The spring of 2021 has confirmed what I already knew – nature challenges us in different ways every year. In our first year growing flowers, a dry April and May period required irrigation to get our seedlings going.

This year, it has just been too cold for the seedlings to survive and thrive outdoors, and a colourful field of blossoming flowers seem a long way off.

However, having grown up on a farm, this is not new information or a surprise to me. I know that the weather will eventually improve and the flowers will indeed blossom.

We have just one polytunnel, so we are probably more exposed to nature’s vagaries than some other growers. Having said that, we benefit from our coastal location, with the moderating influence of the sea meaning that frosts are quite rare.

As for wind – we get plenty as we lie on the slopes of Tara Hill and are close to the coast. It is something we are working on, with a shelter belt planted to take the extreme edge from the wind. It is a little known fact that a line of trees or hedging plants provides protection from the wind for about 30 times its height. It is also important that the shelter belt is not a solid wall, as that just forces the wind to speed up and over it – a bit like the wing of an airplane!

We have planted a range of trees and hedging plants that will protect us from the extremes of wind as they mature:

  • In terms of a fast growing tree to provide shelter in the most exposed corner of the site, we went for Italian Alder (Alnus Cordata). It is a large deciduous tree that is ideal for our shelter belt as it can handle exposure.
  • We planted native species such as whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna), which are hardy, relatively fast growing and bring some natural beauty that fits perfectly in the landscape.
  • To add some colour, our local nursery recommended we add some Red Flowering Hawthorn (Crataegus “Paul’s Scarlet).
  • One of our boundary fences sits between our home and the sea, so for this line we selected some Mountain Ash, which don’t grow too tall. As the name suggests, are well suited to exposed locations.
  • In the same fence line we added some Whitebeam, which are good for nature and able to handle the exposed location.
  • We also planted three different varieties of Cornus Alba, or Dogwood, which are going to “double job” by providing shelter and some beautiful red, yellow and black stems for use in our arrangements.
  • Eucalyptus has been planted for similar purposes – however, it’s unlikely to ever get to provide much shelter as the beautifully scented stems are in high demand for floral use.

In flower farming, as in life, we only learn from our mistakes. We planted some of our shelter belt too close to the neighbour’s boundary which allowed some inquisitive beef cattle to take a bite out of a few of our beauties. Won’t happen again!