Discover these 3 pretty cut-flower farms in Cheshire
- Credit: Philippa Stewart
Small cut flower farms are popping up all over Cheshire, a joy to behold and great news for those concerned with protecting our planet
Flowers bought from your local supermarket may have travelled 6,000 miles and created a carbon footprint of mammoth proportions. In a study undertaken at Lancaster University, researcher Becky Swinn concluded that an imported mixed bouquet produces ten times greater carbon emissions than a seasonally grown, British mixed bouquet.
So is there sufficient supply being grown here to satisfy our needs? There is, it seems, with flower farms popping up all over.
Philippa Stewart launched her flower farm, justdahlias, if not by accident, certainly not as the result of some long-held desire.
‘I’ve always been a keen gardener,’ Philippa says, ‘but my garden was very much a spring garden, by July it would all be over. My gardener at the time asked if I have ever considered dahlias. We’re going back 15 years now, and at the time dahlias had that very old-fashioned feel about them and I really pulled a face. She brought me five plants, put them in the garden and I was converted. I just couldn’t believe that from the beginning of August right up till the end of October I was just getting bloom after bloom after bloom. It transformed the garden.
‘Then I started looking at dahlias and realised that there are 3,000 of these; just wonderful. At the time I had some beds I had planted with vegetables for some years, and decided to give them all over to dahlias. I had a blissful winter going through the National Dahlia Collection website, choosing which flowers I would plant and then trying to condense down from the 200 I really must have to the 60 I really could have. I planted them up in spring, and that summer was literally drowning with flowers. Everywhere I went I was taking a bucket of flowers. Everybody loved them, so I wondered if anybody might want to buy them.
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‘I packed up my car with what I thought of as my best blooms, and drove to visit the florists in Knutsford. When I opened the boot, one of the florists literally gasped. She looked at me goggle-eyed and said “I just can’t get hold of flowers like this.”’
Having a local source of fresh dahlias would be a game-changer for her. And, it would turn out, a life-changer for Philippa.
‘I live just near Jodrell Bank, and we are surrounded by wedding venues. I soon had people enquiring from all sorts of places, saying the same thing. Suddenly I thought, maybe I could fund my obsession here. I’m wasn’t, and still am not, interested in having a huge career in flower growing, but we have a small field adjacent to our house, which we had never done anything with. I thought: I could dig up half that field and grow even more dahlias.’
That was in 2017 and things moved fast from there, with Philippa going from enthusiastic gardener to flower farmer almost overnight.
‘I now have five 25m beds,’ she says. ‘Around 95 per cent of my customers are wedding venue and event florists. Anybody can order a bucket of blooms, via my Instagram, however, which I will pick and have ready for collection, but I don’t offer pick-your-own.’
Philippa is a strong proponent of the slow flower movement, where people choose flowers that are in season in the place where they live.
‘I think all flowers have their time. I don’t want to see dahlias in June, because I want to see peonies in June. I want to see dahlias in September and October, which is their rightful place, and we should appreciate what is available at the time, instead of thinking “I want a peony in November.”’
Philippa couldn’t be happier with her funded obsession, but has no intention of growing it any larger.
‘It’s just wonderful. Here I am at 58 years of age and I feel I am learning more every day. I wouldn’t say I am a creative person, but I have found a creative side to me I didn’t know existed. I am loving exploring it.’
Moorfield Farm, Bramhall
Tom Chadwick, his sister Laura and their father, Peter, pretty much fell into flower farming by accident, a lockdown dream made real.
‘We never expected it to become a business,’ Tom says. ‘It all started during lockdown and has grown quite organically from there. I was living alone, in Wilmslow, and found lockdown really hard. I was already disillusioned with corporate life, and ready to re-think it all.
‘My parents live on a small plot of land, with a field at the back which wasn’t used for much. My father has always been a gardener. He’s studied it with the RHS; he’d into the detail and the science of horticulture. My sister had always dreamed of growing lots of flowers, but, as a full-time solicitor, it was only a dream. We all came together following lockdown and talked about doing something with the land, and Laura said let’s plant some flowers.
‘We created a couple of flower beds, using the no dig method, and put the results in buckets by the front gate. We kept selling out. People passing by soon became regular buyers, thrilled they could find fresh, seasonal flowers without any transport miles on them. You could say we were testing the waters in 2020, but very quickly it became apparent that it could be a business.’
