Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Can you believe we are saying goodbye to 2013?  The year seems to have flown by so fast and the Christmas Season has been so busy that I have hardly come up for air!  In Tasmania the long summer days linger and the summer solstice occurs just before Christmas.  It's a lovely time of year.  

The main flower we're harvesting now is the Leucospermum, commonly known as a Pincushion.  Its beautiful summer colours provide inspiration for me when it comes to festive decorations.  I love fresh Christmas wreaths.  They make great table centrepieces, especially with a candle in the middle.  

I love the challenge of combining colours and textures to create these wreaths.  Foliage plays a big part in the overall feel of the wreath and its fun foraging around the farm for beautiful fresh foliage to use.

I love the wreath above using some late Tasmanian Waratah and button bush or Berzelia.  I've also used some Dryandra Formosa, an Australian flower from the protea family that I did a test plant of a few years ago.  The golden flowers are surrounded by lovely foliage that looks like strips of green zig zag.  Dryandra flowers dry well too and last for years in a dried arrangement.

During spring I noticed a wonderful eucalypt in my local area that was laden with gum nuts.  So heavily laden was it that the branches were weighed down to the ground.  I snipped a few branches and dried them, looking forward to when I could use them.  They were a perfect addition to this wreath, I thought!

Orange Leucospermums and yellow Leucadendron Pisa make this wreath really summery and fresh.  The Pisa can be used at various stages.  I picked some quite early to use it in its flowering stage.  Later the central cone enlarges.   It is silvery green and beautifully surround by yellow and lime green bracts.  

Geraldton Wax flowers and Leucadendron Jubilee Crown, also known as Christmas Cones fill out the bright citrusy wreath.  I couldn't resist adding some more gum nuts!

Foraging around the farm lead me to seek out a small holly bush that had been overgrown in the last two years.  After a bit of bush-bashing, accompanied by my trusty sidekick, I found the bush and was delighted to discover that it had grown significantly, even though it had been almost hidden by bushy growth.  Needless to say I've now cleared around it.  The holly was fun to play with in wreaths and Christmas bunches too, although it was a little prickly to deal with. 

I also found, during one of my foraging walks, some impressive cones on a big conifer our family imaginatively calls the Christmas Tree!  When I first started doing the local farmer's market I was excited to use some foliage I found which had pink immature cones on it.  These are the same cones a couple of months later.  I really don't remember this tree producing such impressive cones before! The photo doesn't do them justice - they are shiny and deep purple.  Wonderful for an addition to a Christmas wreath!!

I saved them for my own Christmas wreath.  I added Leucaspermum Scarlet Ribbons, some wild foraged Ozothamnus (white Rice Flower)  Tasmanian Myrtle foliage, Leucadendron Safari Sunset, Christmas Cones, and Goldstrike, and of course, some of the gum nuts.  Knowing it was my own wreath I probably tried to pack too many things onto the one wreath, but I'm glad I made the time to make a wreath for our own table.

It was a beautiful summer day in Tasmania on December 25th.  We had Christmas brunch on the deck in the open air.

It was a memorable day.  As I write this, the wreath is still relatively fresh and sitting on the table beside me.  I love to enjoy the flowers I grow in my own home!

I'm looking forward to 2014 - it promises to be a very exciting year.  In the meantime, we are still working to pick the rest of the summer crops as they bloom.  I'm looking forward to doing some wedding flowers this week, and then maybe getting a short break toward the end of January before the year really begins in earnest.  I hope 2014 is happy one for you - enjoy!!

Farewell until next year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's in the Basket

Spring went by in a flash here.  And just as summer arrived, so did the pincushions or Leucospermums.  I love these beautiful flowers from the protea family for the range of cheery summer colours that they offer.  In the basket this week was the first real harvest of some newly planted pincushions called Leucospermum Scarlet Ribbons.  The plants are not quite 3 years old and are starting to flower really well now.  It looks like summer in a basket to me!

The Scarlet Ribbons start off with a slightly pink/purple tinge due to the hairs on the sheaf that contains the "pin".  As the pins emerge the overall colour impression changes.  The spines are a salmon pink and the sheaths curl to reveal a scarlet interior.  Then as the flower ages, it becomes more intensely red.

I love the summery colours of pincushions.  There are 3 varieties in this shot of my picking trailer.  Don't they remind you of gelato flavours?  Raspberry, mango and tangerine! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Telopea Truncata - the Tassie Waratah

Telopea Truncata is the botanical name for the Tasmanian Waratah, a wonderful wild flower that blooms in spring.  I've begun picking these beauties for the season with one of my bushes, a rather large and productive one, flowering weeks before the rest.  It's a joy to grow these special flowers!

