Flowers cultivated on a small patch of land near York are filling the city with colour. SARAH SMITH traces the growth of a cottage garden industry
THE British flower industry is undergoing a revolution. After many years of decline, there has been a surge of interest in British grown flowers, mirroring the trend for local and seasonal foods.
All over the UK, flower farmers are growing beautiful blooms for British bouquets, with Yorkshire growers among those leading the way.
Many of the new flower farmers are small businesses, turning their gardens, allotments and fields into patchworks of floral colour. Growers such as Rachel Wilkes, who tends her flowers on a patch of organic farmland near York.
Rachel came to flower farming following a stint developing a market garden for a farm shop. Given the opportunity to use a small patch of land at the farm to grow flowers, she soon discovered that this was where her interest lay and set up her business – Ducks & Daffodils.
Rachel now grows a range of flowers including traditional favourites such as cornflowers, sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, snapdragons and dahlias to create bouquets that have what she calls a “rustic chic” charm.
“People like the idea of the just picked from the garden look,” says Rachel, who supplies shops in York with fresh-cut flowers as well as providing blooms and bouquets for weddings and parties.
Flowers from Rachel’s patch are picked and delivered fresh to local shops each week through a season that runs from the daffodils in early spring to sunflowers and dahlias in autumn.
The advantage of travelling such short distances from the field to the customers is obvious, especially for more delicate flowers like sweet peas and cosmos. These blooms are rarely seen in florists’ shops because they are too easily damaged when shipped from overseas.
Fragrance is another big plus with locally grown flowers, and something that’s often missing from flowers that have had a long flight and a truck ride to reach the retailer.
As well as providing quality flowers to the British market, many growers are concerned with the environmental impact of the industry. Rachel uses no artificial pesticides or fertilisers to grow her flowers. On a warm day there are bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies in abundance in her colourful field.
One of the aspects of flower farming that Rachel really enjoys is the fact that each year is different. “It teaches you to be observant and make notes, working with nature and learning how to improve on what you’re doing” she says.
Rachel isn’t the only one working hard to get Yorkshire grown cut flowers into the shops. Flowers from the Farm is a nationwide network of flower growers, set-up and run by the Yorkshire-based Gill Hodgson.
While many florists love the idea of buying British flowers to work with, they’re not always sure where to find them. The Flowers from the Farm website was set up to support small scale growers such as Rachel, promoting their work and putting them in touch with keen customers.
Gill knows the problems faced by the smaller growers, having built up her own business growing flowers on the family farm near Pocklington.
As well as selling cut flowers, she organises workshops to help future flower farmers grow their own successful businesses. Through her own website and the Flowers from the Farm network, Gill is championing the cause of locally grown blooms and their environmental benefits… “putting British flowers back into every vase in the country” as she says.
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Sarah Smith is a gardener, cook and writer. Follow her blog at thegardendeli.wordpress.com