, I have created a calendar containing images of our garden and also a calendar containing images of our cat Ginger around the garden. We are not exploiting the cat for our own financial gain! I am donating $10 from the sale of each cat calendar to the SPCA in New Zealand. I also designed a spiral bound notebook containing some images of Anita’s Garden, including the Labyrinth dahlia and my bed of zinnias, which were very popular on my Instagram page. In the background you can see the beautiful blanket that my cousin Shireen crocheted me and gave me as a gift last Christmas, for which I am most thankful. I think Ginger likes lying on it even more than me!
Selling cut flowers commercially
As some of you will be aware, I intend to start selling cut flowers from the garden soon. Flower prices have risen astronomically since the pandemic and multiple lockdowns in Auckland over the past two years. I am committed to making high quality cut flowers affordable to as many people as possible, especially because I live in South Auckland, which is the lowest socio-economic area in Auckland.
Over the past few months, I have done a lot of due diligence to try and generate options which enable me to sell cut flowers commercially and work out the best way(s). About a month ago, on my birthday no less, I had a business meeting in the city with a potential supplier who is interested in purchasing flowers from me to stock in their stores. Last Monday, mum and I went to Mt Wellington, which is right at the very heart of the cut flower industry in Auckland. This is where the UFG Flower auction is. That is the main way that cut flowers are sold en masse in New Zealand and there are a few auction centres in the larger cities around the country. I had a lovely chat with Lynette, the auction manager, who was very friendly and helpful. She said that I am welcome to attend an auction so I get an idea of what price flowers fetch (bearing in mind that it is always fluctuating) and that I am most welcome to sell not only flowers but also produce (ie fruit and veggies) from Anita’s Garden at the flower auction!! Apparently boxes of veggies do sneak in from time to time. Maybe it first started as a little joke at the auction. Without humour, life would be very dull and I do love jokes. But Lynette was very straight faced when I jokingly asked if I could slip in some veggies and she said most definitely because people had done that in the past. Two of the wholesalers who are in the same building as the auction are also keen to purchase flowers from me, which is really exciting! I am doing a bit more research and reflecting on my options and will keep everyone updated with any developments.
The next lot of bulk flowers that I hope to sell will be my Vincent's Choice Orange with Dark Disc sunflowers, which are progressing very nicely as you can see from the picture below. I sowed a packet containing 1,000 seeds direct to the ground on the 1st of September. I didn't add any compost to the ground as I noticed flowers tend not to do well if the soil is too rich. I did however dig an 8kg bag of general garden fertiliser into the soil prior to sowing the seeds. They are admittedly sown quite close together but I find that it works perfectly for the specialized cut flower sunflower varieties that I have been growing over the past few years. Bear in mind that they only produce a single stem, unlike the taller branching ornamental sunflowers which I used to grow for attracting bees when I first started gardening. Although the cutflower varieties are supposedly pollenless, the bees are still very drawn to them!
Vincent's Choice is an extra early sunflower which can be sown much earlier than other varieties. It usually flowers in early to mid December if sown in early September like I did this year. There is a lot more space in this garden bed, which is cut out of the picture. Later this month when it's a bit warmer, I am going to sow some other sunflower varieties that are suitable for picking and selling as cut flowers. They are Premier Light Yellow, Procut Horizon, Procut Orange, Sunbright Supreme, Sunrich Orange DMR and Sunrich Provence.
Floret online cut flower workshop scholarship
Some of the flower enthusiasts among you will have heard of Floret Flower Farm, which was created by Erin Benzakein and is in the Skagit Valley region, about an hour out of Seattle in Washington state in the USA. I have read two of Erin’s books, Discovering Dahlias and the Cut Flower Garden, which have helped me develop our flower garden with a view to selling cut flowers commercially. Every year in January, Erin holds a six week online workshop which teaches you how to grow and sell cut flowers. The course is just under USD$2,000. In September, Erin invites applications for scholarships which fully cover the cost of tuition. I submitted an application a couple of weeks ago for the first time ever. The two essays that I had to write were very short (just 250 words each) but that of course made it even harder because there was so much that I wanted to say and I had to be very concise. Erin is going to notify the winners this Thursday 13 October 2022 but as it is Pacific Time and we are 19 hours ahead, I may not know the outcome until Friday or Saturday here. I will of course keep you all posted if there are any positive developments. It is extremely competitive. Last year there were over 6,000 applications from all around the world and this year there are 23 scholarships, some of which were donated by Erin and others were funded by other generous donors. I am very inspired by what Erin has achieved from scratch through sheer determination and hard work with her husband Chris and what has now evolved into a growing, hands on team at Floret. Wish me luck!
