Living the dream in Somerset
We took a day off flower farming on Saturday, and spent a very happy day making plum and ginger jam. Because jamming is good for the soul, and leaving that many plums on the tree for the wasps to eat is too generous to the wasps, and not kind to my half empty store cupboard (I failed to make marmalade this year!)
So I invited my lovely friend, neighbour, and consumate cook, Silvana de Soissons over for a day's traditional chat and jamming, filled two large baskets with not quite ripe (because I like a tart jam,) plums, and we made thirty five pounds of plum and ginger jam.
To make a change from all our beautiful British flowers I thought you might like our jam recipe. Of course, since we're flower farmers I went to the patron saint of florists for my inspiration recipe, so out came my Grandmother's copy of Constance Spry's classic cook book.
When I say 'inspiration,' of course I'm terrible at doing exactly what a recipe tells me, but it's good to start somewhere. So...
Our village plant sale is coming up on 12th May this year. And to that end we're sowing lots of extra seed for sale on the day. And today we chop up a load of dahlia tubers to pot up for the sale. Our lovely new volunteer starts today, and her first job is going to be to help cut up the tubers which have over-wintered in our neighbour Sally's barn. These will be potted up and hopefully cheerfully sprouting by the time we have our plant sale on 12th May.
We're raising money to mend a hole in the roof of our eight hundred year old village church, St Stephen's, and we're hoping to beat last year's total of £1,300.
We sell all plants at £1 a pot, and hope that lots of you will bring your spare seedlings and cuttings to donate to the cause. There will, of course, be lots of tea and cake too, as well as an amazing raffle.
So while you create your own garden this year, do remember our plant sale, and put aside your spare seedlings for us. We love interesting perennial...
We are very conscious that there are new data protection laws coming in to effect on 25th May this year. And to make sure we are absolutely compliant with the law, we are doing something DRASTIC! We are wiping our old mailing lists and making a completely new one, so that we can be absolutely sure we are up to date with all the laws of the land.
Our mailshot goes out twice a month: one is long, chatty, full of gardening tips and a great competition, and the second is really just to remind you we're there and perhaps inspire you to come on a workshop or a tour. We don't clog your inbox by any means, and we aim to amuse, inspire, and inform with our newsletters.
So if you're already signed up for our newsletter, and would like to keep receiving them, then please sign up again here. Equally, if you've never received our newsletter, then...
We are in the market for a new volunteer here at Common Farm Flowers. We're based between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset, so someone relatively local would be great.
We love our volunteers and generally have one person at a time coming one day a week for as long as it suits them. In the past we've had Ann, who was the queen of hand weeding, we've had Penny who was a wonderful propagator, and now lovely Denise, a natural florist, is moving on because she's off to live in Nuremberg (how cosmopolitan!) There's the dream team too, Andrew and Lorraine, who help out with busy wedding prep, so there's quite a team here, and we always try to make it fun and insteresting for anyone here on a voluntary basis.
So if you fancy a day a week on our little flower farm we'd love to hear from you.
We need you to be able to be left to get on with a job (self-motivated!)
We need you to commit to the time you agree to be here, as we'll save jobs for you to do, and if...
More fun than a picnic is how I'd describe having our house styled for a photo shoot by the glorious stylist Amanda Russell and her friend and photographer Nick Carter. I was worried that our house was too messy and generally full of unstylish corners, but it turns out that it's only the square framed by the shot which needs to look amazing - outside that square roller skates and bicycle helmets, nerf gun collections, and ugly toasters, can be heaped, but because you look at the picture within the frame, you don't imagine piles of rubbish, but more of what the contents of the photograph describes. So, for example, the picture I've used to illustrate this post, is of a corner of a shelf in our sitting room (this corner styled by Amanda this week.) On the right is the window, through which, in real life, is Fabrizio's...
October 30, 2017
This autumn's colour here in our cosy corner of south east Somerset is, I think, as good as any you'll see anywhere. There must have been a perfect combination of temperature and rainfall over the past months for the leaves to all turn together into such an amazing mass of fiery colour. I never have time to get to Stourhead at this time of year (about five miles East of here,) but a walk around our garden is enough to cheer even the most winter-hating flower farmer (me.)
The colour here is much contributed to by our collection of willows - stems of burning orange, bright yellow, spring green, aubergine purple, are slowly revealed as the dried old leaves are blown off. And then I think, it's time to go counting. And Sharon and Fabrizio and I walk the willow bounds we planted by striking three foot lengths of our neighbour's pollard willow collection fourteen years ago, the trees from which in some cases are forty feet high now, and we count the new stems...
People who start kitchen table businesses usually do it because they are brilliant at the thing the business sells: bread making, sewing, designer making, jam, ironing, photography... often a hobby which could be turned into a small business. And they might be brilliant at making patchwork, or flapjacks, or whatever it is, but they might also not have any business training.
And this is where this day course in small business management comes in.
Eight years ago, when I started Common Farm Flowers, I had no business training either, and I started my business because I was good at growing sweet peas and needed to do something which made me a living, but which I could do from home as I had two very small children, and didn't want to commute away from them every day.
So my job is to share with you everything I've learned along the way: the difference between turnover and profit, how to make a cash flow forecast into a fun tool rather than a project which overwhelms,...
Spot the kiddliwinks?
And so the summer holidays begin their long roll. Remember yours? Mine were long, happy days, scented with the dusty, hot smell of harvesting corn (and then burning stubble - I grew up in arable country in East Anglia.) And my fantasy is that my kids will have long, happy days, feeling feral, running wild around this little flower farm too.
People start kitchen table businesses for an endless list of reasons, and one of mine was that I wanted to work from home so that I would be around for the kids. Ha! I should have examined my mother's own kitchen table business (she made patchwork quilts for a living,) more carefully. I realise that my Mama arranged things so tht at the end of term she downed tools for the duration of the holidays, during which time she played perfect mama, rustling up amazing meals, thought of fun activities, took us on Anglia Holiday Club outings to the roller disco at the Corn Exchange...
I think we should just all remember that we're so fortunate to live in a democracy which gives us a choice of candidates and parties for whom we can vote. Let's not be angry with one another for making choices we might not agree with. The whole point of a democracy is that choice. Let us vote, and celebrate the fact that we can. Whoever we vote for, very few of us are stupid, thoughtless, or vote because we wish to be wantonly cruel. In the same way that, dig, or no-dig, we're all gardeners, whichever party we vote for, we are all partakers in a wonderful democratic system. Thank God we have a choice! Thank God we have a vote! And now it's time to put the kettle on: tea or coffee?...
Take the day off!
Running a small business from your kitchen table, or, in my case, my greenhouse, is in some ways absolutely living the dream: I work from home, I work from outside, I'm answerable only to myself, every day is all about being creative... But running any business effectively is also extremely hard work. While all the above living-the-dream stuff is true, it's also true that if I don't think strategically I'll end up with no product to sell, if I don't pay my bills I'll spend time dealling with debt collectors when I'd rather be thinking creatively, if I don't get into that greenhouse day in and day out then I'll get behind... and then and then and then. Sometimes I can feel imprisoned by my business.
And that's when it's time to let down my hair and escape from the castle (flower farm) that I've built around myself.
If there's one thing I've learned over the years which is fundamental to the success of running a small business, that...