In 2021 the family decided to create three flower beds, with around 5,000 plants.
‘I went a bit seed mad,’ Laura laughs. ‘but we were testing to see what works and what people wanted. Putting the flowers at the gate was a real buzz and so encouraging. This year we’re adding more beds and going up to around 50,000 plants, to run all through the season, from daffodils to dahlias.’
The Chadwick family are fierce proponents of the slow flower movement.
‘We have to work with the seasons,’ Laura says. ‘For us sustainability is a driving force. We don’t use any artificial chemicals, no pesticides or herbicides or feed. I’m happy to have a few sacrificial plants among the thousands we grow. Generally, we find, if you don’t knock out the natural balance, everything sorts itself out just fine.’
It is the family’s aim to develop their very local service, providing both flowers from the gate and local deliveries, free within a given radius of Bramhall.
‘We are developing subscription packages, where customers can have a fresh, hand-tied bouquet every week, two weeks or monthly, delivered free in a five mile radius. It’s all still new, of course, so we will keep trialling new ideas. Working with local florists and bridal florists would be lovely, but we’re still finding our way there.
‘What we really want is for people to understand why locally grown, seasonal flowers, are so important. We will take the time to inform, to educate and encourage everybody to really think about any flower purchase, whether it's for their home, for their business or for their wedding.’
Meadow at Moss Lane, Mobberley
Rebecca Denney’s ‘day job’ was the writing of tenders, precise, important, dry, repetitive. She moved, with her family, to Cheshire seven years ago, purchasing her in-laws' house in Mobberley. Behind the house sat a meadow, left unfarmed, but not uncared for, for at least 50 years.
‘I always enjoyed gardening,’ she says. ‘but doing anything with the meadow was a whole different prospect. A local man would graze his horses on it and mow it for us, but that’s all that ever happened with it. It all started in January 2021. I spoke to my mum, a really keen gardener, and asked her “what can I do with that field? What can I grow that will make a profit and lift me away from my current job?” We looked into all sorts of mono-crops, but didn’t find anything that really excited us. Then I found a book, The Flower Farmer’s Year, by Georgie Newbery, and it was just like an epiphany. I had no idea that cut flower farming was a thing. It was so exciting – I could do this, I could turn this meadow into a flower farm. The more you read the more it leads you to something else, to someone else, then you discover all these hidden, secret people across the country doing the same thing.
‘I’m a member of Flowers from the Farm, an amazing organisation the brings flower farmers from across the UK together – they offer so much advice and support, help each other out, you can call on each other if you need extra flowers for a wedding, they run courses, there’s getting on for 1,000 members.’
Rebecca chose the no dig method when creating her flower beds, preserving the integrity of the soil and avoiding giving weeds a helping hand by rotovating and spreading roots.
‘I built wooden frames, laid down cardboard and piled soil on top. Tons and tons of topsoil, from Shentons, near Macclesfield. They winched it up on a crane to get it to the field and I then spent days wheelbarrowing it up and down the field. I have since learned not to use wooden frames – the slugs hide in them, and slugs are my greatest nightmare. I am testing spreading alpaca wool in the hope they won’t like to cross over it.’
Rebecca has aimed her business largely at the wedding market and as such has decided on a range of blooms in varying heights and shapes, and lots of foliage, ‘and wispy bits’, she adds.
‘I have lots of shrub roses in whites, creams, pinks and nudes, lots of shrubs for foliage, and loads of perennials – foxgloves, snapdragon, ranunculus, larkspur, rudbeckia, phlox...
‘I maintain huge spreadsheets with sowing dates, quantities, germination periods and those I will plant in successional sowing, versus the cut-and-come-again flowers. Spacing is crucial, it’s a really mathematical process, calculating how many plants I can fit in each bed, projecting a 10% attrition rate, making sure I can have flowers ready through the whole spring and summer.’
When Rebecca started last year, she sold most of her flowers as bouquets, from the gate, but made connections with events stylists too, who order buckets and buckets of flowers at a time. To add a third string to her bow, Rebecca has also been training as an event florist herself.
‘Learning the skill of flower arranging is like filling the gaps for me, completing the circle. I have loved every minute of this change to my life: I am so much more active; I am outside all the time; mentally I am so much happier. The garden is a sanctuary. The joy of seeds germinating, the first buds appearing on the roses – it never gets old.’