As we gear up for our exciting showcase "The Flower Farmers' Big Weekend" in August, we thought we'd introduce you to more of our members and the story of how, when and why they took the plunge to become a flower farmer. This week we meet Carole Patilla of Tuckshop Flowers in Birmingham.
Can you tell us about the spark that inspired you to become a flower farmer?
As an obsessive gardener for 15 odd years, I wanted to move out of teaching (I got excited about gardening with the kids, and realised that’s where my real passion lay) and was inspired to take the leap after seeing people’s reactions to the funeral flowers I did for my brother-in-law. I realised there were lots of other people like me who wanted flowers for special occasions that had that ‘garden in a vase’ style, and also surprised myself with how much I enjoyed doing wedding flowers for friends
What is your background?
An international flibbertygibbet. After uni I worked as editor of a trade magazine for a couple of years, then went travelling (and English teaching) in Japan and Southeast Asia, followed by a year travelling, temping and making mad miniature masterpieces as jewellery with my flatmates in Sydney, Australia. On my return to the UK, I trained as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) and then went to work in Indonesia for three years. I came back to do a Masters Degree in London, and then ran a busy language school in central London for 3 years before having my first child. I then moved to Birmingham and worked for an FE college, teaching ESOL before deciding to retrain as a primary school teacher. After a year in this new environment, I decided that gardening was very much where my heart was at, so in 2012, I decided to take the plunge. I had meanwhile been a finalist in BBC Gardeners’ World Gardener of the Year in 2007 and that also set the seed of wanting to do something with gardening. I’d done some work as a jobbing gardener, while working part time at college, but found it too much like outdoor cleaning and not inspiring. I’m lucky to have a forbearing and supportive husband who didn’t want to murder me for leaving teaching after the intense year of PGCE course - I couldn’t have taken the leap without him backing me.
How and when did you get started as a flower farmer?
I just decided to get started. I took the plunge in September 2012 (but continued with a few private gardening clients, and some tutoring at first). I cidn’t want to do a course as I felt that would just have been ‘pretending’ to take the plunge and kidding myself that I’d made a start. One of the first things I did to commit myself to this new enterprise, was to join FFTF, which I’d found online during searches for arrangements to inspire me in my forays into floristry. But I’d been scared off by the ‘farm’ aspect, as I’m in urban Birmingham and have an allotment and a back garden, not a farm or even a smallholding. It was at a time when ‘seedling’ membership existed for those thinking of starting a business, but I joined immediately as a full member as a psychological leap off the high board.
Describe your business - do you consider yourself to be a flower grower, a florist or both?
Both. When I started, I thought I’d just sell flowers I grew at Farmers’ Markets, but after a year of doing them I realised that that was never going to turn my new project into a business and that as I grew on a small scale, I needed to add value to what I did via floristry.
How do you sell your flowers (online, markets, farm gate etc) and to whom do you sell (public, florists, hotels etc)?
I now do only one local farmers’ market (for marketing, rather than for the sales it generates), and focus on wedding, event and funeral floristry. Workshops are a growing part of my business, and I enjoy keeping the link these give me to my teaching past.
What’s been the highlight of your flower-farming career so far?
Proving to myself that I can do all sorts of stuff; building websites, organising displays at major flower shows, helping to develop Flowers from the Farm, and doing some lovely weddings. I love everything about self-employment and flowers with only the exception of doing my accounts. But the one thing I would say is that I don’t think I’d still be doing what I do without my involvement with FFTF – it has been a huge part of me remaining a flower grower/florist since I tentatively volunteered to be West Mids Co-ordinator 6 months or so into my new career. Gill Hodgson has a lot to answer for.
Do you offer workshops?
Yes – this is a growing area of my business. I run Workshops for Florists (I’m running a natural funeral flowers workshop next week as this seems to be something I’ve developed a name for – I say a thank you to my brother-in-law for all of this), and I ran my first ‘florist bootcamp’ this month – a warts and all view of my work and an evil 5.30am start. I also do Workshops for the Public, which include wedding flowers, Christmas wreaths, hand ties for every season etc.
What are your hopes and visions for the future of your business?
To replace my teaching income through flowers. I haven’t got there yet, but I love what I do, and it is finally starting to pay me a salary, which is also important to me.
What aspects of being a FFTF member do you most value?
The people I meet through it, the support, camaraderie and the relief of knowing that you are not the lone nutter! It’s generated friends, flower supplies, opportunities to take on big projects, like organising a display at the NEC in Birmingham for Gardeners’ World Live, being part of the Chelsea Flower Show team, and organising two of FFTF’s national conferences. I love a steep learning curve and FFTF has provided that for me in spades - the opportunities it has offered have given me immense confidence in my capabilities in this new career.
I like having many irons in the fire and boy oh boy has FFTF given me plenty of those – but it’s been a blast, though now it is time to pass on some of my roles to make way for the ever increasing demands of my own business. So if you know anyone wanting to do the monthly newsletter or run the Best New Member award while I help to sort out the FFTF website and manage our new promotional event in August, send them my way!
It’s fantastic to be part of a campaigning organisation as I think it is an important part of my new identity – somehow being ‘only’ a florist and not being part of something bigger just wouldn’t be enough to keep me motivated and excited about what I do. When you work on your own, it is really stimulating to have concerns which make you look beyond your own business (which can be all consuming) and to raise your gaze from your own navel to wider horizons. FFTF has done this for me.
Find out more about Tuckshop Flowers at www.tuckshopflowers.com