Why foliage sets our hearts a-flutter - Blooming Green - Seasonal British Wedding Flowers

Why foliage sets our hearts a-flutter

I am the daughter of an apple grower and with my lovely siblings, spent my school holidays working on the farm. I spent my winters pruning thousands of apple and pear trees and learnt about the complexity of achieving balance to encourage the tree to produce a good crop of apples each year. As each variety of apple is pruned differently, it took me a long time to understand what was required for each tree. Now I apply this knowledge to the many species of shrub we grow to provide a continuous supply of leaves and stems — and sometimes flowers and berries.

A bouquet isn’t a bouquet without greenery…

We’ve always loved foliage and originally were going to only grow foliage — until we saw the flowers that people such as Sarah Raven were growing, just over the border in Sussex. That said, flowers need foliage to complement their colour and form… and for a truly natural and rustic looking bunch, you need foliage as well as flowers. Now, when we stand back and look at our ‘flower plot’ we’re thankful that the first thing we planted were shrubs for foliage.  

Shrubs need a bit of time to get established

Shrubs ideally need a few years to grow and become established before it is possible to pick good quantities of stems from them. We started by choosing plants based on what Jen needed for floristry and what was affordable — and I was passionate about using some native species where possible. Over the years we have added to our collection and have made firm favourites, both from a growing and arranging perspective. In 2019 we planted a 2-acre foliage plot and began supplying wholesale bunches to GB Foliage at New Covent Garden Flower Market. This has made us really understand how to get the most from our foliage shrubs.

Shrubs grown for cutting need a little more TLC

Shrubs that are cut for foliage need more understanding and TLC than their garden counterpart, as we demand a lot from them. When we remove leaves and stems regularly from a perennial plant it impacts on their growth habit. For some, extra water and food is required to keep it producing over a number of years, examples of these include:

Stems we can use after one year of growth

We sometimes use stems that grow in the first year after planting. These are extremely useful plants for us. However if we cut the all stems that have grown in the first year for their foliage there will be no second-year wood the next season. We need to consider what we are picking and bear in mind what we would like from this plant next year as well as the pressing issue of the wedding or delivery we are doing this week. With this group of plants we need to plant double or treble the amount of plants we think we need as we can cut such a lot of useful stems at different times of the year.

  • Cotinus coggygria (Smoke Bush)
  • Weigelia
  • Stephanandra tanakae

Stems that take a little longer

There are shrubs and trees we grow for foliage — on wood that was grown the previous year (second year wood). These include

  • Forsythia
  • Viburnum opulus
  • Physocarpus
  • Cotinus coggigryia
  • Cotoneaster simmonsii and franchettii

Vigorous shrubs — for masses of greenery

Other more vigorous shrubs, once established, can be cut regularly and need no special treatment. They are merely maintained at a smaller size. These include:

  • Viburnum opulus (Geulder Rose) both native types and ‘Snowball
  • Physocarpus
  • Photinia

If you would like to know more about growing and cutting foliage, come on our Fantastic Foliage workshop on Wednesday September 13th, 6-8pm… This relaxed evening, including a tour or our foliage and flower plot, will give you a chance to pick Bek’s brains and find out all you need to know to grow your own wonderful greenery.

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