Last year, we started growing organic cut flowers for the first time in the Market Garden. This was big news for a space that has always specialised in edible crops such as heritage fruits, vegetables and salad leaves but we wanted to shake things up in the UK cut flower industry, which is sadly dominated by overseas imports from non-organic production systems.
Our Head Gardener Jez Taylor and his team drew up a production schedule including over 100 different varieties of annuals, biennials, bulbs, herbaceous perennials, peonies and roses. They also had to produce significant amounts of potting compost from onsite waste – a challenge the team relished. As Jez said, “we have been fine-tuning our compost making over the years and it is particularly satisfying to make a useful potting compost from onsite waste.”
We invested in new polytunnels to protect delicate blooms from the elements and created a plant nursery for raising cut flower crops or pot plants for the Daylesford Garden shop.
In August 2017 Jez placed an order for twenty thousand organic tulip bulbs of 24 different varieties. The first 12,000 bulbs were planted outside over the last two weeks October and the remaining 8,000 bulbs were planted in the polytunnels in the first week of November (waiting until after mid October helps avoid tulip blight).
The first tulips were ready to harvest from mid-March and as Jez explains, “the varietal spread and the different planting dates and locations will mean we will harvest the tulips over a ten week period through to late May – hopefully, this is still my first season as a tulip grower remember!”
We are now a few weeks into the tulip harvest and our Daylesford Garden shop is brimming with the blooms. We have been harvesting from the polytunnels for about three weeks, about 2,000 every week, and there are still lots more to pull. Once the polytunnel tulips are finished, the ones in the Market Garden should be ready to start harvesting.
Our blooms have bigger flower heads, longer stems and more daring colours compared to mainstream, imported tulips; Jez’s favourite so far is “Burning Heart”, a pure white petal with a striking flash of crimson whereas Kim Robinson, our Lead Florist favours the parrot tulip’s beautiful colours and textures. As Kim says, “It is such a pleasure to be able to grow and pick them locally as so often tulips are imported. Nature is capable of such incredible things and it is a joy for us to be able to grow local, sustainable flowers right here on the farm for our floristry courses, planters and arrangements.”
Each tulip is sold with maximum stem length; the bulb is cut off when the are bunched for sale and goes onto the compost heap. For maximum vase life we harvest the tulips just as some colour is coming into the bud.
As this is our first season as tulip growers, we are constantly learning as we go and taking notes for next year. For example, we now know that some of the early varieties are better when buried a little deeper. Next year we may try planting rows at different intervals so that we have a longer continuation of the season. We have also had lots of people on Instagram asking to see the tulips growing in the polytunnels, so we may host tours in future.
Growing tulips has been a wonderful learning curve for the team at Daylesford and we are looking forward to seeing how the remainder of the season unfolds.
- When growing tulips at home it is important to plant them about 20cm deep, this will ensure that they will grow back year after year.
- If you cut your stems for the house then leave some green leaf coming out of the ground so the bulb can recharge for next time round.
- If you plant too shallow (e.g. 10cm) your tulips will be fine in the first year, but then rather than recharging, the main bulb will multiply up to a few smaller bulbs
- When picking tulips to use in a flower arrangement it is always best to condition them for a few hours first by cutting the stems and placing them in fresh clean water.
- Tulips will always continue to grow and are notorious for ‘doing their own thing’, in other words they will twist and turn as they grow.
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