by Debbie Richards, Nature's Posy, Cambridgeshire
In 2018 I bought a book – ‘the Flower Farmer’s Year’ by Georgie Newbury. I read it from cover to cover and by the time I had finished a seed was sown.
I used to work in HR. I worked hard in my career, gradually climbing the ladder to Head of HR. I thought I’d made it and I’d be happy, but I wasn’t.
I hated Monday mornings. I looked out of the window and dreamed of standing in the sunshine. I missed my family thanks to long hours and trips to other offices. I became fed up of listening to colleagues grumble about work, their managers and the company policy on this, that or the other.
I was convinced I needed to work outside, and that my love of gardening could easily be turned into an income from flower farming. I wanted to be close to nature; to connect with the environment around me. I was becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the world, about climate change, the loss of habitats and wildlife and the poor mental health of society. Flower farming would answer all of these.
So I saved hard and with a supportive, if not slightly bemused, husband in agreement I quit my job in March 2019. My plan was to farm flowers from my garden whilst I found my feet, using my savings to pay the bills and not have to worry about selling anything.
My first year was a challenge. Although I didn’t need to sell, I was stressed about not selling. In my head I needed to have a successful business from Day #1. I tried taking jam jar posies to a farmers market which didn’t work that well. I bought in compost that was contaminated with herbicides and killed my dahlias and sweet peas. I became depressed comparing my little enterprise with other people’s successful farms. I wondered if I was completely nuts.
But I persevered. Through a random chain of events in October 2019 I found a farmer who was prepared to rent ½ acre of land to me. After the ensuing horribly wet winter, in March 2020 I finally signed the paperwork and could start working on my new growing space. That was when the hard work really began!
So what have I learnt?
• Flower farming is not for the faint hearted. I’ve had to put up fencing, learn about irrigation, get up at the crack of dawn to harvest, heave literally tonnes of compost around and buy knee pads to save my bruised knees from stony ground.
• Flower farming is not gardening. Flowers have to be a professional standard. Some wonky stems are OK, but not short, twisted, all over the place stems. They’re useless in bouquets and no florist or bride really wants them.
• There are set-up costs – even on a small scale like mine. Fences aren’t cheap. Neither is a lorry load of compost, nor a few thousand seeds, tulip bulbs etc etc.
• Running a small business requires more hours than you ever thought possible. Doing the accounts, marketing, social media, and so on takes a lot of time and is a bit frustrating when all you want to be doing is growing flowers.
• It takes time. Time to grow things, time to build a customer base and time to work out where you want your business to go. Because ultimately you have to make your flower farming business profitable.
• Being your own boss is awesome. But only if you’re kind to yourself. You need to give yourself a good appraisal every so often.
• Flowers from the Farm is invaluable. To have a network of like-minded people who you can turn to for advice and support is priceless. It’s kept me sane to be quite honest.
So would I recommend a career change to flower farming? Absolutely. I love Monday mornings now.