A week at Wye Valley Flowers
Jo Thompson takes us through a typical week in spring on her flower farm – something of a relay between Jo and her business partner Lucy Shoubridge, both of them juggling kids, dogs, holiday lets, and, as of this season, full-time commitment to the flowers.
Lucy and I came to flower farming from different backgrounds, but the thing we both love about this work is that no two days are the same. Not the orders, the customers, the field work – and certainly never the weather.
We have very different skills and roles in the business. Lucy does the finance, sowing and planting schedules, ordering from suppliers, wedding planning and has the overview of the flower farm through the year. I do the PR, customer and wholesale orders, write articles, build ‘stuff’ and larger mechanics, and plan events. We divide things like making up the orders, deliveries, research, field work and teaching.
Obviously the seasons dictate the nature of the weekly tasks, but I’m going to describe an average week in our lives sometime in spring. We both have kids to drop off and dogs to walk, but one of us tries to be on site from 8.30am. This will be much earlier if we have wedding preparation or it’s going to be really hot, so we can get any picking finished in good time.
This is my day off – a new work pattern we are trialling as we have both now left our other careers to develop the flower farm. Building a new business can be all consuming, so we thought it was important to secure time away for the sake of our wellbeing.
I will have picked yesterday for any orders and the farm gate stall. Lucy will concentrate on making up the orders and checking the diary for the week ahead. She will catch up on emails from the weekend, pay any outstanding invoices, update our finance accounts and deal with any bridal enquires from new or existing brides. She’ll then spend the day pottering in the field – watering in the tunnel, potting on, sowing seeds, planting, weeding, deadheading etc.
Tuesday is Lucy’s day off and she usually leaves me a list, which is great. The farm is based on our 13-acre smallholding and glampsite, so I do things around compliance – food safety, fire checks and housekeeping. I’m a bit of a clean freak, so I will tidy the tools and cupboard, sweep the floors and wash buckets etc. (Lucy dreads coming back on Wednesday as I will have moved everything!)
The rest of the day will be taken up with picking, making up orders, deliveries – and then whatever is on Lucy’s list. This can include anything from seed sowing to preparing a new bed with cardboard and compost to mowing the grass paths to checking the cold frames. And I will try to remember to take a few photos too! We generally need to finish at 4 for school pick up, so the afternoon is a rush of tasks and clock watching.
The day will end at home, when everyone is fed and homework done, with admin tasks, like preparing for our monthly Flower Club or other workshops. I also schedule all our social media for the coming week, and might send out vouchers, post anniversary cards to our couples from last year, or contact local outlets about upcoming events – like British Flowers Week.
The kids get the school bus or lifts today, and dog walkers are booked, so straight into work. We create a pick list from our spreadsheets that guide us as to what every bed and border is doing each day.
We’ll do a walk around the fields at some point to check the fences (we had a near-disaster with sheep getting into the flower farm in our first year), but also to look at foliage. Its like having the contents of the fridge in your head and knowing what meal can be prepared at any given moment – we all tend to know our plots subconsciously: where the timothy grass can be found, when the cow parsley is ready, where the nettles are best, where the ladybirds are hiding.
Alongside routine growing tasks, we also check the farm gate regularly and restock if needed. Occasionally a customer will pop into the farm, although we’re not strictly open to the public. We have a few customers who come with a carer and they love to potter around the flower farm, telling us about the gardens they remember from their youth. There is always time for an impromptu cuppa.
Sometimes we’ll be invited to host a local special interest group, which is a great way to get our name out to an enthusiastic audience; or we might give a demo, creating 4 or 5 displays for a raffle. This pays well and we can choose the blooms we want to take.
Our PYO bouquet and cream tea events start at 11am, workshops at 1pm and our Flower Club at 7pm – but not all on the same day! While Lucy is making up orders or in the tunnel creating alchemy with the planting, I’ll set up for the event: move tables, divide out flowers and foliage, check there is anti-bac, loo roll and milk (all the glamorous jobs). I also like to take before and after shots of the barn as it is such a lovely space.
Our sessions are all 2 hours and limited to between 10-18 participants. In the daytime we start with a tour and end with home-cooked refreshments. The ‘Flower Clubbers’ might bring a bottle of wine to share! Our visitors come from all over the country, but mainly within a 30 miles radius. They may come alone, with a friend as a surprise or a mother-daughter making time to spend together. Their ages range from 25 all the way up to 85!
Unless we have a wedding, both of us will start the day doing changeovers – Lucy also has a holiday let, so we’ll arrive at work a bit later today.
Pest control at this time of year is a game of strategy, trying to get one step ahead of our tiny opponents – whether it is companion planting, washing-up liquid spritzing and wiping the ranunculus, checking for holes in the cold frame (making sure the farm cat is doing her job), or shaking ladybird larvae around the polytunnel. I’m sure the aphids are sitting in the corners laughing at me!
Lucy and I are often messaging until quite late, discussing weekend events or the week to come!
The prep for a wedding will begin 2 days before with picking and conditioning, often very early in the morning to ensure the blooms will be perfectly fresh. We work off a detailed schedule, and know which flowers will be ready to cut on the day. We’ll make another early start the day before the wedding to construct the larger arrangements such as urns or meadow boxes, and use the chiller to preserve delicate items. On the day itself we’ll make the bouquet, set up the venue, deliver arrangements, hang floral clouds and build floral arches. It is the most exciting day, with a sprinkle of stress too, but handing the wedding bouquet to a bride to be …. that is magical!