Book Review - How to Grow the Flowers by Camila Romain & Marianne Mogendorff
Updated: Sep 16
Title: How to Grow the Flowers: A sustainable approach to enjoying flowers through the seasons
Author: Camila Romain and Marianne Mogendorff
Subject: Sustainable Flower Production for local Floristry
Type: Hardback & Kindle
RRP: UK £20.99 US $29.99 Can $35.99
Pages: 208 inc, contents and index. Full colour, matt.
Publisher: Harper Collins (Pavilion Books)
Publication Date: 2022
At first I didn't get the title of the book until I made the connection between the authors and the late great Constance Spry whose book 'How To Do The Flowers' from 1952, was clearly an inspiration to their work and approach and this book's title. Quotes from Spry appear intermittently through the book to show their synergy of approach.
The book is an interesting one as it spend a good bit of the introduction apologising for the authors not being professionally trained and their possible feelings of imposter syndrome. No need for this, in reality, as the book reads well and as they point out themselves in the text, their untrained approach leaves them exploring, discovering and marvelling at the work they undertake. I didn't get a feeling of preachiness or that the book was underweight in expertise at all. The enthusiasm the author's share for the subjects of cut flower production, plant growing, floristry and very importantly sustainability is a real strength to the book and makes it a much more enjoyable read to me than most floristry books otherwise would be.
That's not to say that I don't like floristry, far from it and I have a number of very good friends who are superb florists. I do have an issue with cut flowers and the industry however; I really struggle with the idea of importing a stem, already dead as it is cut from the plant in Africa, South America, Asia and even more locally in Europe for a bouquet that will last a couple of weeks if we are lucky. The carbon footprint is high, the water consumption, often in areas of low rainfall is vast and the market is driven by events like Valentine's Day where flowering roses really have no place in the UK in the second week of February.
That said, if we can buy local and seasonal, then I'm up for cut flowers. Not as much as I am for living plants, which I prefer to gift, but 100% more than for imports with a high environmental tariff.
Back to the book then... The introduction sets out the manifesto, considering materials used, the value of the industry and the objectives that 'two urban upstarts' (their description of themselves) decided to do in 2017. This was to establish a small cut flower business, growing, cutting and selling flowers from a small plot of land with glasshouses on it in Wolves Lane, North London. Covid19 and a book commision allowed the production of this book and its a good thing too. There are a surprising number of UK based independent cut flower producers, all of whom really need our support to thrive. Buy local, it just makes sense.
Two pages follow the introduction called 'Seasonal Bunch', which pictorially highlight the diversity of cut flowers available through UK production. A visual, month-by-month, that I really enjoyed. It shows creativity and flair, but also an appreciation of true seasonality and the UK gardening climate.
The book is then laid out by season, starting first with Autumn. Each seasonal chapter is the divided by the following; Soil, then Seed, Tend, Harvest and finally a unique topic to each chapter. In Autumn the unique topic is 'Dahlia Staircase', which we will come to shortly.
Autumn Soil kicks of the real content of the book, with the author's acknowledging that they aren't soil scientists, but have been learning as they go and clearly researching approaches to soil with the 'No Dig' method mentioned (and later described in the book). Observations on weed germination and the value of soil punctuate this short chapter. How to build a compost heap and an explanation on soil terminology is very useful through the chapter. The Seed section describes techniques for production from seed and factors to consider, before we move on to the Tend section of the chapter, which describes moving young plants to their growing beds, preparing Dahlia tubers, bulbs and corms and setting up your planted space for winter. The Harvest section of the chapter looks at collecting seed and storing it, harvesting Dahlia, Chrysanthemum and late season flowers and discusses rather than describes wreaths and wreath-making.
The chapter concludes with 'Dahlia Staircase', which is a description of a project (with excellent images, see above) and acts as a rough 'how to' guide, with plenty of scope for the reader to make it their own design. Here I was introduced to a floristry term that I haven't heard before 'Mossage', which describes a moss filled, wire cage in a sausage shape into which you push stems. I like this!
