April – trying to keep the business going during the covid-19 lockdown

We started this year so far behind. The wet Autumn and Winter meant hardly any work had been done in the flower field, and a lot of the biennials and hardy annuals (foxgloves, honesty, wallflowers) that had been planted for early season flowers died after being submerged for months.

We had booked to go to New Zealand for most of February – a time which should have been quiet for us, although as we were so far behind, both on the flower farm and the main farm, I had misgiving. As it turns out our timing was great. We had a lovely three weeks, travelling freely with only distant rumors of some nasty virus wreaking havoc in China and starting to spread. Also while away we learned we could not have done any work at home, the UK was still being bombarded with rain and storms. All three of our polytunnels were flattened by one severe storm. Only when travelling through Hong Kong did we have a feel for what was to come. Most flights to or from the airport had been cancelled, the airport was empty and everyone, except us, was wearing face masks. Our temperatures were scanned on arrival and on departure. People there were scared. By the time we flew home hardly any traffic was going through Hong Kong and BA had merged flights so we travelled home slightly later than expected on a very full plane.

Back in London everything seemed normal, the kids took a tube from the airport back to London and we drove home. I started sowing seeds immediately to try to catch up and replace some of what was lost in the field, and despaired to see the field still waterlogged. But I was pleased to see most of the tulips had survived.

Then covid-19 reached the UK. We were asked to avoid unnecessary travel, observe social distancing and wash our hands frequently. I opened the flower shed for the last weekend in March – providing antibacterial spray and wipes for customers and details for contactless payments. I sold out of flowers every day. Perhaps I could still manage to sell stuff!

A week later it was obvious we were not managing to control the spread of the disease and the whole country was put on lockdown for an initial period of three weeks, the kids came home, I shut the shop and prepared to live an isolated life (not too difficult for a flower farmer!) Weddings, workshops and shows up until the end of June have been cancelled. Loss of income worried us but there will still be some flowers sold – to a grocery store in Bedford and to local florists who offer delivery services and are still allowed to trade.

As I write this we are just about to start the third lockdown week. I’m pretty sure this will be extended. The field is nearly dry enough to work and I have started some limited planting. I haven’t really changed my growing and planting schedules. Some flower farmers have thrown away plants which were for late spring or early summer but I can’t bring myself to do that. I will dry the larkspur and nigella, and chop back anything else that flowers unsold to try and get a second flush. Ive gained a little time every day which I would have used stocking the shop with bouquets and I am putting it to good use playing catch up! We’ve been warned to expect a surge in late summer demand, as the Dutch flower markets have collapsed. We will see.

The biggest frustration so far is that with all of the independent florist shops forced to shut their doors, the only places where you can buy flowers in person locally are the big supermarkets. Meanwhile local flower farmers throw their flowers away and small businesses might never recover.

Apologies for the long blog post. A lot has happened since the start of the year. Stay well and look after yourselves!

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