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In conversation with Gill, our Honorary President

As the first Flowers from the Farm Co-Chair to take on the role without being known to Gill, Meg Edmonds of Roots Family Farm caught up with our founder, Gill Hodgson, to explore the story of Flowers from the Farm as it turned 10 years old.

Can you describe your flower garden to us?

We have four children and, back in 1990, I laid out a formal parterre of box-lined beds and ‘gave’ one to each of them.I stupidly thought they’d take to gardening like ducks to water but they just made dens and dug for worms while I grew the vegetables and flowers. Flowers gradually elbowed out the vegetables and FFTF emerged from among the rows.

I recently ripped the whole thing out! We moved 40 yeards away after swapping houses with my daughter and son-in-law – they’re not gardeners so I had two choices: either I could watch from my window while my pride and joy became neglected and full of weeds, or I could keep on tending it even though I knew it was already becoming too much for me. Neither option was realistic, so I got out the JCB, pulled out the hedges, levelled the lot and sowed another lawn. Gardens and flower fields don’t stand still, they need constant work and, sometimes, hard choices.

We’ve seen your famous flower cart, does it have a story to tell before it became the star of Chelsea flower show?

The cart is the one my grandad used to load boxes of eggs onto and he would give me rides on it back to the wash house.

Who would you most like to arrange a bouquet of flowers for?

I’ll always wish I could have made a bouquet for my mum: she died when I was 20 and she really loved flowers. I only came to flowers after her death when I was forced to look after the garden she left behind – but I’d already absorbed a lot of knowledge from her without realising it. She was disabled and she’d craftily involved me in all the garden tasks that she couldn’t do on her own by making them into a game when I was little.

Did you imagine that Flowers from the Farm would reach a thousand members?

The short answer is no. If I thought about it at all I’d probably have said that 40 or 50 would be a nice number. Although at a free rural business seminar back in 2010 we were all told to work out what our goal was and to justify it. The first three to stand up and read out their goals all proudly announced that they really wanted to have a website. I stood up and stated that I planned to have 612 members and that I’d arrived at this figure by giving every potential member a hypothetical 10-mile radius in which to sell his [they were all going to be masculine] flowers and that, by dividing the area of the country by one person’s area I’d got this answer. These figures were rubbish; made up out of a desire to show off, but it got me noticed and resulted in me being given a Yorkshire Forward mentor for 6 months.

Moral of the story: always appear bigger than you really are.

Flower from the Farm's RHS Chelsea display "Going to Market" was designed by Gill and featured a flower laden cart pulled by a beautiful straw horse adorned with flowers, along a bumpy path through a flowering meadow.

Grandad's cart is the star of Chelsea Flower Show.

Fieldhouse Flowers parterre style garden with box hedging before it was razed by the digger!

Gill's pride and joy before she rased it with a digger!

Gill holding a glass trophy and bottle of champagne as she celebrates being named Mentor of the Year in the Northern Powerhouse Awards.

Gill celebrates her Northern Power Women award for Best Mentor

Who encouraged you to grow things when you started out?

I think it might have been self-preservation. With four children under six, being outdoors was the best way to fill a day so we were out there, rain or shine, and they grew up to be waterproof. Planting seeds was just a natural progression although it was survival of the fittest for the seedlings which were regularly dug up by plastic spades, run over by ride-on tractors or eaten by the baby.

Can you choose your favourite flower?

Perennial scabious. I welcome every new flower when it opens for the first time that season, it’s like greeting a friend you haven’t seen for a while, but there’s a magic about the scabious and few flowers are so intricate when you look at them closely. It’s also the flower that makes me break all the rules.

You should never grow things that dislike the conditions you can offer. They’ll sulk. You’d be so much better off growing the ones that love your soil and your micro-climate and will flourish. You shouldn’t try to grow chalk-loving scabious in your acidic field. But do as I say, not as I do.