Updated: 25th February 2021
Is it time to support locally grown, small scale cut flower growers? The cut flower industry is huge, and with few exceptions, uses a lot of chemicals. In an interview with Sandra Bright, we discuss with this British grower how growing gorgeous flowers for cutting and selling locally, is helpful for bees, pollinators and other wildlife.
If more people in the UK and other countries start to supply flowers on a small scale, then more pollinator habitats will be created by default! What we don’t want to see, however, is a replication of intensive, high chemical methods dominating the Dutch growing industry.
As a side note:
If this article inspires you, perhaps you'd like to learn how to create a cutting garden on your own land, or know a person who would love a gift voucher for this type of activity instead?
Below is an online course which will teach you not only how to establish and grow a cutting garden, but also how to cut and store the flowers for maximum shelf-life (called 'conditioning'). This latter process is vitally important for anyone wishing to sell their flowers, or arrange them at home.
Sandra supplies weddings, bouquets, and funerals. She also sells dried flowers. Sandra is a keen gardener, and appeared in the BBC’s Allotment Challenge in 2015.
We have about four acres of land where I would say three of it are left as meadow grass much of the year, where many small mammals live including moles, mice, field mice, hedgehogs etc and pheasants breed.
In addition, we have five other main areas. One is the front lawn with deciduous trees and evergreens where lots of birds nest. The area is untouched from one year to another, apart from cutting the grass and me collecting materials to make Christmas wreaths.
There is another area where we have a wildlife pond and trees growing, Euphorbia, Aquilegia, shrubs, bulbs etc in an informal way. Next to that area I have my original cutting garden which has beds specifically for growing flowers for cutting. This area is now mainly reserved for perennial flowers for cutting purposes.
We have the formal area around the house with hedges, flower borders and patios.
Then we have the vegetable borders which also accommodate two greenhouses.
I grow Perpetual Carnations in one of them. I also grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and some
cut flowers in one greenhouse and early bulbs in the other, though we do have a third greenhouse waiting to be put up in a field area which is the cutting
paddock. This area is about 70 x 60 feet
I think, and was established this year after the last of our goats passed away
and we decided to use the area to grow flowers for cutting.
I also have flowers in vegetable plots, and mixed in with vegetables. This helps to attract beneficial insects. It was my dream to see swathes of flowers when I looked across from the house.
We grow mostly English cottage garden favourites that a lot of people know, but also many flowers that are less well known.
Sadly since the seventies when imported flowers came to this country many British flower growers couldn't compete and folded, and so the abundance of varieties were no longer grown, which meant choice became limited.
I think it’s important, if you are going to sell your flowers, to grow the things people can’t get elsewhere.
I grow lots of bulbs in early spring,
Hellibores, Hyacinths, shrubs, daffs. I have Anemones flowering all through the year, Chrysanthemums in October and November. I now dry flowers, much like the Victorians did, so customers can still have flowers in winter.
Local people are my main customers. I have a sign outside the house at the bottom of the drive. I find I may sell a bunch for £5, and then later, the customer may come back to me with an order for £15 or £20.
I use Facebook to promote my bunches of flowers to local groups over the internet –
such as wedding groups, but I don’t trade on-line. I
create wedding flowers myself, but if a wedding seems too big or complicated
for me to handle, I have a contact to whom I can refer the bride. She’ll handle the wedding, and she’ll use my
I also sell ‘do it yourself’ buckets of flowers, so brides can buy the flowers and have a relative or friend arrange them. Then again, I post pictures of my wedding designs to inspire people. They feature many pretty country varieties not seen in the shops.
Florists are starting to find us too.
No, it’s not true. You just have to accept the natural seasons of flowers, but there is always something in season, for example, aconite and snowdrops in winter. I have made simple bunches of flowers with snowdrops and evergreen foliage, and people love them.
Plus I find people are getting used to the idea of buying bunches of flowers that are seasonal, and they enjoy it – these flowers welcome in the season, after all.
They all have different scents too. Home grown flowers like this are far more scented than heavily cultivated flowers you buy from supermarkets. I grow flowers with unusual scents as well.
Some of the varieties of Marigold I grow have a very beautiful and distinctive fragrance, quite different from what people are used to.
I do not buy plugs or ready grown plants, I grow everything from seed and I even save seeds from plants. Quite a few of us do this in the small-scale, flower-growing business. For example, I save seeds from Sweet Sultans, Nigella, Cornflower, and Larkspurs.
Several reasons. Brides are increasingly wanting the natural look and awareness is growing that buying British flowers offers more variety, scent and even brings more personality to a bouquet.
Also, at the Royal Wedding, Kate Middleton went for all British flowers in her bouquet and in the church, and people saw what was possible from British growers.
Then there are the older people, who remember the thriving British flower industry in the 1970s, and the amazing variety, before the industry all but disappeared.
On top of this, people are learning more about the flower industry, and they are becoming more and more concerned about the environment, air miles, conditions of work, and chemicals use.
All these developments have been coming together at the same time. We still don’t have enough growers though. There are not enough people out there doing it, and British growers only supply about 5-10% of the market.
Google, British Flower Growers to find a local suppler. Check the Flowers From The Farm network, and British artisan flower growers.
The Dutch use systems such as artificial light and chemicals, which creates an artificial growing atmosphere to provide year round flowers. Growing things in a sustainable, wildlife and environmentally-friendly fashion is more labour intensive.
For example, I grow 100 lilies, and to look after them is very labour intensive, because I have to remove lily beetles by hand.
They weren’t indigenous to this country, but they have spread rapidly since the 1980s. I have had to learn all about the life cycle of the lily beetle so that I can control the populations without spraying the plants.
Highly recommended is this book The Flower Farmer's Year: How to Grow Cut Flowers for Pleasure and Profit which teaches you how to grow and condition flowers for cutting. The book is written by a flower farmer and florist.
Florists can get far more diversity using British flowers, and this enables florists to be more creative, and everything can be made, from the bridal bouquet and button holes to table decorations.
If British flowers are
conditioned properly they can last longer than shop bought flowers, because
they have not spent days travelling. In theory they can be seen by the bride a couple of days before the wedding, and picked the day before for conditioning. My peony double flowering tulips last 10 days.
My plot is abundant with hummingbird hawk-moths, hoverflies, butterflies, bees, hedgehogs, birds, deer, rabbits. Lots of wildlife!
I offer dried flowers, Christmas wreaths and arrangements.
This selection is based on value to pollinators (especially bees), and covers country garden style flowers and herbs for growing outdoors only, rather than exotic blooms for the greenhouse.
This list does not include shrubs, trees or foliage.
Here are a few tips and ideas. I have not covered off insurances, health and safety, local regulations etc.
An advantage here is that you can cut the flowers only when the order comes in, and potentially send them all over the country.
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