Back in 2013 I set myself a goal, to sell my b&b by the sea in Weymouth, South Dorset, which I had been running for 14 happy years to become a flower farmer.
Being a passionate gardener and inspired by the British Flowers community on social media I reorganised my garden in order to grow more flowers. With some trepidation I contacted Jessie of West Dorset Wedding Flowers who then was trading from her shop in Poundbury to see if she would be interested in buying locally grown flowers. She quickly responded along the lines of “sounds great, what have you got?” And so began regular sales to Jessie, who was incredibly helpful and supportive.
At the end of the following Summer 2014 season I put my guest house on the market to pursue my dreams of buying a plot where I could become a small scale flower farmer.
In January 2015 a bombshell shattered our world when my elder son Julian, a rugby player and health and fitness fanatic, learned that the persistent pain in his right shoulder was not a sports injury but a rare and aggressive bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma. This cancer usually but not exclusively affects young people and more often males, and is often mistaken for a sports injury initially. Because of its rarity there are not enough resources aimed at understanding and ultimately defeating this terrible disease. Most GPs will never see a case, but Julian’s was very good and prompt in referring him but alas the disease had already taken hold.
Having sold my business, my partner and I moved to a small house near Julian’s home from where we supported him. The chemo and radiotherapy at Southampton Hospital were totally debilitating and he had radical surgery at The National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, but by Christmas we were so relieved, as it seemed the treatment had worked although he was physically very weak, and with great optimism for the future he started his blog www.fightback2fitness.com Sadly the New Year 2016 brought terrible news, that the cancer had spread.
Julian continued with his blog, which became about his fight for survival, sometimes funny, sometimes hard to read but always engaging.
My endlessly supportive partner and I quickly bought a spacious new estate house, with a small garden, which was ready for occupation where we could provide a family base. I was able to acquire an allotment nearby where I grew mostly flowers, to the bewilderment of fellow allotmenteers who saw me as the crazy flower lady. It wasn’t easy as the plot was unworked when I took over, covered in docks and thistles on very sticky clay, and the water tank was at the bottom of the site down a long hill.
February 2017 Julian lost the brave battle in the wonderful loving care of Joseph Weld Hospice in Dorchester to whom I will be forever grateful. His passing sent a shockwave through our family, his many friends, fellow rugby players, colleagues and all who knew him. I miss him terribly and he is constantly in my thoughts.
My first funeral flowers, arranged with the help of my amazing sisters, will not form part of my portfolio, being for Julian’s wicker casket. We held a small private funeral and made a beautiful seasonal casket spray with materials gathered from my family’s gardens, evergreen and variegated foliages, rosemary, conifers, berried ivy, white heather and white camellia flowers.
Similarly my first large scale pedestal arrangement was for the celebration of his life, attended by several hundred people, which had to be held in the largest venue we could find, the National Saining Academy at Portland. Thanks to big sister, we again had a fantastic range of foraged foliage and flowers, green and variegated, along with white alstroemeria, red berries, fig, catkins and pussy willow.
Both pieces were beautiful and very personal, and the process of creating them together with my sisters was very therapeutic.
Julian was an enthusiastic advocate of my work and was always tapping up friends to see if anyone knew of a small plot for sale or rent (this is like looking for hen’s teeth in South Dorset). Two of those friends, Gus and Chloe, were planning their wedding in August 2017, and Chloe asked me if I would make her bouquet, to have a connection with Julian on the day.
I offered to do all the flowers with whatever I had on the allotment, and from the venue which had beautiful grounds. I was delighted to be entrusted with the wedding for this lovely big-hearted. couple, which was to be boho style, with bright colourful flowers, and a large teepee beside a lake. Apart from a short heavy shower whilst setting up, it was a beautiful day. Again, helped by big sister, a talented florist and constant wing-woman, and Chloe’s dad who built the arch ready to be dressed, I flowered my first wedding.
Chloe was very lucky to secure the incredibly talented Matt Austin as the photographer because he doesn’t usually do weddings but the results are fabulous…
After taking time to grieve, we put our house on the market with the intention of resuming our plan but then unfortunately Brexit intervened and the property market was so stagnant it took two years to sell, not least because of the chain breaking down twice and buyers having to withdraw.
Over the years, ever the optimist, I have done courses in preparation for the time my plans would come to fruition, learning from some of the best, about all aspects of the business of flowers:- traditional floristry skills and techniques from the classy Gillian Wheeler at CoventGardenFlowerAcademy, endlessly knowledgeable Georgie Newberry at Common Farm Flowers to learn how to be a flower farmer, the wonderfully creative Jo Wise of Floral Circus with her background in events and installations, gorgeous wedding flowers with Charlie Ryrie of the Real Cut Flower Garden, who was at the forefront of the renaissance of the British Flowers movement many years ago, and more recently with inspirational Cel Robinson of Forever Green Flower Company because although I have business experience, her advice on the specialised business side of growing and marketing gorgeous yet profitable flowers was invaluable.
We finally completed the sale of our house in late August 2019 and again moved to a temporary address to resume our search for the perfect plot, as cash buyers.
