It’s felt like an adventure. It has been hard graft but mostly I have found such a sense of belonging that I am unable to see anything that I would rather do. There have been challenges, how could there not be. But as one M. Scott Peck described it “Life is difficult. That is what gives it purpose and meaning.” What this reflection has allowed me do is to think about the challenges I have faced with building a canalside cutting garden over the last year both from a practical and business perspective.
Rabbits – I never knew just how much damage the rabbits were doing until I took the radical, and expensive I’ll concede, step to put in a fence. I used to see the odd one bounce across the lawn and like most thought it looked rather cute. After all, I’d grown up with Thumper, my pet black rabbit. But my goodness, it must have been like Watership Down out there because as soon as that fence went in, my plants started to grow. It doesn’t keep the moles out mind you but that’s another story.
Slugs and snails – I never use chemicals. Never ever. The mistlethrush waiting on my gate when I return is enough to convince me every time if I am ever am in danger of wavering. I am on clay. I have the odd slug and snail. The only way I have found is to hit them and hit them hard at the beginning of the season. I used nematodes and they really work. I did deploy the “looking like the mad woman with a caving torch strapped to your head at night method” but it was messy and way past my bedtime. and let’s not mention what the neighbours were starting to think. I follow up with a search of the obvious hiding places and keep leaf litter and debris to an absolute minimum. I grind egg shells in my cake mixer to create a fine mix to scatter around. I also use physical copper rings and copper tape, as well as the odd smear of vaseline with added salt. In time, I plan to have a small frog pond but as there’s been quite a bit of digging beds and greenhouse foundations, we’re keeping that one under wraps for now.
Mice – We hear a little owl often at night. Either he’s eating something else or needs to be sacked because the mouse population was rampant. I bought humane traps. I wanted to give the beautiful wood mice a chance. After all I am a vegetarian! I started to release them at the bottom of the paddock (my dad said they’d be back before I was and he was right). Then I released them beyond the river in our village (obviously I wasn’t telling this to my fellow villagers). Needless to say my trapping technique was less efficient than their reproductive cycle. I know they look like butter wouldn’t melt but they damage so much that they had to go. I live next to a busy road and a canal. Cats are not really an option. I’d rather avoid fishing out lucky from the cut after they’ve fallen in and can’t get out. So, I’ve got some very efficient traps. They are quick and worryingly I got really rather good at where best to site them.
- TIME – Of course there is never enough of this commodity but I learnt the hard way in a previous life that it is not about time per say but what you choose to do with the time you are given. Often there are things that you know you need to do, absolutely need to do but you procrastinate and they end up falling off the end of the list because they aren’t necessarily your favourite thing. I do these things first, eat that frog. It’s amazing how liberating that is and how much it frees up the rest of your day. Without that black cloud of “I need to do x”, there is a new sense of possibility that you just don’t have when something is hanging over you.The other tool that saved my life at work was GTD – Getting things done. If you’ve never come across David Allen’s time management methodology I urge you to take a quick look. It will revolutionise the way you think about getting the things you need to do done.
- ME – As I sit here all wrapped up and coughing and spluttering still, I think the universe is telling me to take a break. My view on being unwell is that it’s a waste of time but sometimes you just need to accept that you need to rest. I admit I am poor at doing this. There is a critical difference between being busy and doing too much. That line is different for everyone. All I will say is that each of us know when we are crossing it. Sometimes it is unavoidable but at other times I think it is possible to rein in the horses and think your way out of it rather than graft – inspiration rather than perspiration. Sometimes not mind you.That’s why I have become a bit of a pilates bore. It is true. We’re lucky enough to have classes in our village hall literally 2 minutes away. It has saved me. Literally saved me both mentally and physically. Growing flowers is a pretty strenuous job. Early starts, cutting, planting and digging (although less of that now I’ve discovered Charles Dowding’s no dig method). Growing flowers makes you fit but I have found you need to ensure you’re not overdoing it with too much of one type of movement and insufficient stretching. Put simply, Pilates allows me to look after me. My advice is to find something similar for you.
- PLANNING AND CHOOSING WHAT TO GROW – I realised after a bit that growing flowers for cutting was really rather like my previous job in that you were always having to think a quarter, 6 months or years ahead, as well as manage the here and now. I used to deal with quite sophisticated planning systems but mother nature seems to have it pretty much under control. All I need to do is get into her rhythm and follow her lead.It is all very well planning and planting flowers but growing cutting flowers is not like growing just any old flowers. They need to have tall stems and good vase life as well as being want your customers want to buy. I don’t need to tell you that the choice of varieties and suppliers is bewildering, as well as how best to propagate from seed. I had done some horticulture. I have a degree in Botany for goodness sake. Still, in my search for answers I came across an organisation called Flowers From The Farm (FFTF) that has made a significant difference to how and what I grow. The other rather wonderful thing about being a member is that you find you’re not the only one who get really rather excited about a new dahlia or seed variety. Tuber exchanges are what we deal in. I have found my growing home where there is a bond of common interest as well as support.
- BUSINESS DECISIONS – Investment, strategy, markets, focus and spreadsheets. All things that are necessary to create a canalside cutting garden and run a cutting flower business but not necessarily the reason you got into it in the first place. It is when those things dominate that I will start to fret but for now I see them as a necessary evil that allows me to step out in the early morning and cut the flowers in the canalside cutting garden that I have decided to grow and create designs for bouquets and arrangements with what inspires me at the moment in the season. That feels joyful and creative and wholesome but I know I will be unable to do that without the other side of things.
- IT – Like it or not, social media is key to even a business where you have your hands in the earth a lot of the time. I’ll confess the only reason I am on facebook was to connect with my fellow FFTF NW FFTF members otherwise I would still not have an account. I have become slightly addicted to Instagram but then fall out of love with it. I think everyone has this love/hate relationship with it. What I will say is that I have found some very lovely people on there and had some wonderful insightful conversations via social media. I used to work all over the world and thought that side of things would disappear but thankfully Instagram has allowed that to flourish again. Diversity is great for creativity.
- WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? – The other key breakthrough for me was reading Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why. At any moment in a previous role, I could, and was phoned by the upper echelons and asked to justify why the project was doing something (in fairness this was usually after a rather hefty request for budget investment). What they wanted was a 2 minute summary of the project (they are very busy people) and to understand the reason the team was going in that direction. Fair enough really.I think my British flower business is just the same. The world is changing. More and more people are questioning the status quo. More and more people are curious and asking why. Provenance matters. The environment matters. Art and aesthetic matter. Local community matters. And in my book heritage matters. My philosophy on growing flowers embraces all of those reasons. To have a positive impact on those around me. To make a difference even if it is only a small one. Why do you do what you do?.
Provenance matters. The environment matters. Art and aesthetic matter. Local community matters. And in my book heritage matters. My floral design philosophy embraces all of those reasons
The floral business is ripe for and is being disrupted. It is local and in a contradictory way it is global too. How often do you hear of designers from abroad visiting dear ol’ Blighty. I know several designers here who have clients from overseas. Everyone wherever they are has a unique contribution to make and while I am all for keeping my flowers as local as possible to cut down on my carbon footprint, I welcome enquiries from everywhere.
One last thought, and I need to keep telling myself this all the time. Each of us has skills and assets that allow us to differentiate our businesses and make them utterly unique. Avoid following the crowd. Follow your bliss.
On the site, there are also lots more articles about my evolving canalside cheshire flower cutting garden.
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