Wednesday, 30 November -0001
On a fragrant trail
Down on a rather unusual English farm, our columnist glories in fields of scented roses
By Sarah Langton-LocktonI travelled back to London by train in a carriage suffused with the delicate, slightly peppery fragrance of newly picked roses and a hint of something that reminded me of the very best after-dinner mints. The roses, beautiful bunches of them – and the chocolate mint – came from the farm near Petersfield where Rosebie Morton grows the most delectable cut flowers for The Real Flower Company and for farmers’ markets in London.
I had spent an absorbing morning with Rosebie that drew on enjoyably into the afternoon. The setting was perfect: a glorious stretch of Hampshire’s most seductive countryside, a 500-acre arable and sheep farm, and, within it, stoutly fenced against the rabbits and the deer, an eight-acre flower paddock full of immaculately tended roses, and also herbs, shrubs grown for colour, leaf shape and foliage, herbaceous plants and wild flowers. The soil is thin chalk, flinty and with a high pH of 7.8, very challenging for growing roses. The roses are trialled outside and then grown – 30,000 of them at a time – in a ridge and furrow system in the polytunnels on the lower part of the site.
Rosebie began growing roses for supplying wholesale to top London florists in 1995. In a corner of the walled garden at her husband Matthew’s family home she planted six varieties, among them ‘Margaret Merril’, the most beautiful and the best scented of them all. ‘It was ‘Margaret Merril’ that gave me the inspiration to create bunches as if they have just been picked in the garden,’ Rosebie recalls. There has always been a rose-growing industry, producing bushes for gardens, ‘but next to nobody was doing roses for cut flowers and for scent’.
Fast forward to 2003. The business has grown and The Real Flower Company is formed. The partners are Tim and Maggie Hobbs, who grow roses on their sustainable farm in Kenya; Rosebie, who grows roses, herbs and sweet peas in Hampshire and West Sussex; and managing director Karen Watson, ex-Harvey Nichols, with a background in fashion. The company thrives: the core of its business is the stunningly lovely bouquets sold online for next-day delivery; there is a concession in Selfridges, a shop in a former cattle shed in Midhurst, a wedding and events floristry business and a flower school.
On the farm in Petersfield, Rob Marsden, the flower manager, and his small team walk the rose and herb beds every day, deadheading and harvesting by hand. In the polytunnels there is row upon row of the inimitable creamy white ‘Margaret Merril’, ‘Just Joey’, a glorious apricot that looks stunning with purple cotinus, ‘Nostalgie’, an unusual combination of white and cherry red, with tough flower heads and strong stems, ‘Frederic Mistral’, a soft pink, and the gorgeous ‘Chandos Beauty’. This column, sadly, is not capacious enough to list them all. In profusion in long, narrow beds outside are mint, sages, cottage garden flowers, dahlias, grasses, ivy grown for its flowers, eucalyptus, cultivated brambles, and lots more.
What isn’t sold to The Real Flower Company is made up into bunches in the packing shed and taken to London farmers’ markets, including Queen’s Park, my local market on Sunday mornings. As well as bunches of roses, incredible value at £10 a bunch, there are pot-grown rose bushes (£15 each) and bunches of garden flowers and herbs for £7, or two for £10. The smell is so intense and evocative that customers often well up, says Rosebie, as they are reminded of a grandmother who loved scented roses.
In addition to the more formal courses run by The Real Flower Company, Rosebie draws on her enthusiasm and knowledge to offer practical sessions on her farm on topics such as how to get the best out of your roses.
The Real Flower Company: www.realflowers.co.uk – contact Rosebie Morton at email@example.com
Contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the season for autumn shows and open days – these are two of the best
Come into the garden
Fruit Open Days in the Victorian walled garden that is home to Pennard Plants, my favourite nursery for heritage seeds, unusual fruit and vegetable plants and beautifully trained fruit trees, will be held on 12 and 13 October from 10.30am to 3pm each day.
There will be fruit tastings, demonstrations of pruning techniques and instruction on how to train fruit trees and, of course, trees, seeds, autumn onion sets and lots more to buy.
Owners Chris Smith and Mike Milligan will be on hand to give advice; they also promise tea and cake. Pennard Plants, The Walled Gardens, East Pennard, Somerset BA4 6TP. Further details from www.pennardplants.com
The Taste Of Autumn Festival will be held at RHS Garden Wisley from 17 to 21 October from 9am to 6pm each day. The programme includes apple tasting, talks and book signings, growyour- own advice, cookery demonstrations and 40 food stalls.
RHS members, free admission; adults, £10.50; children 5-16, £4.50: www.rhs.org.uk
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is a 6ft perennial sunflower that was looking gorgeous at Loseley Hall when I visited last week. Tall, elegant and upright, with pale yellow daisy-like flowers, it provides height in the border and is a long-lasting cut flower. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun. £5.99: www.rhsplants.co.uk
Plant of the week
Daily tip from the lady archive
"BE careful with your mouth make-up. By careless work you may obliterate well-cut lines, and you will always achieve a badly groomed look if your lipstick is smudged and badly applied."The Lady, Make-Up for Mouths, 8th January, 1942
PRIVATE HOUSE in Andover/Winchester area requires personable, experienced, professional cook with own transport (live-out). Must be calm, adaptable, energetic, happy to use seasonal produce from garden and able to provide healthy, imaginative dishes. In addition to producing meals for owners, required to provide lunch for estate staff during week. Usual hours 0800-1600, Monday-Friday, but flexibility required for w/e and evening work. Salary negotiable. Contact: Apply Box 15495Apply now
Q: The Queen has received a £5m boost in the funds she receives from the taxpayer to carry out her official duties. Do you approve?
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