Lamb’s Flowers Ltd is a small family business in Pinchbeck, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, and is run by Sue Lamb, with her husband Roger, and son Gareth.
A respected heavyweight in the growing world, Lamb’s Flowers has been growing commercially for almost 30 years. But their journey into flower production was something of a leap into the unknown.
Where it all began
“Roger used to work in agriculture,” says Sue, “but my career was in engineering.”
“We bought a 4.5 acre field and built our own house before deciding to quit our jobs and try our hand at flower growing.”
Now, you can find Sue Lamb’s beautiful flowers adorning the displays at big supermarkets like Waitrose and Asda and they sell to several direct mail companies as well. So how did they become such a successful and recognisable business?
When Lamb’s Flowers first started out, they began by putting up a few polytunnels to allow them to grow Dianthus, both outside and under cover. Then, as demand increased, they erected ¼ acre of new glasshouses which they filled with Alstroemeria. Over the years, they’ve gradually increased their growing area and now have 10 acres of glasshouses, plus cold stores and a pack house on site. They even operate a packing service for other farms who bring their locally grown products to them for packing.
Keeping the farm running
Given the scale of the farm’s operations, Sue currently needs 18 full time staff plus 15 seasonal students (over half of which are returnees) to keep the farm running. They have invested in mechanisation to allow them to process more flowers which has the additional benefit of freeing up their workforce for more skilled jobs.
Years of experience has given Sue the opportunity to hone her growing process to produce only the best. “We’ve tried growing lots of flowers,” confides Sue. “Some work better than others”. Now, Lamb’s Flowers grow just over 20 million stems each year. That’s made up of 14–15 million tulips, 4 million stocks, 0.5 million Lisianthus and Antirrhinums, and 300,000 ornamental brassicas.
How it all works: throughout the year and day-to-day
Tulips are by far Sue’s biggest crop and are grown using state-of-the-art hydroponic techniques (using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil) and high-end machinery to improve the efficiency of the post-cropping process. They flower from mid December to late May.
Bulbs are planted on “pin trays” which act as an anchor. The trays are then filled with water and put in a rooting room for 2–3 weeks at a temperature of about 6°C. This allows them to develop nice white roots before they’re taken to the glasshouse, laid out, and topped up with water daily. They continue to take up water but also get an oxygen supply and in a further 2–3 weeks they are ready to crop.
After cropping, a machine removes the bulb from the stem. Each stem hangs upside down as it travels round the machine and is analysed using both camera and x-ray. The machine bunches together stems of the same maturity in the requested configuration (8’s, 9’s and 10’s). It’s a remarkable process.
Each bunch is cut to length, fed to a collection belt, and taken to a sleeving line where it goes into a labelled sleeve and is mixed with other colours. Next, it is placed in a box ready for delivery to supermarket depots where it is distributed to stores for sale.
Sue’s love of British flowers is clear to see, and with good reason.
Stronger and fresher for longer
“British flowers are a day or two fresher than imported stems, which is important with any perishable product where freshness is key,” explains Sue.
“Our growing methods are less intense than other countries in Europe,” says Sue. “For example our Stocks are stronger because we don’t plant them so close together – the plants get more light and that makes them more robust. Also, the British climate results in slower growing and a better vase life.”
“Fun fact,” says Sue, “If all the pin trays we used for a season of tulips were placed end to end, they would reach from our nursery near Spalding to Peterborough shopping centre and back – over 45 miles!”
Pretty impressive for someone that thought they’d “try their hand” at flower growing!