Blooming happy: What it's like to run an ethical flower farm
Real Life finds out what it's like to run your own flower farm.
A nice bouquet of flowers can really lift the spirits and help to say anything from ‘I love you’ to ‘I’m sorry’.
But around 86 per cent of the blooms sold in the UK every year are actually grown overseas in countries such as Holland and Kenya.
This means they’ve travelled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to get here, and in these times of increased environmental awareness, some people believe this needs to change.
Tiff Corbett, aged 45, and Emily Westall,42, have set up The Shropshire Flower Company to champion British blooms.
From their flower farm in Leebotwood, near Church Stretton, they offer a homegrown and ethical alternative to imported bunches.
“There is a growing desire for local provenance in food and floristry is heading in the same direction. People don’t want flowers from overseas that have travelled thousands of miles when there are beautiful British flowers available,” says Emily.
The friends set up their business together in 2017 after deciding they needed a better work/life balance so they could spend more time with their families.
Tiff was working long hours as a deputy headteacher in Telford and Emily was finding life stressful as a project engineer for Severn Trent Water.
The idea for a flower farm was sparked by Tiff’s husband running an anaerobic digestion plant, which creates renewable energy.
“The plant creates an excess of hot water and I thought this could be used to grow something. I was talking to Emily and I told her I was thinking of growing flowers – she asked if I wanted a business partner,” explains Tiff.
The pair began using the waste heat and zero carbon electricity to grow their blooms and sold their first flowers in May last year.
They have a hot house, which is always kept above 12c allowing flowers to continue to grow over winter, an unheated polytunnel and an outside plot.
Another benefit of being based on the same site as the plant is that they can use the digestate, a nutrient-rich substance produced by anaerobic digestion, as a fertiliser.
“This enables us to produce competitively priced, locally grown flowers all year round,” says mother-of-two Tiff.
They chose to grow flowers in the hot house that would flourish in the warm environment.
“Lilies lend themselves to heat so they were an obvious choice. Dahlias love heat and they are thirsty and hungry so the digestate from the farm is perfect for them,” explains Emily, who lives in Church Stretton.
As well as keeping their plants alive over the winter months, the hot house also enables them to extend the flowering season.
“We have dahlias that were planted in February and they’ve been blooming since May. Most people’s would come into bloom at the middle to end of July.
“We’ve also got alstroemeria which will last two weeks in a vase and looks absolutely stunning,”explains Tiff.
Flowers blooming in the unheated tunnel and outside plot include snap dragons, cosmos, freesias, chrysanthemums, zinnias, scabiosa and nigella.
The pair, who grow up to 40 different varieties of flowers, sell one-off bouquets but also offer a regular subscription service.
“We’ve found there is a demand for regular flowers whether people are treating themselves or it’s a gift for someone else. We deliver the bouquets ourselves and people enjoy the seasonality and variety of what turns up,” says Emily.
Tiff’s favourite flowers are their labyrinth dailahs. “The blooms look like a firework and when you have 15 of them in a vase, it looks stunning,” she says.
While Emily says she likes so many flowers, she finds her favourites change all the time. “It’s impossible to pick just one but my current favourite is the creme brule phlox.
They also provide blooms for events such as weddings and have a roadside stall that operates with an honesty box on the A49.
“It’s nice for the bride to come here and see where the flowers are growing. We had a bride recently who really didn’t want flowers that had come from Kenya or somewhere else, she wanted British flowers. She was thinking of not having any flowers at her wedding so she was delighted when she found us,” says Tiff.
They believe the demand for locally grown flowers will continue to grow. “More people are looking for flowers grown sustainably in this country. The average Valentine’s bouquet has travelled 4,000 miles and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable with this. They want low carbon or zero carbon alternatives,” says Emily.
Learning on the job
The friends have thrown themselves into running their flower business and learning everything they can about the industry.
“We didn’t start with a big masterplan, we’ve learned on the job. We knew what was required to grow and nurture the flowers but we’ve had to learn the floristry side – such as how to hand tie bunches and what flowers and fillers like eucalyptus we need to grow to provide the right mixture, and how to combine colours and textiles,” says mother-of- two Emily.
“We’ve done everything ourselves from building the polytunnels to digging the beds – we’re not afraid of doing the grunt work.
“Working together means we can share the load and tag team if we need to because of other commitments. We never have clean hands or nails but that’s the nature of the job,” adds Tiff, who lives in Longnor.
They both say growing the business gives them great job satisfaction and has also provided the better work/life balance that they were striving for when they first started.
“I like the pace of the whole project. It’s a game of patience. You do one job but you will not reap the rewards until 12 weeks later.
“In my last job I was dealing with issues and problems but now I’m dealing with beautiful flowers and happy customers – it’s very enjoyable,” says Emily.
“The feeling you get when you have successfully grown something really beautiful and you give it to somebody and see the joy it brings is absolutely lovely.
“Our customers give us wonderful feedback and it makes all the wet November days worthwhile. The flowers speak for themselves. There was a study that said there is as much joy in giving flowers as there is in receiving them and we’ve found this is true. We are delivering a little bit of joy,” says Tiff.