Tell us about your British Flowers Week window design
“I chose to create a British Flowers Week arrangement in my favourite window in my local church – Kilcronaghan Parish Church in Tobermore. This is a regular spot for my weddings, and I have two coming up here in July. I wanted to make something soft and romantic for summer in shades of white and pink. I picked Solomon’s seal, stocks, guelder rose, hawthorn, cow parsley, alliums, fresh beech from my plot for the tall arrangement complemented by a vase of allium bulgaricum and a simple bouquet of stocks, lady’s mantle, briza and guelder rose.”
How did you become a farmer-florist?
“I always had a love of gardening. I wanted to grow and arrange a bunch of flowers that looked as though they’ve just been picked. Others look too false, too predictable. Back in 2006, I went along for an open evening about cut flowers. It was mainly men and the focus was on stem count, tunnels, and high production. There was a need for it but it was not what I had in my head. People didn’t grasp where I was at. I left the idea and started growing bedding and hanging baskets, but the idea was always in the back of my head.
Then, Gill (Hodgson) was on the TV one night. She said she was starting Flowers from the Farm and talked about sweet peas and selling at farmer’s gate. I turned to my husband and said “That’s what I want to do!”
With that, I closed the gate from people walking around the plot and switched my business to growing cut flowers, hosting workshops, selling gift bouquets and weekend flowers and some funeral work. I wish I’d done it years before. I enjoy working behind a closed gate because you need peace to work and I wanted to be creative.
I now work two days a week in the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine as a Medical secretary, and the rest of the week I am a flower farmer, wife and mother.”
Why should people buy British?
“Locally-grown flowers will not have travelled thousands of miles. The quality and the scent set them apart. Our flowers will last a good 5-7 days and haven’t been treated with chemicals to make them last for weeks. People always comment and recognise my flowers: “Those are Alison’s flowers”. Locally, people are interested, but it’s still a case of trying to teach the public to appreciate truly seasonal flowers. The weather dictates things as a flower farmer, but let your customers know that whilst it may not be the exact flower, it will be lovely and explain the ethos of seasonally grown.”
Why are you a member of Flowers from the Farm?
I finally joined Flowers from the Farm two years ago. I had tried back in 2011 after seeing Gill on TV, but membership hadn’t yet been opened up to Northern Ireland. Instead, I was invited as a guest to courses and conferences with Flowers from the Farm over in Harrogate and got to know several UK growers. The movement is growing here, and there are now 7 active grower members of Flowers from the Farm here in Northern Ireland.
Visit their website here: www.beechfieldflowerfarm.co.uk