I have started potting up my dahlia seedlings grown from seeds saved from my own plants from last summer. I sowed the seeds on my heat pad back in July and the plants have grown a lot in the greenhouse since then. I potted them up twice, once from small multi-cell trays into a bigger seedling tray with bigger cells and now each plant is in an individual pot. These seedlings will look different to the parent plant as they will not come true to type. I can't wait to plant these out and take photos and notes about each one when they flower. I will also have to name each one too! Or at least anything special that I think is worth saving and growing on for a couple more seasons to see how it behaves. I am fairly new to growing dahlias from seeds. Last year, I did grow a few from seeds kindly given to me for free by one of my dahlia suppliers, Petal Plants. There were some beautiful specimen and it motivated me to give it a try with my own plants. I am very grateful to Melanie of Petal Plants for inspiring me to start breeding my own dahlias!
This is basically level one of dahlia breeding for me. All of my seedlings were open-pollinated by bees. Next summer, I hope to continue to grow as a gardener and become a bit more technical. I have seen some dahlia growers such as Preyanka, a gardener in Cornwall in the UK that I follow on Instagram, cover her blooms with organza bags and carefully cross-pollinate with a brush. Preyanka has given me a lot of support and encouragement and directed me to a blog she has written on this subject. Last night I read the section on dahlia breeding in Erin benzakein’s book Discovering Dahlias. I also follow Santa Cruz Dahlias who stand out as a leader in dahlia breeding. Preyanka directed me to a book that Kristine Albrecht of Santa Cruz Dahlias has written on breeding dahlias and I have added it to my reading list. I need to devote some time to reading everything carefully and getting my head around it all before summer. This is a really good thing to do on a very rainy day when I can’t be outdoors.
On Sunday, Kirsty, my dearest and oldest friend of 25 years, visited me. We had a cuppa and a lovely chat. No one ever leaves Anita's Garden empty handed and I gave her the things in the picture. The box contains some tomato plants for her parents who are visiting her from Putaruru in the southern Waikato region on Thursday. There are two grafted plants (Sweet 100, a prolific cherry tomato and Beefsteak, which is great for sandwiches), as well as a Brandywine Pink and Supersteak tomato plant. There are also two bunches of flowers for Kirsty, some dutch iris which are tight budded but will open in the next day or so and some Iceland poppies.
Kirsty and I met at secondary school in sixth form. We had just moved to Auckland from Whangarei (a small town about 2 1/2 hours north of Auckland, at least it was small at that time) and I was the new girl in a scary big new city. Not everyone is willing to befriend someone new and alter their existing friendship circles or cliques, but Kirsty was very warm and welcoming and we quickly became good friends. We attended uni together - her a Bachelor of Science followed by Honours and me a conjoint Law and Arts degree with Honours. We used to catch the bus together and enjoyed catching up. After uni we went our separate ways in the workforce. Kirsty stayed in NZ and I moved overseas to England and France, but she visited me in Paris with her best friend Pip in December 2007. Showing them around Paris was one of the highlights of my time there. Kirsty recently showed me a map of the city that I drew for them which I had long forgotten about! Since returning to NZ in 2010, we have remained close friends and she has been there for me through my struggles with schizophrenia and depression. Kirsty is a secondary school Science teacher, which was always my weakest subject! And I probably drive her nuts with my former lawyer like ways. I told her that if she thinks she can never win an argument with me, the partners I used to work for are much worse. There are so many things that I admire about her and try to emulate in my own life. In particular, I am so grateful to her for helping me realise that there are more important things in life than coming first all the time, the most important being to try to be a kind and caring person towards others.
I have been receiving messages asking me if I am planning to sell plants this year and I do hope so after a long hiatus for a few years due to watering restrictions and the lockdowns. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for announcements as to when they become available and what stock I have. Thank you for supporting me and I look forward to seeing old and new customers at Anita’s Garden.
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