August 19, 2013

Interview with Claire Brown of Plantpassion, owner of a cut flower farm in Surrey

I hope you had a lovely weekend…

I’m delighted to start off the week with an interview with Claire Brown of Plantpassion.

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I’ve known Claire for a few years now, as a gardener.  But last year she set up a cut flower farm in Surrey.

And it was there that I met up with her last Thursday.  We had a lovely morning, talking ‘all things floral’.

Featured in the blog post today are photos of her farm and flowers, which I took whilst I was there.

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When did you start your cut flower farm and where are you based?

I got the keys on December 31st 2012 and I’m based in the Surrey Hills at East Clandon.

What types of flowers and foliage do you grow?

Most, lots and lots, and anything that takes my fancy.  Plus a few I don’t like, but seem to be popular…

My chosen specialist subject is herbs.  So Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Tarragon and Basil are all used for foliage.

I’ve lots of perennials that I know all about from my previous career…Alchemilla, Heleniums, Euphorbias and Alliums are just a few.

Plus I’ve started off lots of shrubs that I love from my garden border designing…Cotinus, Physocarpus, Euonymus, Hydrangeas, Roses and Eucalyptus will be available in the future.

I’ve grown lots of Annuals.  Some, like Cerinthe, Cornflowers, Zinnias, Rudbeckia, Sunflowers, Cosmos and Nigella, I’ve been growing for years.

Others are fairly new to me. I’m learning a lot ‘on the job’.  But I’ve only had a couple of disasters.  I’m sure the Molucella is meant to be more than a foot high!

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You sell direct to local florists. Could you tell us what you have available this week?

Yes, I’ve been delighted that florists have heard about me through word of mouth and by driving past and seeing my sign.

This year, it’s been a bit ‘ad hoc’ with phone calls and emails.  But I’m developing an Availability Calendar for 2014, which will be ready at the beginning of September.

This week, there is lovely Ammi Visnaga and Daucus Carota, plus Dill.

The Cornflowers are giving me their last flush for the year.  They’ve been hugely popular in pink, blue and purple.

There’s also Mint and Sage if you would like scent.  Plus I’ve got Rudbeckia becoming available this week and some gorgeous red Sunflowers.

What will you have available in the coming months?

Dahlia, Dahlias and more Dahlias…

There are late Sweet Peas, which I’m hoping the deer won’t eat this time.  Plus Zinnias, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, lots of fillers and then it will be time to plant bulbs for next year.

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Where and how else do you sell your flowers? 

I supply three local cafes on a weekly basis with their table arrangements.

I have a website to sell posies and bouquets that I deliver to customers locally in Horsley, Clandon, Cobham and Guildford.

And I’m selling at Farmers Markets, and local fetes.  The next one is the West Horsley Village Fete on September 7th, and then Ripley Farmers Market.

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Could you tell us about your horticulture background?

2013 is my 21st year in horticulture.  I started out in 1992 as a Trainee Garden Centre Manager.

By 1999, I was selling plants and advising the public as the Plant Centre Manager at RHS Wisley.

But when my son arrived in 2004, I decided that full-time retail and motherhood didn’t mix.  So I started Plantpassion to do the bits of horticulture that I loved, designing with plants and advising people in their gardens.

Over the last few years, I’ve designed more and more borders with cut flowers in them, or completely cutting borders.  And last year at my son’s school, I helped the gardening club pupils to grow lots of cut flowers.

They all sold out to parents every week, and with lots of requests for where to get similar, I decided that Surrey really needed an English Cut Flower Farm.

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What are your plans for the remainder of 2013 & next year?

There’s a huge amount of back office work on my website and photos, and bulb and seed orders that will be put off until the last possible moment, because I love being out planting and picking so much.

The biennials are all ready in the polytunnel to go in.  So that will be my main focus over the next couple of weeks.  Plus I’m going to create some more ‘no dig’ beds this autumn, so that they’ll be ready to be planted in next spring.

I’ll also have to detail weed my perennial border, as we rotavated that when we started, so that we could easily plant the perennials.  But the weed seeds created by that have beaten me this year.  I’ll have it under control by the spring.

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What is your favourite flower?

At this time of year, a Dahlia bloom is fairly hard to beat.  But for beauty and scent, it has to be Sweet Peas, and I love the midnight blue coloured ones.

Thank you very much to Claire for all her help in compiling today’s blog post.

Isn’t the location of her cut flower farm just idyllic? Whilst I was there, tractors were at work in the neighbouring field, harvesting crops.  And she told me that the sunsets are stunning…

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If you’d like to order English seasonal, scented, sustainable flowers from Claire, she can be contacted via Twitter, Facebook and her mobile, 07813 456865.

And if you’d like to keep up-to-date with her news, she has a blog.  Plus she’s also on Instagram.

I’d like to wish Claire every success for the future.  She’s come such a long way already this year and I’m really looking forward watching her cut flower farm carry on growing…

(Images : 1st image : Vicki Knights. All other images : Rona Wheeldon for Flowerona)

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