Reflections on FFTF: Carole Patilla
At the end of her two year term as co-chair of Flowers from the Farm, Carole Patilla of Tuckshop Flowers looks back on an unexpectedly turbulent time at the helm, and considers how the organisation has grown and changed since she first joined it right back in its early days.
When volunteering to pick up the co-chair baton to work alongside Justine Scouller in February 2020, the last thing I’d anticipated was trying to pick a pathway through a global pandemic, and having people turn to me – a woman who works from home growing and arranging flowers – for public health advice about running their businesses. As a volunteer led organisation, FFTF was a bit short on health policy experts; so like everyone else, we had to inform ourselves of the ever-changing guidance, deal with people’s concerns, take decisions, and just do the best we could.
Now, two years on, it’s easy to forget just what an unanticipated and violent shock the arrival of Corona Virus was. One of many things we learned during that first lockdown was how deeply engrained flowers are as a way to express our care for others. Throughout those weeks when we could barely leave our houses, demand steadily grew for local flowers, locally delivered: they were a way for everyone to connect with the people they couldn’t visit – to send good wishes, or sympathy, or just to say hello and show they cared.
As flower farmers suddenly found themselves with no weddings or events to flower up, we were truly grateful for the support of our local customers, and the opportunity to use our flowers to comfort people. It also allowed us to dare to hope that we had a chance of maintaining our businesses. Lots of us, nonetheless, had to rethink our business models, and turn with the rest of the world to technology – to deliver floristry courses online, sell postal kits for dried flower arrangements or Christmas wreaths, or host ‘live’ workshops on the newly ubiquitous Zoom.
It wasn’t really clear how the crisis would affect Flowers from the Farm in the short to medium term. Would our members give up flower growing as the weddings that many relied on were ruled out? Would people turn their backs on self-employment in turbulent times with an unpredictable future? But as the weeks went on, we noticed that our membership not only remained stable, but actually surpassed 1000 for the first time. Clearly, whilst working from home, many had reassessed their priorities and took the decision to turn their passions into personally fulfilling work. Others discovered or rekindled the joy to be had through growing plants and gardening, and started to believe in dreams of turning this into an income.
Looking back over the ten years since Gill Hodgson set up Flowers from the Farm at her Yorkshire breakfast table, the seed that she planted has grown, flourished, and self-seeded all over the place. Membership has grown not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of experience, knowledge and expertise. Like me, many members are self-taught career changers, and during the last ten have amassed those 10,000 hours of practice thought to be the key to mastering a set of skills. So with a thousand members’ experience to call on, just think how many collective hours we can now mine for information!
Gill’s original plan for a collaborative, friendly organisation to develop both business and flower-related skills was one of genius, and it’s great to see that this ethos still continues after a decade of growth. I’m not sure that I’d still be growing flowers today if I hadn’t had the network of friends and growers which I’ve discovered through being an active part of this fantastic network.
Long term followers of Flowers from the Farm will have seen evidence of our development in the different versions of our website. This new current version has been a lockdown project and launched in May last year. Working on it, for me, has been a labour of love and in many ways a sanity saver, as it filled the big space left by absent wedding and event flowers, and provided something positive to channel my surplus energies into. So many members have contributed not only stories about their work but also amazing photos of their beautiful flowers – and pictures will always explain better than words the charm and charisma of seasonal British grown flowers. If only we could release virtual perfume through the click of a mouse too! I hope you enjoy exploring the wealth of information this site contains and use it to find gorgeous locally grown flowers wherever you need them in the UK.
It’s been fantastic to reconnect with other members of the Flowers from the Farm team in person since January this year. I’m hugely looking forward to resuming face-to-face meetings with other growers in my own West Midlands region in 2022, and to staying in touch with my fellow co-chair Meg Edmonds, who’s luckily not too far from Birmingham for extra flower supplies! She’s now joined at the helm by Debbie Scott of East Lothian Flowers who was previously our regional co-ordinator for Scotland, and I’m sure this energetic duo will enthuse us all for the growing season ahead.
Now that I’ll have more time on my hands, I’m hoping to write more online courses for wedding floristry, and also to reconnect with the love of horticulture which led me to set up my business in the first place. Here’s to a productive and people-centred 2022.