Telopea Truncata is a many-branched shrub up to 3 m tall.
The plant can grow to 3 metres with long stems reaching for the sky.  It can take you by surprise, flowering all of a sudden.  The buds, often covered with fine brown hairs,  swell within a few days given the right conditions, and then emerge with red folded blooms.  

Flowers look smaller and less bright when they are just beginning to open.
 What we call the "flower" is actually a cluster of up to 20 individual flowers.  These "unfold" and assemble themselves roughly facing the centre of a circle.  Each individual little flower then begins to unfold freeing their styles with the effect that the flower gets larger and more sculptural.  It also gets more intensely pinky red.  

I pick the waratah early,  before the first "unfolding", which gives them maximum vase life.  They are smaller and less brightly coloured at this stage, but they will continue to unfold naturally and brighten in colour even after being picked.  

The "flowers" have arranged themselves and are beginning to open.

Some of the styles are beginning to emerge from these flowers.  Intense colour and bent styles are typical of Telopea Truncata

The brighter flowers are the more mature flowers.

More mature plants will produce hundreds of blooms each season.  All these are from one of my bushes which flowers 2 weeks earlier than all the rest every year.  It is only about 15% of the flowers this bush produces.  

Telopea Truncata makes a fabulous garden plant too.  

Honeyeaters love these beautiful blooms, which develop droplets of sugary syrup as the flowers reach their peak.  

I know I'm biased, but I have a soft spot for these lovely little waratahs!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Farmers Market

This weekend, I did my first Farmer's Market with our flowers.  I have done quite a few markets over the years with my other work, and with some flowers as a "side" product.  But this was our first market just with flowers and we weren't quite sure what to expect.  

We've been wholesaling flowers for almost 5 years now.  It's a lovely thing to grow, harvest and sell something that you love.  When you pack the flowers into boxes and send them off to their destination, you are never sure where they will end up.  I sometimes wonder where they go, who buys them, and why.  In Tasmania, we don't have a centralised wholesale market for fresh produce so most growers either sell direct to retailers, or to a wholesale vendor who then sells the produce on.  For a while now, I've been keen to do a farmer's market because I wanted to meet the buyers, and get some feedback about what I grow.  

The Bream Creek Farmer's Market has been running for just under 12 months at the beautiful Bream Creek Showgrounds in Copping, southern Tasmania.  It's surrounded by picturesque rolling green hills and is a fabulous spot for a true farmer's market.  We were impressed with the strict guidelines about growers/makers selling their own produce, and the emphasis on organic, top-quality produce.  So we were excited to be able to join the market for the first time.

We took a mix of wholesale flowers and mixed bouquets.  I was inspired by some beautiful spring foliage we have around the farm to also make some smaller posies.  They were a lot of fun to make, mixing colours and textures on a smaller scale. 

Spring foliage for small Posies

 Usually, we have everything in separate buckets so the flowers look like they are sorted according to colour, but this was the cool room filled with a riot of colour!  

wholesale Leuco's
Mixed Bouquet's
The wholesale flowers were a definite favourite and all the bunches of Waratah were gone first.  I was a little surprised that people wanted to buy wholesale flowers rather than arranged bunches. People seem to want to buy selections to take home and arrange for themselves.  It means people are out there getting creative and enjoying flowers.  A flower grower has to be happy with that!

Mind you, once all the wholesale ones were gone, the bouquets went too!  I really enjoyed getting a direct reaction to our product.  The Tasmanian public seem to like variety and new and unusual flowers.  That made me happy, because that's what I love!

I was also really impressed with the variety and standard of amazing locally grown, made, brewed, fermented and gathered produce. Wow!  The stalls either side had beautiful locally grown and produced olives and olive oil,  and the best salad greens I've ever tasted - seriously!!  Even my 14 year old son, who usually isn't a big salad fan, had second helpings of the beautiful salad mix we brought home.  If you are a local, Bream Creek Farmer's Market is definitely worth a visit.  It's the first Sunday of every month from 9 - 1.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Spring Week on the Farm

Spring has arrived, and along with it the unpredictable spring weather.  But all is forgiven because spring is the season that brings the incredible transformation in the landscape from the quietness of winter to an explosion of life and colour.  We've already experienced the highs and lows of spring with days of summer-like heat and spring snow, wind-swept days and still, misty days.  And throughout it all the spring flowering plants produce their vibrant colours and make us happy.

