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When Barney and I first met, we were working in London as translators.  After a couple of years Barney took a job in Shanghai, and I retrained as a gardener through the WRAGS scheme.  We spent a couple of years together in Shanghai, where I worked as a garden designer, before finding our way back to rural England in search of the good life – we are impossible romantics, and wanted to find a pretty spot to live in where we could live off the land in a civilized, comfortable sort of way. Barney learned that the lease was available on the walled garden at Stokesay Court, and we couldn’t resist.  Initially we grew flowers, fruit and vegetables on the one acre of fertile ground, but we quickly realised that not only were flowers more profitable on a small scale, but also that this is where our passion lies.

Over the next eight years we provided a local floristry service, ran courses, hosted events, churned out the wedding flowers, and held market stalls, but we are now focusing on two things: flowers for florists – which we deliver by the bucket in our van – and flowers by post, a relatively new thing for us, started during lockdown 2020, as a way of getting real garden flowers direct into people’s homes.  By simplifying what we do not only are we less exhausted, but we are also able to focus on what we love and do it much better: gardening.

It works really well that there are two of us: Barney likes to take care of logistics, accounts, some of the delivery driving and most of the heave ‘man’ work, like staking, mulching, mowing and compost making.  I like to immerse myself in the planning of the garden, in working out the great jigsaw puzzle of what to plant where and when to plant it; learning about new varieties, and the more fiddly and intimate jobs such as taking cuttings of our treasured rose bushes.  We also have a team of three part time gardeners who help us keep on top of the ongoing weeding, planting and propagation tasks.  Each year we also need help with the big job of picking all the flowers. This we find to be the most difficult role to fill, as flower-picking, although it sounds so light and carefree a task, is actually highly skilled and tricky.  Pickers must be relatively young and sprightly, to be able to whip round harvesting before the sun gets too hot, and they must have a sense of urgency for the same reason.  But they must also have an eye for detail and a genuine interest in learning about the flowers, so that they can quickly learn at what stage to pick each variety, and the subtly different ways in which each kind of flower must be harvested and conditioned.

Things we have learned in growing

  • Keep on top of the weeds: “One year’s seed makes seven years’ weed” is a true enough saying!
  • Mulch everywhere, with almost anything you can get your hands on. We have had disasters with bought in manure that turns out to be riddled with fat hen seed, but generally it is better to get the soil covered with almost anything rather than to expose it to the risks of weed-colonisation, drought and soil-degeneration; something needs to replace what you are taking away when you harvest all those flowers.
  • Spread your bets.  After starting small for a couple of years to build your confidence, aim to gradually introduce a wide variety of plant material so that there is always something to pick: annuals, biennials, bulbs, perennials, shrubs climbers and trees.
  • To differentiate your flowers from those offered on a wider commercial scale, seek out unusual varieties of the plants which you know work in your garden conditions.  We all need to slowly teach the wider market that garden-grown flowers are an entirely different proposition to what can be achieved by large scale commercial growing.  What we have to offer is more interesting and exquisite.
  • Work out who is your ideal customer, and grow for them, also communicate to that person in all your social media and on your website.  We cannot please everyone, but if you grow well and with passion, there will be plenty of people out there who want to buy your flowers.
  • The next thing to work on is getting the flowers to the people, and your customer service.  Customers need to know what you have and how they will be able to get hold of it.  Communication is key, as is a good grasp of logistics.
  • Focus on the area you love, and your activities will flourish.