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A look at the home grown cut flower programme at Holker Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 July 2019

The flower garden

The flower garden

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The beautiful blooms on display in Holker Hall were all grown just yards away in the gardens

Glyn in the gardenGlyn in the garden

Flowers and horticulture are to be found everywhere at Holker Hall - the ancestral family seat of the Cavendish family in Cark, near Grange-over-Sands.

Now, the talented team behind the award-winning gardens of this magnificent stately home have turned their green fingers to developing a successful cut flower venture, ensuring a ready supply of British blooms all year round.

The idea grew from Holker's head gardener Glyn Sherratt and horticulturalist Amy Beach's idea to conduct an experiment. They wanted to see if they could grow enough cut flowers to adorn the rooms of the 400-year-old hall through the summer season, when thousands of visitors tour through its public rooms.

Their efforts quickly exceeded all expectations, with blooms now harvested for glorious displays not only in the hall itself, but also for its Courtyard Cafe, Ilex restaurant and race days at Cartmel Racecourse.

Amy in the gardenAmy in the garden

'It fits well with our approach to sustainability at Holker,' said Glyn. 'There's an awful lot of waste in buying in flowers from commercial growers, particularly those based internationally, not to mention the chemicals used in their production.

'We grow to organic principles here and everything we do is designed to make the most of the resources we have and to be as carbon efficient as possible.'

Glyn, who trained at London's Kew Gardens, added: 'The house plants had to be rotated regularly to keep them at their best which was quite labour intensive.

'So far we've been able to grow far more than we envisaged. It's all about being adaptable and organised and always having a plan b if a crop doesn't take off.'

Flowers in the Holker greenhousesFlowers in the Holker greenhouses

The space dedicated to cut flowers in the walled kitchen gardens at Holker has doubled every year since the concept began.

Seedlings are started in greenhouses and moved to the under-restoration Victorian vinery in their infancy, watched over by Glyn, Amy and the team from the gardeners' base in the nearby bothy.

Through spring, bundles of jewel-coloured tulips fill the beds, while hardies such as love-in-a-mist and sweet peas come into their own in May and June.

July sees the half hardies take over - ranunculus, cosmos, zinnias and yarrow - while lupins, foxgloves and phlox nestle against the wall in the long border just metres away.

The flower gardenThe flower garden

Rich foliage and greenery to make up displays is foraged from the surrounding woodland.

Flower production continues through the winter, with an array of forced bulbs - paperwhites, hyacinths and hippeastrums - started in the hall's cellar in September to provide fresh displays in the colder months.

Thanks to Glyn and Amy's understanding of the uniquely mild microclimate afforded to Holker from its sheltered position in Morecambe Bay, no variety has yet proven off limits.

The Holker flower gardenThe Holker flower garden

Amy, who joined the Holker gardening team five years ago, said: 'We select what we grow very carefully, making sure the temperature they will tolerate is compatible with the point in the year at which we want them to flower.

'We also sow repeatedly so there's always something coming up. Planning ahead is crucial. We tend to order seed or bulbs up to 12 months in advance but some things take much longer. We've planted peonies and some foliage this spring which will take five years to establish.'

The colour palette consists of deep pinks, purples, blues and whites in the main, though zingier tones are grown for Holker's Courtyard Cafe.

Through the high season, stems are harvested every two days before being carried to the pot room where they are transformed into displays by Amy, their vessels chosen to compliment the colours and style of the flowers as well as the room they will adorn.

Surplus stock is made into bouquets and posies and sold at Holker Hall, while the team are receiving a growing number of enquiries from florists keen to source locally grown British flowers.

Amy added: 'We grow more than we need just in case we lose a crop to the weather or something else, so there tends to be some extra that we can sell.

'We've noticed we're getting more calls from florists about whether we can supply them. There's a lot more awareness now about cutting the carbon footprint of imported flowers and the importance of buying British grown, local produce where possible. It's something we'd like to do more of in the future.'

Aside from the ethical and environmental positives, there are other benefits to cut flowers being grown metres from where they are destined to be displayed.

The perfume, so often lost in mass flower production, is abundant and the team can extend the season as far as possible while also growing the varieties treasured by the Cavendish family.

Glyn said: 'The scent from flowers grown here is wonderful. When flowers are chilled to be transported they lose this, yet it's such an important part of cut flowers. We're also able to control what we grow, selecting family favourites and being able to speed up or slow down flowering to coincide with an event.

'It's different to growing flowers in the garden. We have to treat the cut flowers as a crop, essentially, looking ahead to make sure we've got enough sown and knowing early on when something just isn't going to work so we can replace it with something else. 'We've exceeded what we thought we'd be able to achieve so far, but we'd like to be able to produce more to sell in the future.'

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