I have already blogged about dirty dealings in the property market and there have been many disappointments since, but in November 2019 there was one more knock-back waiting for us when we agreed to buy a house with a small paddock. Searches showed that the land was of archeological interest so digging or soil amendment were not allowed. Goodbye to that property and £500 search fees.
Now, May 2020 we finally have a beautiful house with just under an acre, along with a lovely little stone barn and a studio/workshop in the garden. We have moved just over the border from Dorset to Somerset, a county I really love and with which I have historical family connections. The field is a blank canvas and there is so much to do, starting with rabbit-proof fencing as we are over-run with the little critters. We arrived in late February, just in time for the bare root planting season and have been working extremely hard to set up – without any external distractions, being in lockdown due to the Corona Virus pandemic.
I finally hope to achieve my ambition of becoming a flower farmer/florist, growing and selling eco-friendly, foam-free British flowers. Wish me luck.
Just don’t call me a newbie.
Due to the mild autumn there are still many sloes to be found and what better use than to make some lovely warming ruby red sloe gin. There is still just time to make some for the Christmas holiday and this is my recipe, with apologies for the mix of metric and imperial measurements but this is how it was given to me and it works.
1 Litre Gin
14 oz sugar
7 fl. oz. water
Wash the sloes and lay on a tea towel to dry, then unless they have endured some hard frosts, put them in the freezer for a day or two.
Divide the sloes between two bottles of approx a litre capacity each, half filling each, then top up with the gin.
Leave in a warm place, the kitchen will do, for at least 3 weeks, giving the bottles a couple of shakes occasionally.
Make a syrup with the sugar and water.
Strain the gin, the sloes can go on the compost heap, and add the syrup.
Bottle and enjoy.
Over five months since selling home and business to grow flowers full time, we are still in temporary accommodation searching for a suitable place to grow my cut flower business.
Having patiently waited all summer for the vendors of the property we were buying, to find a suitable new home for themselves, undisclosed facts came to light about the property and we needed to ensure we could legally use the land for business. Suddenly the scumbags would tolerate no delay and promptly sold to someone else for more money as property prices have risen over summer here in expensive Dorset, whilst our money has depreciated sitting in the bank, making matters even more difficult.
The dahlias have not done well in their pots despite being pampered with lots of feed and watering, I think the roots prefer to be buried in the cool earth without temperature fluctuations inevitable in a pot.
The potted roses, on the other hand, have been fantastic, putting on lots of growth and flowering their heads off, especially the beautifully glowing Golden Celebration:
And the fantastic rich plum Munstead Wood:
The temptation to cut flowers from them has been quite overwhelming but I have managed to resist… most of the time… allowing the plants to develop for next year and beyond.
Sweet peas were disappointing, as were zinnias, for they both need plenty of sunlight and sadly the massive sycamore tree in the neighbouring garden overshadowed everything. The Amaranthus however, despite being a native of sunny climes, has flourished even though a little late. I love its exotic abundance.
All the shrubs and perennials appear healthy and hopefully have put on plenty of root growth, but the bulbs and corms I optimistically bought, are languishing in a cool utility room when they should really be planted out.
We have made an offer on another property, which was accepted, but once again, the vendors are searching for their next home, what a nightmare!
It seems we will not be moving tomorrow after all, not until at least the middle of September. The vendors’ Estate Agent, whose job it is to liase, was informed of this delay slightly over two weeks ago but sadly we were not.
All the annual seedlings I have brought on to see me through the end of the summer will no longer tolerate being held back in their pots so will be offered to friends and family. I must now focus on ordering bulbs, bare root roses and any extra hardy annual seeds I need for an early start next year.
My plan is to sow some in the polytunnel we dont have yet, as soon as possible, so I thought I would fill out the planning application now. Our circumstances are not covered in the FAQs online and the smallest error will result in the application being rejected. The bureaucrats in the Council planning dept will not answer any questions unless I give them £50 and even then will not guarantee the veracity of their answers. More annoying stereotypes :(
It is a week until we move to our new house in the country with a plot to expand my business, growing and supplying flowers, for florists and direct to the public. We will have to hit the (heavy clay) ground running as there is so much to do, converting a bare field into a productive cutting garden by next Spring. There will be a lot of muck-raking.
A year ago we started the wheels in motion, selling my former home and business, and have been in temporary accommodation for several months whilst we searched for a suitable property. We brought with us dozens of plants in pots, not least some quite large roses, and if we manage to move them without injury (to us or them) we will be very relieved.
I have never been too fond of technology but I know the internet will provide my shop window, so I am learning to blog, create a website and use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. I do feel slightly deranged sometimes finding my way around these media but I feel enormous satisfaction when it all works, and in truth I am terrified of being left behind in this technological world. Photography is another activity I have taken up, for my portfolio, and I relish the new photo opportunities that lie ahead, in a very beautiful area.
I have created several new gardens from scratch and it is a constant learning process but managing a plot for cut flowers demands new skills and knowledge, as I have found over the past two years on a smaller scale. I have also learnt floristry, which has been fantastic fun and I will be relieved when I have space to augment my flowers with the foliage which is vital for the contemporary, slightly wild style that excites me.