A week at The Shropshire Flower Company
Emily Westall takes us behind the scenes of a busy spring week on her flower farm – everything there is to juggle and organise, but equally the many things there are to be thankful for. And tulips. Lots of tulips!
Mondays are the days I am most grateful to be a flower farmer. After a busy end to the previous week I enjoy arriving on site and gathering my thoughts for the week ahead without the pressures of a long commute or expectations of being AWESOME at 9am in a bustling office. Often I will take a wander around site with Tiff, my business partner, jotting down the jobs that need attention; sometimes we just make a cup of mint tea and sit down for a moment; but generally we set to the predictable jobs such as watering, weeding, slug hunting etc. and natter about what’s been going on both at home and work. After an hour or so we get on with the real jobs!
We had a bumper tulip crop last week in our polytunnel – and I love tulips. But what I currently love even more is the feeling of satisfaction I get when the tulip bed is empty and I can immediately fill it back up again with the next crop of annual plants that’s been waiting in the wings. It’s a nerve-wracking business growing young plants from seed, and you can only really relax once they are in the ground, happily enjoying a full size bed with reliable watering. So I patted myself on the back today as I planted healthy plug plants where only moments before there were tulips.
A few more sales this morning to florists, who are loving our tulips – even though there have been a few surprises with our crop this year! We used a new supplier that lured us in with bargain prices, but of the 7 varieties we ordered only 3 turned out to be what we specified. Thankfully the unexpected have been fabulous so our sales haven’t been affected, but we have been left feeling a bit vulnerable. Should we pay a higher price next year for more reliability?
It’s easy to get swept up in the moment with flowers, and right now in April it seems to be ALL about the tulips. What I actually need to be doing today, however, is looking 7 months ahead and ensuring I have a viable chrysanthemum crop for the autumn. This means securing at least 150 healthy plants grown from rooted cuttings. I try very hard to take cuttings from our existing stock where plant breeders rights allow, and this generally accounts for at least half of what we grow; but I also don’t try too hard to ignore the seductive catalogues that keep landing on my doormat. No doubt I will be placing another order very soon!
Wednesday mornings tend to involve planning. We write detailed cutting lists for the orders we have on Thursday and Friday, assessing the number of stems on site and who will get what. We have a solid subscription customer base which runs from early March through to the end of October, with one delivery route on a Thursday and another on a Friday. Whenever possible we try to deliver ad hoc gift bouquets on these same routes, to save time and fuel. This week we need to cut some of the flowers today to ensure they are fully conditioned for orders tomorrow.
This afternoon we have a bride come to visit the site. Tiff co-ordinates all our wedding orders, liaising with potential couples and then inviting them to the farm to see where the flowers are grown, and to discuss their brief in more detail. We love a wedding – but above all a seasonal wedding. Imagine our delight when the gorgeous redheaded bride who is getting married in October says she loves autumn colours! Perfect. We have more weddings than ever before this year, which is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I think we will discover a lot about where we want to take this side of the business over the coming months.
This is my day off. When we set up the business together, Tiff and I resolved to have a healthy work/life balance. In our previous jobs we both had long, highly stressful working hours and not enough time with our families, so it’s been important to us not to end up in the same situation. Currently we avoid excessive weekend work – we take it in turns to do any watering or stocking of our roadside stall – and we each make a point of taking a least one day off mid-week. This is one of the massive perks of running a business as a duo.
In my absence Tiff, who is the epitome of organisation, has cut, conditioned, bunched and delivered all the Thursday orders, and has cut some of the Friday orders for conditioning too. Somehow she always manages to squeeze in an extra job whilst the flowers condition, and this week she has miraculously pollarded all the eucalyptus trees, which love a drastic cut in early spring.
Nearly always the busiest day of the week. Subscription orders and gift bouquets need to be bunched and delivered, our roadside honesty stall needs stocking, and increasingly there is also a wedding order to fulfil. The phone is always ringing and emails come in constantly, but we mustn’t complain as this is all grist to the mill! We don’t yet have a webshop, because we really enjoy talking to our customers and establishing exactly what it is they are after – but we may have to review this soon as things get even busier.
Finally this afternoon I’m delighted to take a funeral order for a gentleman who loved his garden and his family who want to avoid waste at all costs. It feels so important to be able to give people the option of locally grown, sustainable flowers at such an emotional time. This is a new aspect to our business, but one I am really enjoying.
The last few jobs of the week are generally a sweep up in the polytunnels, a clear out of the workshop and a BIG wash up session to keep all our tools of the trade perfectly clean!