How we grow scented pinks at Churchtown Farm

A challenging summer for pinks

So far summer 2024 is proving to be quite challenging. Our summer crop of scented pinks are very dependent on day length and heat to grow and we don't use any artificial light or heat. Obviously nothing changes the actual day length but if there is too much cloud cover the pinks struggle to get enough light to flourish. We would normally expect the crop to 'flush' in mid June just before the longest day but this year it just hasn't happened. The cool temperatures and lack of sun in May and June really slowed the pinks down. 

Now we are well past he longest day we think that we have simply lost that first flush, something that has never happened before. We have our fingers crossed that the second flush, that we normally see in late July, will happen but for there to be any chance of that we really could do with some consistent heat and sunny days. 

The traditional flower crop of Scilly, scented narcissi, have grown on the islands for generations and there is a bank of specific local knowledge to draw on. Our farm was the first to grow scented pinks commercially. The first crop was planted about 35yrs ago and we have been learning ever since. This year's lesson might be that we can't control the weather! 

What type of flowers are pinks?

Scented pinks are a dianthus, like carnations. But pinks are more delicate, come in more subtle colours and have a light clove perfume. They are a very traditional cottage garden flower. They first became popular during the Tudor period and appear in some portraits of the time. The name 'pinks' doesn't refer to their colour but the zigzag edged petals like pinking shears.

When do we plant pinks?

At Churchtown Farm we plant our scented pinks into tubs of coir either in April or October and keep the same plants for between 18 months and 2 years. Coir comes from the husk of coconuts, as it is a renewable growing medium and can be transported dehydrated it is far better for the environment than the peat grow bags we used to use.

Scented pinks tend to produce flowers continuously throughout the summer, although each variety tends to have 3 or 4 distinct “flushes” of flowering during the season. At the end of their useful life, the old plants and the coir are emptied onto fields which are not used for flower growing and ploughed in.

Why do we use coir tubs?

Water: Here on the Isles of Scilly, water is extremely limited. We only have available whatever rainwater we can collect from our roofs, supplemented by a small quantity from our own wells. By growing our pinks in tubs, we can ensure that we give each plant exactly the right amount of water and feed at any time of the year. In this way, we conserve our precious water reserves and minimise any impact on the environment from excess fertiliser.

Crop rotation: On St. Martin’s, we are also extremely limited by the availability of suitably sheltered fields in which to grow flowers, this means that we find it extremely difficult to practice a proper crop rotation with our best fields. By growing in tubs, we are able to use our best fields to continuously grow pinks without the risk of pests and diseases building up in the soil.

Weed Control: As we first cover the field with a ground cover before laying out the tubs, weeds cannot grow in the crop. This saves us time in weeding operations and means that we do not have to spray with chemical weed killers. You can find out more about how we run our farm sustainably by clicking below.

How do we choose which varieties to grow?

There are many different varieties of scented pinks available. We buy our young plants in from the leading UK breeder in South Devon. They come to us as little plug plants and we then plant them out in the coir tubs.

At Churchtown Farm we try to grow a range of varieties that meet our strict criteria:

1. The flowers must be strong and long stemmed.
2. The variety must be an attractive colour to complement our range.
3. The plants must be naturally resistant to pests and diseases, in order to minimise the amount of chemical sprays needed to grow them.

What is fertigation?

As all of our scented pinks are grown in tubs we must precisely supply all of their irrigation and fertiliser requirements on an ongoing basis. To do this, we use a system known as FERTIGATION (a combination of fertilising and irrigation).

As soon as a row of tubs is planted a perforated irrigation tape is laid across the top and connected to the field scale irrigation system. We then use a computer to control the amount of water pumped to each field up to 5 times per day. On the way to the field, a very specific amount of specially formulated liquid fertiliser is injected into the water in order to feed the plants. By accurately measuring the amount of feed that the plants are using, we can vary the amount of feed that we inject at each watering time.

How do we extend the growing season?

At Churchtown Farm, our scented pinks flower naturally between late May and late September. In order to extend the flowering season to nearly meet up with our narcissi crops, we cover part of the crop with polythene tunnels. These tunnels provide a warmer environment in which the plants can keep growing over a longer season (late April to late October).

Visit our scented pinks shop to place an order or find out when we'll next be posting pinks. 

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