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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why choosing British grown flowers makes sense

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Sometimes it's not just where we go that needs tabs kept on it, but what we buy. For example 90 per cent of cut flowers used in the UK are flown into Britain from Holland, Kenya and other countries. This is surely a crazy practice for a nation of talented gardeners. Here's how one green-fingered Yorkshire woman, Fleur Butler, is hoping to change this with her new business Fleur's Garden. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Fleur Butler from Fleur’s Garden in north Yorkshire: “Everyone should have more confidence with flowers. If you buy my plants anyone can do flower arranging. For the whole of the summer you can have fresh flowers from your garden. The flowers are sustainably grown (and many will grow again next year) and benefit insects. Also there are no carbon miles and you’ve got flowers you can’t buy in the shops.”
The wonderful cherry blossom in Finghall, a little paradise in North Yorkshire, seems to be as much about the arrival of spring 2015 as the birth of a new business promoting British cut flowers, Fleur’s Garden. I've been a friend of Fleur Butler, who runs Fleur's Garden, since she was a teenager so it was a pleasure to take a train trip to north Yorkshire and find out more about why you should pick British-grown flowers for your displays - not just for cheering up the kitchen, but also for life's big events including weddings and funerals.

“I’ve just started Fleur’s Garden, but for 20 years my hobby has been gardening. I’ve been passionate about flowers and gardens all my life,” says Fleur Butler arranging a fabulous vase of her homegrown tulips.  To launch the new business Fleur, 47, is using the skills she’s learnt as a mum, working as a project manager and experience as the leader of Richmondshire District council.

“I’ve always cared about people and the environment so it is depressing that supermarkets stock a small range of chemically-fed flowers which have been flown in from 1,000s of miles around the world. We should be so proud of what we can produce at home in England.”

Fleur’s Garden sells local, sustainable, British-grown flowers for weddings, memorials and just to make your life light up. Here's the first stall she set up at the end of her drive.
That’s why she’s set up Fleur’s Garden – to sell local and sustainably-grown, British flowers for weddings, memorials and your home.

“I want to encourage other people to increase the range of flowers they can cut from their garden. People don’t realise that 90 per cent of flowers bought in Britain are grown abroad – so there are thousands of air miles in each bouquet,” says Fleur.

Flowers are more than a business for Fleur. 

“Gardening and flowers have been a lovely antidote to dealing with my four sons while working on community projects,” says Fleur modestly. Her c/v would tell you that she’s been an active councillor for eight years, stood as an MEP candidate for Yorkshire & Humber and monitored elections in Georgia and Croatia. But now her sons are bigger and she’s stepping back from politics because “over the past year I realised I wanted to work on something I felt totally driven about. And then I had an electric light bulb moment when I remember I was called Fleur – which means flower in French. I ought to be working with flower, for flowers and about flowers.”

Barrowloads of muck work as a weed suppressant and give a natural 
boost of growing power to the flowers in Fleur's Garden.
Six tips for cut flowers - tips from Fleur's Garden 
1 Flowers are less fussy and much easier to grow than vegetables.
2 A packet of flower seeds may cost £1.99, but you only need to sow a small amount. Then save and use again before the expiry date.
3 Choose seeds or potted on flowers that you can’t buy in a florist like cosmos or long-stemmed marigolds.
4 Plant a forget-me-not and let it self-sow. They are so pretty: how can anyone think of them as a weed?
5 Dahlias have fabulous strong colourful flowers, they look good in the garden and in displays, and will go on until the first frosts. I live and work in north Yorkshire but down south you don’t even need to dig them up if they are in a frost area during the winter.
6 If you are lucky enough to have a garden try growing long stemmed orange marigolds (annuals) in your vegetable patch, because they are good for the bees and look fabulous in a vase.
Right now Fleur is experimenting with more than 250 varieties of flowers and has plans to open her cutting garden for DIY picking for flower arrangers.

“For me choosing favourites is nearly impossible. This April and May I’ve been stunned by the different varieties of tulips – some are like large double dollops of ice cream and others are delicate with wrinkled edges or even have pink and green strips. And there’s nothing like the humble forget-me-not with its little blue stars balanced by the white blossom of early spirea – two plants you cannot buy in the shops.

