Our labour of love

PUBLISHED: 09:00 14 February 2014

Zinnia adds a splash of colour

Zinnia adds a splash of colour


A Devon business is putting down roots on the back of the increased demand for flowers, as Gill Heavens discovers

Facts and figures

Flowers from the Farm are a network that supports growers, and on their website flowersfromthefarm.co.uk you can search for both your local grower and where to source specific flowers.

Less than 10% of cut flowers sold in the UK originate here, a massive drop from 20 years ago when over half were home grown. Imported varieties are often chosen for their resilience to travel rather than their aesthetic appeal.

Trade value of imported cut flowers into the UK rose by 258% between 1992-2010 from £173m to £620m.

The first ever British Flower Week was held in June 2013, set up by New Covent Garden. Look out for the Devon flower growers and sellers during British flower week in Exeter in June 2014.

Learn more about In Bloom Devon at inbloomdevon.co.uk

Valentine’s Day is traditionally a time for both declarations and confirmations of love and these are often reinforced by a gift of flowers. But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from, who grew them and how?

Well, it seems that an increasing number of people are wondering this, the result being that more people are demanding locally grown blooms. From achillea to zinnia there are more than a hundred varieties of cut flowers grown on these shores, produced by almost one hundred growers, several of these on our doorstep here in Devon.

One such enterprise is In Bloom Devon, based just five miles from Exeter City Centre on a site shared with Exeter Growers Co-operative. This Co-operative, whose aim “is to promote understanding, enjoyment and sustainable use of the land, especially through food production”, rents the field from organic beef farmer Andy Bragg. His brother Martyn runs the renowned vegetable box company Shillingford Organics.

It was whilst working with the EGC that Nicola Beglin and Jenny Carter first met, and the rest, as they say, is floral history. It didn’t take long for them to discover that not only did they work well together but they also shared a guilty secret – they loved flowers! They both believe that the demand for organic local flowers is a natural progression from the demand for organic local food so it seemed an obvious step to start their own cut flower business. Both women had reached a time in their lives where they felt they needed a new challenge; the seed was sown and a plan had soon germinated!

"They both believe that the demand for organic local flowers is a natural progression from the demand for organic local food so it seemed an obvious step"

All the ingredients were there for a successful business; enthusiasm, knowledge, land with organic status on a south facing slope, and luscious Crediton series soil. They dived in headfirst. In order to further increase the odds of success, they both embarked on a two-year course in Sustainable Horticulture at Dartington College.

So far so perfect, but of course this is not Disneyland and what I have failed to mention is that the site was overgrown with weeds, the most noxious of which was creeping thistle. The only way to eradicate this thug organically involves the herculean task of physically digging it out. So they studied for three days a week and dug, dug, dug for the remaining time (with perhaps a couple of tea breaks). They persisted and this hard work paid off - in the first year they cultivated 30 beds of flowers.

In Bloom Devon grow a wide variety of flowers, all of which are insect pollinated, providing a haven for wildlife. Their range includes cottage garden favourites scabious and calendula; fragrant sweet williams and sweet peas; bold and beautiful rudbeckia; as well as foliage plants such as eucalyptus.

Their first wedding commission, however, did not take advantage of this floriferous cornucopia, simply desiring blue cornflowers for their special day. In Jenny and Nicola’s experience, brides are increasingly drawn to more naturalistic bouquets and there are plans to further expand in this direction. They are not limiting themselves to the wedding market and aim to fulfil any flower need from christenings to funerals and everything in between.

With support from a network of similar minded growers, In Bloom have quickly found their feet. It is still a fledgling business but if the first two years are anything to go by this young chick has rather large wings and those initial 30 beds have become 60. There are further plans for expansion and in the long term they are keen to create employment within the local community.

One last thing, it would be remiss of me not to mention an integral member of the squad, Smudge the spaniel, champion digger and vole chaser. Sounds like a perfect team to me.

Flower Dictionary:

When you present your loved one with a beautiful bouquet your gift may not be the thoughtful gift you imagined it to be. Across the world and through the centuries certain flowers have come to signify different emotions and not all of them are good!

It is said that a flower language was first developed as a form of communication by illiterate concubines in 17th century Turkey and was introduced into the west in the early 18th century.

Victorians were very keen on the Language of Flowers, led by the Queen herself, using them as coded messages in art, jewellery, poetry and what was known as “talking bouquets” or tussie-mussies. The sweet violet represented fidelity, begonia meant beware, marigold cruelty and geranium folly.

The Bible has many references to plants including the cedar representing pride, and hyssop meaning humility. Flowers were used extensively in early Christian art to communicate with the illiterate masses including the anemone for the Holy Trinity, the iris for the Virgin Mary and the red rose for martyrdom. Many of these symbols were borrowed from much earlier cultures.

In Buddhism the lotus flower is one of the eight auspicious symbols and represents purity and enlightenment.

Shakespeare used flower symbolism in his plays, most notably in Hamlet where Ophelia hands out flowers to the assembled cast. The significance of these references would be recognised by the audiences of the day, for example rosemary for remembrance, the daisy for innocence and aquilegia (columbine) for faithlessness

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