{good ol' fashioned school excursion}

My floristry class piled onto the TAFE school bus yesterday to experience the amazing Flora International flower farm in south-western Sydney. This place was incredible - a rose farm on steroids!

Flora are the largest Phalaenopsis Orchid and hydroponic Rose growers in NSW, along with also growing a large expanse of Oriental Lilies. 

The sheer size of the space is quite overwhelming. When the doors of the first glasshouse were opened up for us to step inside there was a collective breath-stopping moment where all our jaws fell to the ground taking in the amazing scene before us. This one glasshouse alone measures 4,000 sq/m. In total there are 35,000 sq/m of plants grown under glasshouse conditions.

Not only is it massive, but it is a finely tuned machine. Every minute detail is measured and calculated by the computer system which collects data relating to light intensity, temperature, humidity, nutrient levels, water uptake and so on to ensure the optimal growing condition for the plants at all times.
Window louvres and curtains are all
operated via computer - all 35,000 sq/m!
I was really impressed by the measures put in place to try and be as environmentally conscious as possible. Whilst spraying is still used as the final resort in treating any pests or diseases, other more natural measures are also used, for example 'good bugs' are released to eat the 'bad bugs', bug attracting traps and sticky mats are erected around the glasshouses and most importantly good hygiene is adhered to with a staff member conducting weekly checks on the plants - recording health of plants, and numbers of pests present to ensure preventative methods are effective.
Not just a big blue rubber band. Thrips are attracted to blue = bye bye bad bugs!!
There are no holidays - harvesting occurs every day of the year (twice a day in summer!), except New Years Day (we'll allow them that!) with of course the lead up to St. Valentine's Day being their busiest time of year. I can now fully appreciate the cost of red roses on V'Day and will never again question the price increase - trust me on this, these farmers deserve every penny they earn from those ruby red buds!
The well-oiled smooth machine continues in the bunching shed where the lovely ladies delicately handle the perfect buds to sort and wrap ready for market. Strict quality control ensures no buds are too open, too tightly closed or stems are bent.

Just when I thought I couldn't be more surprised or delighted we were ushered into Phalaenopsis Orchid heaven... this is certainly an experience the camera cannot express...
Too beautiful for words!
As if it was hand-painted
I came away from the experience so much more appreciative of the effort that goes into producing such beautiful flowers. These guys and girls work incredibly hard under less than ideal conditions at times (can you imagine the heat under that glass in summer?!) all the while trying to compete with the imported cut flowers flooding the market. 

On that note, I would strongly encourage buying locally grown cut flowers where possible. All flowers imported into Australia undergo strict quarantine regulations which stipulate they must be gassed with methyl bromide to protect against the introduction of pest and diseases and treated with Roundup to counteract illegal propagation. Not only are these extremely nasty for our own health and that of the environment - they also greatly reduce the health and quality of the cut flower reducing vase life significantly in comparison to the locally grown produce.I would like to encourage you when next purchasing a bunch of roses, Oriental lillies or a  Phalaenopsis Orchid to ask the seller if it is locally grown - support an Australian owned and operated company right here on our doorstep in Sydney. 

Flora are open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm for retail trade, alternatively you can purchase stock at Flemington Flower Markets. Guided tours of the farm take 1-2 hours and are a must for any flower lover.

For more information visit Flora International's website here

All images: {hort couture}

{haute couture v. hort couture : gardening gloves}

I'm not sure about you but I spend a pretty penny on gardening gloves. Not because I buy expensive designer gloves either. I buy the practical ones - standard issue rubber grip and knitted back. They do the job - just not for long.... I tend to go through at least a pair per month or so.

I adore these Ethel gloves - they are the haute couture of gardening gloves! I like the fact they are made specifically to fit a woman's hands, so there's no extra fabric that makes them cumbersome and difficult to do fine weeding or planting out seedlings.

There are so many gorgeous prints and a rainbow of colours to choose from - you could have a pair for each day of the week!

These leather ones may not be as pretty but I think they'll be super practical for work.

Do you have a favourite glove?

Images: via Ethel Gloves

{haute couture v. hort couture : bloom}

Some girls having a shoe fetish, others one for handbags.Mine is magazines - more specifically, the house and garden variety. I have my favourites that are a ritual purchase each month and others which are on a month-by-month basis - have a quick flick through at the newsstand to see if there is something that catches my eye enough to purchase or maybe just wait to borrow from the library - it can end up an expensive addiction otherwise...
{my little obsession has taken over the office shelves and any flat surface...}
Much to my husband's horror I've found another gem! BLOOM magazine is a mecca of all things stunningly beautiful in the way of buds and blooms. It's certainly not a monthly purchase at the cost of around 60euros a copy... and there's also the minor issue of possibly having to fork out for French lessons to truly be able to appreciate it... but I believe the universal language of the beauty of flowers transcends all language barriers.
Definitely on the birthday/Christmas wish list!!