“Some shrubs and plants come back every year (perennials) to use as foliage. One thing it is very hard to find in florists is decent foliage, but foliage makes the bunch – if it is all flower and no green it’s rather like having a pudding of cream and no fruit.

She has set up a website with online tips (see www.fleurbutler.co.uk) and at weekends has a garden gate stall with an honesty box. “I hope people will use the stall to increase the range of flowers they can cut from their garden so I’m selling young plants they can grow on at home.”

Jam jar lovelies from Fleur's Garden: If you have short-stemmed flowers try displaying in a jam jar
for a lovely splash of British grown colour and fragrance.
Make your own jam jar lovelies
Tips from Fleur’s Garden
  • Everyone has a spare jam jar, you don’t even need to scrub the label off – just fill with your own homegrown cutting flowers.
  •  Lots of shorter-stemmed flowers get thrown out by florists, but you can make lovely displays with shorter-stemmed flowers like primulas, marigolds, blue and pink liverwort with its white-spotted leaves and shorter tulips.
  •  Forget-me-nots can last 10 days in a jam jar.
  •  If the weather’s been bad and the garden is still too chilly to sit in, pick a handful of flowers, put them into a jam jar, and brighten up your kitchen.

Fleur loves the way her new business has been inspired by her family. During her political years she was often introduced as the grand-daughter of RAB Butler MP, who was famously dubbed “the best Prime Minister we never had”. Now she can talk about her memories of her grandmother’s Essex garden where the “Bumble bees were buzzing over the santalina and you could smell the heat and warmth of the soil and grass. I especially liked her miniature strawberries, so now Fleur’s Garden is growing mini-strawberries, a variety know as fraise du bois. I hope people will plant these and just as I did with my boys have fun seeing their children wandering into the garden and putting their heads into the flower beds to pick the strawberries.”

 A spot under the cherry blossom to sit and think at Fleur’s Garden, with views over Yorkshire.
“I’ve also been inspired by my third cousin, Georgie Newberry who runs Common Farm Flowers in Somerset,” adds Fleur. “It’s a business which grows flowers for weddings and is all about sustainability and working with nature – a way for beautiful brides to enjoy flowers which are grown benefitting insects, and birds too – and something I will be doing too.”

During winter 2014-15 Fleur’s Garden has already provided funeral wreaths. “I found that discussing with the bereaved family how special the flowers that we were using to the deceased was quite cathartic,” says Fleur. “I can make funeral wreaths from my flowers or use what’s in your own garden.”

Over to you
As the longer days approach and your garden wakes up now is a great time to plant a few more flowers. Get them growing well and you’ll be able to cut your own flowers to create your own lovely displays. Flowers can be comforting, dramatic or just cheer up a dreary room – so if you want help doing this, especially if you live close to the Yorkshire Dales (or can go on line) contact Fleur Butler at Fleur’s Garden. 

Another option is to have a look at all the wonderful flowers people are growing. One mum, Tania Pascoe, so enjoyed taking her child to look at gardens that she has written a book about possible trips, Wild Garden Weekends. National open garden days, botanical gardens or even Kew Gardens in London are also excellent ways of looking at what can grow. It's June, you've got time to start growing your own flowers this year, but you could also soak up inspiration via garden visits ready for the 2016 planting season.

  • Fleur's Garden (Yorkshire & by post)
  • Common Farm Flowers (Somerset & by post)
  • Scilly Flowers (Scilly Isles & by post) - a huge family run flower farm specialising in early scented blooms (narcissi) and summer boquets. A great gift to help friends celebrate birthdays, parties and occasions like mother's day.
  • Have fun looking at wild gardens with your family to inspire your own planting scheme. Have a look at Tania Pascoe's book Wild Garden Weekends.
  • http://www.kew.org/
  • Here's a list of some of the gardens around the UK that are occasionally open to the public. If you've missed the date you can always pop your head over the hedge/wall and see what's blooming. 

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