Last month, you may remember that I wrote about Flowers from the Farm, a nationwide network of British cut flower growers.
Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers is a member of the network and I’m delighted to feature an interview with her today.
When did you start Common Farm Flowers and where are you based?
We started Common Farm Flowers in 2010 after several years of successful gate sales of sweet peas and in answer to a growing demand for our home-grown bouquets.
My first cuttings border was three metres by one and had six pink ‘Sea Shells’ cosmos plants, five yellow sunflowers, a mix of about ten dahlia plants, and maybe ten verbena bonariensis.
My sweet peas were grown up about eight tee-pees scattered about the vegetable garden. We now grow half an acre of sweet peas, ditto dahlias, and a huge mix of annuals, biennials and hardy perennials, all for cutting.
We’re based just outside Wincanton in Somerset, but our market is all over the UK as we send bouquets nationwide with next day delivery.
What types of flowers do you grow on your farm?
We grow all kinds of biennial, annual and perennial flowers for cutting…not necessarily traditional cut flowers.
Our collections of roses and shrubs are growing too. Everything from dahlias to delphiniums, sorrel to sweet peas.
We also grow wildflowers especially for cutting. My husband Fabrizio brings them on as plug plants rather than broadcasting seeds.
We’re very keen on providing for an ever-growing biodiversity at Common Farm and so the wildflowers do well for the wildlife as well as us.
Wildflowers grown especially to cut here are achillea, campion, moon carrot, hardheads, buttercups, wild daisies, scabious and cowslips.
Where do you sell your flowers?
We do some wholesale, but most of the flowers we grow at Common Farm are used for our own floristry for weddings, parties and funerals, plus our everyday bread and butter which is bouquets sent to order anywhere within the UK.
On any particular day I might be sending flowers to Aberdeen, London, Swansea and Aldeburgh. They’re cut to order. We don’t have sheds full of cut flowers going over while I wait for orders to come in.
The flowers are cut in the evening or very early in the morning, given a good long drink before being arranged, aqua-packed and sent in specially designed boxes via Royal Mail to arrive with the customer the next morning.
Could you tell us about the courses which you run?
We run lots of courses at Common Farm. There are two short hiatuses in our horticultural year between January and March, and the end of September and the beginning of December.
We fill the time by either inviting people to come and teach, or there are some workshops that Fabrizio and I teach ourselves.
We keep the groups small because we don’t like the idea of anyone getting lost in a crowd or feeling that they can’t ask questions. And we nearly always offer a delicious homemade lunch.
We teach all sorts of things from Autumn Propagating and using Social Media 4 Business, to compost and pasta making. There’s a full list of this autumn’s courses on our website. There will be a new schedule to fill the spring term which will be posted shortly.
In 2013, we’ll be holding courses on how to start a small business, plus others helping people who are feeling at a crossroads to find out what it is that they really want to do with their lives.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2012?
We still have several weddings and balls for which we must do the flowers.
And we spend the run-up to Christmas making a huge amount of willow wreaths which we dress with garlands from the hedgerow. They’re sent throughout the UK in place of our bouquets during the Christmas season.
Naturally there’s a great deal of planting to be done too…4,000 bulbs, hardy annuals, planting out next spring’s biennials, clearing this year’s annuals as they go over to make space for next year, mulching all the beds with a great deal of well-rotted horse manure, and making new beds.
We increase our available space by about half an acre every year. We garden in raised beds made of a mix of our heavy Oxford clay, Revive (peat free) compost from Viridor UK and horse manure. We work hard but we’re never bored…
What is your favourite flower?
My favourite flower changes all the time depending on what’s flowering.
I love sweet peas for their scent, but also because they were what started us off running our flower farm. I’m also completely mad for dahlias.
But then there are the unsung heroes of the cuttings patch like bronze fennel and annual chrysanthemums.
And there’s the winter flowers, the hyacinths that we bring on in the house that make the whole place smell divine in February.
Plus the willow, of which we have about six different types, and which flowers all through the early spring, making wonderful branches of pussy willow for cutting, while the rest of the trees hum with hungry bees.
P.S. The photo of Georgie is one I took when we met at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year at Jo Thompson’s show garden. She was giving out beautiful buttonholes which she’d made…
(Images : Rona Wheeldon for Flowerona, Heather Edwards, Common Farm Flowers)