The new season starts on the flower farm

We opened our doors to the public on the 30th March this year and it has been a manic two weeks! The glasshouse is filled to bursting, as are the polytunnels, and over half of the field is planted. We are constantly searching for more space to cram plants into. The flowers in the flower shed have sold out almost every day since we opened the door. I did not order enough tulips or narcissi. In the summer when trying to plan I knew I wanted to grow only the best and most sumptuous spring bulbs, but of course these are also the most expensive and difficult to grow. I ordered cautiously, not wanting to go into the 2019 season with a large debt. The demand we have had for our flowers has far exceeded our expectations. Each bunch could have been sold three times over! There has been a growing interest in buying and using seasonal British flowers – and we’ve been contacted by flower wholesalers, florists and members of the public all wanting buy British flowers. Sowing and preparing plants for the summer and autumn flower trade is still underway, so having learned from my mistakes I am growing as much as I can, and then some! As for next spring, well I have taken on another couple of acres and already got tulip and narcissi bulbs in my basket with my favourite supplier (Peter Nyssen) ready for when the spring bulb sales start again in mid summer.

The image shows tulip Professor Rontgen. Not a fashionable spring colour, but its stunning shape, green streaks and large flowers have made it a huge hit with our customers.

March on the farm

March is one of the busiest months for us. The majority of the spring growing takes place this month and we will be working around the clock to sow, pot on and plant a huge variety of flower and veggie plants. It is also time to wake up the dahlia tubers and take cuttings for the new season. Narcissi, tulips, anemone and ranunculus come into bloom in the flower field alongside the wallflowers, valerian, flowering currant and cherry blossom in the garden. This year we have built a new flower shed sales area and renovated the greenhouse. We brought the greenhouse second-hand 25 years ago, along with the wooden staging inside it, and it’s fair to say the shelving was well and truly past its best. As well as all the growing going on we usually have a few newborns to look after – this year it’s goats and chicks. Oh and the bees wake up, the hives need a spring clean and some new honey frames. The days are getting longer but there still aren’t enough hours in them to get everything done!

February on the farm

February, in theory, is a quiet month on a flower farm. In reality there are still 101 jobs to do. We have been cleaning glasshouses, sowing a few seeds (while resisting the temptation to sow more), checking and starting a few early dahlia tubers for cuttings and starting ranunculus for a second, later crop to follow on from those overwintering in the polytunnel. We were delighted to have been invited to attend the Woburn Abbey Garden Show in June, which promises to be a really exciting event. Around 5,000 visitors are expected to attend the show and so we have a lot of planning to do do make sure we have plenty of top quality flowers ready for that weekend – especially as we will also be designing a show garden for the event. So looking forward to working with the Woburn Abbey team again!

Perhaps most excitingly for me on a personal level we are planning on working with the King’s Arms Project in Bedford to host a volunteer and potential employee from their Pathways to Employment course. This community has provided much support to our business during its early stages and it is a privilege to be in a position to be able to offer something back.

Finally, although February is much quieter on the flowers front there is still joy to be had from seasonal flowers. The garden provides viburnum, snowdrop and hellebore and there are narcissi in the greenhouse and amaryllis in the conservatory. So plenty to keep my vases full.

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New season, new ideas.

We have done a lot of planning for next year and a lot of plants are in the ground ready for next years markets and events. As always what we are growing and selling changes as we adapt to the needs of our clients. We have had two royal weddings this year that featured white flowers and, in particular, lily of the valley in bouquets. Subsequently my florists are asking for as many white and scented flowers as I can grow, so next year some purely white cutting beds are going in. We have been asked to do a prestigious two day event in midsummer (news on this to follow shortly!) This has meant we have had to develop a range of new products to suit the wonderful venue. Our amazing customers have told us they would love to see behind the scenes and attend more events at the farm, so next year we will also be running various customer based open days. The first of which will be a seed and plant fair in April. We also hope to host a sweet pea festival in June and a dahlia festival in August or September. After the success of our pick your own sweet peas last year we are also looking at opening some of the other cutting beds up for pick your own bunches.  There is a lot to be getting on with over the next few weeks!

sweet peas

Planning for spring blooms

In reality planning for next spring started last spring. What sold best were the unusual and scented varieties. Especially if bunched with a sprig or two of spring greenery. Researching and browsing suppliers catalogues for new varieties happened in early summer and mid summer the bulbs were ordered and the hardy biennials and hardy annuals were sown. It is early October as I write this.  All of the hardy biennial and annual plants for overwintering are in the ground. The ranunculus and anemone are in the cool dark shed pre-sprouting. In a weeks time I will plant them in the polytunnels. Tulip and daffodil bulbs are also going in next week so I will be pretty exhausted by the end of the month.  However I cannot believe how excited I am to be growing some new colours and new varieties – it’s what I love most about being a grower. You put in the work and walk the flower field every day watching the plants grow. Finally, sometimes after months of anticipation, that new flower first breaks bud and you get to see what it looks like in all its glory. A new one for us this year is ranunculus ‘cafe au lait.’ I don’t know if I like it or not – the images of it online are variable. Maybe I was influenced by my love of the dahlia of the same name, which has always been a central player in my dahlia beds. I will have to wait until at least April to find out if it is going to become a future favourite or an also ran.

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Growing up

After a trial year we decided we could expand the business significantly. We had more than enough land and people loved our product. The trial year was vital as it was more than just a trial to see if the business would be viable. We also explored different growing techniques, different flower varieties and different bunching and packaging methods. We also spent a large amount of time reading and researching and visiting similar businesses in other parts of the country.
Growing up the production side is the easy bit. It’s the bit we love. However growing up also means embracing the side of the business which we have so far avoided – advertising, promotions and utilizing social media. However our skills are growing fast. I can now manage a website and online shop, I have taken an advertising and social media course and booked up to do a few outside events over the coming year. My first love will always be growing the flowers and for every hour I spend inside on the chores bit I still get to spend 8 hours outside on the good stuff. I hope I can maintain that sort of a ratio!20180721_090852

Joys

There have been many things to be joyful about this year. The sweet peas have been amazingly prolific and provided fragrant armfuls of flowers every morning for a month. Walking the dahlia beds to see which varieties have started to flower is something I have looked forward to doing every day. Discovering new flowers or new colour combinations is exciting and fills me with enthusiasm and a desire to grow even more next year. But most of all, the pride and joy of seeing the bunched and wrapped flowers, ready to go out at their absolute best, makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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