Winter follows (predictably) next and the same flow of Soil, Seed, Tend, Harvest (above) and special project subdivide the chapter. Rather than describe the chapter or Spring and Summer in detail, I'll give some highlights of discussion, which engaged me;
Carbon footprint of transporting a rose flower
How to make a wormery
The practicalities of a growing business (growing plants and expanding as a business)
Planting and Pruning guides
Bleached materials and their environmental impact
Innovative staking techniques
Drying Cut flowers
The tail-end of the Summer chapter introduces more of the recommended plant material for production. This is something that, as a plantsman, I am particularly engaged by and would have liked to see even more of, especially through the seasonal chapters. There a several pages in the Summer chapter on this with favourites for production, best for wedding bouquets, best pollinators, prolific flowerers, best for drying and roses all being discussed.
At the end of the book, we are presented with a two page calendar of works to undertake depending on whether you are seed sowing,working with bulbs, dahlias, corms or perennials. The content is good here, but I feel that it was a bit underwhelming and we could have benefitted from seeing more of this kind of guide. Not a big criticism, but if you're going to describe these, perhaps more content on individual plants would have helped - this could very well just be my plant focus bias at play.
We then move on to a three page glossary of terms, which is useful and may well be the first floristry/cut flower book to define the term Protozoa, which is no bad thing at all. The index follows and then a very useful and comprehensive Resources section for recommended reading, places to learn, bodies to join and sources of materials including plants. A pictorial homage to the Growers of Wolves Lane is a nice addition and builds on the connected nature of the book between plants and people well.
Finally and arguably the most exciting to plant enthusiast reading is a shadow guide (above) to the individual plant varieties displayed throughout the book in comparative, seasonal layouts. Any fan of the amazing Roy Lancaster's plant profiles in RHS The Garden Magazine, or Phillips and Rix plant guides will love these flower layouts. I was really happy to see this as it takes us well beyond producing images of cut flowers to make a pretty book and into a text, which highlights the diversity of plant material we can grow in the UK as cut flowers and the care the authors have shown to document this with the support of photographer Aloha Shaw. Photography is excellent throughout by the way and captures the boho feeling of the author's aesthetic as much as it does the hard work, dedication and creativity that they show in their work.
So, to conclude; this is a really interesting book. It is floristry for the non-florists, horticulture for florists, subject love from the passionate and seasonality, sustainability and a celebration of what can be done for everyone. I really enjoyed it. The authors didn't preach or take a high ground in describing their thoughts and approaches. They acknowledged, their potential weaknesses, but clearly have done a great deal of research and experimentation to find their way and build their own approach. It is a celebration of the UK plant range and diversity of production and I'd love to see someone write about a number of UK cut flower growers and their approaches. I'm no florist, I never will be; I do, on occasion, buy cut flowers, but only UK grown. This book tells me that there is more to the field than meets the eye and it is worth exploring more.
Well written, personal and honest observations, that engage the reader and offer simple, easy to follow guidance that encourages you to have a try for yourself. Good stuff!
Interested? You can buy this book here from Amazon.
Charles Dowding's No Dig Gardening book, may very well be of interest too.
My favourite snips for cutting flowers in the garden - actually for lots of light pruning jobs too.
Roger Phillips Wildflowers of Britain and Ireland for more flower layout images and possibly the best place to start your own UK cut flower production.
Please note, the links to Amazon are paid affiliate link. If you purchase the book from Amazon, using this link I will receive a small payment from them. It doesn't cost you anything and the book is priced as per the Amazon price. Thanks
Please note, Images of the book are my own with permission from the author/publisher. As with all images on this site, they are not for reproduction or use without written permission. Permissions can be sought from emailing firstname.lastname@example.org though images of materials copywritten by another party will not be given.
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