A day in the life at a Cheshire flower farm
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 June 2020
A day in the life of Delamere Flower Farm creator Alice Taylor, as she juggles family with growing British cottage garden blooms and creating artisan arrangements for weddings
BURSTING INTO LIFE
Unless it’s a Saturday morning, when I’m rushing out of the door to deliver wedding flowers, my morning starts early getting the kids, Rose, Ben and Livvy, out of bed. It’s all hands on deck getting them dressed, teeth brushed, packed lunches made – but we always sit and have breakfast together. We live on the farm, so once that’s done, I can get straight out to work. If they’re not at school or pre-school, I can be with the flowers and they can be running around the field, so it has enabled me to work around my family.
WORKING AROUND FAMILY
Having worked as an immunologist for the NHS, I wanted to do something that allowed me to be at home more. I come from a farming background, so outside and gardening is in the blood and I’ve always had a passion for growing things. The flower business idea came from me seeing a gap in the market. We tried it and I found I was obsessed – I spend my entire time looking at flowers on Instagram and following other flower farms around the world. It’s a passion and it’s been about growing the business from that. I started doing bouquets for our village shop, and then six weddings became 20, and so on. We’re at a point, four years on, where I’ve got a couple of part-time staff. Just like the flowers, the business has grown organically since the beginning.
We’ve got two small polytunnels, so I need to open these up first thing. We grow on half an acre, so I’ll take a cup of tea around with me and work out what needs doing. If it’s warm, the polytunnels are fully opened to make sure the flowers can get plenty of air and don’t get any mildew. We often have seedlings that we’ve potted on down the centre of the tunnel that need watering too. The polytunnels give us early-season flowers so we can extend our seasons and have things flowering from the end of March into mid-November. Things outside don’t start until May, but the tunnels mean we can grow flowers that prefer heat. I identify what’s starting to come through, what flowers are ready and check if any crops aren’t doing well. I love the process of taking a leap of faith in nature. There was an element of trial and error in the beginning, as we were learning about how different plants behave and every year is different in terms of weather conditions. With a small business, you’ve got to be determined and keep going when things fail.
There’s never a normal day here, and I’m often juggling flowers and a child, as my youngest Livvy is only one. She’s started at nursery now though so before our new home-schooling roles I was having my first time on the farm without having kids at home. On a Tuesday, I have my part-time member of staff James Cox helping me with the horticultural side. We’ll be sowing, planting out and potting on. We sow every two or three weeks and I know what needs to be sown for weddings in the future – we work four to six months in advance of what’s flowering. The seeds are stored in the fridge as they last longer that way, so once we’ve got them out, we’ll stick seed compost into plant trays and sow by hand. They then go under a grow light inside which gives the seeds a warm, bright environment and we can give them a longer daylight, meaning germination happens much quicker. They’ll be moved into the polytunnels in pots before being planted into beds outside to grow to their final bloom.
Lunch gives us an opportunity to sit down together, have a cup of tea and look at what we’re going to do next. We talk about things that have happened and I can fill them in on emails we’ve had. It’s a nice time to bounce ideas about where to take the business next, or what flowers need photographing. There are so many different aspects of a small business – you have to be a jack of all trades. In the beginning, I built the website myself and taught myself everything I needed to know about social media. It’s important to get it right for a small business, and I like to make sure I show all aspects of what we do from the growing to the arranging, as well as keeping people updated about workshop dates. Social media is like a virtual shop-front to us.
There’s often general weeding to be done and flower beds need to be prepared a lot. We’re slowly expanding areas of the garden, so we’re taking bits out of the hill outside and putting shrubs in there too. We’ve now got two beehives of our own and take water off our roof to irrigate the flowers. The horse muck that we use to fertilise comes from a farm two minutes down the road – we try to be as sustainable as we can.
TIME TO ARRANGE
For an afternoon arranging, the flowers will have been conditioned in water overnight, so we’ll sort the flowers into their own bucket of water per bouquet, buttonhole or top-table arrangement. This means we can then choose the best colours and quality for each arrangement. Arranging time is usually me and my main helper Andrea Ellams, and it’s a case of head down and go. Top-table arrangements can be done in advance but buttonholes or flower crowns won’t be arranged until the morning of the wedding. I do bouquets first so if we happen to snap a stem, we have the choice of all the other flowers. I love my creative arranging time, especially because I’m doing it with Andrea who’s been with us since the start when she bought into my mad idea. I couldn’t have got through last year, doing so many weddings and having a baby, without her.
There’s a lot of communicating with wedding couples. I meet them on the farm initially to
chat through the things they might like. I put their ideas into a quote and create a Pinterest board so they can see the flowers that will be in season at the time of their wedding.
I often have 10 tonnes of admin to do. This tends to happen once the kids are in bed, so emails and Instagram messages are often being replied to at nine at night.
I also need to be putting orders in, uploading images to the website and updating social media – it’s amazing how much time it can all take. Now I’ve got James, I can set him off on a task and then go and do some wedding quotes. The business had to grow to a certain point before we could afford to pay people to help. At the beginning, you just muddle through.
Seeds for the future
The evening is a great time for developing the business with my husband, so we come up with ideas such as our new gift vouchers, which allow people to buy presents they can redeem later, and our natural flower arranging workshops.