What a treat we have on the blog today! We’re chatting with the lovely Zoe all about life on a flower farm with Swan Cottage Flowers. Obviously I write a lot about flowers and floral design but what about the growing aspect to owning a floral business? The two fit together like a puzzle and work hand in hand together so I thought who better to give a behind the scenes tour of owning a flower farm then the owner of Swan Cottage Flowers herself! If like myself you champion British flowers or are thinking of growing your own cut flowers then today’s feature will be right up your street! Over to Zoe to tell us more….
When did you set up Swan Cottage Flowers and what prompted you to start up your own flower growing business?
I decided I loved flowers before we even had any outside space of our own, I was 26 working hard at a career in London. Our flat in Westminster was on the 3rd floor and the balcony little more than a walk through. My lovely husband Neil could see how frustrated I was and moved us up the road to Pimlico so I could have my first ever garden. After that we moved again and again to bigger spaces which I devoured before finally landing at Swan Cottage. One fateful holiday visiting St.Nicholas Abbey in Barbados I finally turned to Neil and said, this is madness why do I work in corporate when what really moves me is flowers?
Where are you based and what services do you offer?
Buckinghamshire, right on the borders with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. We picked this location for it’s transport links when we were commuting so its really easy for everyone to get to. First and foremost Swan Cottage sell flowers to arrange yourself for Weddings and Events, which are really popular with Brides and Floral Designers alike. We sell our flowers as mixed buckets to save the headache of stem counting – really life is too short! But crucially we ask and understand what the flowers are for so the buckets you receive are bespoke to you with everything you need for your Wedding or Project. We also run a gardening and floristry school, interest has soared believe because our workshops are hands on and really fun.
Describe to us what a typical day at Swan Cottage Flowers is like?
In the winter we research and plan what we are going to grow and trial for the coming season. I also write a lot, sharing what I have learned in the last twelve months. From early spring we start sowing the planned flowers, dividing perennials and bring the Dahlia’s back to life. Then its a constant cycle of picking and planting flowers to make sure we have a constant supply all the way through to the first frosts. During the season Wednesdays and Thursdays we are frantic picking flowers for Weddings, we always book the flowers ahead of time so there is no panic to get here first, your blooms are reserved especially for you.
What is it that you love most about your job?
My passion is growing flowers and the fact I can share all this is a dream. Flowers are so important to the look and feel of the day, so whether we are supplying the floral designer or the bride and her family direct, our favourite part is seeing the results and the happiness….as well as having the excuse of really indulging my passion for growing!
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of running a flower growing business?
Growing any business is hard, when we first started we heard people say ‘growing flowers is the easy part’ they were right! In summer you work from dawn to dusk, in the Winter the weather can be challenging so you have to really love it!
What is your favourite flower and why?
I adore the rare and unusual but really any flower when its fresh and in season. Flowers are like vegetables, yes you can buy anything out of season… but that doesn’t mean you should! If you do its often expensive and a disappointment…For this reason we grow every stem ourselves. I’m such a plantaholic we don’t have any need to buy anything in and we grow the perfect complimenting flowers for each order.
I spend a little more on my bulbs and seeds, I’m not so concerned about the money (much to my husbands dismay), but I think it is all worth it when you step into the magic of our flower field….
Are there specific varieties that you specialise in growing at Swan Cottage Flowers?
Some plant groups are huge like Tulips, Sweetpeas and Dahlia’s so we grow a lot of those searching for the best varieties. This year we are trialing more Peonies, Anemones and Ranuculus (Italian). Flowers are like fashion, you have to keep one step ahead. I’ve taken great care when selecting my plants, it’s like an outfit…each queen flower needs a selection of supporting filler flowers and foliage to make her really shine.
To those who might be reading and are not so familiar with British Flowers could you tell us a bit more about the benefits of buying British Flowers as opposed to imported varieties?
Most imports are grown for how well they survive the flight, from as far afield as Africa and South America. They can be over a week old before they even reach the florist bench. This really narrows down what’s available as a cut flower, as a result the flowers you can buy at market as not nearly as varied as they could be making it difficult to produce arrangements that really stand out. As a grower I choose flowers for their beauty and scent above all, picking them straight into water just hours before they are sold. We also get to know the flowers, understand how to get the best vase life from each variety and conditioning them individually for the customer, they visibly grow in the bucket.
Do you have any initial tips/advice for anyone who is looking to start growing some of their own flowers?
I spent a couple of years at college learning with the RHS which has given me a brilliant foundation. It takes a while before everything falls into place… be patient. Good growers make it look easy, its not, having Neil with me makes all the difference, we wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t a team.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learnt since establishing the business?
Value your product and charge appropriately.
What are you plans for Swan Cottage Flowers in 2018?
I’m so excited about 2018. I think we are all getting a lot more sophisticated around Seasonal Flowers and have realised they can be a world away from the traditional meadow look. To compliment our Flower Buckets we have extended our services to include Bouquets and Buttonsholes which can be pre-booked to be collected with your order. We have also launched ‘Swan Cottage Seeds’. We can customise the packets for Wedding favours. I think the fact that they contain the actual flowers grown for the wedding is why they are proving such a hit.
How beautiful were the flowers featured in today’s post?! Those dahlias, just wow! Thank you so much to Zoe for the interesting and inspiring read! I hope you enjoyed finding out more about life on a flower farm with Swan Cottage Flowers as much as I did and the different aspects to running a flower farm. It sounds like they have some exciting plans ahead for 2018, you can follow all their adventures over on Instagram and Facebook.