The Road to Swallows Nest - a misty spring day
Spring snow on the driveway at Swallows Nest Farm
Spring afternoon sunlight among the Leucadendrons
This week on the farm I've been picking a variety of spring flowering plants.  Leucadendron Gandogeri are a cheery yellow leuco that are flowering now.  We planted our first Gandogeri 3 years ago and are just starting to get good quantities of really lovely blooms.  Leucadendrons are such a diverse group of plants.  These Gandogeri have almost a daisy-like appearance when flowering.

Leucadendron Gandogeri
I've also been picking Waratah this week.  They were already beginning to bloom when the snow hit last week and some of them have a little discolouration damage, which is a pity.  They have definitely exceeded my expectations though and I'm pretty happy with them considering what they've been through!

Waratah waiting to go in the cold room
The other thing I've picked this week has been the Berzelia or Button Bush.  This is a gorgeous South African plant that's not a protea but has similar growing requirements.  I just love it - such a special plant!  We grow Berzelia Lanuginosa a Swallows Nest.  It has little clusters of balls of flowers on the end of sturdy stems.  The little balls begin green and as they get closer to flowering become creamy white until the tiny flowers burst out and make the little balls appear like fluffy white pompoms.  They are a great flower for weddings, and I have a couple coming up so they'll be put to good use.

Berzelia Lanuginosa
The Richea Dracophylla has been so busy producing flowers this year, and it takes the spring snow in its stride.  It's native habitat is the slopes of Mt Wellington and similar mountain slopes in Tasmania.  It is well adapted to coping with the extremes of the Tasmanian spring weather.  There are so many buds on some of the plants and I've been picking them early, trying to find the optimal time to pick that gives them the longest flowering time off the bush.

Richea Dracophylla
Today marks the spring or vernal equinox, when the day and the night are equal in length.  From now on, there will be more day than night, until just before Christmas and the summer solstice. Its a busy time on the farm with all the spring and early summer flowering plants, and the busyness of calendar events too.  Its lovely to have the longer days and the lengthy twilight.  They make me feel relaxed, as if I have all the time in the world.

Well, that's my spring week on the farm.  I'll leave you with a photo of tonights equinox sunset!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spring Snow!

Spring weather is predictably unpredictable here is Tasmania, and after beginning with summer-like weather in the first week of September, we've had snow this week.  Its the first real dump of snow in around 8 years at Swallows Nest Farm.  Thankfully I think the plants will cope okay, although many of the branches were bowed down under the weight of the snow.  

Most of the Safari Goldstrikes have been harvested - if they hadn't been I imagine they would be bent over like the plants beside them.

Pink Ice ... literally.

Maui Sunset and Tall Red bending over with the weight of the snow.

The Tall Red is nearly finished flowering.

Safari Sunset acted as little cups, catching snow and ice.

The Waratahs were a little early this year.  I'm not sure how they'll cope with the snow!

The kids had a lot of fun making snowmen and having snowball fights this morning - it was a memorable day on the farm!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Swallow's are Back!

Spring has arrived!  And, like clockwork, the swallows have returned. Two days before the beginning of the official calendar springtime, I woke to hear swallows chirping outside my bedroom window.  They had returned to last years nest under the eaves.  And flower-wise, spring has begun early here at Swallows Nest.  Some of our spring bloomers are already in full swing.  

The Maui Sunsets have begun to really glow in the last week.  I just love these Leucadendrons! 

Even the waratahs have begun to bloom.  They are around a fortnight earlier than they were last year with the Telopea Speciosissima being the first to flower.  I love using these flowers and I'm looking forward to the creative possibilities of using them for a spring wedding or two!

In this bunch you can see some of the newly blooming spring flowers I've picked this week -  *Leucadendron Gandoggeri which are beautifully papery and will continue to lighten until they are a clear bright cream.  *Telopea Speciosissima which are lighter if you pick them early, with a rosy pink colour and a beautiful rounded shape.  *Berzelia or Button Bush which are still green but will change as they flower to a soft fluffy white.  *Leucadendron Argenteum or Silver Tree is a beautiful foliage leucadendron which is bright and soft and reminds me of shimmering shot silk fabric.  *Thryptomene is still going strong and coming to the end of its flowering time.  Almost completely laden with tiny white flowers, it now looks like a bush covered in snow.  *Phyllica is a wonderfully soft feathery plant that "flowers" in late winter and looks like a starburst.

The swallows will be here for the next six months - "fair" weather friends for the spring and summer.  They are just one of the indicators of the progression of the seasons here on Swallows Nest Farm.  
Welcome to Spring!!