British Flower Growers Renaissance.
In July 2015 I held a Macro Taster Workshop in Pewsey and it was there I met the lovely Sara. Although I had lots of subject material for the delegates to photograph, Sara had brought along some of the beautiful flowers she grows at My Flower Patch. Needless to say we got chatting, and I discovered that Sara was one of a growing number of British Flower Growers leading the revival of the cut flower industry in the UK.
Driving home and mulling over the success of the workshop it hit me that a cutting garden was what was missing from my own garden. If I planted one, I would be able to re-gain the attention of the insects that seem to have gone AWOL this year, put some colour back into the garden, grow a variety of flowers that I can arrange or photograph (or both) whenever I wanted AND have subject material for my workshops that weren’t the standard Aldi/Tesco/Waitrose bunches. I spoke to Sara a few days later and arranged to pay her a visit to find out more about a cutting garden and what I needed to do to get started, but first I wanted to find out more about the Floriculture industry as I had never thought of a Flower Farmer in relation to cut flowers before.
We have a cut flower industry? Who are they? Where did they come from?
The Rise and Fall of the British flower industry.
Floriculture as an industry in the UK began in the late 19th Century. Flowers were grown, according to the season, in back gardens by enthusiasts and on a large scale on vast estates to be sold to local florists and greengrocers. Transportation costs were kept to a minimum so prices were low.
Sadly the demise of the industry began during WWII as a result of the Dig for Victory campaign. People were required to grow as much of their own food as possible because of the harsh rationing; even the rose beds at Buckingham Palace were given over to growing onions. This practise was to continue for some time after the war due to the short supply of fresh produce.
The following 50 years saw a series of significant events that was to reduce the floriculture industry to an all time low.
What were the causes?
The Opec oil crisis of the 1970’s placed a great strain on the oil-heated greenhouses as prices of oil quadrupled overnight. Sadly, this was the final straw for many who had struggled through the war.
The appearance of the “Flying Dutchman” in the 1980’s brought cheap imported flowers to the UK on a major scale. The Dutch brought the flowers directly to the UK in their own lorries and delivered them right to the door. British florists welcomed them with open arms eager for something new as well as cheaper prices leading to the disappearance of more and more local growers and wholesalers.
The 1990’s saw the rise of the out-of-town mega superstores who sold anything and everything all under one roof and cheaply. To sell cheap they had to buy cheap and looked outside the UK for their suppliers, including cut flowers.
Cheap travel also means cheap imports allowing global flower business, based in countries such as Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and Tanzania etc access to global markets. The Dutch, whose subsidies were being phased out, seized the opportunity to re-invent their role from flower producers to flower traders with all European imports going through the Dutch auction houses giving Holland the monopoly on the UK market.
The result is that only 10-15% of all cut flowers sold in the UK are British grown!
The Renaissance begins.
However, there have been rumblings from all corners of the British Countryside over the past 5-10 years and a number of smaller British flower farms have sprung up sparking a bit of a Renaissance. Some are large and cover many acres, others like Sara’s are a fraction of that at 1/4 of an acre and then there are the allotment plots, each one contributing to the growth in the British Flower Growers cut flower industry. Fuelled by a resurgent interest in locally produced, seasonal and sustainably grown produce, these “artisan” cut-flower growers are meeting the challenge head on.
For a number of growers it’s a sideline to an existing business. Some are also florists who are not only satisfying their own business requirements but also offering their clients a greater variety than the average florist. This in turn has lead to a significant change in the style of bridal bouquets with today’s brides looking for something a little different from the traditional bouquets, one with a more natural look with traditional English flowers that are in season. Then there are those who are finding they are growing too many cut flowers for their own florist business and are selling them on to other florists in the area. Farmer’s markets, local stores and local businesses are other outlets for the flower growers.
For some wholesale flower growers floriculture is their main business and they have incorporated cut flowers into their range. A few have recognised a niche gap in the market and specialise in just one or two areas. Cotswold Lavender Farm is just that, a lavender farm only it has over 250,000 plants producing enough lavender for a large variety of lavender related items such as skincare products, culinary items and oils as well as dried grains. Then there is The Real Flower Confetti Company who specialise in natural, biodegradable dried flowers believe it or not. They are a little more diverse in their planting as they offer Hydrangeas, Roses & Delphinium petals as their main products complimented with personalised cones and baskets etc, allowing today’s discerning bride more value and choice for her money.
As for the farmers themselves, some are existing farmers who have looked to new crops as the farming industry has changed, some are corporate business people who want a change in career outside the corporate world but still want to run their own business whilst others are Mum’s wanting to return to work but want to do something different from their previous careers.
Funnily enough a large percentage of cut flower growers seem to be female!
What can the general public do?
Next time you want to send a thank-you bouquet, or when you want to celebrate or commiserate, or just because, take a look at the pages of British Flower Growers or The British Flower Collective and see if there is a cut flower grower near you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many that are just down the road, in the next town, or on the farm round the corner, or sell at the local farmers market.
If you support your local florist, ask them for local flowers rather than imported flowers in your bouquets and arrangements.
If you’re a florist take a look to see if there are any suppliers local to you and ask them about their range of cut flowers and delivery arrangements.
So it seems that the word is spreading about this wonderful growth industry. Let’s help the British Flower industry to grow again.