Rachel Siegfried set up Green and Gorgeous, a flower farm in Oxfordshire, in 2008 to provide seasonal, organic, English flowers for weddings and events. She now has over two acres of flower fields, orchards, herb and vegetable beds, and has added popular floriculture, floral design and photography workshops into the mix.
At The Farm Gate is her Saturday pop up, open to the public, for a chance to buy some freshly picked flowers, bouquets, fruit, vegetables, and free range eggs. She also offers seasonal Pick Your Own sweetpeas and dahlias and, as her dahlia fields are now in full swing, she tells us her five top tips for picking beautiful dahlias.
They are the first flower I grew for cutting at the tender of age of 25 and I am still as enchanted with them 20 years later. Over that time I have trialled hundreds of varieties and worked out the best ones and ways to grow them. They are a classic cut-and-come again flower and there are so many amazing hybrids to grow now.
How have your dahlias found this dreary summer?
They have been surprisingly good this year. The cooler, damper conditions have kept pests like capsid bug and red spider mite at bay, both of which we have problems with if it is too hot and dry. I always leave at least half my dahlias in over winter so they start flowering a good two to three weeks before the newly planted ones. These grew on when it was a bit warmer so gave me a head start.
Would you share your favourite varieties to grow and/or use in arrangements?
That is a tricky questions but I think I am generally drawn to the softer shapes of decoratives, waterlilys and anemone-flowered dahlias. I find them easier to work into a natural-style arrangement. I also like varieties that combine more than one colour or tone in their petals, they make good 'bridging' flowers, linking colours together from other flowers. It's funny to think they used to be a hard sell for Brides, or more specifically Mothers-of-the-Bride, when I first started doing wedding flowers.
What other flowers do you like to arrange with dahlias?
As much as I love dahlias for their incredible range of colours, shapes and sizes they can be quite stiff and formal. I find they benefit from a bit of 'naturalising' with arching foliage and berried branches, wispy grasses and supporting flowers. These are often daisy-shaped at this time of year, for example japanese anemones, heleniums zinnias and rudbeckias.
Rachel's Top 5 tips for picking dahlias
1) A dahlia flower will not open any further once picked and in the vase, so go for the ones that are fully out but still have a tight centre and clean, fresh petals on the back.
2) Be bold with your stem length, buds will be sacrificed but the plant will reward you with longer, stronger regrowth.
3) Remove the majority of the foliage which will help prolong vase life.
4) Recut the stems at an angle under water (preferably hand hot) to prevent any air locks in the hollow stems.
5) Leave them to condition for a good few hours before arranging with them. (Place prepared stems in a bucket of clean water and leave in a cool place for at least two to three hours.).
Green & Gorgeous PYO dahlias will be open every Saturday until first frosts, usually early October. For those who don't want to pick their own, Rachel also opens up her studio with a selection of pre-picked flowers and arrangements.
How to find flower farms local to you
Here at Willow Crossley we urge everyone to try and source locally grown flowers if they can. You will find the most amazing varieties of flower, the quality is so much better plus they are grown sustainably. Here is a selection of local flower growers we love. Many will sell their flowers directly and offer occasional PYO events.
In the UK you can find your nearest growers by putting your postcode into the British Flower Collective website. There are plenty of city-based growers, so dahlias are definitely not just for country gardeners.
Bayntun Flowers - Marlborough
Babylon Flowers - Oxfordshire
Electric Daisy Flower Farm - Bath
The Flower Garden at Stokesay Court - Shropshire
Flowers by Clowance - Cornwall
Isles of Scilly Flowers - Cornwall
Green and Gorgeous - Oxfordshire
Aesme - Hampshire
Wilcote Blooms coming soon to Oxfordshire