{Images courtesy of Bloom}

{a reminder of what's to come}

The days are getting that little bit longer - the sun is coming up earlier and setting a little later and the promise of spring is just around the corner.

Winter in Sydney is very mild so I don't mind it too much, in comparison to Melbourne it's utterly balmy!! But, when the days are a little grey, wet and chilly, and I get a bit blue with the winter wearies I look forward to what is to come: the blossom bursting into life, bulbs jumping out of the ground, the buzz of bees and chirp of chicks in their nest, and that soft scent of spring in the air.

Just in case you need to escape to some summer time beauty

Image via the very gorgeous Wisteria and Cow Parsley (because spring hasn't hit my garden yet...)

{i've been invaded!}

I have a little issue happening in my garden shed... it's crept up on me slowly but all of a sudden I've been overrun by plastic plant pots. 

As I have an aversion to throwing things in the rubbish that will add to landfill for the next 100 years, I've collected way too many plastic pots telling myself, "that pot could come in handy for something one day", knowing full well I'd never use some of them ever again!

I decided I'd have a little clean out and take all my unwanted pots to the recycling centre at our local council rubbish depot only to find out they don't accept them as recycling material and they would have to go in with the general waste & I would have to pay $10 for the delightful act - hell no I think not! So, back home they came with me and back into the shed they went. Feeling slightly deflated but mostly frustrated I thought I'd have to accept the fact I'd have to build a shed for all my unwanted, probably never-to-be-used again pots...

Then fate stepped in and I received an email from a wholesale plant supplier announcing they have just introduced a "Pot Buy Back Scheme". TIMING!! Not only will they collect them - they also pay you for them! OK so you wouldn't be banking on paying your mortgage off with pots but every little cent counts. The only catch (there's always a catch!) is that they only buy back certain pots and once which have come from their nursery. Fair enough. It's definitely something I'll be keeping in mind for future jobs and sharing with others in the industry.

But in the meantime what to do with my random assortment of plastic? Well I came across a few recycling initiatives around the country, including this recycling centre in Victoria (the video is a little long but worth watching for some interesting facts about recycling plastic pots)
Closer to home there is a collection centre at Eden Gardens and another at Sydney Wildflower Nursery

The reason I've found for council rubbish depots not accepting them is rather a poor one if you ask me - sheer laziness (something new for councils!!) as it comes down to the cleaning process apparently as pots need to be cleaned with high-pressure water and chemically treated to remove contaminants which interfere with recycling machinery. I don't buy this as you can see from the above video it IS possible.

So think twice when next planting out your garden about what to do with all those pots you're left with at the end - they don't have to go in the rubbish. Talk to your nursery centre about setting up a recycling centre if they don't already have one in place. This is really important for us all to do - there is an alternative and we should start demanding it be more available.Take back your garden shed from all those pots!!

{an 'ah-choo bouquet'!}

My 'yellow-goodness-sneezy-wheezy' bouquet
We had our first hands-on session of floral arranging at TAFE yesterday - YAY!

It sounds cliche I know but "it's harder than it looks"! I felt all fingers and thumbs getting my head around the spiralling technique to create a bouquet. I've tried it before at home but have never been hugely successful with it - no hiding yesterday though with our teacher coming around and offering advice and gentle critique about our arrangements.

Hitting the markets before the sun is up makes deciding on what to buy a little challenging. I'm certainly not on my A-game at that time of morning to make any sensible or rational decisions about what to buy. So I made the very amateur mistake of letting my heart dictate over my head and came away with WATTLE - oh dear!! It was the gorgeous vivid sunburst yellow blossom to blame. It accented beautifully against my yet to open buds of yellow tulips. A little voice inside my head was saying "you shouldn't buy it" as I handed over my cash, but I wasn't going to let them tell me what to do! Five minutes into class I wished I had. Much to my horror one of my poor fellow students was instantly affected by the tiny terror of pollen... I felt rather embarrassed and felt the need to constantly apologise (" but it was the yellow!!!" I'd cry)

A gentle critique session - note teacher's bouquet in green wrapping...
How the pros do it! Teacher's 'how to' bouquet
Apart from the coughing and wheezing, and getting myself tangled up it was an enjoyable morning of bouquet creating. # 1 lesson learnt from first week of floral design - don't buy material with highly allergic pollen no matter the fantastic yellow colour!

PS. Sorry about blurry images - maybe photography should be the next course...