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Rich pickings: Flower Farmers' Big Weekend

Hazel Sillver / 24 July 2019

This August flower growers up and down the country will open their gates for a celebration of local flower farming.

Green Gorgeous, Oxfordshire
Green Gorgeous, Oxfordshire

A bunch of flowers plucked from a traditional British garden trumps most shop-bought blooms. The informal charm of cornflowers, nigella and scabious, and the beautiful scent of peonies, sweet peas and roses is hard to beat.

Aiming to capitalise on this country garden romance is Flowers from the Farm, which collectively opens its gates to the public this month. The not-for-profit organisation, established in 2011, is a group of flower growers and florists up and down the UK, who cultivate or sell British flowers.

In order to raise awareness of their work and to promote locally-grown flowers, the co-operative’s first Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend is being held on 16-18 August 2019. Across the country, over 100 members will invite visitors to stroll around their growing beds (which range in size from cutting gardens and allotments to large fields), pick their own fresh flowers, take part in growing and floristry workshops, listen to talks and enjoy picnics and afternoon teas amidst the flowers.

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Ginger House Garden, Northumberland.

Some of the blooms in season during late summer will include dahlia, cosmos, nigella, scabious, phlox, ammi, globe thistle, sea holly, nicotiana and zinnia to name but a few. All are commonly seen in British gardens but rarely seen for sale in supermarkets and florists.

Although the UK had a flourishing flower farming industry long ago, with Cornish daffodils and Devon violets sold on the streets of London, today it’s a very different story. We spend over £2bn on cut flowers every year, but around 88% are imported. The majority are grown in the computerised hothouses and fields of Holland, but some hail from as far away as the fields of South America and Africa.

Just Dahlias
Just Dahlias, Cheshire.

As well as the use of chemicals to grow and preserve many of these imports, there is also a significant environmental imprint in the travel miles covered to bring them to our shores. A need to be more eco-friendly is just one reason why the increasing number of British flower growers are slowly taking a portion of the market back, claiming over 12% of it in the last few years.

Another reason for the burgeoning success of home-grown blooms is that many of our beloved favourites - snapdragons, stocks, bellflowers and narcissi for instance - don’t travel well, so florists prefer to purchase them from local growers.

Scent is another big sell for British growers, whose fragrant posies fly off their stalls at farmers’ markets. Customers are thrilled to be able to buy bunches of deliciously scented lily of the valley, lilac, sweet peas, Damask roses and clove-scented pinks.

Grace Alexander Flowers
Grace Alexander Flowers, Somerset

This was the experience that Flowers from the Farm founder and Honorary President, Gillian Hodgson of Field House Flowers in Yorkshire, had when she started out. After selling flowers at her gate, she took on a stall at her local farmers’ market and found that people queued up to sniff and buy the bouquets. “Customers reminisced about gardens they had known,” she recalls. “It was obvious that flowers went straight to the heart of everyone and that people believed such seasonal flowers were a thing of the past. I wanted to join an association of other growers: people who were as excited as I was by the possibilities of British flowers. I searched for such an organisation without success, so decided to form one.”

Today Flowers from the Farm comprises over 620 members, from Cornwall to Inverness. These passionate growers and florists all champion a return to home-grown seasonal flowers, both to safeguard the environment and to provide British shoppers with the charm and scent of traditional blooms.

The Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend 16-18 August; entry prices vary,; #flowerfarmersbigweekend

Organic Blooms, Oxfordshire
Organic Blooms, Oxfordshire.

Five growers to visit during The Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend

Picking Posies, Lancashire

On 17 August, grower Becky Hindley will welcome visitors to see her plot, buy freshly cut flowers and enjoy refreshments. Entry costs £2 and proceeds go to charity.

Far Hill Flowers, Monmouthshire

Join grower Justine Scouller on 18 August for a tour of her cutting patch and garden. Buy cut flowers and enjoy refreshments. Entry £5; children go free.

Howe Farm Flowers, Buckinghamshire

On 17 August, grower Amber Partner will welcome you to pick flowers and demonstrate how to prepare and arrange them for the vase. Tickets cost £55.

Keeping the Plot, Fife

On 18 August, grower Sarah Hunter will give visitors a tour of her flower field and invite them to pick their own flowers. Tickets cost £25 and include a picnic lunch.

The Forgotten Garden, Devon

Enjoy Patricia Cottam’s market garden on the edge of Exmoor on 17 August; buy flowers and enjoy refreshments. Bouquet workshop on 18 August costs £45.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.