What qualities do you need to be a flower farmer?
We had the garden team from Yeo Valley HQ here at Common Farm Flowers between Bruton and Wincanton in Somerset yesterday - what a compliment that they wanted to visit our little flower farm! And how could I say no, since each time we do a joint venture with Yeo Valley our web stats go ballistic? Besides, I was curious to meet the lovely lady who Instagrams the Yeo Valley garden feed so beautifully. And what a great gang they were. And how I envy an organisation which can run to five gardeners! We, on a bigger patch of land, have me, Sharon, Fabrizio, Sue 10 hours a week, and lovely Penny our volunteer who comes in most Mondays.
As is often the case with people who keep a smart garden open to the public which must be kept pretty much immaculate all the time, they are nevertheless amazed at what we achieve on a pretty slim budget, and with often less than two hours a day each in the garden.
And so I come to the qualitities necessary to be a flower farmer.
Yes, horticultural knowledge is useful, but one can learn that as one goes. And yes, floristry skills also useful, but equally, flower farming isn't all about floristry, and one can learn that as one goes too (if one likes to play about with flaars in that way.)
The most important qualities necessary for a flower farmer, in my humble opinion are:
- Energy: unless you have a massive budget the chances are you'll work a very long week, need to be totally self-starting, and have the strength to carry on until the job's finished, or you won't have any flowers to sell.
- Vision: you aren't growing a garden, you're growing bouquets, and so you need to curate your patch in such a way that in six weeks, months, next year, you'll have a selection of flowers growing which are useful in floristry, which go well together, which your customers want.
- An ability to do mental arithmetic: you'll spend your life making cutting lists, and working out stem counts. I was pretty bad at maths when I started Common Farm Flowers: not any more.
- A fancy for a spreadsheet: how are you going to plan these bouquets, your growing year, your cash flow forecast, create a business plan without one?
- An abilitiy to prioritise. You will not be able to do everything perfectly all the time. My garden is full of thistles and nettles: I fuss not, they're good for the wildlife. My garden doesn't look like a show garden: why should it? It's a flower farm, not a show garden. My roses get black spot: tant pis, we're gardening organically so there's not a great deal I can do about it.
So, you see, when I hear people being told that without fancy horticultural qualifications they cannot succeed as a flower farmer (which I do hear,) I rage! I have no fancy qualifications of any kind (unless a 2:2 in Humanities from Bristol Poly in 1990 counts as fancy!) and I have made a flower farm that not only works, but it keeps me, Fabrizio and Sharon, and pays for a book keeper, help with the website, help with the newsletter, extra stock when we need it (all British grown of course, always,) and even pays for us to have supper at the pub occasionally.
So what qualities do you need to be a flower farmer?
You need to be a doer, with a strong back, a flowery vision, an ability to count, and a fancy for a spreadsheet. It helps if you like gardening, and don't care what your garden looks like, since you'll be cutting all the flowers from it on a daily basis.
For more on flower farming come on one of our workshops: grow flowers for pleasure and profit - go on, it might change your life!