Blooming boats and flowers afloat

When you think of the canal and boats it’s natural to think of roses and castles, the traditional decorations from the days of working boats, carrying cargos around the country. These days you are as likely to see boats in bloom with real roses as much as painted roses.

Boats in Bloom certificate Boats in Bloom certificate

Cargo carrying is pretty much long gone from our network although the traditions of brightly painted boats live on with roses and castles. You can still see many a carefully restored historic boat decorated in the old way, especially at boat festivals.

Boat traditions

It’s believed that traditional boat painting was a mix of traditions from carting, farming and seafaring. Along with those traditions came many seafaring superstitions including that real flowers are unlucky to have on a ship. Real flowers on a boat were only used for funeral wreaths and this is still a widely-held view in some circles. But maybe this superstition should be considered outdated? After all there are many superstitions connected to boats that we might consider rather odd now, like avoiding flat-footed and red haired people before starting a journey and punching someone hard on the nose if they wish you good luck!

Boats in Bloom

Times change and today’s canal boats are a diverse mix, there’s leisure boats, floating homes, roving traders, holiday hires, day boats, hotel boats and more! Many of these boats will be decorated with real flowers as many of us boaters can’t bear to be without a bit of floating garden to care for. Hopefully the green fingered amongst us have seen the Boats in Bloom competition and are planning to join in.

Personally I don’t generally have much in the way of actual pots on my narrowboat but I do go a bit crazy with flowers and hanging baskets on the mooring during the summer … unless of course it's time to go boating. When cruising I like to take a few of my most favourite plants, from handy herbs and salads for the kitchen, to delightfully perfumed Night Scented Stocks, Sweet Williams and dwarf Sweet Peas. To hell with traditions, I want my flowers afloat to be real!

A few suggestions for boat gardening:

  • mix edibles with non-edibles for a more decorative impact in a small space
  • some edibles like many cut and come again salad leaves make great decorative pot edging plants
  • use companion planting to make a practical and pretty display that deters pests, try poached egg plants, french marigolds and red basil
  • use a water retentive compost or crystals to stop pots drying out, boat roofs can get hot enough to fry an egg in full sun
  • make sure you can see where you are going, your floating garden should not be a navigation hazard

Last date edited: 7 April 2017

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Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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