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!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thinking About Weddings - The Bouquet

In Tasmania, its not often you get someone wanting to plan a wedding during the winter months.  The weather is a major factor in planning a big day here in the southern-most state of Australia.  Spring and summer are the busy times for weddings, and at Swallows Nest we are excited to be providing flowers for a some weddings over the next few months.  

Proteas and Natives are not the traditional wedding flower, but they are becoming much more popular, and with good reason.  I know I am biased, but really, they do have so much more to offer than many people realise.  Natives offer an incredible range of colour and texture that can lend themselves to both modern and traditional type weddings.   They can be rustic, and simple or sophisticated and sharp.  They can be feminine and soft, or bold and expressive.  Its all in the way you combine the colours, textures and forms.  And then of course, theres the fact that most Natives are hardy and long lasting and  remove the worry of a wilting bouquet!

I've been doing some research into the uses of Natives for weddings so I thought I'd share a few of the ideas I've found.  The internet is awash with ideas and I've recently discovered Pinterest - a serious risk for time-wasting, but full of wonderful ideas for just about everything.  There are some lovely images of weddings that have used natives in creative and beautiful ways, and I've been really inspired.  

The Bouquet, really the central floral point of any wedding, is the focus of these finds.

This beautiful bouquet uses Pink Ice proteas with a variety of Leucadendrons (two variegated forms called Jester and Corringle Gold) and a mix of other beautiful folidages.  There are also some Banksias - what look like Speciosa and Occidentalis.  It has an informal, softly coloured beauty. 

The use of proteas in this bouquet is a different take on a more traditional wedding bouquet shape.  I love the use of eucalyptus foliage too, for the colour and form it adds.  

This is another combination bouquet, using Banksia Baxterii as the main flower and combining it with more traditional flowers.  I love the vibrancy of this one!

More Banksia Baxterii in this one, but adding some Hakea nuts and paper daisies.  I love the leaves of the Banksia Baxterii and I think they've been used well in this cute posy-style bouquet.

There is a great range of whites in the protea family, perfect for weddings!  This is a combination of mini King Protea and white Protea Nerifolia, with the lovely soft black fringing. A few magnolia leaves complete this simple, informal bouquet.

For a spring wedding, Waratahs are a spectacular wedding flower.  I love this bouquet which in addition to the gorgeous red waratahs, also has flannel flower, gum nuts, everlasting daisies, leucadendron, serruria or blushing bride,  and a form of brunia.  

Waratah's are also available in white and, as this bouquet shows, are really well suited for a wedding too.  This bouquets combines them with leucadendron, wax flower, blushing bride or serruria, and some blue flowers that look like cornflowers.  Gorgeous!

I recently did a wedding with an orange and black theme.  The colours and textures of spring were perfect - yellow green Phyllica, Leucadendron Maui Sunset and Red Gem, the bright yellow pom poms of Leucadendron Tall Red, soft Silver Tree foliage and Berzelia or Button Bush all together to form this fresh bright bouquet.  

This fabulous native bouquet uses Banksia Coccinea and Protea as the main flowers, with Safari Sunset Leucadendrons, and what look like a yellow Salignum Leuco.  Very memorable!

Another Swallows Nest Farm bouquet, with simple spring flowers includes an early Waratah, and some Protea Pink Ice, surrounded by soft yellows and greens.  There are Leucadendron Gandogeri, Phyllica Pubescens, Leucadendron Silver Tree, and Berzelia or Button Bush,  a wedding favourite.  Adding white highlights is Thryptomene.  

I'm looking forward to the pincushions coming out here at Swallows Nest.  They are later here than on the mainland of Australia, and go right up until just after Christmas.  Faboulous for weddings in shades of yellow, orange and red, with some beautiful soft colours available too.

More Pink Ice Protea with Leucadendrons, Flannel flower, Thryptomene and beautiful Eucalyptus pods.  Wow!

Last one - I promise!  Although there's so many beautiful native bouquets!!  I love this freestyle bouquet with my favourite Brunia Albiflora, Eucalyptus pods, foliage, and Leucadendrons.  Gorgeous!!

I hope you're inspired!  I hope you've seen the versatility, variety and beauty that natives can bring to a special occasion like a wedding.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the "wedding season" here is Tasmania, hoping to get lots more opportunities to explore what can be done with these fabulous flowers.

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!